I recently released an update to Growing Pains which completely changed the graphics. It was a slightly unusual thing to do given the game has actually been released and has already been available for a while on the Xbox 360 (I haven’t updated the graphics on the 360 version by the way, I don’t have a membership any more).
Original screenshot of Growing Pains
The change was prompted by a few different bits of feedback I had about the game. Generally I try to be fairly thick-skinned concerning feedback about my games. There will always be negative feedback whenever you launch a game and I try to tell myself everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Having released several 2D platformers I’m well aware that for some people the controls will always “feel wrong” because they expect them to be like some other game they’re used to playing. No matter how the controls handle someone will say it feels too slippery and someone will say there isn’t enough intertia. That’s fine though, I’ve learnt to live with that. The feedback about the graphics for Growing Pains seemed to be fairly heavily on the negative side though. Here’s one email I received from someone at a large well known website:
Hi David. We have indeed been getting your emails. I hope you take the following as constructive criticism, and don’t feel too hurt by it.
Your game is ugly. Like, really really really ugly. Hideous. The concept behind it is solid, and I would almost be willing to check it out based on that alone, but I cannot get past how terrible it looks.
I am generally very supportive of indie game designers, and so I offer this advice: hire yourself an artist/designer to help you with the look of your game. It’s clear you have interesting gameplay ideas, and you can program it to work, but you need some help with the visual aspect. Nobody is going to touch this game until it stops looking like the art assets were thrown down by a novice using Corel draw.
If you aren’t able to hire somebody (understandable), then I recommend you take a look at works like those from Terry Cavanaugh (Super Hexagon) or Metanet (N+). They both have simple designs as far as the art direction goes (which would fit Growing Pains), but they aren’t an eyesore. Good luck.
It’s pretty difficult not to take something like that personally but I tried my best to take the criticism on the chin and think “OK, I need to do something about this”.
On both Shuggy and Gateways I worked with an artist who handled all of the graphical stuff but for Growing Pains I decided it was a fairly small scale project so I’d have a bash myself. Clearly that was a mistake, for any future projects I’ll be working with someone who has a slightly more artistic eye than myself. Rather than get someone involved at this late stage of Growing pains I decided I’d make a few changes myself and get the opinions of people with a more artistic background. I set about basically removing most of the graphical features and trying to make it much simpler. After a few variants I came up with this look:
Each level now has its own color palette with plain colored walls and a scrolling background. Hopefully it looks a bit better now but I worry it might look a little bland. But what do I know, I thought the original version looked OK!
To date the game has sold a whopping 190 copies so this hasn’t been the most successful release for me. It does make me question if I want to continue doing this for a living. I certainly can’t in the short term so I’m starting a regular full time non-games job very soon. Hopefully I’ll be able to return to making games at some point but with two kids I’m not sure I can really justify the amounts of money I’m earning by doing it.
Oh, and I did get back in contact with the person from the well known website about the new changes to the graphics. They very kindly agreed to have a look at the game,… it crashed on start up.
Growing Pains on Steam - http://store.steampowered.com/app/291610/