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Erin Robinson from Ivy Games told 80.lv about her new game Gravity Ghost. Produced with limited budget this cool gravity platformer proves that you can make remarkable projects without publishers or Kickstarter.
When did you get into games and why did you decide to make games yourself? Have you worked in some big studios?
I started making games from my college dorm room when I was 18 years old. I think I was procrastinating on my exams. I remembered playing a lot of creative games as a kid, and I wanted to make games like the ones I grew up with. So the first couple of games I made were all point-and-click adventure games, since I loved King’s Quest. I’ve never really worked at a big game studio. Everything I know about games came from teaching myself, and from my friends.
Tell us a little bit about Gravity Ghost. What is this game about and what are its main features?
Gravity Ghost is a peaceful 2D planet hopper where you play a ghost girl trying to find her lost friend, the ghost fox. It’s unique in that there’s no killing, no dying, and no way to fail. It’s also 2-for-1: you can give your second copy of the game away to someone who doesn’t play many video games, since it’s so easy to learn. All you do is run, jump, and orbit.
How did you come up and program this cool mechanic?
The way the gravity works is our own invention, refined over several years of hard work and playtesting. It was very difficult to make a gravity game where you felt in control of a character. The first few prototypes were very difficult to play, but there was still something fun about that chaos. I wanted to keep the fun while reducing the chaos – I think we were able to find a good balance.
Tell us a little bit about the art direction in your game. Who made those wonderful animations? What tools did you use to create them?
Thank you! I did most of the art and animations myself (the only part I didn’t do were the black and white backgrounds in the cutscenes). I painted all the textures using a Wacom tablet and Adobe Photoshop. To animate the characters, I bought a tool for the Unity editor called SmoothMoves. It was still a lot of work: I had to lip-synch all the characters by precisely switching their mouth shapes, which took many, many hours of work. I also used a camera script and carefully timed the zooms, pans, and cuts that you see. Hopefully you didn’t notice those – if I did my job right it should just have felt like watching a cartoon.
For an indie-game you’ve got wonderful audio production: great music, lovely voice acting. How did you manage to achieve such high-cost production? Did you have some cool budget or is there some other way?
We had almost no budget to speak of. The process started with the writing: I cut down the script until only the essential story remained. Then we hired only professional actors to voice the characters. This was the only pricey part, but the charge was per hour, so by keeping the script quite short we were able to economize. I tried to do as much as I could to help the atmosphere, using the art and sound effects. The music was done by Ben Prunty, who also wrote the soundtrack to an indie game called FTL. In short, we focused a lot on the overall feeling and tone of the game, and tried to keep everything as close to that as possible.
Do you sell the game on your own or do you use some help from the publisher? Is it difficult to promote the game in such competitive environment?
I funded the game entirely out of my own pocket and through preorder sales. We never worked with a publisher, since they tend to take such a high percentage of the revenue. That means that all the promotion for the game falls to the team itself, which can be a challenge, it’s true. But when it felt overwhelming I would remind myself that if we were able to make a good game, people would want to share it on their own.
What were the most difficult things while developing this game? What took the most of your time and money?
The most difficult part was staying focused on the game, as it took us years to develop. The challenges of each day were different, and that was usually enough to keep me motivated at work. The hardest part was tuning the gravity and making the jumping feel good. After that, the rest of the story and gameplay (new planet types, etc) all seemed to fall into place.
How much money did it cost to make the Gravity Ghost?
It’s hard to say what the budget was, since most of it was just my own living expenses for several years. I’ll try to add it up one day. But I feel very proud that we never took any external funding. I held several jobs over the course of the game in order to raise money, and every penny went back into making the game better. In August of 2013 we opened up the game for preorders, which provided us with just enough funding to make it to the end. I’m still grateful to the people who preordered. It was their support that let us keep the game independent and make something truly weird.
What advice would you give to a person who’s really passionate about making games, but gets a little bit discouraged by big competition and poor discoverability of new games? Is there really a way for beginner-developers out there?
I would say to try to find an internet forum where people are making the kinds of games you want to make. You’re going to have to start small. But as long as you’re kind and willing to learn, I think you’ll find that there are a lot of people willing to help you find your way.
Author: Alexandr Agapitov