Kristof Minnaert and Michael Dashow, the international two-man team of RoboDojo, met many years ago on the forums of GameArtisans.com and bonded over a mutual love for old-school sprite graphics, indie games and the mobile platform as a potential showcase for new indie game ideas. During MageMaze’s development cycle, Kristof has been based in Belgium and England while Mike has been in the San Francisco area. Both have been working at day jobs in the games industry while developing MageMaze on the side. Having only met once in real life (at a GDC) they have managed their collaboration via e-mail, IM, shared Google docs and Skype.
Over this work dynamic they created MageMaze a turn-based puzzle adventure game for iOS. This game is a pre-publication beta. Both, Kristof and Michael have been working on it for over three years and are excited to finally be able to share it with you (and the world) soon.
Keep reading to learn more about the experience of overseas collaboration for game developing.
What is MageMaze about?
Play as Norse warrior Svenn the Svaliant on a quest to rescue the villagers’ gold from the dungeon maze of Yngvarr the Ynvoker. As you explore, you’ll rearrange the maze itself, making the gameplay dynamic, challenging, and fun. You’ll have to keep your wits about you to navigate the constantly-changing maze… Arm yourself with different weapons and power-ups needed to defeat the many kinds of monsters. Avoid traps, get the gold, rescue the young lady, and withstand the barrage of Yngvarr’s snarky insults. Play through the 50-level story-mode or challenge yourself in Infinite and Hardcore modes!
Where did the game idea come from?
Visually, MageMaze was inspired by the 8-bit video games that we grew up with. The mobile platform seemed an ideal venue for which to create pixel sprites and short, fun animations that were predominant in the early days of gaming.
Mike, who cut his teeth creating sprite animations in the early 90s, especially wanted to choose a visual style that would let him return to his game animation roots. On the game-play side, we wanted to craft a game that incorporated puzzles without specific solutions.
Instead the game offers the user an open-ended space in which to solve those puzzles. Many games stick you in a dungeon to beat up monsters, but we are particularly proud of how MageMaze enables the user to constantly reconfigure the Maze, making the puzzle-solving more dynamic and open-ended than other puzzle games. We felt that the iOS touch interface particularly lent itself to the natural feeling of tapping and dragging on a row or column to slide it around. When we started creating MageMaze, the characters provided a vague purpose for your being in the Maze. Early testers were intrigued by the characters’ funny dialogue and specifically requested more story. We were happy to accommodate what people wanted to get from the game. We are quite pleased with how the characters’ lives intertwine over the course of fifty levels, and how we were able to pack in anachronistic humor, witty repartee, and family drama without bogging down the game-play.
What can you tell us about the development of the game?
The full team MageMaze team consists of:
Kristof Minnaert – Programmer/Co-Designer
Michael Dashow – Artist/Co-Designer
Nick Dixon – Audio
Megan Egglesden – Marketing
The core team of Kristof and Mike have been working on MageMaze for over three years now. On the side from their games industry day jobs, they decided to try their hand at creating a fun, well-crafted new game combining sprite graphics, dungeon exploration, a dynamic environment, and a compelling story with witty characters. RoboDojo has no funding, no sponsors, no publisher… Just two developers so passionate about their craft that they each come home after a full day’s work making games to make this game!
What are the most important things you learned when making this game?
Making a game can take a lot of time, especially when you’ve got other things going on like a day job, job hunts, relationships, and kids. The lesson there is either “don’t quit your day job,” or else “totally quit your day job, all relationships, family, and everything else ’til it’s done!”
What advice would you tell people who are beginning with game development?
As the old programmer saying goes, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. Overdesigning gameplay, overthinking techniques, preeemptive optimizations, etc.. are all very detrimental to a natural progressive flow. It’s important in the earliest stages of development to simply try out tons of little ideas as tiny prototypes. Don’t even consider making scalable systems when prototyping! The art and code will be horrendous but the idea is to produce a simple, very rough idea of what gameplay would feel like for any of your game ideas.
When you decide on a prototype, I would suggest that you analyze it, make a rough design doc based of it and try to design the underlying systems before you even start development.
The key idea at this stage is to have a rough but generally clear idea of how your game will play. And as with anything, start big and fill in the gaps slowly and steadily.
Get it playable! Don’t design a bunch of stuff on paper, make tons of assets, and wait for it to magically gel at the end. Even if it’s placeholder bitmaps and work-in-progress AI, get them up and running and play the game. Find the core of what’s fun about your game first!
So, Kristof and Michael are a living proof that game developing is possible even seas apart.
Thanks for sharing your creative process with the GameDev Academy and best of luck in your next projects!