Looking back on my first game, 5 months later

Now 5 months after releasing my first game  under the "Small is Beautiful" brand and close on to releasing a second, it might be interesting to look back on my first game and see where it succeeded and where it failed. If you want to get into the context, you can start by giving it a quick shot.

HyperSpace Shooter's focus
The initial idea was more ambitious than the final result, as you can see in the first prototype, but I decided on doing a simpler game in a well known genre, something I knew I could pull off by myself in a few months. My initial focus was to learn ActionScript 3.0, the new language used in Flash, and to actually finish and get a first game out so I decided to reduce the design to it's bare minimum and still try to make a fine game out of it.

While I was having high hopes for the game and loved it very much (it is something that often happens while you are working on something, you become blind on the flaws and only see the hard work you've put in), for it to be a commercial success was never the main focus.

Where did it succeeded?
As a learning ground for AS3.0, it was a total success. It was on purpose that I chose to do an action game so that I could keep the graphism and sound design to the minimum and concentrate on the different programming challenges it would bring. I'm still far from being a "great" programmer and I still have to tackl seriously with object oriented concepts but all in all it was a very profitable experience.

Another thing were it succeeded tremendously was in seriously raising my own self-esteem. I had worked on several designs on the past. Some were prototyped, some remained on the concept stage and other got into early production but all were too ambitious and failed to go all the way through the development process. It was very important for me to get out a completed game at this point and I had confidence that I could do it. But it's only after achieving it that I could really understand the meaning of it. Having a game out there, I cannot deny my own abilities anymore. I now not only believe that I can make games, I KNOW it. This is a very important psychological step that I'm glad for. Also, I am now a better judge of what I can actually achieve. I'm much more realist with my designs and with that in hand it was a real breeze to start the second game and evaluate the development time.

Other important things I learned
The game quickly generated comments from the gaming community on Kongregate and I could adjust easy things the same day I posted the game (like stacking shields and more powerful guns). I was surprised to hear almost unanimously that is was way too easy since I was afraid that it would be too hard. But then I did not took into account the nature of the average gamer on Kongregate, which are mostly young hardcore players. I removed the first level in order for the challenge to be a little harder but at this point there was not much more that I could quickly do. In the end it still helped me understand my target market and made me more aware of the issues of having to size it up before releasing a game.

A commercial failure
The game totally failed to be a commercial failure. I was aiming at publishing on Kongregate and through the Mochi-Ads channel and really didnt knew what to expect but I was expecting at least something. All in all, as I previously said, the game did not generate much more than 5$ in ad revenues. It was a disappointment at the time but I soon understood why it happened.
To get in my given development time frame, I had to cut several features that I was hoping for: characters, backstory and short dialogs, space map, altenate weapons and, more importantly, bosses. I am totally aware that the game is strongly lacking in features and presentation. While I tried my best to wrap it up elegantly with what I had, it still feels like something it missing.
Space shooters being a very well established genre, HyperSpace Shooter just could not size up with any kind of competition with the few features it had.  I still believe it is well done but it falls short of any kind of innovation or special interesting twist and the presentation and production value are too simple to keep the interest through the game. It got an average note on Kongregate and quickly fell into the abyss of forgotten games. I could have tried to push the marketing but really I didn't see the point. I knew that the game was just "not enough" and that any effort in marketing would be wasted. I do believe that marketing is important for the success of a game, but if the game is bad, no amount of marketing can pull it up from it's hole. For it to be a commercial success, it would need a majoyr re-work to make it stand-out among the crowded space occupied by the space shooter genre.

So where is the second version?
I did not abandonned the project. Even if I started another completely different project, HyperSpace Shooter still exists in my mind. It's a genre that I like and that I want to make right. But after working several months full time on it all by myself, I just couldn't stand to see it anymore. I decided to start another small project in another genre (point and click adventure). Something that would not require too much programming but would allow me to do more character design and animation instead. I really enjoy doing graphic work more than programming and I had to work on project that would allow me to do it for my own sanity. But when I'm done with the current project, I'll probably be ready to jump back into programming and do another version... I never make plans much in advance though, so I'll just decide when the moment comes. :)

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