Stage Select, Part I

So we’ve started a blog. Where do I start? It seems fitting that I’m the one to start everything off, since I’m the one who started this whole thing. I thought I’d talk today a little about how unTied Games got started, and where we’re going now. Like I mentioned last time, we unofficially started about three years ago, when I sent an email to some friends and said “Hey, want to make games together?” A lot was different back then for me.

After college, I had a temp job, and then I went to Japan through the JET Program, which is a program that pairs English speakers with schools in Japan, where they’ll go to teach English. The quirk of the JET Program is that even if you’re accepted, you don’t really get much of a say in where you’ll end up. You could be right in Tokyo or Kyoto, or you could be in Ruralville or Cow Country. Both fortunately and unfortunately, I wound up in the latter. I became an assistant language teacher (ALT) in Niikappu, Hokkaido, a small town of about 6000 people. It was a good journey for me to embark on, and like any good journey, there were ups and there were downs. Being in a small town was good for rent (only $100/month!), but there wasn’t much to do and not many people to meet. I made a couple friends, saw the sights, took a lot of pictures of both nature and the town, and had plenty of free time to work on my personal game projects.

Overlooking Niikappu, Hokkaido
Overlooking rural Niikappu.

Work, however, wasn’t as I pictured it. I found myself being utilized as a glorified tape player rather than being used at my full potential. I went over there ready to make lessons, and ready to learn how to teach. Many who embark on the JET Program don’t know how to teach, and even more don’t know a single word of Japanese before they start! The English teachers I assisted were great and very nice (in fact, I liked all the teachers), but I wish I could have done more. I’d offer to do more too and I’d try to do more, but there was just some kind of “foreigner force field” blocking me from doing it. I was okay with that, but it ended up producing a lot of downtime where I’d just sit in the office. Naturally I’d use this time to catch up on news, write blog posts, and (of course) draw game sprites in MSPaint! It might sound like a dream job, but I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to actually do stuff, to be creative, and to make an impact. It wasn’t long before I decided that I’d come home after the year of my contract was up. In fact, it took me a little under four months to make that decision. So it was time to plan what I’d do when I got back.

Some pixel art produced while I was bored between classes.

On December 10, 2011, I contacted some friends and asked them if they’d like to join me on a new adventure- making games! Ethan and Charlie joined me, and in January 2012 we started work on Star Reaction, a little puzzle game I had started in 2009 as a pet project. I thought it’d be perfect to start with.

Star Reaction old versionStar Reaction old version
The original version of Star Reaction, from February 17, 2009. Wow.

Until August 2012, I worked part-time on Star Reaction, then I came home from Japan and in September 2012 it was time to officially work on it. I’ll be the first to admit it- we were new to this and didn’t know what we were doing! We got Star Reaction on Steam Greenlight right when Greenlight started, but what we had was too unpolished and ended up not making it through the system. We also considered doing a Kickstarter, but it never really made it off the drawing board. And for good reason! You don’t see a lot of successful mobile match-three Kickstarters, do you? Well, that’s what we thought too, so after some brainstorming we wisely scrapped the idea. In 2013, we continued to work on the game and branched out our ideas. We ported Star Reaction from XNA to Allegro, which didn’t end up working for us, so we moved to LibGDX, which worked great on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android. Things were looking good!

This is how Star Reaction looked as of May 28, 2013. Click to view full resolution.

Or were they? It was the end of 2013, and the game was a mess! The game functioned, but the art styles didn’t really mesh together, there wasn’t a coherent UI style, and everyone had different ideas of how things were supposed to look, feel, and act. This is a story for another post, but we spent 2014 tearing down Star Reaction. We analyzed all of the ideas we haphazardly stitched together, and culled the ones that didn’t work (like larger levels, as seen in the above picture) and expanded on the ones that were fun and engaging. The reason Star Reaction took so long to make is because we had to unmake it first! The game wasn’t polished, it wasn’t coherent, and above all, it wasn’t fun. So we spent a good deal of 2014 turning that around, and we ended up with a finished product that was fun, and that we could all be proud of. We released Star Reaction in November 2014 and then began to learn about the wonderful world of marketing, which is a tale for another day.

Star Reaction as it is today. Really shaped up, didn’t it?

So where do we go from here? We beat Level 1 and released Star Reaction, and now it’s time to pick the next stage. What are we working on next? Tune in next time and find out!
In the meantime, why not learn a little more about Star Reaction?