Developer Aspirations

YAPB - Yet Another Programming Blog



September 2010

On Minecraft and Indie Development

by Colin Miller, on Android, Computer programming, development, iPhone, Musings, Ramblings

As has happened to Gabe from Penny Arcade, I have gotten bit by the minecraft bug. After having set up a server at, I launched into a monster-freeish world with a friend of mine to see what we could build. What seemed like a silly game to waste 20 minutes on turned into multiple nights of staying up until 2am and being really tired the next day.

Minecraft is an independent game made by a single developer. It started in May of 2009 and is currently in alpha. You can buy the game now for half of the eventual price and play the game in progress; and many people do. Hundreds of thousands of people have already bought this unfinished game. It's a fairly amazing accomplishment in the indy scene.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="This is the view from the top of a mountain in minecraft. The graphics are crude, but the gameplay is addicting. Originally I used this picture to try to figure out where I was, as I got lost in my first multiplayer game."]Top of a Mountain in Minecraft[/caption]

This of course brings to my mind that the independent development scene has been seeing it's largest resurgence since the mid 90's. The proliferation of app-enabled smart phones along with industry acknowledgements like the PAX 10 has brought on a small renaissance of signal developer or small team independent apps and games. As a developer who mainly works on systems that no public user really sees, I've always had the ambition to create something usable by the general public. I admit that I also have a strong interest in gaming, so making an independent game seems like something I should do.

However, I've yet to start a project. I've tried to begin one with an artistic friend of mine, but we always get stuck in the concept and planning phase. Trying to come up with a good idea to execute on has held us back. Long working hours also create an environment where wanting to work additional time after work on a side project is less likely. However, I still think it's a reasonable goal and something that will be a positive influence on my development career. What I really need, is some good motivation.

Several months ago I created a robot as part of a Make Magazine contest. There was a prize for anyone who submitted a valid entry of a Maker's Notebook. I already owned a maker's notebook, but having a second didn't sound like such a bad thing. Besides, having a reward, a deadline, and a solid goal really push forward the incentive to complete a personal project. That's the sort of thing that I need to jumpstart myself in the independent developer scene.

As luck would have it, such a push arrived by PoV at as an independent game development challenge. The basic idea of the challenge for those who don't wish to click on the link, is to create a game, take it to market, and sell at least 1 copy for at least $1 by the end of October. This challenge has all 3 things that I need to get a project completed. The goal is to create and sell a game. The deadline is October 31, 2010. And the reward is the $1 (or more) in revenue for selling something I created. I have no idea if I'll be able to sell a single copy of a game I make, but it's worth a try.

My target platform will be Android for a variety of reasons. First, it has a fairly large install base with a fairly low number of applications on the market. While the iPhone has a larger install base, it also has a lot more applications to compete with. Second, the Android is faster and cheaper to get to market. Getting a license to publish a game to the app store is only $25, where is with Apple it's $100. Also, Apple requires an approval process that can take days or weeks to get it on the market. This means I'll have less selling time if I want to make my goal. Third, Android runs a variation of Java which I have a lot of experience with while the iPhone uses Objective-C which I have less experience. The iPhone also requires developing on a mac, which only my fiancé has at home. I'm stuck with a Linux/Windows box unless I use my work laptop, which I'm less likely to want to do. The Android SDK works fine on all OSes and has a great set of tools and emulator. Finally, I actually own an android phone and no longer own an iPhone. While I could probably 'borrow' my fiancé's iPod touch for debugging and testing purposes, I don't think she'd be very happy with that. I'm also not willing to spend a bunch of money buying a development device.

While the game will be originally for Android, I plan on making the backend portable to other Java-like environments. Eventually I may release a PC version because of that, but at first it will just be Android. I'll need that focus in order to get to market in my limited time.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="This is a screen shot from Dragon Quest IV for the NES. My game will probably not look as good as this. While sad, it's also probably true. I'm a programmer who's art skills are limited. I'll make up for it with complicated math however!"]Dragon Quest for NES[/caption]

While I'll be pretty much developing this on my own in my spare time, I'd like to get some feedback from anyone interested in what direction to take the game. I have some initial ideas and I'll write them down in an upcoming blog post. For now I'll just say that it will be a turn-based, combat oriented, RPG style game minus the RP elements (think just the combat parts of a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest game).

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