The project in a nutshell
Sprite Sequence is a weekly video game series. It follows a model similar to webcomics but in an interactive video game format. It aims mainly at exploring the narrative side of the medium while exploring different interactive mechanics.
Why Sprite Sequence?
There are many reasons why I started Sprite Sequence. I've worked in the game industry for a few years and despised the constant crunch, the peer pressure, the lack of recognition of work done, the rigid hierarchy. I ran my Flash game company for several years with a relative measure of success but then I became a dad and couldn't commit enough time to make it viable. It eventually became very stressful to bet my living wage on it. I was ready to give up on game development completely so I had to find a way to do things differently and, most of all, to remember why I was making games in the first place : because it's FUN!
Sprite Sequence became a way to :
avoid the risks associated with long development cycles
avoid the emotional stress related to big releases
do something really original
build a community around my work
put fun back into making games!
Short development cycles
I have released several games for the web-based Flash game market under a sponsorship model. Releasing a game I've worked on for several months was always a crushing experience emotionally. As anyone who has released a game knows; how a game is received can make or break a business. Any little error during launch is critical.
When releasing every week, if a sequence doesn't work it's not too bad. I can fix it or build on it or dismiss it and keep going with the next one. Sometimes I really like what I've done, sometimes it's just OK. But I'm always proud when I finish on time and most of all it's never a crushing experience. This way my family don't have to live with a depressed grumpy bear for weeks with every release. This is better for everyone.
The club of emotions crushing
Build a community
OK, I'm not there yet. Reaching out to people is a weakness of mine. But the plan is that with regular releases, I will be able to grow a conversation with my audience. I will be able to poll them on what they think should happen, what works and what doesn't and what direction they'd like me to take among the many possibilities ahead. I'll be able to stay on their radar with regular releases instead of releasing a game and let them slowly forget about me while I build the next one. Being an introvert, it will also force me to actually get in touch with people and develop the communication skills I'm currently lacking.
Freed from long development cycles and stressful releases, I can regularly try different things and it so happens that many ideas I had to put on hold in the past found their way back into the project. I feel productive, I feel powerful and most of all I'm having a lot of fun!
If I ever find myself working on something I don't like, I can swiftly change direction. To drop an idea doesn't mean to drop months of work anymore. This has the power to keep the project fresh and interesting.
Trying something a little different
Being surprised by my own work
The weekly series format is a very interesting one. When I finish a sequence, I don't necessarily know what the next one will be. I have little time to think through my ideas and once a sequence is released I'm stuck with it so the next one has to build on that somehow. This creates a story that would never have been written if everything was planned in advance. And it keeps surprising me with every turn.
For example, I started Chapter 2 with some goblin like enemies and thought the protagonist would become some kind of hero in a medieval world. However his days as a proud swordsman were short lived. I doubted my ability to balance a fighting system on a weekly basis and most of all I had second thoughts about including death / failure and making the game difficult for my potential audience. It didn't align very well with the narrative focus of the series. So right in the next sequence, I made the huge unbeatable cyclop boss (pictured higher up) that the hero had to run away from, losing his new found sword in the process.
But this is not all. When I looked for a way to end this Chapter several weeks later, I made the hero walk back through each environments he had been through all the way back to the cyclop's cave. And the cyclop invited him for tea! There are, of course, narrative reasons for that that I'll let you discover for yourself but what I love about it is how organic this came to be. I never planned for the cylop to drink tea with the hero when I created him. It just... happened!
Would you like some tea?
Another one of my favorite examples is how "Knowledge" came to be. In the previous sequence, I made a tree because... I love drawing trees! And also to unlock a vertical dimension to my hero's exploration. There were no real narrative implications to it as I was doing it. I've put a fruit in the tree because I had the fruit and because I wanted to reuse that huge animation of the hero eating a fruit I've worked so hard for from sequence #2 (Agriculture). But I was clueless as to what the fruit would do! Looking for an ending for that sequence I just made the hero soar as if it was some kind of magic fruit and I wrapped this week's entry and called it done.
But as soon as it was done I started to sweat. Where would I take this? Where was I going with it? Why is the hero soaring from eating that "magic fruit"? It took me a few days to find the idea but it became one of the most important sequence of the series. In "Knowledge", the hero is taken to a bizarre inside world where he meets several personas claiming they are different sides of him. It's bound to become a turning point to the story. At the end of Chapter 2, the player returns to that "void", encountering the personas again just to be pushed into incarnating one of them for Chapter 3. When Chapter 3 is over, the hero will get back to this place and I'll have to choose (or my fans will) another persona for Chapter 4. This improvised sequence, "Knowledge", is a gold mine of inspiration and possibilities. More so since every personas is so different from the others.
Breathing is always a good idea
I think the format is extremely interesting and fits my new gaming habits (as a father) of playing for very short sessions at a time. Unfortunately, despite working on it for a little over a year, I couldn't yet attract the attention I'd like to have to make it a viable project financially. So for now I'll have to put the weekly releases on hold, maybe move it to a monthly release, while I concentrate on other aspects of my life. I'll keep working on the project, building downloadable compilations of the first Chapters (like webcomics are put into printed "volumes") but it will be as a hobbyist, not as a professional indie game dev betting a living wage on it.
However, I would LOVE to see other game devs try their hand at making games on a weekly or other regularly scheduled format. I don't want to be unique in that sense. I'm always happy to see original projects and surprising ideas, more so by people who are actually better than me at this craft.
I know how stressful being a professional indie game developer can be and to avoid wrecking yourself mentally and physically, I encourage you all to not just do different things, but to do things differently.