Category Archives: Game Art Tricks

Hey, I'm Simon and I'm making a game!! :)
Support me: BUY & Demo on Steam

This article was updated. Jump to Update 1.

Hey lovely people!

I’m working on a small game and here are some techniques I used to create sprites and effects.

Big Sprites

I tried to use the most efficient workflow depending on the use case. The pixel art style allowed me to create assets fast, but for the bigger sprites I used Blender because I knew that I need to iterate a lot over the look and doing all of it by hand would drive me crazy.

Custom Shader

I love when games offer different biomes or regions, and so I wanted to integrate a dark one. Spoiler: You can clear the fog by solving a little quest in the game.

Flipbooks

Sound ON! :) It’s surprising that even simple flip books are good enough when several elements come together – especially nice sound.

Nebula Background

Using texture generators can really help to get stuff done quickly. Painting this would have cost me weeks!

I hope you liked this little breakdown. Let me know what you think about it, and also if you like my game! :)

Simon

Update 1

🍰 Post-Release-Summary ❀️

Development of Cozy Space Survivors went very well. Next to all the positive feedback and lovely people who supported me, the highlight was the cake my girlfriend made for the release day!

Best cake ever!! (3rd of May 2024)
Margot and her U.F.O. as cake!

Another awesome surprise hit me, when I received my first (physical) review and my first fan art piece (by datgestruepp)!!

What better review could I have wished for?
Space-Moo-Moo by datgestruepp

πŸ”Ž Table of Content

πŸ’° Sales (~1 month after release)

The sales would not be enough if I would be a full-time indie developer, but I expected ~160 units to be sold (10% of the wishlists I had at release) and so my expectation was surpassed by a lot!

  • 1696 Wishlists at Release
  • 1608 Units sold (at $2.99 with 30% discount during release week)
  • 58 Refunds
  • $3741 Revenue (before 30% Steam and Taxes) = ~$5.7 hourly wage
  • 128 Reviews (99% positive)

⏳ Play Time (~1 month after release)

Demo

  • 48 minutes (Average time played)
  • 21 minutes (Median time played)

Game

  • 2 hours 1 minute (Average time played)
  • 1 hour 27 minutes (Median time played)

πŸ“… Development Time

It took me ~650h to develop the game (next to my full-time job) in Godot over roughly 10 months (end of July 2023 – 03. May 2024). I used ProcrastiTracker to track my time.

⚠️Important (for context): I only work 4 days a week (7h per day) and I don’t have kids, which means I can spend a lot of my spare time on projects such as my game. I worked almost every day on the project which was important to not lose “connection” to it. Sometimes when I struggled (because of a big bug or similar things) my free day of the week was helping A LOT because I had the whole day to tackle the issue and get up to speed again – it can be a motivation barrier when you only have 2 hours in the evening and you know that this is not enough time to deal with the upcoming task.

Godot478:45:20
Blender56:42:35
Piskel44:09:20
Firefox (Tutorial/Learning)5:24:00
Sounds (Search on Soundly/Zapsplat)3:56:00
Sounds (Mix/Export)2:46:50
Translation9:47:50
Testing (QA)53:11:30
TOTAL654:43:25

The numbers above do NOT include:

  • Preparing Store Assets (cost A LOT of time!) & Logo
  • Preparing Store Pages (Itch, Steam)
  • Writing Dev Log / Patch Nodes
  • Creating Assets for Social Media (exception: Blender, see below)
  • Posting/Answering in Social Media/Discord/Forums

I used Blender for creating Sprites and also for cutting my trailers and also to prepare some social media assets.

πŸ“œ Original Plan

  • 1-2 Ships
  • 5 Quests
  • 10 minutes of playtime
  • 2-3 months development time
  • Release on Itch.io (maybe offer Android PCK)
  • Language: English, German

⭐ How it turned out

  • 4 Ships
  • 10 Quests
  • 2-4 hours of playtime
  • 10 months development time (+ Patching)
  • Released on Itch.io and Steam (Win, Linux, Mac)
  • 12 Supported Languages
  • Meta Upgrades
  • (Cloud) Save games
  • Achievements
Earliest recording from Cozy Space Survivors with Assets from Kenney (27 July 2023)
Several Logo Iterations. It takes soooo long!

πŸ’΅ Budget

Apart from my spare time, I did not spend much money:

  • 88.99€ Steam Page
  • 34.62€ Sound Subscription to Soundly (2 months)
  • 11.76€ Sound Subscription to Zasplat (2 months)
  • 60.00€ Music Track (by jrazer98)
  • 20.00€ USB Stick (to Install Linux on my Laptop to test the build)

In total: ~215€

πŸ‘ What went well?

πŸ¦‹ Asset(Style) – “3rd party now, replace later.”

I used an asset pack from Kenney (see GIF above) to focus on programming and getting something playable as soon as possible. Over time, I replaced sprite by sprite with my own art.

Also: The choice of Pixel Art Style was good! It allowed me to create assets quickly and iterate often without losing much time.

πŸ₯·πŸ» Game Design – “Steal first, innovate later.”

I’m not a game designer. For me, it worked great to first copy the gameplay of Vampire Survivors 1:1 (for example, that the weapons shoot automatically) and over time add my own ideas (e.g. that weapons are added to fixed weapon slots) or add other inspirations to the game (e.g., quests, little speech bubbles, …).

Here are my main inspirations:

  • Vampire Survivors for the general simple (but awesome!) gameplay
  • Binding of Isaac for physicality of bullets
  • Halls of Torment for adding Quests to a Vampire Survivors-Like
  • Fallout for the story summary at the end of the game
  • Into the Breach for the little NPC dialog texts which add so much atmosphere

🌳 Setting – “Everything goes.”

The choice of a non-serious and non-realistic setting allowed me to add anything my heart desired without having to stick to strict rules in regard to lore or realism. I can easily combine Chocolate-Asteroids and Space-Ghost, cute Planets with eyes and classic Scifi-stuff like abandoned Space-Stations, and it still works. This was nice because I noticed I didn’t have the time and energy to add a strong and consistent narrative design.

✨ No Feature Creep – “Wouldn’t it be nice if… ?”

I work in game development since 2006 (as 3D/VFX Artist) and so I know how much effort making a game takes. That’s why I have a healthy respect for such a solo projct and from the start it was clear to:

  • make it in 2D (less complicated in programming, quicker asset generation)
  • avoid fancy stuff like advanced shaders

For my portfolio pieces I like to go a bit crazy and try out new stuff, but here the game was the goal, not fancy tech art!

Also, I only added features which actually improved the game. Example: I did not plan to add savegames, but at some point the game felt super stressful as you had to finish all quests in only one run. This was exactly the opposite feeling I wanted to create as it’s all about being cozy. Now you can relax and solve the quests over several sessions.

♾️ (Web)Demo – “Update forever.”

Godot offers HTML5 export and almost from day 1 of development I offered my game to test via browser. This made it easy for people to try it without any effort, which led to early feedback for me (nobody wants to download a bloody ZIP and starts an EXE from a random internet dude). Playing the game without any barriers was also good for the translators to check how their translation feels in the game.

Here are my Itch-Statistics covering the whole development time:

  • 635 Itch Downloads
  • 2602 Itch Browser Plays
  • 6517 Itch Page Views

Also: I always updated (and still do) the game & demo in parallel on Itch and Steam. Having people playing the demo (which offered almost 100% of the game content) was basically my beta test. When people play an outdated demo, they might experience that the game is clunky because they can’t know, that the release version is already way more polished.

πŸ‘Ž What went bad?

βš™οΈ Physics Based

I wanted physical interaction between enemies, bullets, and asteroids and instead of faking it, I used real physics bodies for all of them. This is less performant than using simple sprites with some custom movement logic and leads to the fact, that I can not display as many enemies as a Vampire Survivors can.

πŸ“˜ No Balancing Table

I don’t have a fancy table where all values from all weapons and enemies are gathered in one place. When I want to change a value, I need to open the weapon/enemy and change the value there. This is a bit click-intensive.

🧢 Names in Localization Strings

I did not separate names from the rest of the texts. This means, if I would like to change a name like “Brizzel” to “Prozzel”, I would have to change it in all the strings where the name is used:

  • “You have unlocked a new shippy: Brizzel”
  • “Unlock by finishing the game with Brizzel.”
  • “Brizzel rocks!”
  • “Finish the game with Brizzel”

Of course, it would have been better to define the name once and then use some kind of replacement like:

  • “Finish the game with {SHIPNAME}

πŸ’‘ Learnings

πŸ“ Wishlists – “Support Linux!”

I did not expect, that an article about my game on a Linux gaming website would be the biggest boost for my wishlists (before release). I also did not expect, that at/after release the spike would be the biggest ever. Makes no sense to me because the game did cost only $2 at release (May-03-2024) – I expected that people either buy immediately at such a low price or that they are not interested at all.

πŸ’° Price – “Your game is too cheap!”

The game did cost $2 at release and some lovely people (mostly from my discord) said it’s too cheap, BUT this had a very nice side effect: Some people bought the game several times and gifted it to their friends, which means: I got potentially more reviews for my game! πŸ’˜

πŸ„ Game Icon – “It’s f*in 2024, Adobe!”

Creating an Icon is surprisingly hard. I made a whole reddit post about it! Photoshop can’t save .ico files (wtf?!) and an existing plugin did not work for me. MS Paint can (!) save .ico files, but only without multiple resolutions (and without those, your Icon might look blurry on the desktop). Turns out, GIMP can do it! Turns also out, the icon settings are well hidden in the Steam interface under “Installation > Client Images”.

πŸ•ΉοΈ QA – “Roast me!”

I was surprised how awesome reddit works for gathering feedback. You can try generic sub-reddits like r/PlayMyGame or go into a sub-reddit of your game-niche (in my case r/survivorslikes). Some people played my game and wrote long and super useful feedback!

πŸ”’ Game Version – “Show me what you got!”

Showing the game version in the menu helps when you watch a Stream or Let’s Play and the player encounters a bug. Maybe it’s something you already fixed, but they were just using an older version of the game.

✨ Marketing – “Just annoying.”

Social Media Marketing didn’t really work for me (few exceptions, see below). At least none of my posts went viral or even close to it. I did many posts showing the progress of my game on TwiX, Mastodon, Bluesky, Threads, Godot Forum, Instagram, TikTok, Youtube Shorts, several Discords and Reddit.

The only posts about my game which received >100 likes before release are:

The only posts about my game which received >100 likes after release are:

Some of my posts got traction on Reddit, but they were not really about my game (Reddit hates self-advertisement) and so there was not much gain in wishlists:

There are two exceptions. These posts about my game actually got some upvotes and I think it’s because it was in r/godot – the reddit is more niche in comparison to r/indiedev or r/gamedev and the people in there are happy to see more games made with Godot. I saw similar happiness in r/linux_gaming.

My most successful post was a little marketing stunt where I pretended that my game was shown on the Las Vegas Sphere. The problem: Coming up with ideas like that is not easy, and making a video likes this costs a lot of time.

By the way, TikTok seems so easy! Sometimes there are videos where someone talks 30s about his/her game and gets 50k views. For me, I never got more than 500 (most are 90-250 views).

πŸ™ PR – “Would you kindly?”

Small games like mine have (almost) no chance to get their own preview-videos, but having them placed in collections like “These cozy games come out in May 2024!!111” has a higher potential. Opposite to my assumption, my game did not make it into cozy-compilations, but surprisingly it founds its way into a video from IGN and Gamestar.

🌈 Community FTW – “I started building it 10 years ago.”

I think my community is the only reason why my game gathered positive reviews quickly, was a little success. They bought the game (sometimes even several times), they wrote reviews, and they told others about the game.

The scary thing: I’m not talking about a community on a discord server which I just opened for the game (everyone does that). I’m talking about people who know my blog since 2013 or my podcast since 2016. This means, I (unknowingly) started to build the community 11 years ago.

πŸ™ Git – “Forget Desktop, use Kraken & Co!”

I used GitHub Desktop almost the whole time because I didn’t know better. Three reasons why GitKraken is way better (at least for me, but please note: The free version can not upload to private repos!):

  1. I was in need to see the history of a single file (e.g., to find out (while hunting a bug), what exactly changed and when it happened). The screenshot below shows, how GitKraken offers a great UI for that.
    ℹ️Note: Sourcetree is free and also can show file history!
  2. There is a button which opens a git bash (in the folder of the current repo). This is very nice if one wants to learn more git commands. Opening a separate bash was always annoying to me as it always starts in c/users/simon and I need to navigate to my repo manually every time.
    ℹ️Note: Sourcetree is free and can also open the repo in a Terminal/Bash with one click!
  3. GitKraken has a very user friendly documentation (even with videos!) while the Git documentation is clearly not made for beginners.
GitKraken offers a great UI for looking at the History of a single file (and also see diffs).

☁️ Steam – “Thanks Gabe!”

πŸ† Achievements

I used GodotSteam to connect to Steam and unlock achievements.

πŸ’¬ Feedback

At Valve, they really look closely at your game before you can publish it! I had a “Wishlist this game!”-button in my demo and forgot to remove it when I submitted my build for the real game (where a wishlist button doesn’t make sense anymore). This is a part of the feedback I received:

Caution: Your build was cautioned because this seems to be a fully priced product, but the game’s menus contains an option to add the game to the player’s Wishlist. This could be confusing for consumers, who would expect a finished product based on your store page and might think this is a demo build.

🍏 Steam & Mac/Linux – “Export vs Upload vs Proton”

Exporting a Version for Windows, Linux and Mac is very easy with Godot. Problematic was:

  • Mac: The upload of the Mac-Version (don’t upload the ZIP which comes from Godot! Extract first!) and setting up the correct paths for the cloud saves. But I made a little post about this with screenshots of all required settings.
  • Linux: Sometimes Proton is the default to start games and in these cases, you need to force a “real” Linux because the build contains a proper Linux build (see screenshot below or this post).

πŸ”‘ Give Away Keys – “Take notes!”

When I gave away keys, I made a note which person got which key. This helped to find out who sold my key at G2A! This was the story:

  • I notice, that someone sells a key of my game.
  • I buy the key.
  • I check my notes and see, that the key was given to a “Steam Curator”
  • I revoke the key with the Steamworks Interface.
  • I try to use the key on a separate Steam account (interesting: It does not say that the key is revoked. It says it’s already activated)
  • I wrote a complaint ticket to the Seller that for mysterious reasons my key is not working. They reply quickly.
  • Takes only a short amount of time, until the “Steam Curator” writes me a mail:

Hello Simon,

Thank you for the keys. I will review the game but this “860MW-BXEDK-Q3ZDR” key giving duplicate error. Can you check what is the problem?

  • I reply.

Hey,

let me see…ah, yes!

So, you asked me for keys to review my game. A game which is cheap (was only 2$ when you asked me) and from me – a solo indie developer. I checked your curator page and did not see my game. But I found something else! Someone selling a key for my game on G2A. Of course, I was curious who sold it and bought the key myself. And since I took notes which keys I sent out and to which person, I could easily track it back to you – and revoked the key.

I was curious what would happen, when I write a complaint on G2A where you just answered me. Thanks for making sure that I will receive my own key.

For the future, I really hope you will stop asking for keys from small developers like me and selling their keys. That’s a very bad and sad behavior. I will let G2A and Steam know about your doings and let them decide what to do with your accounts.

Have a day,
Simon

  • The seller doesn’t reply anymore but proposes a refund via G2A. I make a complaint to G2A:

I also made a complaint ticket on Steam about the Curator group of this person (the group has 20k followers) but I didn’t hear back from neither G2A nor Steam.

One note: I got contacted by several curators and they all have been cool and made a nice little review. Only this one was not nice! So, please don’t be suspicious in regard to all of them after reading my summary here. :D

🌍 Localization – “Hello World”

I’m blessed with many people who offered to translate my game for free! Some did it because they know me already for a long time (from my blog, talks, …) and others just liked the game and want to see their language represented as well.

Was it worth it from a sales perspective? I don’t know. Right now, these are the countries percentage in unit sales and according to this, supporting English and German had the biggest impact. But you never know. I also heard about games who made 30% of their sales in China.

  1. 28.2% Germany
  2. 25.7% USA
  3. 5.8% France
  4. 5.3% UK
  5. 4.7% China
  6. 4.0% Canada
  7. 2.8% Australia
  8. 2.0% Netherlands
  9. 1.7% Spain
  10. 1.7% Austria

If you want to have a look how my translation sheet looks like, click here.

  • Localization with Godot is super easy, but I did not expect to have 400+ lines to translate for my tiny game!
  • Google Sheets is awesome for localization because you can easily share a link and restrict write-access per person to only the column they need to put their words into.
  • I explained above, that I always provided my game via HTML5 (playable in Browser without installation). This was great for localization too, as I could quickly upload a new (test)version to Itch.io and the translators could easily check how their language feels in the game (without altering the “real” build on Steam).
  • Tip: Make one sheet per language. Each sheet has 3 columns: the loca keys, the English original texts and the column for the translation. In a central sheet, you can then import the content of all separate sheets via =IMPORTRANGE() command (this sheet is then downloaded as CSV and imported in Godot).
    Why the separation? Because if you have a sheet where English is in Column A and you translate e.g. in Column H you constantly have to scroll left and right to read English in Column A, scroll to Column H, type the translation, go back to English, etc.

πŸ’– Summary

Thanks for reading all of this! I hope it was useful for you. I enjoyed (and still enjoy) the development of the game, and I’m so happy about the positive feedback. Godot is awesome to use, and releasing it on Steam was a great learning experience. I only wish, I would have switched to GitKraken earlier and that marketing would cost less time and generate wishlists faster. :D

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to write me!

Have a very nice day!
Simon