Danish developer Adrian Lazar, who previously worked as a technical artist at Full Control, just won the Unreal Dev Grant of $15000.
Initially, Adrian Lazar had grown tired of playing video games: “A few years ago I stopped playing video games. This happened gradually – a combination of having little free time and no longer really enjoying the games that were coming out. Maybe it was the age, maybe it was because games were becoming dumber and dumber but I just lost interest.” Lazar explains.
But this all changed when he discovered the re-release of Another World on the iPad. “Then, a couple of years back I played the iPad version of Another World – a game that I missed when I was younger. I loved it! I loved the gameplay and I loved the graphics.”.
This rekindled Lazars interest and inspired him to start a project of his own. A project that would eventually turn into Planet Alpha 31.
“At the beginning I just had a feeling that I wanted the people to experience and nothing more. It was the same feeling I had when I played Another World, the feeling of being on a strange planet, far from home.” Lazar explains to Nordic Game Bits.
Lazar chose to combine this feeling with the mechanics of the games he grew up with: “At its core Planet Alpha 31 is a tribute to the old-school games I grew up with: solid game mechanics, stylish art-style and little to no hand-handling. To survive you will have to explore and to be observant of this strange world – head on approach rarely works – think before you shoot.”.
Read more about: No More Games from Full Control
The process of finding a solid concept was a long and chaotic journey for Lazar, but now that the concept is solidifying, it has become less important to explore new ideas and more important to focus on the things that work.
“If the concept part was more like an explosion of ideas where almost everything went, now it is more important to say ‘no’ than trying to squeeze everything in. It’s not always easy to reject your own ideas, but I try to be very picky about what game-mechanics I decide to implement.” Lazar explains. “Both because being a solo developer, I have limited bandwidth that needs to be shared with several other parts of creating the game, but more importantly because I prefer making a game with few simple, but solid, mechanics rather than a game that tries to do everything but doesn’t excel in any.” he continues.
For Lazar, it is all about creating a focused experience where all the design decisions help create the experience of being lost on an alien planet. Even though he tries to avoid feature creep, he sometimes gets ideas that are essential for the experience, even though it might take a lot of effort to implement them.
“On the other hand, there have been a few moments where I got an idea for a visual feature or for a game-mechanic that I just knew I had to implement, no matter how difficult or time consuming it would be.” Lazar says. “The Daytime Manipulation mechanic (I really need to find a better name) started as an idea that came while I was on vacation. It gives the player the ability to change the planet rotation, going fast forward or fast backwards, and this allows him to interact with special Alien structures and to affect the planet biosphere.” He continues.
But it isn´t a small task to implement an idea like this, especially not late in the development process.
“This is the kind of feature that requires changes throughout the entire game, from visuals to game-play to audio, but I had to implement it. Otherwise I knew I wouldn’t make the best game I could. Luckily I had the laptop with me, so I spent the rest of the vacation working on the mechanic and it was totally worth it.”
Since the beginning of the development of the game, Lazar has been very open about the process, posting information on forums to get honest feedback from potential players:
“An open development process will also give you honest feedback and this is something that many small indies don’t have access to. Asking friends and family about your game is not a viable method for getting objective opinions. But people on the internet have no problems trashing your game if they don’t like it”.
But this isn’t the only benefit, as the improved visibility also helps develop an interest in the game.
“Making your game public early can also increase the game social presence and start building a fan base. With limited financial resources and often limited marketing know-how, it can be difficult for a small developer to stand out from the crowd. Having a good game always helps, of course, but creating a marketing campaign while developing your game can be a challenge for many.”
However, according to Lazar, the flipside is that negative feedback can be harmful if the idea is in early development. “It’s easy to get hyped about your own ideas and want to share it with others. However, in your head it will always look better then others will see it, and just a few negative reactions in the beginning can be devastating.”, he says.
Luckily for Lazar, he waited some time before taking to the internet to get feedback. Something he certainly appreciates now.
“I have no doubt that if I would have shared the first version of Planet Alpha 31 and talked about how awesome the game would become, I would have been totally trashed. Sometimes you just need to wait a little more for the idea to mature, for the art-style to advance, before you make it public. And this is also to make sure that the core game idea is yours to develop as you wish.”.
And as Lazar concludes, “Another risk is that once you take something in public that is not of final quality, it will end up defining the game. And once people form an opinion about something it requires a lot of work to change it.”.
Planet Alpha 31 is still in early development, and Lazar is trying to finnish the initial gameplay prototype in time for the big game festivals of 2015. “As for the future, the plan is to finish the prototype level, and the Dev Grant is a huge help. I stopped adding new content and I’m keeping the prototype level relatively short with 15-20 minutes of game-play as this allows me to refine the game-mechanics and level design.”