Matt Glanville has worked as a level designer on personal projects and AAA titles but recently, like many others, decided to work part-time on a project that he has wanted to develop for a long time. Unfortunately, the route to developing such a project of passion has not been an easy journey. After trying to fund his endeavour through Crowdfunding, he found that he had to return to working at an established studio to build up funds to continue his Luminesca project.
Talking to Matt, we discover the real challenges he has to overcome being an indie developer, balance working full-time during the day and part-time on his indie project and how funding can slow the development of a project.
What is your name and your profession?
My name’s Matt Glanville, and I’m a game designer!
Did you always want to be a games developer?
I don’t think I really made the decision until about 5 years ago but I guess you could say I did always want to, because I’ve been making little RPG Maker games and Half-Life mods and designing levels on paper since I was a kid. It took me a while to realise that it was something I wanted to pursue as a career though!
You’ve worked in AAA studios before. What made you want to pursue the indie route?
The main reason was my feelings about Luminesca. I realised that I had to make this game and it had to be the way I wanted it. That’s something I could never do in a big team project because I’m still pretty low down on the ladder, so there are loads of people above me who can all make changes to things that I feel very strongly about. Like certain creative design principles and approaches to game design that I have strong feelings about. Achievements, for example. You can’t release a game on consoles without achievements and so developers are forced to shoehorn them in. Of course some developers are clever with them, but so often you see them being used in a way that is detrimental to the experience and completely distracting and rewarding inane tasks. If Luminesca ends up having any achievements there will just be one: see the game through to the end.
How are you finding life as an indie developer?
Most of my life as an indie developer is crammed into free evenings and weekends as I’m also working full-time at a studio. It’s tough to get much done on the game but the little bursts of productivity I do manage are great. It’s so satisfying to actually make some progress!
Do you find it challenging working by yourself?
Absolutely. It really makes you appreciate how much work goes into making games. There are so many things that you take for granted and when it comes to implementing them you’re shocked at how much work it requires. I’m getting good at cutting corners though! I’m taking advantage of middleware as much as possible. While it would be great to be able to say I made everything from scratch, my main goal is to actually end up with the right game rather than something I had to compromise on because I didn’t have the skills or time.
Any positive or negative points during development that stand out in your mind?
Money constraints are a big negative. It would be great to take that away and just work freely as much as I need to.
Luminesca will be your first title as and Indie developer. Can you give us a brief overview of Luminesca?
It’s a 2D silhouette game set in a dark underwater fantasy world. You play as a little creature called Lum who can emit light from the esca on his head. The game is about making sense of the world around you.
What games have inspired you while creating Luminesca?
I think the biggest influence has been Ico. Mainly for its simplicity and pure focus on a single tangible goal. I also love the way it paints a picture of this amazing place. I think you can say so much with environment in games. It contributes to mood and tone and in Ico’s case it is the primary obstacle between you and your goal. The castle itself is the biggest obstacle you face and it’s always there every step of the way. As well as this I’ve enjoyed lots of other indie games for similar reasons, for the unique worlds they portray. NightSky was the game that first made me consider using silhouettes. I highly recommend it, it’s cheap on Steam!
What tech have you used to create Luminesca so far and why did you use these tools?
It has been almost exclusively made in Unity. I played around with some 2D engines but opted for Unity for several reasons. The community support for it is amazing and it’s becoming prevalent in so many areas, and it lets you build your game and worry about how to distribute it later. I’ve made use of several plugins from the Asset Store as well. The Polygon Tool has been so helpful in quickly sketching out level shapes and having them immediately working.
How did your Indiegogo funding go? Did it help much with the development of Luminesca?
I had a good response, but my cost of living was so high at the time that the funds basically just paid the bills for the time I spent raising awareness. After that I was back at square one, which is really frustrating. Progress has slowed down a lot since then. I’ve got a lot of the groundwork laid down though and I’ve got a much clearer idea of what does and doesn’t work for the game. It’s slowly taking shape.
Would you recommend Crowdfunding to other Indies?
Yes but I would urge them to plan ahead very carefully and have a backup plan too.
How long till Luminesca is at the Alpha stage of development?
Too long to say! Maybe later next year.
What sort of development model are you using? A straight forward approach where players will only be able to get their hands on the game at Beta or launch? Or, are you taking the ‘Minecraft route’ and letting players get their hands on the game to play it so you can gather feedback during development as soon as possible?
I want to get something out there as soon as possible so I’ve been looking into early distribution methods like Alphafunding on Desura and the prototype option on Indievania. My main concern with this though is that the game is likely to change so much between now and release. Even looking at the IndieGoGo build, it’s almost like a different game already. To use this method you have to ask players to put a lot of faith in your idea and skills which is a nerve-racking thing to do.
There are a lot of students on a number of game development courses around the country. Would you recommend them going indie after gaining some experience?
Absolutely, although I’m sure for a lot of students you don’t have the option of not working when you’re in that situation. But I do really think that game development students should be working on their own projects all the time. As with anything creative, the more you create the more you learn. It’s not the kind of thing you can just read a book about and then be an expert. You have to get your hands dirty, you have to experiment and get things wrong and learn to work out how to fix them. Make games, even if you don’t intend to release them. But do finish them! If they’re too big to finish, make them smaller.
What advice have you got for aspiring developers regarding portfolio development?
I can only really speak from a designer perspective, and for that I would say focus on gameplay. Gameplay is paramount. When I first started thinking about my portfolio, when I was building Half-Life 2 levels, I got art and design confused. Both are important to understand for people in both disciplines, but if you’re looking for a job in the industry you probably won’t be hired to do both. You’ll be hired to do just one. I think I spent too much time making levels that looked good and not enough time experimenting with gameplay mechanics. If you can create an interesting, fun new mechanic in a level editor for an existing game then you’re off to a great start. Someone else can make it look good!
What’s next for you and Luminesca?
I’ve got a list of things I want to get working for the aforementioned prototype demo thing, so I’ve set myself this short-term goal to implement all that. Hopefully you’ll all be able to play a new version sometime soon!
Glanville is currently working at Climax Studios. If you want to track the Luminesca project’s developments you can follow Matt’s progress via his personal website, the Luminesca blog, the Luminesca Facebook page and follow it on Twitter.