The Arcade Badgers Story
Prelude to the Badgers
Before setting up the Badgers, Steven and Claire had done some jamming with Grim’s Christmas List, released for Ludum Dare 25 on 17th December 2012, and a prototype version of Germies! for January 2013’s One Game A Month event. After an illness that had knocked Steven out of work for a while, it was decided to try and polish up Germies! and release it as an HTML5 focused game. Through the help of Business Gateway Scotland, the New Enterprise Allowance and The Prince’s Trust, Arcade Badgers Limited was officially incorporated on 30th April 2013, and the race was on to get Germies! finished.
Our first game was released a few short months after officially forming. Germies! was our view on the Match-3 craze, which tasked the player with fighting an infection, by rounding up coloured shapes into squares or rectangles. The bigger the area covered, the higher the points, and each shape had it’s own base count too. With a slowly decreasing timer acting as the heartbeat of the infection, the player had to balance working out higher pointed shapes, to just clearing away the low pointed ones in time.
It was picked up by a few sponsors, but it was not going to be enough to keep the company afloat. We had also just missed the crest of the HTML5 wave, and without an Apple device to fully test on, we lost out on the mobile web as well. That and Android’s default browser was slow on the uptake of HTML5 standards, and wasn’t the best with it’s performance.
Trying to find sponsors for Germies! was becoming a full time job in itself, and the constant rejection wasn’t helping matters. Sometimes there would be some useful feedback ( didn’t quite meet their portal’s tastes ) othertimes it was a flatout rejection with nothing to explain why. By Autumn, however, things were not going well, and the buffer we had was running out. So, a new game was started, with an entirely new set of technology.
Risen Again! was to be our take on Lode Runner. Gravedigger Bob would have to run around each plot of the cemetary as restless skeletons and ghosts got up and wandered about. Each skeleton would have to be led to their correct grave and patted back down to sleep. The ghosts needed avoiding and were the source of the mischief. It was fun and daft, and made us smile as cartoony skeleton heads bobbed about the place.
JESSIE compiled to Windows, Linux and Android and provided an OpenGL wrapper around the HTML5 Canvas object. The game would still be coded in HTML5, but would run through JESSIE as close to native as possible - bypassing the browser and all the chaos it was giving us.
While great progress was made, it wasn’t going to be quick enough, so Steven started looking for additional work and started at YoYo Games in December 2013.
This put Risen Again!, GLESGAE and JESSIE on indefinite hold.
However, the itch to work on our own games never went away. Grim’s Christmas List was Claire’s project, and we wanted to tell the next part of Grim’s story. Therefore, Grim! was started around March 2014 using GameMaker:Studio
We decided this time to focus on the Desktop platforms, which at that point generally meant Steam. However, there were a few indie-focused portals; Desura being the biggest that was interested, and Gameolith also being happy to take Grim!
As Steven ploughed through the day job, Claire built nearly all of Grim!’s 100 levels, designed the artwork, and tweaked the gameplay mechanics.
Grim! was released on Itch.io, Desura and Gameolith on 24th May 2014 to little fanfare.
Again, we tried contacting news portals - supposedly indie-friendly ones - to cover the game, or additional portals to get the game on. We were met with even higher brick walls than with Germies! the previous year. While there was an “Indie Boom” going on, no-one was able to cover it. Masses of games were falling by the wayside as sites didn’t know how to handle them… so just ignored them. One particular site, who did seem to try and cover many of the indie games coming out, rejected us without even registering a download on their custom link. Thanks for that.
We knew there was some additional polish we could have done with Grim! and were preparing to do just that.. but this backlash of nothingness sapped away all of our energy. Then with family illnesses, and passings, the Badgers looked to be on their last legs.
Then, a rare occurance happened. Steven had some spare time when a certain jam’s theme caught his eye. The LowRezJam, hosted on itch.io, tasked people with creating a game with a resolution of just 64x64 pixels. Since Grim! hadn’t worked out at all, Steven had just focused on the day job. He had attempted the odd Ludum Dare, but either couldn’t block the time out to dedicate to it, or just had no inspiration when it came. This one seemed different, as an idea immediately popped into being and Sploosh! was thrown together over two weeks, with an hour or two here and there. This worked well, as instead of a specific weekend block of time, the work was able to be done bit by bit over a longer period.
Sploosh! was released 18th April 2016.
It was written in GameMaker:Studio again, with a Gameboy-like aesthetic and perhaps not the best control scheme in the world. It placed 100th overall, which was much higher than expected, and an astonishing 29th in aesthetics. This gave Steven a big boost and broke the two year creative brick wall.
In a whirlwind of creativity, Steven immediately set to work on the Ludum Dare MiniLD #67 which started 23rd May - just a month and a bit after the LowRezJam. This ran over a week, which again gave Steven time to do bits and pieces at nights, rather than trying to block out an entire weekend.
Snake-A-Roid was released on 29th May 2016.
It received some positive feedback, even though Steven had grown too good at it in play-testing and had actually slowed a lot of it down, for fear of making it too hard. This generated a spark though… and work began on upgrading it for a paid-for release.
In the meantime, Steven hastily threw together a version to put up on GameJolt.
The immediate plan was to start adding different arenas to Snake-A-Roid to switch up the playing field. The small changes in design drastically changed how the asteroids behaved, as well as the tactics used to get rid of them. Additional firepower was going to be needed in tight spaces, so a bunch of power-ups were devised and added. The game was switched to Windows, with Xbox 360 controller support added, and in a fit of wild abandon, thrown out to itch.
Snake-A-Roid was released anew on 2nd August 2016.
This was a mistake. There wasn’t much difference to the Jam version bar ten different arenas which just changed the space you played in. Although, there was also a chiptune soundtrack created for it as well, and various gameplay tweaks ( including speeding it back up, ) it still felt like an incremental patch.
It received some attention, all of which organic, as no trailer or anything was really sent out for it bar a couple of emails to potentially interested peoples for feedback.
4TG Game Con
This caused a bit of a loss in confidence, even if it was our own doing. So things went back on hold, and the day job was focused on again.
Then, out of the blue in January, 4TG got in touch with us about showcasing something with them in Aberdeen. Snake-A-Roid seemed a natural fit, and we went about figuring out what we’d need to do to pretty it up a bit more and make it it’s own game rather than the patch it seemed. We decided that end of arena bosses would be a good test of skill, which would additionally add a boss run mode, alongside the current survival. We also thought that some additional enemies and a more structured wave progression would help, as well as a graphical and sound overhaul. This was started in January, with a few of the new bosses prototyped and roughed out… but, as is always the case, life got in the way, and it wasn’t until June before work began in earnest… and as is typical for Steven, a full rewrite began.
Mini Dungeon Adventures
As we’ve always found; taking a break from one project to do something else for a bit, always seems to help. In this case, Snake-A-Roid 2.0 was in a bit of a stall.. we weren’t quite sure how to go forward with it, so during April we took part in the 1-Bit Clicker Jam and release Mini Dungeon Adventures. This has been one of our most popular projects, and is certainly one we would like to go back to as it’s actually based on a bigger idea we’ve had for a while.
In an attempt to try and get some more attention, we also decided to attempt Ludum Dare 38. These have proven to be very challenging in recent years trying to dedicate an entire weekend to something with family life being as it is… as such we didn’t quite make it in time - being a day late even for the Jam - but we almost managed it. As such, we still released Pocket Planets a day or so after the jam ended. This has also become our second most popular project, and it has been entirely organic. We missed the jam deadline, so missed out on all the promotion from that, yet somehow it sits just behind Mini Dungeon Adventures in interest. After the two jams, we were certainly fired up and ready to get on with Snake-A-Roid’s update.
Snake-A-Roid 2.0 was effectively done within 20 days over June and July.
We showed Snake-A-Roid to the public at the 4TG Game Con in Aberdeen during the last weekend of July 2017. It went down well, we got lots of feedback, even though there were a few hiccups during the weekend, and we’re now targetting a release on Steam as well as itch.io and potentially other platforms than just Linux, Windows and Mac.
After the chaos of 4TG, we needed a bit of a break as we crunched a bit on Snake-A-Roid during July to try and get it ready in time. This was a silly thing to do for many reasons. Primarily, we only get about five minutes with players, so giving them the entire game to play is going to be overwhelming. Additionally, it’s loud at these events, so the soundtrack that was worked on was pretty useless as no-one would be able to hear it. The bosses were also far too difficult, so we ended up building a quick 4TG version of just the survival mode on the first arena for the Sunday. This has now been released as a free download on our itch page.
It just so happened that a few days after 4TG, the Low Rez Jam started. As our renewed creative output started with last year’s Low Rez Jam, we felt it very important to hit this one too. That and a change of project for a little while would refresh ourselves a bit. And so, Froak was created. Due to the burnout, there were a few false starts, as it was originally going to be a single player puzzler, and ended up a multi-player party battle thing… as these things tend to go!
Froak was certainly a much needed break, and come the end of August, we were in a much better frame of mind to go through the tasks of Snake-A-Roid and the path to getting it out on Steam, Itch and other platforms.
The yearly tradition of Low Rez Jam continued with Pixel Beard. Steven kept trying to do the 7 Day Roguelike competiton, and never managed it. However, Low Rez Jam runs over two weeks, which provided enough time to give an attempt in our usual arcadey style. Pixel Beard was then thrown together - sans sound - with a bunch of mini-games providing various piratey actions.
It was great fun to write, and isn’t too bad to play either!
Low Rez Fish’n
And now for something completely different. Instead of using GameMaker Studio, Steven decided to write this one in C, using SDL2, and compiling out through Emscripten to get a web build. This went a lot smoother than expected, and brought a lot of tech out of it - the main part being a small reusable engine, although again, without sound.
To the future
In 2020, we moved house, and this time the Badgers has it’s own space, rather than sharing the kitchen table. This permits us to have an area to actually work and leave things setup to return to, rather than having to tear everything down for meal times.
This should mean that we can actually finish something.
We have many an unfinished project sitting around, and many jam games as prototypes to test various gameplay ideas. So this is the time to start pulling things together and getting another release out.
Be that Snake-A-Roid, Tiny Critters, or whatever!