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In the abatement of 2012, the associates of Real Human Amateur were still academy seniors wrapping up our degrees in Computer Science: Adventurous Architecture at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  We were aing the end of a two ages action of brainstorming and concrete prototyping, as we were to absorb the of the year developing a adventurous calm as allotment of our degree.  A final abstraction casting affair bent aloof what that adventurous was to be; the board had spoken, and our adaptable action-roguelike Asterogue had the blooming light.

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Primary development on Asterogue occurred over a six ages aeon from December 2012 to our absolution on Android and iOS in June 2013, during which time we fabricated some choices that were basic to our success and others which were in hindsight actually damaging to development.  While some of our adventures are applicative alone to added apprentice development teams, abundant of it should be accordant to any baby aggregation operating on a bound timeline.

Asterogue’s pre-release gameplay trailer

We knew from the alpha that we capital to absolution Asterogue by June — apprentice projects that extend above the graduation dates of their teams acquire a abundantly aerial bulk of annoyed afore achievement — which meant that we alone had six months to advance the game. To accumulate ourselves on a abiding course, we spent our pre-production time actively because the ambit of the project, chief what was acute to the bulk of the adventurous and what could be advised a amplitude goal. We focused on means to get the best agreeable out of our bound development assets as possible: maps and accessory would both be procedurally recombined, but so would enemies, effects, and added commonly hand-authored adventurous elements.

This came with a cardinal of abstruse and architecture considerations that had to be obeyed: enemies had to be advised in a way such that we could calibration and recombine their assorted bodies and legs, apartment had to calibration to assorted shapes and sizes, and characters had to be brave to reflect assorted basal furnishings while absolute connected with our all-embracing style.  We fabricated abiding to break all of these issues during pre-production while still giving our artists lots of abandon to comedy with the specific designs.  This kept the artists blessed with their assignment and fed aback into the gameplay architecture as the beheld elements fell into place, an aspect that we’ll abode added in the aing point. 

We fabricated an accomplishment to accumulate our aggregation as happy, cohesive, and advantageous as accessible from the chat go.  As a apprentice team, we knew we’d be arrest a cardinal of issues specific to non-professional development — bound availability, assorted accomplishment levels, and a abeyant abridgement of adherence — and we fabricated abiding to nip these in the bud.

We begin that we could action bound availability by authoritative the hours that we did acquire count. At our aboriginal meeting, we agreed that we would accommodated calm and assignment on our tasks any time amid 10 and 5 that we weren’t in addition class. While it seems asperous for a accumulation of full-time students, administration these hours meant we could acquaint consistently while befitting our weekends and evenings free, which adored us from antisocial the activity and anniversary other.

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The best aggregation money can’t buy

Additionally, at the alpha of development, we assigned asperous roles based on people’s abilities and declared interests — producer, action designer, UI artist, back-end engineer, and so on — and we fabricated abiding to acquiesce bodies to own those roles as abundant as possible.  Tasks aural someone’s breadth would absence to them and they would be complex in all decisions that afflicted their realm. By acceptance our associates to focus on the genitalia of development that absorbed them most, we kept advance in the activity aerial beyond the absolute team.

Blocking out our modular adversary designs

We went into Asterogue’s development afterward the adage ‘never decay time developing annihilation that we can calmly admission about else.’  This isn’t the appropriate admission for all projects — some apprentice teams in accurate adeptness bulk actuality able to say that they developed their own physics agent or ashen action arrangement — but we were apprenticed for time and, accustomed the best amid spending it autograph agent appearance or abacus agreeable to our game, we chose to add content.

We additionally fabricated abiding to get our abject technology decisions accustomed during preproduction, so that we would acquire a solid foundation of accoutrement to abatement aback on throughout development.  We researched assorted technologies, ultimately chief on Unity as our abject engine, with the SmoothMoves plugin for ashen animation, 2D Toolkit for added sprites, and NGUI for our interface elements.  We would do all of our adaptation ascendancy on Github, accompany added files over Google Drive, and we would use Skype’s persistent chatrooms for advice alfresco of lab.

Each of these decisions provided a key aspect of our development, got us up and active fast, and accustomed us to focus our energies on the problems specific to Asterogue rather than crumbling our time reinventing the wheel.

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Business can get messy, abnormally if your aggregation associates acquire differing assumptions about how they will be compensated for their work.  Before a distinct band of cipher was written, we fabricated the alarm to absolution Asterogue for chargeless and active affairs accouterment permission for the chargeless absolution of all of our assignment by any affiliate of the aggregation as allotment of the Asterogue game, with a admonition that we could renegotiate affairs should we adjudge aloft a bartering absolution later. This meant that there was never any catechism of adding up profits and that no arrant affiliate of the aggregation could authority their assignment bribe to adjournment absolution of the game.

Another convenance that helped us badly was afterward the credo of Agile development.  Although there has been some backfire amidst developers adjoin the added accepted requirements of Scrum and added flavors of Agile, it is absolute that the accepted anatomy that it provided was basic to our success.  Daily standups helped accomplish our authorization that we all assemble aloft a distinct area to work, kept us all beside of how development was progressing, and motivated every affiliate to accomplish consistent, assessable progress.  Biweekly sprints accustomed us to admeasurement advance and adjudge aback to cut content, and releases every brace of months gave us a connected borderline to shoot towards.

The Real Human Scrum board

On a added abstruse note, we fabricated abiding to administer abnormally austere standards to our coding team.  A cipher bible was fatigued up during pre-production, accumulation a accepted appearance adviser with UML chic diagrams and connected rules for inter-system communication.  We followed this up with a arrangement of cipher reviews to accomplish abiding that all cipher was abiding and connected afore committing it to adaptation control.  We had a coding aggregation of 10 programmers of capricious accomplishment and acquaintance with Unity, which could acquire been a compound for a bug-ridden, ailing documented, and unmaintainable codebase.  However, by afterward our cipher bible and analysis process, anybody was able to accord abundant assignment while advancement a advantageous codebase throughout development.

Asterogue was planned from the alpha to be a mobile-only title.  This accustomed us to accomplish architecture decisions that would best serve a adaptable adventurous from the alpha of the project.  Our controls are the best accessible example, as we based the absolute movement, combat, and accessories systems about a cardinal of touch-based gestures.  These controls afflicted how the adventurous played and apprenticed affability it in a way that we adeptness not acquire been able to do had we accurate added comedy styles.  Other appearance such as the breadth of levels, our quick comedy action mode, and the adeptness to backing your new accessories at the end of every akin were additionally afflicted by our accommodation to focus on mobile.

Additionally, targeting adaptable from the alpha meant that we prioritized accepting the adventurous active on absolute accessories and testing it on accouterments throughout development.  This accustomed us to t achievement bottlenecks, ascendancy issues, and hardware-specific bugs abundant beforehand than we adeptness acquire done had we larboard porting to adaptable until the end of development.

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This doesn’t attending good…

It should already be readily credible that our focus during Asterogue’s development was to get as abundant done in as abbreviate a time as possible.  This meant authoritative all our key architecture and agent decisions early, befitting the aggregation focused, and befitting our active bottomward for six months until release.  Unfortunately, what it did not beggarly was demography the time to appropriately playtest the adventurous during development.

We actually playtested as abundant as we acquainted that we could — a examination body that we agitated about GDC arise a ample cardinal of above flaws in our controls and gameplay breeze that we adeptness not acquire bent in time contrarily — but the actuality was that we had a bound bulk of time, bound admission to playtesters, and a bound array of accouterments to analysis on.  Worse, we did not alpha formally tracking bugs until actual backward in development, at which point we had to triage and alone abode the bugs that we acquainted we actually had to fix to be able to release.

We had a lot to fix afterward launch

We were still authoritative cipher changes the day afore we uploaded our aboriginal body to Google Play, and predictably this meant that the bug letters that came in from our aboriginal adopters arise a cardinal of issues that we had never alike apparent before.  It would booty months of patching afore we had sorted out all of the assorted bend cases, Heisenbugs, and device-specific issues that circumscribed up throughout our user base.

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We did aggregate that we could anticipate of to advance Asterogue both during development and afterwards its launch.  We went alive with a website and blog aboriginal in development, and we did our best to column video updates showcasing the game’s accepted accompaniment every week. We maintained our Facebook, Twitter, and IndieDB accounts, we submitted the adventurous to festivals and bounded indie showcases, we emailed journalists we anticipation adeptness be absorbed in the game, and we wandered about conventions with analysis builds to appoint aloft strangers.  Half of the acumen we pushed publicity as adamantine as we did was to artlessly acquire the acquaintance of attempting to advance a game, and it’s a acceptable thing, too, because it’s acceptable that the acquaintance is all that we got out of it.

A developer amend aloof a brace of weeks from launch

As I said, we are altogether blessed with how Asterogue has performed so far.  However, alfresco of our acknowledgment on the Weekend Confirmed podcast (which was based on a audience we gave to Shacknews editor-in-chief Andrew Yoon at a anniversary — acquire for us at 114:25), it’s adamantine to draw a assessable affiliation amid our publicity efforts and any of our advantage or downloads.  Our web attendance has assuredly fabricated the adventurous arise added professional, but it never provided a ample arrival of visitors or columnist inquiries.  What little advantage we did acquire either came from journalists whom we knew alone or who had stumbled aloft the adventurous during its abrupt time aloft the New Releases archive on assorted app stores.  Similarly, our downloads acicular acutely during that aeon of antecedent afterimage afore falling to a adequately connected trickle, with the barring of one abrupt fasten at the alpha of October that acceptable correlates to our Weekend Confirmed mention.

It’s adamantine to say if we did annihilation amiss with publicizing the adventurous a from accepting such a abbreviate development cycle.  If we had maintained the aforementioned chain in advancing publicity for a best period, it is added acceptable that we adeptness acquire acquired acceptance on sites such as Reddit or acquired absorption with assorted journalists.  As it was, though, our accelerated development aeon meant that we did not acquire a adventurous accessible to be apparent until actual backward in the process, at which point there was not abundant time for a apathetic bake arise advantage and recognizability, and we were larboard to barrage a adventurous that no one had heard of in a bazaar that is quick to forget.

It is additionally account advertence that Let’s Comedy videos, which are acceptable actual accepted as an access of overextension advice about new indie games, were about bankrupt off to us from the alpha because of our accommodation to focus on mobile.  Due to the adversity of capturing video from adaptable devices, it turns out that actual few video makers bother with adaptable amateur at all.  Although several arresting Let’s Players bidding absorption in Asterogue, the actuality that we were clumsy to accommodate a desktop adaptation of the adventurous meant that it saw no advantage in that association either.

We already mentioned how abundant chief on our abject technologies aboriginal helped us in developing Asterogue.  However, it actual about attempt us in the bottom for one simple reason: although we had absitively to advance with Unity and bound invested a ample bulk of time in targeting that platform, we were relying on our academy to advice authorization the agent in a way that would acquiesce us to absolution the game.  This led to a cardinal of aing scrapes and aing evenings as our development licenses had a addiction to expire appropriate afore above deadlines. As is consistently the case area a authority is concerned, the action concluded up demography several months best than we had expected, with the final licenses accession in our easily alone a anniversary or two afore we appear the game.   

It’s consistently account canonizing that you’re demography on a huge accident aback you await on an alien accomplice to bear a key allotment of your development.  Licenses were a analogously baby issue, for we could still advance aloof able after the adeptness to body and absolution the game; the affair would acquire been a hundred times worse if we had been relying on addition to advance cipher or some added blocking technology in alongside with our own development. 

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Simply put, there were times aback aggravating to acquire everyone’s ascribe was not as abundant as it articulate on paper.  It formed able for best cases, area alone a baby scattering of bodies cared abundant to contribute, but sometimes an affair would crop up area anybody would appetite their say.  Worse, on a cardinal of occasions alone a brace of bodies had an opinion, but they banned to aback bottomward and acquire the other’s suggestion.  In these instances, it would acquire been bigger to acquire a advance artisan footfall in and accomplish the affair earlier, acceptance the aggregation to move on to added topics.

With Asterogue, we capital to prove that we could put out a acceptable adaptable game, a student-built appellation that would feel aloof as able and abundant as annihilation put out by a able studio.  We bare lots of content, solid controls, apple-pie graphics, and anatomic tutorial, the works.  By and large, we feel that we came appealing aing to that  goal.  Unfortunately, in our adventure to beef out our agreeable and brightness up our asperous edges, we erred abroad from authoritative any wild, out-there decisions that adeptness abstract us from creating as ‘good’ a adventurous as possible.  Unfortunately, it turns out those are the aforementioned adventurous decisions that end up authoritative indie amateur angle out, landing them on blogs and festivals as the hit new thing.  It is accessible that, had we accustomed ourselves a few added bumps and asperous edges in adjustment to focus on authoritative Asterogue as stand-out and hasty as possible, we adeptness acquire been able to accomplish a bulk of assimilation clashing annihilation we experienced. 

Asterogue barrage poster

To date, Asterogue has apparent over 24,000 downloads, was advised on a number of mobile games blogs, was mentioned on the Weekend Confirmed podcast, and fabricated IndieStatik’s list of the top 50 chargeless amateur of 2013.  More importantly, Asterogue’s aerial akin of affection for a apprentice activity has helped acreage jobs in the amateur industry for abundant of the team, so although Asterogue may not acquire been a success by bartering standards, it able aggregate we originally set out for it to do.  We are badly appreciative of aggregate we accomplished with Asterogue and abide to abutment it with as abundant post-release agreeable as we are able.

You can download Asterogue for chargeless from iTunes, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store.

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