hello alien

#1GAM September: “Hello, Alien!” released on Google Play

For the September One Game A Month challenge (#1GAM), we decided to polish “Hello, Alien!” and release it for Google Play. We previously had problems publishing on Google Play, but we finally had access to a credit card, so we went for it. You can still get it on Itch.io too.

Some might say, that this doesn’t qualify for a #1GAM release, as we didn’t even port the game to another platform, just release it on another marketplace. But we updated it quite substantially and setting up a Google Play Store Page was a whole new challenge for us. So I would argue, it still counts.


We polished the artwork, streamlined the HUD, added more visual indicators, refined all the levels, made small performance improvements and fixed many bugs.

Screenshot from 2016-09-25 11:55:38.png

Old VS New HUD

Despite all this changes, I’m still not happy with it. Everywhere I look, I see flaws, some tiny, some large. Yet, in the spirit of the #1GAM challenge, I just published it at the end of the month, instead of spending an undefined amount of time trying to make it “perfect”. I guess this challenge is not only about learning to hit deadlines, but learning to “let go”.

This #1GAM reports have usually been about the Good, the Bad and Lessons Learned, but I think I’ll cut it down to just the Lessons Learned, as they are the most important thing to take away from this challenge, and it makes this easier to write.

Lessons Learned

Marketing is hard, good Marketing is even harder (and takes a lot of time)

We all know the hardships of marketing: providing a good first impression, evoking interest and finally convincing the potential player, that your game is worth their time. This also holds true if you provide your game for free.

Some things to take away (and how we failed them):

  • Have a video of gameplay. Videos are the best way to show what your game is about. I sadly never bothered to record a video, partly because recording and editing a quality video is difficult and partly because you need surprisingly good hardware and software. But having a video is essential to conveying prospective player a feel for your game, especially if your screenshots aren’t telling much. Speaking of which.
  • Provide your best screenshots. The screenshots are the first thing a player is going to see when they visit the store page. Out of the whole game they will only see mere snapshots of it, so make sure that those are the most appealing moments of your game you have to offer. But I honestly have no idea how to create the most awesome screenshots. If somebody finds out, please tell me.
    Looking at our own screenshots, I doubt it would convince myself to play the game. I’m not really proud about the artwork and the kinda incoherent artstyle.
  • Screenshots and recordings can expire. So you spent one day making all those great screenshots and recording gameplay and whatnot, and probably feel pretty proud of yourself. Cool! Then you go and rework the HUD, delete some levels, add particle effects and maybe update the player sprite. Great! Now all your previous hard work has been invalidated, rendering everything outdated, not representative of the final state of the game.
    Sometimes that’s no big deal, because the player probably won’t notice small details. However, if a screenshot shows a level that isn’t really in the game, it somehow feels like lying to the player. Sometimes this means placing a disclaimer with “beta footage”, and sometimes it just means straight-out redoing everything.
    Don’t be a fool, record gameplay last. (Note: I’m talking about screenshots/videos/trailers on store-pages, where you present your game, and what’s in it. Having outdated screenshots on Development Blogs and Social Media is totally okay, if not even mandatory.)

Google Play is powerful but setting up a store page can be complicated

The Google Play Developer Console is a really powerful tool, providing a lot of statistics and ways to manage your game. It can be overwhelming at times, as you can literally spend weeks reading documentation and help pages. There are so many things I never even knew I could think about, that suddenly need a decision.

  • So many regulations. You need to fill out a questionnaire to find the proper content rating for your app. Suddenly tiny details matter. For example, there is one question, whether there are references to alcohol in your game. And I know for a fact, that there is exactly one line of text that one alien says, that indirectly references drinking alcohol. Suddenly questions appear like: Should I remove that single line to avoid having to rate it as containing references to alcohol? Should I just remove all the silly text? Will anybody notice if I just don’t tick that box? Does anybody even care about the content rating? I know I’ve never cared about it.
  • Banners and icons. Not only is it an own science to create appealing ones, they also have to be of specific sizes. The launcher icon is even needed in multiple sizes.
  • Think about localisation. In an attempt to have an international or even global reach, I use English in my games. But this completely neglects all the geographically local players, that don’t speak English (or prefer not to), but prefer my mother tongue instead. I could easily translate the game to German, without having to hire a translator. It would most likely be worth the effort to implement internationalisation, but I never bothered to. The least I could do, was to provide a German store description.
    Of course, the best approach is, to explain your game without using words, just with interactive tutorials that use symbols and graphics.

This post is slowly getting out of hand, and there is still so much to talk about. Maybe I’ll write more about this another time, and cut it short here.

When you think something is obvious, it isn’t

Having played the game quite some time during development, you start to internalize how things work. That’s why it is absolutely mandatory, to watch other people play your game, to get some reality check.
Whenever you give your game to play testers and you have to interfere and help them or show them how something is done, your design has failed. Note down those things and improve on them. It’s your job as a designer, to educate your players through the game itself, be it through tutorials or intuitive design.

Make tutorials interactive, don’t only SHOW them how something is done, make them actually DO it. “Show, don’t tell.” becomes “Let them do what you show.”. And provide feedback, whenever the player does something right. Reward them with flashy particles and let them know, they did it right.

Avoid sunken cost fallacy

There have been lots of features, that I spent a long time implementing, that didn’t turn out great. It’s really hard to cut those features. Humans tend to think, something gets inherent value because they spent a lot of time on it, and it would be a waste to throw it away, but that’s simply not true. Ultimately, if it really isn’t that awesome, the game is worse off because you stuck to it. *insert joke about polishing a turd here*


Really late “monthly” blog post this time, but I’m slowly catching up. The next one will follow shortly, accompanied by an update to Pixel Soldier. I guess this is the part where I should advertise our Twitter, so you don’t miss it.

Release of “Hello, Alien!” – For real this time

So, now the “Open-Beta” has ended, and “Hello, Alien!” is ‘finished’. Or at least, development on it has stopped for now (except for bugfixes of course).

What if you make a game, and nobody shows up?

“Open-Beta” went relatively…. well, let’s not say bad… we’ll just call it underwhelming. The same holds true for the October Challenge. Apparently nobody will show up to a party, if you don’t tell anybody. (Who knew, right?)

At least we can boast 207 views and 38 downloads. (While nearly all of the traffic comes from ludumdare.com, the only other site I’ve posted about the game.)

I just understood the importance of marketing. The next step will be to try and get the word out. I’ll have to investigate on some good ways to get some people’s attention. I heard twitter is good at those things…

In other news

We are currently working on a small game started for the MiniLD #55 last weekend. Just testing out some things I usually neglect (trying out some nice shaders) and it seems like it will finally be playable in the browser (rejoice). I just hope we finish in time before LudumDare #31 will start this weekend. Also let’s hope the theme won’t be .


October Challenge Completed (more or less)

We just released our first game, Hello Alien! on the itch.io store. It’s totally free and it’s available for Windows, Linux, OS X and Android.


Open Betas are cool

However, as you might have noticed, we “released” it in an open beta mode.

It is functionally complete. Yes.

But some things look weird, the controls are difficult and there are not many levels. There simply wasn’t enough time to polish everything to the level I would have liked. Therefore it will be in an open beta phase during November. This gives us more time to continue improving it and incorporate user feedback. By the end of November it will be released for good, and we will hopefully have something we can be (even more) proud of.


First step done

Now that we have created and published our game, we’re just gonna wait until the money rolls in. No, but seriously, to succesfully complete the October Challenge, we still have to make a dollar. And I personally think that’s already pretty optimistic, but we will see how that goes.


Beginning of October

It’s been a while now that October has begun. “So, what’s so special about October?”, you might ask. Well, it is the time for the October Challenge, duh! “So, what’s the October Challenge?”, is your instinctive follow-up question.

Hobby VS Profession

Well, October Challenge is about bringing a game to the market (making it publicly available) and earning at least 1$ from it. October Challenge isn’t about making a game, it also isn’t primarily about earning money but instead it’s about becoming a professional. Not all of a sudden, but making the first step. What differentiates a hobby game developer from a professional game developer? One makes (hopefully) enough money to live from it, the other doesn’t.

I now have been a hobby game developer for some time and sometimes I dream of becoming a professional. But on other days I fear becoming a professional. The problem simply is, when you do something as a hobby, you can do it whenever you want as much as you feel like. But as soon as you go (full-time, independent) professional, you HAVE to do it, if you feel like it or not, otherwise you won’t earn any money to be able to pay your food and rent. This simply drains fun from the experience and can put someone under unbelievable pressure.

The benefits of not being a professional

Being a hobby game developer has so many advantages. You can not work on something for a while, if you don’t feel like it. You can create all the things you want, without having to worry about focus groups or marketing strategies. Heck, you can produce shit games and nobody will complain. You can give things away for free and never have to worry about DRM or pirating. It just gives you so much freedom.

The benefits of being a professional

Of course it isn’t all rainbows and lollipops. Doing this as a hobby forces you to have to work on something else to earn money, meaning that you will have less time to work on your games, resulting in less games or lower quality games. Being a professional simply gives you more resources (time and financial), given you manage to do well.

Back to reality

As confucius once (might have) said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” The only question is, if something remains fun after you have made it your job. But you can never find it out, if you have never given it a try, therefore becoming a professional is still a desirable goal.

But first, I would have to create something I feel like I can charge other people something for, without feeling like ripping them off. I never felt like charging someone for something I made. I make games mostly for myself for fun and for the learning experience. I hardly consider them absolutely great and I’m happy if someone is checking them out. I also refrain from putting ads in my games, because I also hate them being in games I play.

That’s why I will try to earn my dollar for october through donations. I will put up an improved version of my LD30 entry, ‘Hello, Alien!‘, to download for free on the play store and will set up a donations button for people to support the developers. I like the idea of letting the customers decide what something is worth to them and giving them the power to support what they like.

And maybe, just maybe, I will have earned one dollar by the end of the year.

I will call that a success.


Ludum Dare 30 Aftermath

Ludum Dare 30 ended and the results are in! And we did BETTER THAN EXPECTED, at least better than I expected. Woot! Out of 1045 jam entries, our game Hello, Alien! scored surprisingly well:

Position Category Rating Relative Position (from Top)
#23 Fun(Jam) 4.02 2%
#39 Humor(Jam) 3.82 4%
#47 Overall(Jam) 3.94 4%
#57 Theme(Jam) 3.90 5%
#106 Innovation(Jam) 3.62 10%
#154 Audio(Jam) 3.55 15%
#175 Mood(Jam) 3.51 17%
#295 Graphics(Jam) 3.58 28%

This are the best results of any Ludum Dare I’ve entered yet. Our game seems to be a really fun(ny) experience! Big thanks go to Florian Kager, because he did a great job creating the music/audio for the game. I still can’t believe it, I’m utterly happy that people seem to like what we are doing!

Another reason to celebrate: We published the first revised Post-Compo version, with old bugs fixed, new bugs introduced, three new levels and finally a (hopefully) not sucking way to rotate objects.

Next goal will be bringing ‘Hello, Alien!’ to a mobile device and I really want to add more levels and more ways to manipulate the laser.


Ludum Dare 30 – Hello, Alien! – Post Mortem

This Ludum Dare we created a little puzzle game, which we called ‘Hello, Alien!’ and you can go play it here.

Gameplay of Hello, Alien!

About the game:

The aliens have been living happily in their connected galaxies, until an asteroid storm disconnected their interplanetary connection based on laser satellite technology. Help them to restore their connection, by using mirrors, splitters and bombs.

The good things that happened:

  • LAZORZS! The laser effects turned out to be pretty neat, and it’s really fun just playing around with the lasers. (Thanks to this laser creation guide.)
  • Artstyle: I tried out various artstyles and came to the conclusion, that pixelart is what I suck the least at. So, I’m happy I decided to create pixelart and stuck with it.
  • Teamwork: Although Florian (Sound and Music guy) had a lot of other things going during the weekend, he managed to create some sweet music and sound-effects, so that I could focus on other tasks. We had a pretty fast feedback-loop so that iterations over created assets were quick and painless.
  • Dropping the lose condition: In the first versions of the game, you would lose the level when you grilled those nice aliens and you had to restart the level, undoing all your hard work. But killing the aliens is the most fun part! And it’s a god damn puzzle game, there is no need to ‘lose’ the level. There are states of the level that mean the level is solved, and everything else just means it isn’t solved yet. On the other hand it will certainly make sense to add some sort of element that the laser isn’t allowed to hit, before the level counts as solved. But it shouldn’t need a complete level restart, just some repositioning of the necessary game elements.

The bad things that happened:

  • Unnecessary (Failed) Optimizing: I wasted some hours reworking (“optimizing”) the laser raytracing code just to fail at one small bug. It turned out the first sloppy code was good enough in the end.
  • Last minute level design: I created some levels during the second day, but a lot of the third day was spent refining them as tutorial levels. The last hour before submission was used to quickly create more ‘non’-tutorial levels, and were quite hastily put together.
  • Level Editor Lacking Usability: Also the editor for creating the levels was made during the weekend, and some features were really clunky to use and/or not fully implemented. So creating levels was a really tiresome progress. This further slowed down the ability to create more levels for the game.
  • Did not finish art assets: I did not manage to rework all the graphics for the final version, so the planets and buttons don’t quite fit aesthetically into the rest of the game.

Ludum Dare was certainly a fun experience and gave us the feeling of actually having accomplished something (even if not much).

So, the next thing we will do, is to polish our Ludum Dare entry and add all the features we would have liked to add. For the post-compo version, we would also like to get it on Android, because we figured, it would make a neat mobile game.