I had ideas for games when I was a University student, and wanted to pursue them while I was still in University and not tied to a career. So I started my first serious run into indie game development in my final year. I just officially registered Dust Scratch Games as an official company not too long ago, and even continued school as a good excuse to keep working as an indie developer before finding a paid full-time job elsewhere.
Currently, only me (Andrew Hlynka). It sounds silly giving one developer a company name, but I thought it sounded more professional, and makes sense when or if I hire others to help polish my games when they get closer to release (I have communicated with other artists in the past).
The Dust Scratch Games website has all these great examples of your artwork, so I have to ask, were you the kid who would doodle in the columns of his school book?
That’s exactly the kind of kid I was. When I was little, and even today I love to draw on the sides an old piece of paper. It’s interesting to go back and see what I drew weeks or months or years ago, to see what ideas I was thinking about at the time.
What is Drew and the Floating Labyrinth and what is it about story wise?
“Drew and the Floating Labyrinth” is a hand-drawn 3D puzzle platformer. To my knowledge, it is the first 3D game to feature a hand-drawn character, where the character is drawn in HD and you can rotate around her the same as any other third-person game. The game follows Drew, a young girl that finds herself in a strange dream-like place, not knowing how she got there. All she knows is she wants to go home, which you can see in the far distance when you play the levels. But she has to traverse a maze of invisible paths to get closer. As you progress, you’ll find out there’s more to the story… I give a big hint on the game’s website when I mention “themes regarding the afterlife.”
We’ve seen some very interesting puzzle games in the last several years. I love puzzles, and wondered what the best approach was to also take advantage of being able to rotate the camera around Drew to see her from many angles. I decided to make the levels “invisible.” To know where to walk, there are a variety of visual clues that hint at where the path(s) are, telling you where it is safe to walk. From feedback, most people agree it is a very simple premise that isn’t too difficult, but still takes a moment to figure out and can be very satisfying to beat without frustration.
I wanted to create a hand-drawn character, a boy or a girl, to show the potential of the art style. I initially made another character, “James,” in his own game, but decided to make a simpler game as a prequel, which led me to create “Drew” and her own game. I would like to create a trilogy of games around these “lost children” and their journeys, but “Drew’s” game has a stand-alone story, so I wanted to focus on finishing a game first before getting ahead of myself.
Hand-drawn 3d games have been done before, usually in first-person shooters decades ago with pixel art when 3d rendering was too difficult for hardware. More recently, games like “Don’t Starve” has a great style but is still isometric with a restricted camera. One Japanese game released as “Time and Eternity” tried to be an HD hand-drawn 3d game, but also had a restricted camera, which ruined its selling point. I guess I made this game in frustration of not having better examples of it elsewhere.
I suppose games like “Journey” from thatgamecompany was a big influence in the style of gameplay and storytelling for “Drew” (I’m sure it influenced many indie games, but “Journey” is still one of my favorites). Animated films also had an impact. If you look up “Kairos comic” on YouTube, you’ll see a fantastic animated trailer for a French comic series, which had the greatest impact so far in my character design.
But from experience, “easy” software isn’t easy for everyone. I recommend trying a bunch of things, like Unity, the Unreal Engine, the Valve Source engine, the CryEngine, or even XNA with Visual Studio, as great starting points, all of which are free to try.
The art style of Drew is quite unique and I see this more with indie games, do you feel Unity gives you the freedom to actually have the graphics art style you really want?
In a way, yes. I had to develop a system where I have many hand-drawn frames around an object, and using code I can decide which one is visible based on which is closest in front of the camera. It’s a basic idea that could be made in any 3D game engine, but Unity was the simplest for me to test and implement it.
Unity works well with 3D models and 2D sprites, and has a variety of lighting and particle effects for you to use (or you could make your own from scratch within Unity as well). But it’s ultimately a canvas, where you use other outside tools to create the art. An interesting fact: for “Drew,” I spent a lot more time drawing in Photoshop then I actually did messing with code and level design in Unity so far.
I hope to finish the game by August 2014 (that’s only two months from now, fingers crossed!). I will seek opportunities to get it published through online stores like Steam, GOG or Desura by then. I hope to have the game running smoothly on Windows PC, Mac and Linux platforms.
I certainly hope so! Unity is very easy to port to different systems, from PC to mobile to console, as long as you have permissions and development kits from console manufacturers. The art style of this game does take a LOT of ram though, so I might have trouble porting it to anything other than PS4 and XBOXONE. But I want as many people as possible to be able to play the game, so the more platforms, the better.
One game at a time! Once I finish “Drew,” I have many more game ideas in mind. You can read my development blog at http://www.fromdustscratch.com in the coming months to read more.