I had so much fun writing the Trials of Werlin post-mortem that I decided to do one for Invadazoid as well. For those of you that have never played Invadazoid, be sure to purchase a copy after you’re done reading this post (or just download the free demo). I remember sleeping in one Saturday after a week or so of debating over what game project I would work on next, when it hit me… A mix between Space Invaders and Arkanoid! And just as quickly, the name jumped out. Invadazoid! The idea was so profound (at least I thought so), that I rushed to my computer and started whipping up a prototype. Within a couple days I had something ‘playable’ (surely not by your definition), and I knew I was on to something. The more I added to the game, the more fun it was! “This was surely going to be the hit I was looking for”, I thought. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, compared to the abysmal sales of ToW, Invadazoid was a huge success, but why wasn’t it the next Tetris or Snood? I must have done some things right because it was more successful than Trials of Werlin by a mile, but what was preventing this game from being a smash hit? I can’t say for sure, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
- It was a unique idea. Mixing genres has always been a great way to bring new life to two stagnating genres. I remember one reviewer made a funny Reese’s comparison to the effect of, “You got your Arkanoid in my Space Invaders!”… “No, you got your Space Invaders in my Arkanoid!” It makes me chuckle every time I think about it.
- It was instantly fun. There weren’t long instructions to read or training levels to muddle through. You hit Play and you were dropped right into the action like a virgin at the prom Even if it wasn’t immediately obvious what to do, after a few successful bumps it became almost instict (…talking about the game, not the prom).
- Graphics… Although I decided to do my own artwork again, I really spent alot of time getting it right this time and overall I was pretty happy with the outcome. I upped the resolution from 640×480 (for ToW) to 800×600, added some particle effects and better alpha blending. I also created most of the objects in a 3D modeling program and then rendered them to 2D… this helped a lot! Programmers that don’t have much art background (and no cash) could benefit from this technique; mainly because the 3D models just have to look decent so you don’t have to worry about keeping the poly count to ridiculously low levels.
- The Portals… some indies would argue with me here (and with good reason lately), but I used most of the big-name online portals (Real Arcade, Big Fish, Reflexive, etc) to get the game out to the masses. For a casual action game from a company with hardly any of its own traffic, this was the best way I could think of at the time. Through these publishers I sold thousands of copies where I probably would have only sold a couple hundred on my own.
- Marketing… I learned my lesson from last time and decided to do a press release. This alone put Invadazoid into the hands of publishers and editors that would have never even heard of it otherwise. I was contacted shortly after the press release went out by PC Zone (UK) to do a spot on Invadazoid. I can’t even tell you how good it feels to see your game covered in a big gaming mag!
- Marketing… I definitely did more this time, but not even close to the amount that I should have done. I put too many eggs in the Portal basket and didn’t do enough of my own marketing. I’m still kicking myself over this one.
- Too many game play modes. Invadazoid has 4 modes, but when you play for the first time, its not really obvious which one you should start with. Alot of players ended up clicking ‘Classic’ mode first (I guess because it sounded the most like ‘Normal’) which was nothing more than a Space Invaders clone and not nearly as exciting as the other modes. I should have provided at least a visual cue as to which mode to start with or locked the other modes until certain progress was made.
- Too much time spent in the engine. I used most of the same ‘engine’ code from ToW (C++ and DirectX 6) and despite not having to start from scratch, I spent alot of time fixing engine bugs and adding things like particle effects instead of working on GAME DEVELOPMENT. I think I spent the most time trying to get the ball to move smoothly without jittering (if you’ve made a breakout game then you know what I’m talking about). I said this last time, but I can’t state it enough, “Don’t reinvent the wheel!” Your customers aren’t going to care that it took you 100 hours to add anti-aliasing to your graphics engine! They just care how good the finished product looks. Unless you want to write game engines for a living, go find some tools that already do what you need.
- Too late on the second revision. I added some cool features like an online high-score board in the second revision, but unfortunately this was after the big spike of sales from the portals and most of them didn’t republish the new version because the game had dropped in sales at that point.
- Flash Version. I contracted out help to create a flash version of Invadazoid to help convert web site visits to downloads (and then sales). The problem was that I should have done this as soon as the game launched instead of many months later. The other downside was that its hard to reproduce the fun of a REALLY fast paced action game in Flash (v7 at the time). The flash version definitely lost something in translation and in that respect may have even prevented some sales… not to mention it cost a good chunk of change. Hmmmmm… I’m not really sure why I still have this up on my website.
- Difficulty… I did it again! Although more fun and more attractive than ToW, the game was still too hard for the casual crowd. When I was a kid, I used to play the same levels of Castlevania a hundred times until I beat them all, not even taking a breath in between. These pansy-ass casual gamers obviously don’t have the same mindset. I did allow restarting a game from a location once the previous location was completed, but I didn’t allow restarting from each individual level. For some of the later locations this meant fighting through 8-10 intense levels with an onslaught of invaders each launching massive amounts of missiles at you, all with about 5 lives… ouch! In hind-sight, I probably should have allowed restarting on each level.
I hope this was helpful (or at least a good read). After proof reading this a few times, I wish I had written it a long time ago because I think I just taught myself a few things!