Under the Tree

Under the Tree
Santa's Game Shop

Guy Stevens | 4 Dec 2007 12:10
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I handed my spec to my artist and went on to building an engine from scratch, to save money. Within a few weeks, I had a working Flash based prototype. I was starting to feel pretty good about getting my little game built in time for the holidays.

But then Murphy showed up, and everything went wrong. While I was grinding away videogame code, my artist was working on other projects. After all, since my project didn't pay until it shipped, my project was last on the artist's list of priorities. Somehow there just wasn't enough time in the day for him to get to my project. Even worse, the artist blew out his computer, lost his job and was recruited by a religious cult to do special effects for their inspirational movie. The art delays stretched from days into months. My window of opportunity was quickly closing.

So now, in addition to writing my software, I was about to become a videogame artist. I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. I soon learned there's only so much that can be done in Photoshop. The saving grace was a company called Daz3d and their low cost 3-D art package, Carrara 3D.

Let me just say this, Carrara 3D saved my ass. It was so easy to use I purchased a set of pre-rigged 3D Christmas models and was able to get them animated in an evening. The interface was akin to old-fashioned stop motion animation. Within a few evenings, I had animations and graphics up and going. I had more assets in one week than my artist had been able to provide in three months. I was back in business.

What I couldn't create in Carrara, I created using legwork. I went to a local discount store and bought some Christmas ornaments, which I photographed and turned into brick graphics.

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I had the graphics, engine and levels all set, but I still I needed music. So what does a one-man shop do to make sure his music track doesn't sound like an old Amiga mod file? Uncle Larry and his Casio were not going to create a professional sounding soundtrack. Fortunately, since most holiday songs are public domain, you can buy licensed orchestral versions for a nominal fee. What's more, using an orchestra lends the whole game a higher production value.

Ultimately, a game featuring Santa Claus wouldn't be very convincing unless Santa had a commanding voice. After all, Santa leads a team of highly trained elves, who make their deadlines every year. Before contacting a voice actor, I worked out the bare minimum Santa would need to say - 11 lines of dialog. With the help of a directory, I managed to track down the guy the greeting card companies had hired to play Santa. And as luck would have it, he fit my budget!

Finally all the pieces came together, but unfortunately, it was too late for to find a distributor in time for Christmas. But all was not lost. In less than a year, I had proven that single man shop, working in his spare time, could construct a game, end to end and almost get it ready for market. I battled budgetary concerns and flaky artists and still came out unscathed. And there's always next year to get it to market.

Lookout, world! Next Christmas, there will be a quirky game under the Christmas tree. I might not have had a staff of engineers and artists, but damn it, I had perseverance and passion. I'm the every-developer. I have an idea, a twinkle in my eye and a burning desire to entertain the world.

Guy Stevens, author, producer and independent game developer

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