Liran’s Lab is a puzzle game where you control Liran, the main character, and attempt to each the exit of each puzzle while avoiding being eaten by his creations. This game was developed by Jason Spafford, a young game developer in his early twenties who really enjoy making a wide variety of games.
Can you tell us something about yourself?
My number one goal when making games is to focus on quality of the product. I treat game development like an artisanal craft. To me, making great games and software is akin to being a journeymen blacksmith. While I’m not a master smith now, I feel that as a game developer I owe my craft my dedication and am determined to improve the quality of my products over time.
Where did the game idea come from?
The idea for Liran’s Lab came while I was working at Spaceport. I was talking to a co-worker named Liran about an awesome Wonderswan game he had played back in the day with a similar premise called Engatcho where you would dodge various monsters.
It’s similar to a rogue-like in that the monsters only move when you move, and each monster moves in a specific way based on the direction you moved. So Copycat (cute green guy) always copies your move, while Opposer (Purple slimey guy) always does the opposite of you.
With a combination of these things, you can make for some very interesting puzzles.
What can you tell us about the development of the game?
Liran’s lab was a very interesting game to make. I had just recently shipped Hanafuda to the WP7 and a company called Spaceport wanted me to make a game on their new mobile game engine they were working on. They essentially brought me on to create a demo release title.
So essentially, I had two months to design, build, and ship a fully working mobile game on both Android and iOS on an engine that wasn’t even finished yet. It was an extremely brutal journey, but the game turned out pretty decently and I’m actually pretty proud of the quality of the game considering my team and I made it in such a short period of time. In hindsight, trying to make a game on an engine that can change out from under you is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.
Of course, closer to release the tools became a lot more solid. In fact, I ended up writing a product on top of Spaceport to make development even better, but there’s an excellent lesson here about picking solid and well supported tools if you plan to actually ship your game.
As for my team, I ended up working with some really rock star people. I wouldn’t really call it a team, since I didn’t work consistently with everyone, but all of the art was done by Erin Leon who is an excellent vector artist. I think her artwork is half the reason the monsters feel so quirky and fun within the game. You might even notice that each of the monsters have unwritten personalities and back stories that I believe is fostered by a combination of their art and sound.
Now here’s where I got really lucky. I was looking to contract someone to do the sounds for my game. I already had a playable version of my game, so I posted it on reddit.com/r/gamedev asking if anyone was interested in making some sounds for my game. As it turns out, the sound designer who created the famous HL2 zombie noises, and also worked on Bioshock 2 to create a large number of sound effects, including all the plasmid sounds, really wanted to work on my project because she liked what I had to show.
If I didn’t have a working version of my game, I personally don’t think she would have volunteered nearly as easily. This kind of goes back to why I firmly believe you should prototype early, and get working versions of your game before you start looking for people to join you. It’s not always super easy to communicate your vision to someone, but when you can present it to someone you want to work with, they can say, “I really like your idea. It looks like something I want to work on.” Just presenting a bunch of text and saying you plan to make the next Angry Birds is not enough.
In any case, that was Liz Bailey over at Bombadeer Studios (bombadeerstudios.com). I highly recommend her for all of your sound effect needs.
What are the most important things you learned when making this game?
The most important thing I didn’t necessarily learn, but had reinforced is that you should prototype early and often. I created a rough version of the working game within the first two days. Having a playable demo in a couple days really helped me pin down my design early, and then the rest was just implementation. Ideally, you should be able to create a prototype that’s fun in a week or two.
What advice would you tell people who are beginning with game development?
The greatest advice I can give, is learn how to manage the scope of your project, and prototype early. Focusing on both of these things will help you actually ship your game. You should have a working version of your game in a very short period of time, and on top of that be careful of expanding how much you plan to make on your game.
It can be really easy to continuously say, “I’ll just add this little feature here because it won’t take too much extra time to do” and before you know it you’re nowhere close to putting your game out on the market.
I think one of the most interesting things about Liran’s Lab is that I did not monetize on it properly. I learned from Liran’s Lab is that ultimately, you need to build your game in such a way that lends to monetization. I tried to shoehorn in monetization after the game was designed but that turned out to not work very well.
When I initially launched my game on both iOS and Android, almost no one was playing my game. Though once I made the game free, I ended up getting 19,000 downloads in the first two days. It was pretty astonishing. I think that making a game is half the battle. You really need to understand monetization and learn how to release your game properly if you want to gain any traction.
If you are interested in more games from Jason, visit Entity Games and enjoy!