Indie Pitch

When I released Microchip Monsters on Christmas Eve of 2011, I took a couple of days off before starting the REAL work involved in indie game development -- namely, trying to promote the game!

In January I emailed a contact I had at Tiny Cartridge. He'd covered Voyage to Farland back when it was a DS homebrew game and was about the only member of the video game press I knew. Tiny Cartridge is a cool blog that covers DS gaming, but Microchip Monsters is an Android game so I wasn't really looking for any coverage there, just some advice. The email got passed along to and to my surprise, they actually posted about the game!

In February I sent off emails to Eurogamer, Kotaku, 1UP, and Wired. Results? Nothing. Well, that's not completely true, I did get a notice from 1UP that the email bounced, so that's something. A further email to pocketgamer got no response, although I DID get a reply from someone in their advertising department asking if I'd like to advertise on the site.

In March I read a post on Eurogamer lamenting the lack of Android games for them to cover. I replied to the writer and while they still haven't covered it, he was kind enough to buy a copy of the game, which was pretty cool. The Game Jar was also really cool about featuring gameplay videos for both Microchip Monsters and Voyage to Farland among their Thursday Indie Jar posts.

Somewhere along the line I discovered the Joystiq Indie Pitch. In fact, the first pitch I read was about an Android game, so I sent off an email. After a few weeks of hearing nothing I was ready to give up on Joystiq as well, but then after a month a reply came! They thought the game sounded cool and they wrote that they would cover it in the Indie Pitch! The lead time was "roughly a month" but I quickly sent off some answers to the interview questions. In the subsequent weeks I made a couple of edits and corrections.

Then I waited. After a month there was nothing, so I thought maybe it was "roughly a month" after my last submission of info and answers. All through late May I checked Joystiq pretty often and waited, waited, waited... Microchip Monsters was now a six month old game and the chances of it getting coverage weren't looking good. After another month, I emailed the writer asking humbly and politely if the pitch for the game had been cancelled or if they needed any other info from me. I got no response.

It's now been three months and I guess the Indie Pitch for Microchip Monsters is a no-go. Maybe it's a crappy game? Perhaps, but people are playing the heck out of the free version on Google Play, and a writer from Save Game Online gave it a favorable review with a really clever writeup, and a link on facebook with this cool tagline:

"Joe experiences what it's like to be a vengeful murdered nanobot. Seriously."

So it's now seven months since the release of the game and I'm thinking, "Why not just put up the original Indie Pitch Interview here?" And so here it be...

What's Microchip Monsters about?

Microchip Monsters is a strange game about the little nanites living inside your Android device that actually run it. :) One day they get wiped out by viruses, but the last nanite comes back as a ghost bent on revenge. (All fiction, of course -- hopefully a game about a virus infiltration won’t scare people away!?)

Sell Microchip Monsters in one sentence:

Microchip Monsters will shrink you down to the size of a transistor in your phone and take you on a futuristic journey of revenge.

How important is a story in creating indie games, your own included?

I like to add a bit of story to my games with a short cartoon and let my imagination run wild, e.g. the fictional Android device called a PGX-1138 (think early George Lucas films with a Peculiar Games twist), and black holes in a microchip!?

What inspired you to make Microchip Monsters?

I wanted to try a different genre from roguelikes and see whether a casual game would succeed in the market. It ended up not being all that casual -- more like casually hardcore.

You mentioned Bit Generations as an influence on Microchip Monsters, but what are some other influences? How do you make Microchip Monsters unique?

I also had in mind Peggle in the early going -- casual on one level, yet offering another layer of depth for hardcore gamers. Geometry, bank shots off silicon walls, riding black hole gravity wells to get in position near an elusive virus. Players may not see the resemblance, but honest -- Peggle was always in the back of my mind during development.

One twist is that the microchip is gradually scrolling downward giving that slight panic inducing need to get at a virus before it’s off screen. Also, the delay for mine explosions make it slightly Bomberman-like. The minimalist graphics were inspired by VLSI chip CAD software, so in a way it’s not as abstract as people might think.

I also snuck in a “Rogue” mode, using an algorithm to make procedurally generated levels for a little roguelike flavor.

The game ends up being a sort of arcade/puzzler hybrid. Unlocking new stages isn’t too difficult, but getting 100% of the enemies for the “Cleared” achievement can be challenging. I’m anxious to hear from players about whether the final boss fight is too difficult or easy.

What's the coolest aspect of Microchip Monsters?

The little GhostBot bobbing his head to the music and occasionally blinking. Also the fact that the game has about 25 minutes of 44kHz music and still fits in a 1.5MB package, which the tracker music format allows.

Anything you'd do differently?

I recently added 30 more stages (true when I first wrote this back in March), but players have to unlock the first 30 to get to the new enemy types which is less than ideal.

Initially I wanted the chip walls to be blasted away with special powerups. There’s code in place to do that, but I haven’t fully implemented it yet. That would make for a nice update.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?

I’m not sure an established company would have me! And anyway, working on my own ideas is really rewarding so it would be a tough call if a company did want me.

Has Microchip Monsters scratched your itch to create something other than a roguelike? What’s next?

My first Android game was actually a nerdy “Space Invaders/Bejeweled” mashup called RGBbot. Then came the roguelike, Voyage to Farland. Even though animated roguelikes are niche for western gamers, to my surprise it’s doing OK -- not a mega-hit, but not a total flop either.

I’ve promised a few roguelike fans I’d make a PC port of Voyage. Kickstarter could be a solution, and I may look into that, but I’m still drawn to minimalist, arty games like Orbital (Bit Generations) or Circadia, so I may have to alternate between the two genres in the future.

It appears you're passionate about music, as you've set up the libmodplug port for Android devs to access quality music with low file sizes. Do you have a background in music or do you just find it is an important aspect of any game?

My background is just as a complete amateur, but I’ve been dabbling in music forever, especially electronic music. Tracker music is a great fit for mobile games and a nice nod to the old-school demo scene.

In a game like Shiren the Wanderer with its brilliant soundtrack, or anything by Q Entertainment for the more techno inclined, the music adds that extra level of atmosphere. I hope people play those games with headphones rather than muting the music and I hope they do the same with my games. The speakers in phones and tablets just don't do the bass justice.

I should also mention the tracker artist Mr.Lou who’s been supporting the libmodplug work. When I checked out his own songs I was blown away. That’s how “Electric Memories” made it into Microchip Monsters and it’s a nice contrast to my songs, giving the player an uplifting “I’m gonna beat this game” feel.

Is it better to make games that you like or games that will be commercially successful?

My tastes in gaming may be too obscure for mass appeal. I occasionally dabble in little "Toy" or educational apps. On some app stores, WackyDays does better than Voyage to Farland. WackyDays took a few weeks to develop and Voyage has taken a few years, so go figure... But I guess money and celebrity aren't the point, are they.

Quotes from SaveGameOnline Facebook page are copyright 2013, Save Game.

All other content copyright 2013, P.A. Casey.