Creating Pylons: An Experiment in RRR
Replayability, Rapid Development, and Release-Driven Production
Pylons was designed and developed by Chris Germano with help from music producer Mike Harrison. This is his account of the experience.
It's the morning of May 3rd, and last night my newest game, Pylons, went to market. 72 hours earlier, it didn't exist. I've made numerous games over the years (many in less than 72 hours) but nothing I thought was "appropriate" for a marketplace. Sure, anyone can follow a tutorial, tweak it a little, and throw it on an App Store, but I wasn't going to cheat myself. I wanted to give myself the bare minimum time for designing, developing, and marketing a commercial product.
A personal problem I have when brainstorming concepts is that they're always too big. Even when I condense and simplify my ideas, they eventually grow out into something unreasonable for the allotted time and resources. This was no exception. On Sunday morning I was thinking of something partially between Surgeon Simulator and TABS: A first-person swordfighting game where you can barely hold the weapon, let alone use it effectively. Thanks to past experiences, I immediately told myself to throw that idea away but keep one element I genuinely liked. I kept the sword.
The second thought, minutes later, was another first-person swordfighting game where the player has to deflect incoming projectiles. I pictured on-screen warnings like the ones used in Time Crisis. Again, I rightfully told myself to throw that idea away since I wasn't going to spend more than three days on the project. This time I held onto the bullet deflection idea. Something time-sensitive and fast-paced where it only takes one mistake to lose.
I quickly realized the biggest issue with these concepts was the control scheme. Using a mouse to control a sword in first person is either going to be very boring or very complicated. First person control schemes are difficult (why do you think so much first person combat is with guns)? I switched mindsets to one of my favorite genres: twin stick shooters. I pictured a sword where one stick is the handle, the other stick is the angle. While I eventually decided to reduce that idea further, I will likely revisit that mechanic in the future.
Skipping a few other less interesting iterations, I landed on what I have now. The player can move and aim around a limited "grid" with enemies appearing randomly in other areas of the "grid", requiring the player to navigate in specific ways to eliminate them. Inspired by the classics, this wasn't going to be a game that you win. It's a game that you don't lose for as long as you can.
Development started quickly and efficiently. My primary focus was on the behind-the-scenes functionality (e.g. game managers and other persistent entities). Once the foundation was designed and developed, it was a lot easier to focus on gameplay development without getting sidetracked. For something of this scale, you don't need more than a preloader, main menu, credits/controls page, and the game itself. While the game is self-explanatory, all of the other serve a purpose:
- The preloader serves the obvious purpose of disguising the game loading before the player grows impatient, but it also lets you implant your brand/game logo in the player's mind. Being memorable is critical.
- A main menu doesn't just offer a convenient location to interact with the game outside of actual gameplay, but it serves as a central hub or foundation to the whole experience. Few games feel "complete" without some barrier between the preloader and the game itself. A sense of robustness gives a sense of completeness. This is why cheap knock-off products are often fitted with extra weights because "heavy means higher quality."
- A controls page obviously gets the player comfortable with the input scheme before jumping into the game, but the inclusion of a credits page gives the game a human element. This is powerful for creating a bond between player and product, similar to why many successful Kickstarter videos contain a human element in the thumbnail (a person, face, or even hand). It makes buyers more likely to react positively to the product.
While core gameplay was quick to develop, maintaining an attention to detail was critical for the MVP. Little things that may be taken for granted can make a big difference to the overall user experience. The two greatest improvements we some of the last additions before packing it for release:
- The "clouds" underneath the rods accessible by the player allow players to more quickly picture where they have to be to get the right angle on a shot. The perspective camera intentionally makes it more difficult, so the atmospheric indicators dial the difficulty down a touch.
- Shot impacts on the walls were added in response to the player feeling ultimately "weak." When the player's shots don't hit a target, they simply fly off the screen. Adding a passive reaction gives them a bit more consistency with affecting the environment around the player.
There's no hiding that the game is in active development. It's fun and entertaining (and definitely worth the 1.99 price tag!) but there's a lot I want to add to it. As someone personally against abusive DLC practices, all updates to the game will be free. Right now I don't have any plans to develop paid expansion packs (remember the last time you heard that phrase?) or DLC.
Last night I posted the game on itch.io and shared a few links on social media. Since then I'm excited to say the game has already sold a few copies!
Don't be afraid to enter the market, just treat it as your portfolio. Never try to sell something you're not proud of. If you need help with your strategy, pricing, or anything else, Pilone Consulting is ready to help.