As an independent developer, I tend to pride myself on my ability to remain open about the development of my projects, but sometimes it is hard to admit the truth. Either because I blame myself and feel lazy, or because I just don’t want to disappoint anyone. The realities of game development can be a lot less clear cut and pretty as some of the final results. There is honestly no medium that is harder to produce a complete work in.

I submitted Duet to the Independent Games Festival late last year. I was unfortunately not named among the excellent finalists. However, it did bring me some surprising attention, including an article on IndieGames.com. All this excitement from the outside has made it painfully apparent how slow my progress is. I haven’t even touched the code for the game in probably 3 months or so. So I feel that I should be honest with everyone about what I have been doing with the project: Nothing, at the moment.

Am I giving up on Duet? Definitely not. I believe that it is the most important game that I have worked on in my life. However, there are some difficulties which have arisen in the development which have made working on the project tiresome. Tiffany, Duet’s artist, was my fiancé at the time of her entry into the team. Now we are separated, and that makes collaboration difficult to impossible, due to the emotions involved. It is probably never advisable to build a work relationship atop a personal one.

I am doing a ground-up reimplementation of the gameplay from the original Game Maker prototype to my custom C++ and OpenGL engine. The port was envisioned as a way to achieve a more complex and modern art direction than what is possible in Game Maker. Therefore, I find it hard to be motivated when I do not have an artist working with me. I have been putting the project on hold until I could work things out with Tiffany. Now it seems clear that that is not going to happen, so I need to find another artist who is right for the job.

As you all know, life is expensive and game development is equally so. Games take a long time to develop, and progress can be slow enough when you work on it full time. Part-time progress may be enough to get Duet done, but even still, I lack the funds to pay an artist a competitive salary. So really the best I can offer anyone is a share of the final profits, after all the bills are paid of course.

Anyway, all of these factors have conspired to put Duet in a very tenuous position in it’s development. Progress is not happening, but I will inform you all as soon as I have anything new to show.

If you think you are what I’m looking for and are interested in helping make Duet look more like it plays, then you can drop me a line here, @mvandevander on twitter or on the Facebook page for the game. Please have examples of your work.

Press coverage!

John Polson of IndieGames.com has an exclusive interview with myself and Richard Boeser, developer of ibb and obb.

Read the first part here.

And the second part here.

Duet Gameplay Overview

There is now a brief gameplay overview of Duet on YouTube.

Check it out!

Keep in mind, the footage is from an incomplete prototype version, and has pretty much zero artwork. This essentially a less spoilery version of the pitch I submitted to IndieFund earlier this year. It also should be the first footage that you will have seen of the game, period. So that’s pretty cool, right?

psst…There may or may not be some media coverage of Duet soon. Keep your eyes peeled.

Down to the Wire

Screenshot, again

On the last day before the deadline, after a rush to the bank to deposit the 95 dollar entrance fee into a check card ready account and a 40 minute drive back home to get the thumb drive holding the code for the prototype, following a late arrival for work with a sneaky ftp upload when I was supposed to be retouching, Duet is now officially entered into the 2012 Independent Games Festival.

It is competing alongside 568 other games: a record turnout. Submissions come both from first time developers, as well as seasoned veterans. Unfortunately, the production version was not yet complete enough for a viable submission, so that means no fancy graphics or sound. Here’s hoping Duet wows some judges with it’s intellectually stimulating puzzly goodness!

Laugh a little. Seriously.


It’s so easy to get attached to a project when you work on it for a long time. I’ve already been looking at Duet for a year. Despite that, for the past six months or so I haven’t made much progress. This is partly due to laziness and working a full time job. Staring closely at what you are doing can make it seem so much bigger than it really is.

The fact is that Duet is a small game. If I’m being realistic, it probably won’t change the world; it probably won’t change much of anything. But I’ve become so intimately close with the project that it has grown an importance to me that isn’t really due. I’ve created an abstract idea of what Duet is, and it seems imperative that I must create that. I can feel the importance of what I’m doing, and I find that paralyzing.
Continue reading “Laugh a little. Seriously.”

Games and Puzzles

Work continues to crawl along on Duet, however I have been banging my head against a few things recently. Notably I have this question of “How do I know if a game is worth a person’s time to play?” I have been reading some literature on the subject of games and puzzles, so I felt it would be pertinent to share some of my thoughts:

On games, versus Puzzles…

Duet is a puzzle platformer. But that really just describes the mechanics of the game, without really delving very deep into the definitions of such mechanics.

So, in the worst style of writing, let’s define these terms with help from the internet.

A Platformer is a type of video game “mostly presented in 2D” which features “jumping to and from suspended platforms or over obstacles” Requiring the character to start from point A and get to point B by jumping and traversing various obstacles.”

A Puzzle is a type of problem that “tests the ingenuity of the solver”, and according to puzzle collector Stan Isaacs, it is “fun, and has a right answer.”

So, these definitions seem about right to describe Duet. But my research seems to suggest a divide between games and puzzles. So the question that I’m proposing, is where do I draw that line? Is Duet a puzzle or a game?

There are many definitions of what a game is, but my favorite is:

“A Game is a rule-based formal system with a variable and quantifiable outcome, where different outcomes are assigned different values, the player exerts effort in order to influence the outcome, the player feels attached to the outcome, and the consequences of the activity are optional and negotiable.” – The Game, The Player, The World: Looking for Heart of Game-ness

Games typically are designed to be as replay-able as possible, the idea being to explore the nebulous space afforded by the game’s mechanics. Once that exploration is completed to the satisfaction of the player, Playing the game is no longer necessary or interesting. Therefore all games must be inherently educational and interesting, but one must remember that a person’s prior experiences in and outside of games can reduce the novelty of an previously unplayed game to a point where she may find it not worth her time.

Puzzles–as defined earlier–however are intrinsically free of replay value. Once a puzzle has been solved–deliberately and with understanding–it is no longer valuable to the solver. This is to say that puzzles are only replayable if the solver does not understand why he solved the puzzle in the first place. Puzzles are similar to games in that prior experience with similar problems can nullify the intrinsic value of a puzzle to the point where the intellectual gain from solving it becomes trivial. However, the primary difference between puzzles and games is the goal.

The goal of puzzles to find the solution, the goal of games is to win against an opponent. However, there are still contradictions within these definitions. What exactly is an opponent in a single player computer game, what exactly is a solution?

Duet, as well as other games (Braid, Portal) are (perhaps uncomfortably) straddling the line between games and puzzles. On one hand, they quickly fit into the earlier definition of a game, they are based on formal systems and rules, they do have quantifiable outcomes with different values assigned to them, the player does exert effort to influence the outcome, she feels attached to the outcome, and the consequences are negotiable. However, the games also fit the definition of a puzzle, they have a solution–solvable only once– having limited replay value.

So where do these games lie exactly, are they really games at all? Is a game a type of puzzle? Is a puzzle a type of game? Are puzzles, by their very nature, inferior to games?

New demo for Duet.

So, I’ve officially named the game now. It’s called Duet. There’s also a new demo, which you can download here. (Sorry, Demo is no longer available, the game is in full production swing now, so the prototype is pretty much off limits to the general public)

Me and my fiancee have been working on some concepts for the art style of the game.

These are very work in progress. They are mainly intended to help discovery of the mood for the game.

Some good news, and some bad news…

Well, it’s that time again. The time of the month that I suddenly realize that I haven’t posted anything on this blog in a few weeks. But anyways, I said had news, so I should get on with it.

I always feel that it’s best to get the bad news out of the way first, so that the good news can give me some hope in the end. It’s more dramatic that way. So the bad news is that Fij is postponed indefinitely. Meaning that I most likely won’t work on it for a while. Truth is, I probably won’t finish it, looking at my history of unfinished projects. However, I definitely have some ideas that I want to pursue with Fij, so it will sit on my back-burner.

The good news is, I’m working on a new project in Game Maker. Which I know probably seems like a step back from real programming. But it’s actually going great.

Standing on a precipice

The game is about cooperating to solve puzzles. So it’s naturally a two-player game (at the minimum.)

Screenshot, again
A puzzle!

I don’t currently have a name for the game, so it’s just Untitled Cooperative Platformer in my mind right now. I also don’t know whether the current graphics are any indication of what the final game will look like, but the little blocky people have a certain charm to them, don’t they?

The design process is sort of an exploratory one, I just doodle out levels and try out any gameplay elements that I might be thinking of in different ways. If I can make it through the level some how, then it’s a puzzle. But usually I don’t know if I will be able to make it through the level before I test it. So the game is telling me what it should be. And I’m just sort of letting it become itself. Not to say it doesn’t require work, or that there aren’t bugs. But I do keep an open mind before I squash bugs, and try to see if the bug is actually functionality in disguise.

And just in case you want to test it out in it’s currently simple state, here’s a demo-ish length version of the game. It is my first game maker game, so if there’s some wierd .dll file you need, then let me know. Feedback of any kind is gladly appreciated. However, do keep in mind that it requires two players to play the game. It is possible to get through it on your own, but it would require some serious skills.

(Sorry, demo is no longer available for download.)