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Exploring Indie Dev: The Story of Flea Madness

The team Misset shared a behind-the-scenes look at their new project Flea Madness: game mechanics, funding and the business side of game development, challenges, testing, and more.


Hi, we are Missset team, the developers behind Flea Madness. Our team now has six people, including four core members (three 3D artists and one programmer) and two new members: a 2D artist and a programmer. All members of the core team live in one city and have previously worked together at the same studio (as part of Vogat Interactive), developing hidden object games. Even then, we had a desire to make our own game with more complex mechanics. Now we work together on our dream game and each of us uses our strengths to benefit the project.

Flea Madness: Idea

Everything we did before Flea Madness was experiments that didn't reach the production stage. We wanted to make an unusual game and started brainstorming for a crazy idea. The original concept was a runner in which a mutant squirrel ran through the trees and flew between them with the main task to break away from the pursuing monster. After the first experiments, the game transformed into a sphere runner, in which a player could run and bite enemies and thereby grow (something like agar.io in 3D). The next iteration was to add multiplayer for more fun. Also, the characters got really insane and turned into alien fleas, hence the name of the game. We also changed the mechanics and instead of moving around small spheres, we introduced more familiar arena locations. From that moment on, the main idea of ​​the game became what it is now.

Game Mechanics

In Flea Madness, you play as small alien fleas living on space debris. This injustice made them angry with the whole universe and they dream of moving to the nearest inhabited planet with an abundance of fauna and flora. Their main characteristics are madness and a huge appetite, so they will not be able to get along with the locals. This means they need to take over the planet! There are two types of crazy fleas. Due to the constant feeling of hunger, they eat everything they can get to. In the meantime, fleas are fighting each other, trying to get to the top of the food chain.

The game begins when fleas land on the planet, where they gradually become an invasive species. But it is not easy to keep the lead. It turns out there are many dangerous creatures on the planet that they still have to fight...

The main mechanics of the game are eating all living things, character growth, and transformation into a more dangerous monster. The character has three stages of development. As it grows, new abilities get unlocked and the existing ones improve. The main principle is, your size means your life.

Currently, we are trying to find the game mode we need. One of the best ideas at the moment is the team mode of hunting a large monstrous beetle, which is small, weak, and defenseless during the day. But on the full moon, it turns into a truly "gear-grinding machine" for eating alien hunters, and at night it will be difficult to hide from it. We are also developing the idea of ​​a mode in which your team has to drag some caterpillars onto your starship, where they will be processed into fuel. We call this "caterpillar racing". We love it.

One of the main mechanics of the game, the "Food evolution" system (in other words "we are what we eat"), is currently in development. Within this system, when you eat a fast NPC (for example, a grasshopper, which you need to catch first), you become a little faster. Accordingly, armored beetles pump your resistance to damage, aggressors pump your attack, and so on. There will also be junk food, easy prey like worms or caterpillars – they can help the player increase in size, but eating them will take away part of the progress fin the physical parameters. The last 200 eaten NPCs will be taken into account, and if you can eat about 50 NPCs per match, you can completely change the physical characteristics of your character in 4 matches. The "Food evolution" process will be constant, so the players will need to monitor their diet and tune the character based on the tasks. In fact, within several matches the player can maneuver between the classes (Tank, Rapid, etc.) by changing stats and abilities.

Interactive mechanics are also in our focus. One of these mechanics is riding an NPC, which is designed to replace transport and make Flea Madness more entertaining.

Our priority is to develop the entertainment component of our game. Visually, the abilities are designed to be fun, the same with mechanics. This also applies to the voice acting of the characters. Did you know that mad fleas are farting constantly? Now you do.

Game Development Challenges

Our main game development tool is Unreal Engine. In fact, it covers most of the challenges we face. At a basic level, the main difficulty we have is connected with constant support for replication (in multiplayer). This is one thing to keep in mind when developing any online game. In addition, it can be difficult to make game design decisions. Since none of us have any game design experience, all team members took on the role of the game designer in the project. A lot of ideas are generated, but we are not always sure about some mechanics. Most ideas need to be prototyped and tested. Actually, we still continue to experiment. We often get interesting feedback from players who are testing the game, and thanks to them new ideas, mechanics, etc. appear.

Another important and difficult point is the characters. Since the game is tied to evolution, each character class has 3 stages of progress, each stage is different in appearance. As a result, we have one class, but we need to implement 3 characters.

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Looking for Funding

During the first few years, we developed the game without any funding. We worked on the project in our spare time and invested our own money in it. This was enough at the prototype stage, but when we moved to a larger pre-alpha phase and started testing the game with the players, it became clear that with the 4 people working part-time, we would not be able to develop the project at the required pace. We started attending game exhibitions, looking for a publisher and funding. At the same time, we applied for Epic Mega Grants. Actually, the first funding we received was a grant from Epic Games. We are sincerely grateful for this. Funding allowed us to invite two new people to the team just for those areas we had difficulties with (2D art and programming), as well as create music and sounds for the game.

We are now all working together on our next update, which we can't wait to test. There are also new classes, and a huge number of fixes and innovations. We also found a publisher, and thanks to that we can say a little about the other side of game development – promotion and community management.

Building a Community

We insanely love what we do, and it is quite easy to infect others with our madness. The game has its own Discord server where our testers are notified about upcoming events and can discuss the last ones. This is a strong community of people who enjoy playing together and doing crazy things. Sounds like the beginning of a good friendship! We also willingly share WIP screenshots and gifs and the models of new characters on our social media to tease the audience, and every new test brings in more and more people. The difficulty is that we can’t keep the game servers working more often, but this is just a matter of time.

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Business Side of the Game

If we talk about the business part of development, in our opinion, the most difficult thing is the process setup. Creating a game product is a many-sided task, and often one task is linked to others and depends on the work of other people. Regarding the tasks, everything can be simple: you just need to store them somewhere (for example, in Jira or Trello), regularly update, or even change them sometimes. With people, it is more difficult. We initially built a "horizontal" management for the core team. This means that everyone has the same influence on decision making. We know that many people don't believe in the effectiveness of this system, especially when the team has an even number of people. But such a system saved us many times from the wrong decisions that could have been made in a typical "vertical" system with one main person in charge (we have already mentioned the lack of experience, in production as well). By the way, there has never been such a situation where the vote results were 50/50, we always manage to come to an agreement on any issue.

We can give beginners advice only on the basis of the experience that we have now, but it is obvious that first you need a cool idea, a team, and – it is very important – you need to make a prototype and start showing it to other people and testing it as early as possible. The feedback is the greatest motivation for a developer.

Future Plans

After receiving a grant from Epic Games, our team expanded a bit and we can now devote more time to development. We work tirelessly. Brainstorming continues constantly, new interesting ideas for mechanics are being born. There are many things to be implemented and tightened to improve the game. Now we are changing the principle of building maps, the new ones will be much larger. Previous maps will become part of the "big worlds". We want to develop biomes with their own fauna and make them interesting, different from each other. We plan to make use of the day/night cycle function and boldly change the gameplay depending on the time of day.

It's hard to talk about the release dates yet. We would like to invest in a year of development, but it will be almost impossible without expanding the team. Thereby, we are now looking for additional funding.

Missset Team, Game Developers

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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