Escape Lizards Greenlight Campaign Now Live!

Written on 2016-05-05 by Ben 'Xenoprimate' Bowen

After two years, I'm pleased to announce that our first game, Escape Lizards, is up for user voting on Steam Greenlight! So before you read any further, go vote for us! ;)

It's taken us a while to get here (a little longer than I originally imagined), but part of the reason for that is that we wanted a really high quality product to show in the greenlight campaign. Even though it's not technically meant to represent the final game, I figured that first impressions are very important, and so although we were planning to start our public campaign in late 2015 I'm happy that we decided to add some extra polish first.

Back in late 2014 I personally started alone with the first line of code that would eventually make the game engine that Escape Lizards now runs on. After a few months one of my good friends Tommy decided to join in, and what a great thing too, having such a talented artist on the team. Soon after we acquired our understudy second programmer, Raphael, whose assistance provided invaluable in bringing the audio and input submodules of the engine to life. And later on another good friend, Sam, became our official composer.

When I quit my job two years ago to start this company I had no idea what the future would hold. I didn't even know if I'd have the endurance to live off my savings and practically live and work in the same room for so long (and make no mistake, gamedev is hard work). The fact that we're now looking at a product I can be proud of is music to my ears, whether or not we make it on to Steam.

If you're a fellow gamedev or interested in how games are made, you might like to see how our game evolved from those first steps. Like I mentioned, EL runs on a custom game engine (written in C#/C++ and running via DirectX, for those of you technically minded), so the first step was just to get some various shapes and lights on screen.

Behold, ugly-looking shapes! Later came a (failed) attempt at text-rendering... And the ensuing debugging!

Believe it or not, the shapes image was the first ever screenshot of Escape Lizards. Basic as it was, it still took a long time just to get to this point. Just to display some lit-up shapes requires sending lists of vertices, texture pixels (texels), light positions, camera transforms, back buffer configurations, and more to the graphics card. Not to mention doing it at least 60 times a second.

After the engine was in a suitable place to render the most basic of elements, our artist, Tommy, started to get involved. We weren't exactly sure what visual aesthetic and style we wanted yet, though I did already have a GDD (Game Design Document) written up. The first prop (a tree) was made and the next challenge was to import it correctly in to our bespoke level editor.

Completed text rendering, and a lovely tree!

It was around this time we decided that the game's 'childlike' and 'happy' plot and characters should be reflected in the visuals too, so the next iteration of the props for our first world, The Home Forest, looked more cartoony:

Forest paraphernalia, now with more cartoon!

I don't think Tommy will mind me saying that he has improved greatly as an artist because of this project, and I think that shows in the quality of his work in comparison to where we began over a year ago.

As he continued working on the 3D environments and props for the game, myself and Rafi hunkered down on getting the engine to a place where it ran stable enough and smoothly enough to be usable. At the same time, I was making constant improvements and adding features to our bespoke editor, including fixing some interesting bugs that I would never had envisioned concerning localization (Tommy is German, I am British, Rafi is Austrian). The most amusing one was related to the fact that I would save a level on my machine and the engine would serialize the position of lights with a dot (.) as a decimal place; and then Tommy would load it on his German computer, which would read that as simply a digit separator, turning a value of "5.000" in to five thousand!

A screenshot Tommy gave me showing an editor bug, and the current appearance of The Home Forest world

Once we had everything in place engine-wise, Rafi and I began to write the actual gameplay, while Tommy continues even now to create the 11 worlds planned for the release day. Throughout the entire process there have been ups and downs. I personally also struggle with severe OCD that has come on and off (to be expected) here and there- staying physically active and not being confined to one building for days on end is a big help (advice I would recommend to anyone doing something similar- not just us crazies! ;P).

Motivation is certainly the hardest thing to maintain throughout- there were days when all I had was a broken game engine (with no idea why it was broken), constantly diminishing savings, and a facebook feed showing me all the fun friends were having with their well-paying jobs. Vodka helps. :D

The first iteration of a bloom and outlining shader, and a gameplay screenshot showing the effects in their current form

Other than that, I had to make sure I had a hobby that isn't related to computers or gaming. As much as I still love playing video games, being a game developer makes it hard to turn off the "what needs fixing in this game" brain, and that makes it tough to relax/tune out for a while. I took up football and kickboxing, as well as making sure I didn't drop my guitar playing (I've played for a long time, always only for enjoyment). And, of course, keeping in contact with friends (and not dropping off the edge of the earth, no matter how far behind schedule I feel I am) is invaluable.

Now, finally, I'm at a place where I can see the finishing post. It's still some way off (we're predicting a late 2016/early 2017 release), but there's nothing huge standing in our way anymore. We just have to apply more polish, fix some bugs, keep churning out content, and of course, do a buttload of testing. ;)

Oh, and if you haven't already, here's a final nag to go vote for us on Greenlight! Every vote counts. :) Thanks for reading!

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