I’ll start by introducing who I am and what I’m doing here. My name is Blake DeBerto. I am the founder of Tux n Tab Games, currently a small operation in New Jersey. I have been a game development hobbyist since 2006 and I have been a professional game developer since 2011. In 2014 I started to take my independent development efforts more seriously and founded Tux n Tab Games. Our first title, Traversal, was released via itch.io in July 2015. Traversal has been a kind of experiment to go through the entire process of making a small game, publishing it, and marketing it. This is the story of what that process has been like for us.
A long time ago I worked with a developer in college on an academic game dev team. His name was Max and he had crazy dyed hair and always wore a bent spoon on a necklace. He was really into game design, I mean REALLY into it at the time. The project we worked on was a pre-baked RPG idea that he had come up with months before our class began. We talked game design all the time. One day he showed us this interesting puzzle game on the Nintendo DS. I can’t remember what it was called, but it had an “endless mode” to it that we examined briefly. We found that the game had a possibility space easily within the hundreds of thousands of permutations. The game would randomly pick one possibility, place a valid solution, then mix up the components one step at a time until the puzzle was in a nice unsolved state for the player. We talked about how randomly generated content was a huge boon to small-time developers and how much possibility it presented to players. It didn’t really hit me how dead on Max was until just recently.
I’ve been working on a game project called Recovery Quest for over a year now and in the middle of the project I began thinking about what kind of game I would make if my scope was even smaller. Scope maybe the breadth of a game jam. Around December 2014, I did a little thought experiment over a weekend: if I was to make a game in a game jam, what would it be? I thought back to Max’s ideas on random generation. If I was to make a really brilliant game jam game, there would have to be a sense of randomness to it. The game The Binding of Issac was originally created out of a game jam and it is incredibly random. So I ran with randomness as the bedrock for the idea. The randomness would come from the interactions of various pre-conceived “agents” in a game world. How the agents got there would have to be random, and if they had the possibility of changing that could make it even more random. What if every single element of the game world could change, even the player, at the same time? What if every action that the player or agents do could impact the game world and thus change as well? In order to make the player have to go through the field that they altered with their presence, I would have to make it so that they moved from one area to another, back and forth. That was even the original code name for the project: “Back and Forth.”
Right away I came up with a number of different entity types and what they would do. Then, I made a simple graph with how they would change. The player had attributes and abilities as well that would change. I really like the idea, especially working in Unity, that you should be able to just drop an object into the game world and it just...works. I really wanted to design a system where just about every element is modular and entities work with Unity’s component system to create a diversity of game elements. I came up with all of this in December and did a little bit of prototyping in Unity.
I during the prototyping process, I was able to get the player components working, the goalposts, and some of the enemy entities alive and playing. Once the holidays rolled around, I stopped working on it and the prototype fell to the wayside for six months while I spent a lot of time working on Recovery Quest. In June I picked it up again and put a little more work into it. I fleshed out the transition mechanic of changing everything when the player reached the goal and it actually looked pretty cool and felt really good. That was the point where I decided to run with it. Before the month was over, the prototype had evolved into a full-blown game. Sound effects, music, balancing, particle effects, and color schemes all went up in a matter of weeks.
The process was unbelieveably satisfying. Bringing the next bit to life brought even more challenges.