An indie game developer’s journey: The road to Arcadia’s first beta release

Inception       Jan 2005

I had a month off between jobs, and spent much of it in the beautiful and inspring surrounds of Sherbroke in the Dandenong Ranges, a hilly region of cool temparate rainforest 40 kms east of Melbourne. During the time of relaxation, I amused myself by learning to work with J2ME, and chose to build a toy game to drive my own discovery.

Arcadia was born, through when it began it was simply a motionless grid of self-made terrain tiles.

Go for Funding!     February 2005

From February my wife Louise starting trying to convince me to make an application for funding from Film Victoria’s Digital Media Fund.

May 2005          Putting a Funding Application together

Fortunately she prevailed and by May we were both hard at work putting an application document together.

Here’s what we said we were going to try to do:

“Playscape Games is making this application to fund the development of the first episode of mobile phone game-series Arcadia to a feature-complete prototype stage. Our vision for Arcadia is to create a Java mobile game of unusual depth and richness, which innovates in its game design, usability, and technical engineering. It will be one of the first mobile titles developed with a turn-based strategy/adventure format, in a fantasy/mythic setting. It will appeal to gamers who want to play a more deeply engaging game over a longer time period than the current staple of short-duration action games can provide.”

July 2005   Our primary artist Albert Sandaja (aka Alex Huang) signs on to start designing sprites for us.

September 2005     You’ve Got Funding!

…made especially sweet by the fact that the message arrived while I was having a lovely time on holiday staying with Louise’s uncle Phillip on Bribie Island.

November 2005    The first tranche of our funding, approximately $11k, gets paid to us.

Jan 2006      Leave Goldman Sachs JB Were behind to work a 3-day-week at Internet Business System as my day job. Turned out well, as Im still there now almost 3 years later. This freed up 2 days a week to put towards Arcadia (at least in theory – distractions were and are a major problem).

Feb 2006 Attend GDC Mobile in San Jose. An eye opener.

April 2006  Milestone 1

Deliver 40 page Business Plan to Film Vic. Main objective is to become a niche provider of very high quality and innovative RPG & Strategy content, distributed through a mixed aray of channels, into a variety of global markets, including direct online sales. In response, the Full funding program confirmed, and another trnache paid.

January 2007 Milestone 2

This was a tough milestone to pass. We demoed our playable prototype to Amelia King of Film Vic. It had lots of rough spots and while it technically worked, broken game mechanics and poor usability made it only barely playable. We agreed on some improvements to target for the final milestone.

Feb 2007   GDC in San Francisco.

I learned more at this second conference. I started to feel the strength of the competition in the space, but I also saw alot of techniques I realsed I could apply in Arcadia.

August 2007    Final milestone, which led onto…

Sept 2007     Beta 1

I used friends, family and work mates as the beta testers.

Went Well

* Shipped a working mobile game that ran decently without crashing much on a number of different phones, including Nokia, SE, Motorola and Samsungs.

* Main map view looked good and clearly showed what was happening.

* Fantastic bestiary of animal and monster sprites, from snakes and spiders through to tribal orc bands, huge bears, wyverns and cyclops. Thanks are due to Alex Huang, the talented artist who drew the set.

* People able to use the menu system fairly intuitively.

* MIDI Music worked well. Very nice musical selection created by James Langford.

* Interesting resource system based around farming to produce food that allows your village population to grow and evolve.

Do Differently

* Confusing to play: lots of controls, not enough help, steep learning curve.

* The game involved controlling the whole village’s units; an uneasy mixture of Hero characters and their party members on one side, and peaceful farming civilians on the other.

* Control of multiple units concurrently involved lots of flicking back-and-forth as each unit was moved once per turn in a round-robin fashion. This was hard for people to learn. A tendency made stronger, I feel, by the small size of a mobile screen and limited controls.

* The problem of concurrent unit control was addressed by way of an Automation feature, which allowed units to be put on a program The most useful programs were Escort, which sent a unit following and fighting with a designated leader, and Tend Fields, which keep the food supply ticking over back home. This released the need for constant manual control.

However, most beta players were not able to discover and use Automation feature, because of unintuitive controls.

After Beta 1, it took 13 months of development to reach Beta 2 in October 2008. Having finished our Digital Media Fund program at Beta 1, this period was marked by greater fiscal dicipline. I’ll try to cover the Beta 2 release and the present state-of-play in a future post.

At least five things got us to Beta 1

  • Talent: do what you love, do what you’re good at, do it well and with passion.
  • Help from others, eg my lovely wife, and the Digital Media Fund.
  • Luck, eg meeting Albert at the start of the project
  • Hard Work,  lots of evenings and weekends spent on the project.
  • Tenacity:  You have to Suffer for your art. When things get tough, just Keep Going. Dont give up.

1 Comment

  1. January 24, 2009 at 2:12 am

    […] 24, 2009 at 2:07 am (Games, Software Development) After Heroes of Arcadia Beta 1 (Sept 2007), it took 13 months of development to reach Beta 2 in October […]

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