Looking back to 2015 (part 2) - Warped Times series
In the first part of the summary of year 2015, I focused on Chickendemic and Mindness. This part will be all about our recently released game Warped Christmas, and the Warped Times series in general.
The inception of Warped Times
Before I delve into the last game of the series, allow me to enjoy some nostalgia about the old episodes :). I will intentionally not mention stories of each episode and only focus on the game development itself, in case you wanted to play through the series yourself (unfortunately, only the third Warped Times game is available in English, but it explains the story of previous games).
The Warped Times series has accompanied us ever since we created Lightning Soft, and I would go as far as to say it's a great way of looking at the development of the team itself. The first game came out in 2008, and it was originally a game for a competition on a czech game development portal Velkej Chytrák. Originally, I wanted to create a game with multiple parallel worlds that differ in color (which was the theme of the competition), but I ended up simplifying it to 2 worlds, and when I added two object the player had to connect by teleporting them across the worlds, I took inspiration from Heart of Darkness and developed a story about repairing a magical stone that had been destroyed.
Who would have thought that this simple base would allow 3 more games to be created, each expanding the story even further :). Even though the first game had a large amount of errors, the favourable circumstances of Czech gaming websites allowed the game to get a lot of attention (to this day, the game is available on Hrej.cz, which at the time was focusing quite a bit on freeware games made by small developers). That reaction gave me a lot of motivation to continue developing :).
Success and continuation
The early, unexpected success was the reason I released a second Warped Times game just a year later. It improved on gameplay, controls, graphics, I worked on adding new elements to the game such as levels with two playable characters. The game was a lot better on the technical and gameplay side, but in retrospection I found that I did not really like the story and how it was presented. Despite that, the second game received positive feedback, and so the only thing left to do was to start preparing the third one.
To improve on the way I handle the story, I took a step back to the story of the first game where Statik and his sidekicks were the villains, and used a similar premise in the third game.
Everything good comes to an end
I knew the third game would be the conclusion to the story, which is why I waited for a while and in the meantime, the team focused on other projects while I was working on how the story is going to finish. The development of Warped Times: Pres3nt began a year after we released the second game, and ended up taking entire 4 years (with a couple breaks). In September 2014, we had the result of our immense effort. I put all of my strength and motivation into this game, and to this day I think it is our best creation. 45 story driven levels and lots of achievements and challenges provide many hours of gameplay and entertainment. The story takes place years after the previous games and answers all previously unanswered questions, concluding the entire trilogy.
Content-wise, the game was prepared. However, as it turned out, a year of waiting and 4 years of development was a long time, and our "golden age" on the Czech internet sites was suddenly gone.
It was natural development, the internet had massively expanded in the time. Many new websites, forums, and discussion platforms appeared, both the developers and players spread out into small groups. The Velkej Chytrák forum where the series started was suddenly dying, and we lost our biggest source of players, feedback, and support. The expansion of new game engines allowed many new game development teams to be created (although I think that is good for the Czech gaming scene in the long run), and lots of our gaming websites began focusing on AAA gaming, presumably since it was a lot more profitable. Many websites focusing on freeware and indie games ceased their activity. Years back, those websites were looking at efforts from small Czech developers like us and helped spreading the word, the third Warped Times game was met with a lot less feedback than we expected. Most platforms we contacted did not respond, and in the end we only had a handful of reviews (we are still very grateful for them, don't get us wrong). A highlight was a Czech TV and internet gaming show called Indian, which graciously reviewed the game, and we would like to give them a special thanks. One influential event was the decline of popularity of platformers, which nowadays have a much harder time if they want to stand out and become successful.
I was hoping the situation would not turn out too badly while we were still working on the game. I tried helping it with regular development blog posts, entering social media, even creating several videos. The release date came, and the results were not so good. Download counts were helped a bit by international websites, and thanks to them we also have a single player who managed to finish all optional tasks in the game and entered the Hall of Heroes. Still, in summary we only have about 1000 downloads, and due to the vastness of the game, I assume that barely anyone actually finished it.
To not be completely negative, we did have 3 fans who were willing to buy collector's editions full of extra content, and a fourth one was won in a recent Christmas competition mentioned below – I consider that a big success and am very grateful for it :).
Expanding the series
Someone might note that after the lack of success with the third game, any continuation would lack any point. That was my point of view for a long time as well. Even before the release, I was planning an expansion for Warped Times: Pres3nt – it was supposed to be a set of time limited levels with a leaderboard. We even had a work-in-progress menu in the original game, but I removed it after a couple updates.
At this point, I began focusing on my final exams and Mindness (which you learned about in the first part). We also released Deep Space fire and Chickendemic in the meantime. It is still in my live memory, that after the exhausting development of the third game, I lost all motivation – not because of the lack of success, but due to the extremely tiring 4 year development :). Yet it only took a couple months and I began to miss the series again :). I knew that creating another Warped Times sequel might not be the best idea, though I still wanted to release something with another small adventure of Tad and Green. I also figured I could use the leaderboard idea to create a competition, since I still had an extra piece of collector's edition, and I thought it might bring in new players. I took a risky first step, which was posting a screenshot with a hint to social media. Now it was clear that the game had to come out.
Since I was already decently familiar with Unity, I used it to create the basic engine of the game. After seeing the first prototype which felt nearly the same way as the previous game made in Game Maker, I wanted to recreate the entire third game – of course, that idea is ever so slightly farfetched, but it would have been nice :).
I used the proof of concept to create time based levels I mentioned, but I didn't manage to incorporate them into the gameplay very well. Then I recalled to an idea of a boss level where Honzas would chase Tad, who is sliding down a randomly generated ice cave on a plank and has to both shoot at Honzas, and avoid Honzas' shots to survive. I took that premise and created it in Unity:
I also tried this on mobile, and even though we might have got something out of it, it wasn't very interesting and involving Honzas would have been too difficult.
One day, I was experimenting with Unity again, so I took the 2D base from the previous game and try how Warped Times would look in 3D.
Now, if after making the 2D version in Unity I had an urge to recreate the third game in it, seeing how the game would look in 3D… well, let's just quickly dismiss the idea, otherwise I might actually do it :D. But christmas was coming and I remembered my short story that described Christmas after the events of Warped Times: Pres3nt and still kind of wanted to play with the idea. After creating a test level with snow in it, it turned out the game could actually work and GreenMan excitedly began writing the story. There was not much tiem left until Christmas, so it was clear we could only have a few levels. I was still worried about time a week before the release, since there were still 2 levels missing, the entire intro and GameJolt integration. Thankfully, our new artist designed new graphics which let us finish the levels quicker than we had anticipated. We managed to finish the game 2 days before Christmas Eve, and the competition for the collector's edition could begin :). I was originally thinking about a reference to one of the villain characters from the third game, but ended up dismissing the idea.
As much as I thought of Warped Christmas as a big 3D project, it turned out to be a small one that did not drag too much attention. But considering how quickly it was finished, I'm quite satisfied with the result. Obviously there are a few hard to overlook mistakes and a pretty horrible optimization, that I just didn't have time to finish up and polish, but we concluded the Warped Times series in a good way, and I like it ended in a positive and playful fashion – kind of like Green's character who would occasionally shed light into the otherwise dark atmosphere in the third game. After all, the story and dialogues of Warped Christmas were made by Green, who left his own footprints in the work :).
Even though the competition and Christmas are over, you can still try the game out, we would really appreciate it (the competition was not available outside our country, so don't feel like you missed out). To end the article, I would just like to share a pretty funny clip from the development of the game, where each present duplicated itself on collision :). I hope you enjoyed our last journey through the world of Warped Times, and found it interesting. Now it is time to move onto brand new projects and stories, and who knows, perhaps one of them will turn out to be another big series :). We will write about what we're planning for the year 2016 soon, I'm really looking forward to it :).
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