Matthew Paxman is a developer at Wizard Games, maker of Cowbots and Aliens. The VR game won the IGDA Victoria contest, meaning Wizard Games will able to show the title off at Indie Prize Seattle and Casual Connect USA.
“We were super excited to see people enjoying Cowbots and Aliens so much at the IDGA Victoria contest,” said Matthew. “Being able to show the game off at Casual Connect Indie Prize will be a great opportunity to gather feedback, gain exposure, meet other indie game makers and just have a ton of fun.”
This might not of been possible without releasing Cowbots and Aliens on Steam Early Access. Matthew confirmed that doing so has allowed Wizard Games to have some great community feedback that has helped with the direction of how to develop the game.
“Our vision of what Cowbots and Aliens will be when we release the final version out of Early Access has changed dramatically and we think for the better due to the community’s feedback,” Matthew detailed. “It’s helped us understand what fans really care about and want to see more of.”
Robots and Aliens in the Old West
In Cowbots and Aliens, players are able to engage in a saloon brawl. Because of the set up, players are able to use nearly everything on hand as a weapon, with the whimsical addition of it being robots and aliens doing the brawling.
“We figured there is no more visceral type of fight than an all out wild west saloon brawl,” said Matthew. “We wanted to bring the kind of chaotic experience you see in western movies into people’s living rooms in a fun, accessible multiplayer VR experience. Having the ability to interact with everything and use it as a weapon was core to this vision.”
“We liked the idea of being able to take a more fanciful approach to the wild west,” Matthew added. “Focusing on the enduring grudge match of Cowbots vs Aliens infused the game with a sci-fi element that opened up all kinds of opportunities to creatively iterate on and ‘upgrade’ well known western tropes.”
Another element to Cowbots and Aliens is a saloon area where players can just hang out and engage in non-competitive activities. “We love how social VR can be. Standing in what feels like a shared space with someone across the world and being able to use hand gestures, read body language and share in a virtual experience is really amazing. While the key focus of Cowbots and Aliens is competitive play, we wanted to make sure that there was an area where people could just chat, hang out and meet people if they wanted to.”
Four Wizards Make the Magic
Wizard Games is a studio located in Victoria, British Columbia. With only four members, the structure is very flat, and everyone equally shares ideas for their games.
“Building a studio where a few people can pursue something they’re really excited about is just a lot of fun,” said Matthew. “We all get a lot of say and effect on the final product which feels really good. We try to maintain a quirky mix of simplicity in design with high quality, action oriented, arcade-like fun.”
“We like working in a co-located space as ideas are able to flow more freely,” Matthew noted. “Iteration and exchange of ideas just happens that much quicker. We also like each other and are able to hang out this way.”
James MacDougall is the technical lead for Wizard Games, while Matthew is the creative lead. Karl Bossler and Scott Douglas are both artists.
“We chat together a lot about various game ideas. I will generally analyze which of the ideas seem the most commercially viable and we’ll run with whichever of those we’re most excited about,” detailed Matthew. “We develop using Unity3D and host our code on Bitbucket. For multiplayer we use Unity Photon Networking.”
Tests and Challenges
Testing is a challenge for any small studio, and Wizard Games does so by recruiting family, friends and colleagues. Wizard Games used Steam’s beta features to host our game testing to test Cowbots and Aliens.
“With Cowbots and Aliens we did an early Beta about a month before launch. We got some good feedback but it was difficult to co-ordinate people playing together as it was a multiplayer only game at that time,” said Matthew. “The coolest reaction to our Cowbots and Aliens play testing was one tester who loved the game enough to take it upon himself to recruit and organize a team of people to play together. We didn’t really have much experience community building so people like this were a real treat to have around.”
Still, no amount of testing can prevent something like a diminishing player base. “When Cowbots and Aliens first launched it enjoyed a decent number of people online who were able to find games to play together,” Matthew said. “Pretty soon though the player base fell to a point where people were jumping in game, not seeing anyone on and just leaving. We started getting some negative reviews where people were frustrated by not having anything to do. We realized we needed to support people playing solo and started working 24/7 on a fun enemy AI. We came up with something pretty good and when we released the update most of the negative reviews flipped to positive. Our positive review score has been able to stay up in the 95 percent+ range since then.”
New Tech, Old School Fun
Matthew says that much of the inspiration for Wizard Games comes from the games they played as kids. Simple, fun and colorful games on the NES and SNES inform much of what they do, in particular the art style of Cowbots and Aliens.
“For Cowbots and Aliens we wanted the look to be fanciful, but familiar,” said Matthew. “We decided to go for a semi-cartoony look that would compliment the game play. Our lead artist Scott came up with the great looks for the Cowbots and Aliens.”
The sense of silly fun is an important part of the Cowbots and Aliens experience. “The funniest moments emerge when playing with a friend,” said Matthew. “As an example, I once slowly poked my head around a corner to see if anyone was there only to find my friend waiting with a chair raised over his head which he then smashed down on my face. Moments like that get us laughing every time because it’s unexpected and somewhat cathartic.”
Find Your Unique Edge
Matthew says they like to create action games that are accessible, the sort of games they want to play themselves. This applies whether they are making mobile or VR games.
“There are two sides to our business: our VR efforts and our mobile games,” said Matthew. “Our current plan is to continue releasing mobile games to build that library while also iterating on Cowbots and Aliens and supporting it right up past when it’s taken out of Early Access.”
“Our mobile titles are free to play and monetized using rewarded ads and in-app purchases. We want to be able to reach the widest audience possible so this seemed like the best way to go for us,” Matthew added. “Our yep VR titles are both premium games on Steam VR. There aren’t many other options for monetization for high end VR at the moment.”
When asked what Wizard Games would do with unlimited resources, Matthew said that they would simply expand Cowbots and Aliens into the game they’d always imagined. “Our vision of what Cowbots and Aliens could be is so much bigger than what we have the capability for at the moments,” said Matthew. “We would love to have a full blown story driven Co-op campaign with NPCs and voice over work. We’d love to have many more weapons, levels, competitive game modes, character customizations with a full in game economy. All that kind of stuff. It would be amazing!”
When asked for a concluding statement, Matthew offered some advice for indie developers. “Never make a game you’re not excited about. Chances are it will show in the work,” said Matthew, adding, “Look at what the market is interested in. Know your audience. Then find your unique edge and make something awesome that you’re convinced people want.”
David Radd is a staff writer for GameSauce.biz. David loves playing video games about as much as he enjoys writing about them, martial arts and composing his own novels.