STARTING TO A JOURNEY:
It was a nice day, summer of 2018. The weather was nice, it wasn’t too hot or too cold. It was just right. The wind was touching my face gently. Just kidding, it was just a random day and I don’t remember anything about it. A close friend of mine with a giant mustache, who I played so many online games with, called me. He said we both like games and we both are Software Engineers, he was just pointing the obvious at that moment. Then he said we should work on our own game. That’s the dream right? Of course it is.
We discussed a lot about this. Like everybody else, we wanted to make an awesome MMORPG with awesome PvE content and perfectly balanced PvP content but we had to be realistic. We tried to find a unique idea. Then we found one. We decided to work on a classic title, with an unusual content. A Top-Down, Shoot ‘Em Up game with mages and skeletons and, of course, FIREBALLS!
This is how this journey started.
How did we decide to use Unreal Engine 4
The first thing we had to decide was the game engine. We narrowed down choices to 2. We were either gonna use Unity because we were experienced on C# or Unreal Engine 4 because it could provide us better graphics with less effort.
Research started. We spent a long time deciding which engine we should use. Better graphics, free content on the marketplace and some more little things started to pull us to Unreal Engine 4 but the real game changer was the Blueprint System. We were literally amused by it.
So the developer, not me the serious one, bang his fist on the table and said we were gonna use Unreal Engine 4. He is not this mad all the time tho, I think he was hungry, and the long time on researching, trying to learn the basics of the engine, hoarding “Free for the Month” content started. This period took a year.
Deciding the MVP
After a long time spent researching, we decided to dive into this and see what we can do. Our main problem was, and still is, this is not our full time job. We could work on this project 2-4 hours per day, at nights. So, first thing first, we needed some tools to work efficiently. We started using Trello to decide the priority of the things we should work on, Google Docs to share documents, like enemy sheet or main character skills sheet and Discord not to get sleepy.
Then we decided to build a Minimum Viable Product. Oh, the mighty list of doom. This MVP was basically a matter of life or death to us. If we failed any of those items, we were gonna stop working on this project. We still have this list on Trello and it still scares me when I check it out. Man that list haunted me in my dreams.
So let's check this MVP list item by item.
1- First, we needed a Main Menu when we launched the game.
2- A map. Not big, not small, just a medium sized square area limited with 4 walls.
3- A character to play as.
4- Adjusting the camera.
5- Movement with WASD.
6- An enemy with AI. Nothing advanced, just an enemy to follow us around.
7- First skill for our character. Fireball of course.
8- Health calculation and actually damaging to enemies.
9- Melee damage ability to enemies.
10- Enemy spawner.
11- Score system.
12- Adding some basic animation like casting and dying.
13- Adding music.
14- Volume sliders.
15- Pause Menu.
16- Couple of menu buttons like Restart, Back, Options etc.
These 16 items might look easy but to us, 2 inexperienced Unreal Engine noobs, they cost some sleepless and stressful nights. Lucky for me, the other developer, yes the one with a giant mustache, he is also bald, an awesome one. Hard worker, committed, fast learner, he has everything you could ask for from a developer. We completed them all in 3 weeks.
Even if it is an indie game, people you work with are important, like every other job out there. We hit the jackpot at this part. As two developers of this game, we have known each other for 12 years. Since the beginning, we knew that we had to work with other people. When the time has come, our significant others stepped forward.
My friend’s wife is awesome at Do It Yourself things. I mean literally, she is awesome. Do you need a new picture frame? Boom! She makes the most unique and beautiful one for you in a day. Do you need a new book shelf? She is your go-to girl. She is gonna work on our merchs. We are not there yet but if we can get there, she will make awesome stuff for all of us.
Yes, we work on computers all day, every day but that doesn’t mean we are experienced in social media management. My girlfriend took the wheel there. She is our Social Media Manager now. If you contact us on social media she will be the one who is gonna reply to you back. So, don’t hit on her. She is also an Urban Planner. When we get to the point of designing cities, she is gonna rock.
Music is important. It is good when the right song starts playing at the right time. It is better when that song is composed by a professional musician. Since I’m the coolest guy on this team, I’m friends with some professional musicians around Europe. Lucky for us, Elvya let us use her songs in Mage Rage. You may hear one of her awesome works in the Main Menu.
Did everything go according to the plan?
When we first started, we were also looking for the answer to this question. How did other indie game developers do? Does everything go according to the plan? Let me answer this for you, no.
When we decided on the content of the game, our plan was making a story mode. There were gonna be 25 levels. A new enemy in every 5 levels. A new map in every 5 levels. Bosses in every last level of maps and an end game boss at the last level. A story full of drama and plot twists. Adding Endless Level in one of the future patches and making it an unlockable content as a reward of finishing the story mode. Let me tell you some things my friends.
First, writing a story is some serious work. Second, being a Software Engineer doesn’t mean you can design a map. Third, killing the same creatures for 5 levels is boring as hell.
Sometimes, changing the roadmap, abandoning the plan when it is necessary can cause better results. We didn’t stop and try to figure out how to solve these 3 problems. We postponed them and kept working. Later, we realised we long passed the point of no return. We, unwittingly, designed Mage Rage as a ‘Shoot ‘Em Up’, ‘Hack and Slash’ game with an endless level. Don’t get me wrong, we are proud of our little project. Having time to work on it literally makes us happy.
Now, we have bigger plans. Mage Rage taught us a lot. We know what we can do in the future. Story mode will be there and yes, it will have plot twists. More playable characters, more enemies, maybe co-op play, dragons I mean why not they are cool, bigger and better maps, cities, castles, cows, milk, shoes. I cannot promise them all but we are definitely gonna work on them.