Size Five Games

SIZE FIVE is a BAFTA-winning indie video game developer.

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Mar 72012


So, I’m preparing a thing about Indie Development, and the thing is themed around “necessity is the mother of invention”.

You know how, in indie development, there’s no money, so you have to think crafty? And actually, the crafty-and-clever thing you did because there was no money wound up being a better feature than if you’d done the money-plush version? THAT.

So, for Ben There, Dan That! I couldn’t afford an artist, and I couldn’t afford to take loads of time doing swanky animations. So I did silly walkcycles and flapping ventriloquist doll mouths instead. This wound up giving Dan and Ben more character than an army of talented artists, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

It’s not just money, either. Hardware restrictions, maybe? Buttonless smart phone input changed your core mechanic?

I need more examples. I want to hear YOUR stories about where your game was made better because Plan A was off limits.

If you’ve got one, pop a story in the comments below, or EMAIL ME:

Thank you lots.


  1. Mar 72012

    “How to get our game noticed without spending any money”

    I’m in the UK and my friend is in Australia. We wanted to see if we could make an iPhone game while so far apart, so we decided on a test game with zero budget. We settled on the smallest idea we could think of – “whizz around an object by tapping the screen to turn left” was the game design. We also realised pretty quickly that we had to figure out how to get our game noticed without spending any money on marketing.

    Our cunnng plan was to give it a name that might attract lots of free attention, so we called our game Lap Uranus, and included the option for it to send Tweets to the world like “I just Lapped Uranus 10 times” or “I’ve just smashed into Uranus” :) While it didn’t set the world on fire, we did get people writing about and talking the game that might ordinarily have ignored it.

  2. Mar 72012

    On my first game I couldn’t afford an artist and I wasn’t an expert at Photoshop. So I used what I knew… Microsoft Powerpoint to create the graphics for my game. Playing with shapes and gradients and overlays I was able to create some cool graphics and have gotten a few nice complements about the artwork. Some folks have actually asked me for a reference to the artist. :)

  3. Mar 72012

    For the second Nitrome game I made (Off the Rails) I avoided the issue of resolving any awkward collision when the minecart went upside down by having it explode instead.

    So then after that, everything you hit exploded and their parts would bounce along the track afterwards.

    It made dying lots of fun.

  4. Mar 72012
    Jeremy Jurksztowicz,

    After months of grueling work I had finally managed to make a FF Tactics like engine with a large continuous world.

    I was thrilled that now I could get down to the ‘fun stuff’, level design and writing. Well, turns out that it was so difficult, and so time consuming, and so mind numbing to design-test-design, I almost gave up on my game. I wanted to have fun playing the game I made (stupid, I know), but couldn’t stand to test anymore encounters, or design another damn fortress. So I decided to add randomly generated levels, as a sort of bonus option.

    Several weeks later, and a trip down the procedural world generation rabbit hole, I emerged with a pretty cool randomly generated forest, with caves and a little town. I could finally enjoy my game again!

    Several iterations later and I’m really onto a neat combination, all because I didn’t have the time and skills to manually design levels.

  5. Mar 72012

    I did “UFO on Tape” because I saw this Experimental Gameplay Challenge where you were supposed to design a game with no buttons. Having no programming knowledge I thought, “well that seems like an easy thing to do, I think I know how to make a camera move with the mouse so maybe that would be good enough”. Ended up being a perfect fit for the iPhone and selling rather well.

    For “Raccord Sniper” I needed to show realistic interiors. I wasn´t ready to sacrifice weeks in drawing hyper-realistic furniture so I though I´d just take everything out of an Ikea catalogue. Not only it looked good, it´s what actually made the game stand out.

  6. Mar 72012

    In our second game made for a jam in 3 days, one of us being in Sweden and the other in Spain, we noticed that gameplay was so damn difficult that, instead of changing the game mechanics in the last day, we make the main objetive of the game trying “not to die” instead, being fun to die actually . That resulted on giving the game the personality that it needed!

  7. Mar 72012

    I’m still working on my first game, currently in late alpha version, so I don’t know if it counts but:

    My game is about wisps, and wisps are these lighting energy balls that float around in forests and swamps and so on. I wanted to make their forest like it is invaded by them, so every tree (and I have a lot) would have been lit by one ore more wisps. Working with Unity3D free edition however, which only has forward rendering, proved me that I could bring down to it’s knee even some of the ultimate video cards with so many lights. Because I could not afford the pro version of Unity which features deferred shading, I had to take all the lights off. Now what!? I managed to get an even better effect (like sparkling) by using a specular shader on my trees and clever surface normal placement. Everybody who has seen both versions say the later one is much better:)

  8. Mar 72012

    So we started up our own indie game group called BetaDreams and first of all we created a lot of stories and characters for our own game universum. But as you may know starting your own first game project you have to have the required skills to make the game not just design it. We faced this problem by the hard way and months of work had to be put on hold because we just couldn’t do the things we had on our minds.

    So we learned from our mistakes and started up new game project but this time we decided to do something small and easy to do. After some game idea developing we decided to make Bob the Blob, which is a fast platformer game and our physics based puzzle game Block Planets, which uses all the tree dimensional axes to turn, twist and move the block planets.

    The Block Planets is our first complete game and its release is approaching. We hope that all goes well and we can make some more great games in the future! Maybe we even get to those initial plans someday!

  9. Mar 72012
    The V Man,

    For a new project I’m working on, I wanted something quicker and lighter to work on in the background of some other things. Something that didn’t involve mountains of resources or time – so instead of including recorded voice for dialogue, the player is completely mute.

    Now it’s the player’s actions that define what we know about him/her, not spoken dialogue.

    This has been extended to the point that the player’s character is a completely blank slate and everything about them is shaped simply by the decisions made and actions taken.

    So, not wanting to spend the time, effort or any possible required money has completely changed the essence of the game, and made it so much more interesting.

  10. Mar 72012
    Troy Hepfner,

    I had a limited audio budget for Dirk Dashing 2, so my musician and I had to come up with ways to stretch out the music so it didn’t become too repetitive. The musician suggested tying the music to the action and major plot events, and filling the remainder of the time with sounds (which are cheaper to produce). So he created a number of ambient loops and a wide variety of sounds for various game objects.

    One of his contributions was to add footstep sounds for Dirk. He created almost 200 different individual footstep sounds for 15 different floor materials, which added variety and kept the footsteps from becoming too repetitive. I tied the sounds to Dirk’s animation, and added a material property to each floor surface.

    The first time I ran the game with the footsteps, I quickly noticed two issues. First, it was strange that Dirk made footstep sounds but his enemies didn’t. Second, it seemed strange that Dirk’s enemies didn’t hear him coming.

    To address the first problem, I reused the footstep sounds for Dirk’s enemies. A great side effect that resulted from this was that now you could hear offscreen enemies approaching or moving around. It added a whole new dimension to the gameplay, because now you could detect enemies offscreen, though you didn’t necessarily know exactly where they were or which enemy agent it might be. This created a wonderful sense of anticipation, and forced the more careful players to try to plan ahead (look around for cover that you could use or avenues of escape).

    To solve the second issue, I gave the enemy AI the ability to “hear” Dirk coming and react. So if Dirk runs up behind them, they’ll turn around. Or if Dirk is on a nearby ledge above or below, they’ll stop and look around to try to find him. To balance the increased difficulty, I gave Dirk a new ability: the player can hold down the shift key while moving left or right to make Dirk tiptoe quietly. This contributed nicely to the stealth elements I had already introduced to the game, like the night vision goggles. It’s very rewarding to sneak past an enemy undetected or take him out without him ever knowing you were there.

    If I didn’t have such a limited audio budget, I doubt the gameplay would have turned out as rich as it is! And I have a few more things I plan to implement before the game is done in June that should enhance it further.

  11. Mar 82012

    Hi Dan,

    One of the problems I’ve been running into with designing a new adventure game is that existing adventure game engines are awfully awkward to work with. In some cases, the scripting languages were more work than actually programming the actions from scratch; in other cases (like AGS and others) the UI is designed around a ‘programming mindset’ that actually slows down a game designer. The result was that I had an adventure game that looked much the same as anyone else’s – the only differences being in the content. After hours of trying to show my team members how to design using these tools, I realized how thoroughly unenjoyable it was to work in that manner!

    I came to see very quickly was that I needed a little adventure game engine that was (a) fast to prototype ideas, (b) was *fun* to use, and not an exercise in frustration, (c) was easily programmable through a VISUAL scripting language, and (d) had a UI that could be immediately grasped by a new designer.

    So, I’m working on a new adventure engine that would allow anyone to make their own little adventure game in a short period of time. Something akin to the “Adventure Construction Set” and “Pinball Construction Set” games of yore.

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