From Student Project to Greenlit Game
Published 2 years ago
The 9 Month Journey of Rogues Like Us: From Concept to Greenlight
Hey there! I’m Elan Gleiber, founder of oddByte and Lead Designer of Rogues Like Us. oddByte is a small indie studio of six recent Michigan State University graduates based in Lansing, Michigan.
Rogues Like Us began as a student project for our Game Design and Development program at Michigan State University. It was meant only to be a 16 week project, after which we’d move on to something new. We didn’t know it at the time, but the project would become our lives for the next 9 months. Currently, Rogues Like Us has just been Greenlit on Steam. It’s been a long road, so I’m going to discuss a bit what happened along the way to bring us where we are today.
Beginnings - Dungeoneers
We threw around a lot of ideas before we landed on the core of what we have today. There was everything from space whales to an arcade-style Shadow of the Colossus. We all love hack n’ slash style games and roguelikes, so we eventually settled on a game idea that was a mixture between The Binding of Isaac’s gameplay with Bastion’s combat. The original concept was simple, fight through rooms of enemies, and when you had cleared enough, a boss would spawn. If you defeated the boss, you would be able to move on to the next difficulty. We called the game Dungeoneers.
We were all extremely motivated right from the start of the project, and it showed. We got a solid proof-of-concept demo up and running within almost a week, and it was fun. Sure it was just basic cube and sphere shapes, but having something playable that early that somewhat accurately represents the feel of what you are going for is a huge motivation boost.
This is from a few weeks following the proof-of-concept demo, but it's the earliest video I can find from development. Every game has to start somewhere!
By the time we reached the prototype version of the game, we were way ahead of schedule. This was not only because we had the motivation from a playable and fun version of the game, but also because we quickly cut aspects of the game we knew would not work. From here, development continued on pretty smoothly, and after nine weeks we reached our “alpha” version of the game. Here is a quick video we made for our class assignment of this version of the game.
At this point, the game was playable and a lot of fun, but was missing something. I recently found an old file in our drive from this project titled “OUR GAME NEEDS A SOUL”, which is exactly what it needed at the time. We focused a lot on game feel and little details that would give our game a bit of a soul (screen shake, destroyable objects, enemies exploding into pieces, fun names on pickups and enemies, etc.).
Eventually, we reached the end of our development time, and were proud with what we had created. We learned a lot in those last six weeks, but most importantly, we learned what made a game “feel” good. Have a look at our “release trailer”, and I think you’ll see the amount of “game feel” that was added in those six weeks and how much it impacts the game, even just from a visual standpoint. (The gameplay picks up at around 1:00)
What Went Right?
Scope - We achieved what we set out to do early on, which allowed us to spend the last few weeks really focusing on the little details in the game.
It Was Fun! - We had a solid game that we could show off and be proud of that was also fun! We all enjoyed playing it, and we got a lot of positive feedback from places we released it.
Combat - The combat may not have been the best, but it felt good. There was vibration feedback on the controller, the controls were snappy, the screen shook, enemies exploded on death, and it was just overall an enjoyable experience.
Quick Gameplay Cycle - We knew what we were, a free game someone could download for a quick and fun experience. Players wouldn’t stay for long, so we didn’t develop the game to be that. We wanted players to have the most fun they could in the first few minutes of the game.
What Went Wrong?
Artstyle - We did not have an artstyle. We didn’t lock one down in the beginning, and as we moved further into the project, we just kinda pushed it off to the side. It became this huge looming problem that we hoped would somehow fix itself.
Not Enough Variety - There were a small number of different enemies, traps, and bosses, which meant every room had relatively the same experience, and it got old quickly.
Unbalanced Stats and Scaling - Everything was very unbalanced in general. There just wasn’t enough time put into testing to balance everything properly.
Redesigning a Game - Rogues Like Us
We received a lot of positive feedback from Dungeoneers, and there were many calls to continue development of the game. We took this to our professors, and they decided to let us continue the project for another 16 weeks.
Whenever you release a game, there is always that feeling and knowledge of all the things you would have fixed, improved, or just done differently. Usually you have to come to terms with this, but we were given the excellent opportunity to go back into the project and take action on everything we wanted. We took note of what worked and didn’t, wanted to improve or just get rid of, and used this to decide on a new direction for the game. Then we took to the age old saying and cut 90% of our existing game.
Everything was either redone or improved in a major way (I could list them off but it’s really just the entire game). We spent an entire month scrapping and rebuilding all the existing systems in the game to fit the new direction we were going towards. In the meantime, our artstyle (or lack thereof) was getting a huge makeover.
With the continuation of the project, we also got a new artist on the team. He had the incredible task of creating an artstyle, and then updating every existing piece of art in the game to match it. Due to the sheer amount of work, and the time constraints, he chose to do a simpler low-poly with flat shading style. He did an amazing job, check out these screenshots for comparison!
After about a month and a half, we had the new game up and running in the new direction we wanted, and we really liked what we had. This motivation pushed development forward through GDC. We showed the game off around GDC, and again received a lot of positive feedback. We came back elated, but then reality struck! We realized we only had about 2 months to finish the game, and we were still a long ways away.
- We wanted three classes to play as, but we only had one at a stable place.
- We still only had four enemies, and two bosses.
- There wasn’t enough variance in the gameplay.
- There wasn’t much player choice.
- The gameplay wasn’t balanced.
- The armor and weapons were just aesthetics.
- There wasn’t any sort of progression for the player.
- There wasn’t a story.
We had to scramble, and I mean really scramble to figure out how we were going to finish this game. We had to cut a lot of features, condense what we could, and modify what we had to save as much time as possibe. The 2 months from when we got back from GDC to the end of the semester were pretty much 70 hour crunch weeks every week. Keep in mind this is all while we were in the final weeks of university, finishing up everything so we could graduate. We pulled it off somehow!
From Graduation to Greenlit
Although we had finished the semester, we were not finished with the game. Our end-goal had been to release it on Steam, and we still wanted to achieve that. None of us had solid plans for the summer, so we decided to go all in and form a company and launch a Kickstarter/Greenlight campaign to try to fund the rest of development. This is where we currently are, nearing the end of our Kickstarter campaign.
Here is our Reveal trailer for the Kickstarter and Greenlight campaigns.
This has been a month of hard work (running a Kickstarter is a full time job on its own), but we’ve learned a lot and come a long way. We had the excellent opportunity of competing as a finalist in the Power of Play 2016 Indie Game Competition, where we met an amazing community of indie developers from Seattle, Portland, and Montreal.
The game got Greenlit on May 27th, just 14 days into the campaign. The Kickstarter campaign ends this Sunday, June 12th, and at the time of writing, we are 81% funded with 67 hours to go and pushing hard all the way to the end. Even if we don’t get funded, we won’t give up. We will finish development of the game and bring it to all of you!