Above the Fold is in Alpha, Coming to Steam

Above the Fold is a video game where you play the editor-in-chief of a newspaper. Back in spring, I introduced this new project to the world and now the game has just entered alpha, which means that most of the basic gameplay features are in, or at least planned out.

The game lets you build a newspaper from the ground up, hiring reporters, assigning them stories, picking up advertisements and shaping your content to cater to specific demographics. Along the way you have to make decisions based on both random and historic events, your reporters will get their own ideas, accidents will happen. Mistakes are made. Fun is had by all (or at least the person playing the game, one would hope).

Build a profit, invest in upgrading everything from your access to sources, to setting up your own email server – but do so wisely. Each upgrade comes with its own advantage, but spend too much, too fast, and you might run into trouble come pay day.

While the game was still in pre-alpha, I made this little teaser …

There is of course a website associated with the game, as well as a Facebook page and a hashtag you can follow for more regular updates on the progress. I also want to mention the mailing list, which is only used for major announcements and for recruiting playtesters – so if you want to play the game early and give some feedback, that’s how you get a chance to do that. Sign up on the website or through this link.

The next call for playtesters goes out a week from the day of writing this. Just saying!

Still a work-in-progress, The Office is where you go between new issues to manage your newspaper.

Above the Fold is a Passion Project, as in I am making it for myself first and foremost. It’s a game idea I have had for years, and I am finally good enough at the craft of making games, that I can take on the challenge.

That was my main motivation when I started, but besides that, working on this game has also helped keep me both sane and focused while hunting for a job in real world. Having a somewhat ambitious project to work on has not only helped to keep me mentally stimulated, it has also worked as a way to maintain a schedule and task- and project-based mindset. Passion Projects are good that way.

Even though this game has been a solo project* up until this point, I am still using tools (trello, Jira, MS Office, Confluence) as if I had a team. Not only is it good practice, it’s also going to make life so much easier, if and when I do bring on other people to work on the game.

If you’re curious about the plans for the next few versions, take a look at the Development page on the website, which features a roadmap of the next several versions, and which features will be focused on when.

Above the Fold will be available on Steam eventually, likely in Early Access before final release, but there’s no date yet.

*I say solo project, but in reality about 8 people have already assisted with feedback, playtesting and ideation. I’ve done all the development, but their help has been/continues to be super valuable!

Your Indie Game Will Fail

The title of this post is true for most indie game developers out there, at least if you measure success in terms of profit. There are other ways an indie game can be a success but I’ll get to them in a bit.

In today’s video game marketplace competition is tough. It’s easier than ever to make, publish and distribute new games, but with that, it gets increasingly difficult to get noticed, attract an audience and make money. This is true for all games, but small indies typically invest their own money in everything from buying assets in the Unity marketplace to renting booth space at PAX, making them more vulnerable to the impact of financial failure.

If you’re making games as a hobby and income is just pocket money – read no further. Go make games, and have fun! But if you’re hoping to go full time, or build a small studio, be prepared to work your ass off, doing a lot of things that have nothing to do with designing features or levels for your title. There will be spreadsheets.

Research is crucial, of course. You’ve looked at similar titles on Steamspy, to get a feel for how they sold on Steam, right? You’ve tracked down any postmortems or shared sales numbers from teams and projects similar to yours, correct? If you want to take your indie games past hobby level, you can’t ignore the existing market.

As an initial reality check, answer these three questions to the best of your ability:

  1. What are the projected sales numbers in the first year?
  2. What’s the price point you have in mind?
  3. How much time (unpaid hours) and money will you put into making the game?

With this information, you can figure out whether your expectations are realistic. When you realize that they’re not, you can start to think of ways to tweak the numbers.

The Price and Profit Calculator

To help my fellow indies, I made a tool that lets you experiment with different projections. I call it the Indie Game Price and Profit Calculator.

Being realistic about your expectations helps you make informed business decisions about marketing, partnerships and thinking outside the box to boost your numbers (or lower your cost).

Don’t let competition and volume take the wind out of your sails. As mentioned, even if you fail to profit from your release, there are other ways an indie game can benefit you. For one, it’s a great way to learn more about all aspects making games, from audio design to publishing. It’s also a great way to network with other indies, many of whom are in the industry. Networking may lead to jobs or partnerships, and so on. Having finished and published something does open doors. Making an indie game is just as much an investment in the careers of everyone on the team, as an opportunity to make a profit. If not more so.

Regardless of your motivation for making games, I hope the calculator tool is useful, and best of luck with your project!

Inspiration and Game Prototyping

TL;DR: Get feedback on your projects, right from the prototype stage, and listen to inspiration when it presents itself.

I was watching The Walking Dead, when I had the idea for a game, where you are surrounded by increasingly large mobs of zombies, and you have to move around them, and take them out as they come at you. I imagined it as a top down game with a square level, kind of like Pac Manm, but in an industrial lot, or something along those lines. The idea flashed as a brief image in my mind, so not exactly a fully fleshed out game.

Sudden inspiration like this is something that should not be ignored. Even if the idea is simple. It might grow, after you plant it. So, the next day I made a prototype.

It’s simple enough. You use a mouse. Left click to move, right click to fire your gun (hold it down for continuous firing). You will die in the end, so it’s really just a matter of how big of a score you can get before you do. Explosive barrels can be used for extra points. There are occasional power-ups that spawn in, that may also help.

I call it “Don’t Touch”, because even a single bit of damage will immediately end the game. So stay alert!

The game made the rounds at the day job office, where a few coworkers “tested it” and gave me the best feedback ever: they went back for more, all on their own.

When people like something you make to the point where they want to keep playing it, and voluntarily offer up ideas of their own, that will feed even more inspiration.

When an inspirational feedback loop is created, and as a creative person, your job is to listen and take away all you can. Because most of the time, creative work is not done based on inspiration alone. In fact, the inspiration part has very little to do with writing a novel, recording an album, or creating a video game. It’s hard work, and if you want to finish your project, you can’t just sit around and wait for inspiration to strike.

So when it does strike, pay attention. I am sure you are busy, I certainly am, and I really don’t have time to work on another game. Unless I carve a little extra time, I’d otherwise spend on playing Fallout 4.

Yesterday, fueled by the reactions I’d gotten, I added a new power-up mode that gives you a temporary boost in rate of fire. Like equipping a machine gun with limited ammo. Shred those zombies hard, 10 seconds at a time! I also added something I’d not yet tried implementing in a game – a killing spree bonus based on a timer. If you kill 3+ zombies in a row, you get bonus points. If you take too long, it resets.

I like adding things and tweaking other things, based on the feedback I get, plus throwing in a challenge for myself, like adding the killing spree.

I am not sure where this particular prototype will go. I’m fine with it entertaining myself and a few friends for a few minutes here and there. You can play it too, of course. Maybe when Torgar’s Quest is done and launced, I will turn it into something more.