ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentIndieOnlinePostmortem

Spoiler Alert: The Challenges and Difficulties of Doing a Game Backwards

February 19, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska


ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentIndieOnlinePostmortem

Spoiler Alert: The Challenges and Difficulties of Doing a Game Backwards

February 19, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

Megafuzz is a Danish indie game studio founded in 2013 by Jeff Jensen. With their flagship game Spoiler Alert conceived at a game jam, they are all about passion, creativity, and fun. A genuine love for the game is their strongest foundation. Jeff discusses the ups and downs of creating Spoiler Alert.

When Everyone Goes Right, Go Left. Literally.

In true indie spirit, Spoiler Alert was born at a small Danish game jam in Viborg in 2012. I remember the jam’s theme had just been announced: “resistance”. As many jammers in the corners were discussing various rebel games, friction-based games etc., I had a slightly different train of thought. I was thinking of “resistance to mainstream”. And what was the most mainstream thing I could think of in a videogame? That you had to complete it! Why not uncomplete it instead?

The jamming was about to begin, and I still hadn’t found anyone with whom I really got along. I was about to go solo when a tall, calm guy approached me, introducing himself as Martin Pedersen, a graphics artist. I explained to him my idea for the game (a reversed Super Mario), and we made an official team. Discussing ideas of how to proceed with our game, we immediately hit it off, and there was chemistry unlike anything I’ve ever felt before with a game jam partner.

There was chemistry unlike anything I’ve ever felt before with a game jam partner.

Internet and Phone – Connecting Developers

The game jam was a success to us; Spoiler Alert won first prize for best game, best pitch, and also received a Judge’s Favorite, as well as Audience’s Favorite award. A couple of weeks later, it also got mentioned favorably in the Danish newspaper, Politiken.

Martin and I felt that we had a fun game idea, and, with the response we’d gotten based on our little 48-hour prototype, we wanted to turn it into a full game. We still believed there was a lot of untapped potential in the gameplay. Armed with nothing more than the idea and intense passion to carry it out much further, we launched a full assault on taking Spoiler Alert from a game jam prototype to a full game. We live in different cities with a significant distance between us, so we have to rely almost exclusively on the internet and phone for communication. Facebook and Google Docs are among our favorite go-to tools.

We launched a full assault on taking Spoiler Alert from a game jam prototype to a full game.

Making a “Reversed” Game

Even though I’ve worked on numerous small games before, this was my first serious project, as well as my first time working with a partner. As for Martin, it was his first time making a game. Period. So, neither of us was that experienced. On top of that, we were doing a rather unique game, with a lot of uncommon design-related challenges. Just wrapping my own mind properly around everything going backwards was difficult enough at times.

Everything going backwards here

I remember making an entire boss fight, being satisfied with it, showing it to Martin who was also satisfied, and then we realized I did it going forward (like a “normal” game). We both looked at it without realizing that. Instead of swallowing his own fireballs, the boss was shooting them – just to name an example. This sounds simple and stupid, but it caught us both a few times before we really got used to designing everything in reverse-logic.

About midway through the project, we saw a handful of issues. First off, the game wasn’t suited all that well for handheld devices (which was a strong focus), because we made the levels fairly long (2-5 minutes). So we cut them up into smaller pieces, and added a lot more new levels. We went from having 30 long levels to 100 shorter levels.

From 30 long levels to 100 shorter ones

Also, there were virtual buttons; one for jumping and one for using your powerup. The problem was, that as you didn’t always have a powerup, 50 percent of the GUI was redundant and confusing. We discussed having the powerup button only appear when you had a powerup, but then became afraid people wouldn’t notice it. Also, we thought it would be inconsistent. We ended up removing virtual buttons altogether. Instead, tapping anywhere on the screen would make you jump, unless there was a fireball to catch, in which case you would swallow it. In other words, we made it context-based. This worked much better and was way more streamlined.

We’re Done! Oh Wait…

About eight months of development later, and we were done! Or so we thought. We were about to release the game, but were forced to wait a few weeks as I was in limbo with paperwork (I was registering Megafuzz as a company, getting it approved as a business at Apple, doing bank stuff, and many other grown-up things). These weeks let us take a step back and look more critically and objectively at our own game. We realized that, in the end, we just weren’t satisfied. We could do so much better!

Spoiler Alert before full re-development…

We chose to postpone release, and took Spoiler Alert back into full re-development. This was a long process, which extended into another 6-8 months. Things became much better; the graphics got a huge overhaul, many old levels were improved and new ones added, UI was animated, and, thanks to extensive testing, we found out that the game was way too hard and unfair. We spent a lot of time making Spoiler Alert more intuitive, and re-balancing its difficulty. I’d estimate that we’ve reduced the difficulty level about 10x since the first version. At least.

…and after.

The Encouraging Impatience of YoYo Games

We were knee-deep in development, moods were high, but exhaustion was also there. Spoiler Alert was developed using GameMaker: Studio, and I would often use the game as a basis for bug reports to YoYo Games. I guess this is how they noticed the game, because we didn’t really advertise it, but, all of a sudden, I got an email from their PR manager. She said that she and some of her colleagues had been playing around with the game, and would like to include it in their (at that point, non-existing) official games showcase. This definitely gave Martin and me some extra fuel, and we were promised to be included in their showcase as soon as it went live a few months later.

Eventually it was there, and I was supposed to email YoYo Games some materials for Spoiler Alert so they could put it up. Even though I really wanted us to get in the showcase, I deliberately waited until the game was in a state I would be more comfortable showing off. I actually held off for several months after the showcase went live.

I guess they got tired of waiting because one day in November 2013, I saw a mention on Twitter that Spoiler Alert was now in the showcase. As we hadn’t given them any proper materials, it didn’t look its best, and we had not submitted proper info either, so the showcase stated that the game was out, and provided a dead link. Being honored and excited, we understood we had to hurry and send in some proper materials and correct information. Even though we were fast, in less than an hour after the game info went live, I received the first email from a user who asked why he couldn’t download Spoiler Alert, and said it looked awesome. It was a mess, but a fun kind of mess!

A Team of Three, Yet Two Have Never Met the Third

I mentioned this was our first real game, and we’ve learned a lot from it. Martin has obviously improved very much as a graphic artist, and we’ve both gotten a completely new understanding of what it means to make a game. It’s a fun, but long and tough process, and often it pays to over-estimate schedules and times.

One of the areas in which I’ve personally grown the most is my own “quality bar” – it’s been set much higher. I’ve spent more time than ever on small but important polishing-related things, and have learned much about trying to make the interactive experience as intuitive and foolproof as possible. I’ve also gotten significantly more experienced in level design.

I’ve learned a lot about working with a team – Martin, and our musician and sound technician Roland La Goy, who’s based in the USA. It’s been interesting to make a game with a team where most communication is virtual, and two of three people have never met the third person. I’m still amazed that this worked out well, but I’m just blessed with having such awesome people in the team.

Spoiler Alert will be available for download in February 2014, on iOS, Android, Windows, Mac OS X, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, OUYA, Ubuntu, BlackBerry and Tizen. It also won the Most Promising Game in Development award at Casual Connect Europe‘s Indie Prize Showcase.


Mariia Lototska