Creating Games When You Have No Experience

Lunata Rescue is a Brazilian independent game studio founded in 2006 by . Having worked as a civil engineer for 10 years, he made a radical decision and started making games, the real passion of his life. In 2012, the company launched their first platformer game, , where the player acts as the protagonist — a treehopper looking for its lost babies. Kleber Seixas recalls the journey from starting Lunata Rescue to its release.

Games Don’t Grow on Shelves

My first encounter with electronic games happened when I was seven years old, when my mother game me an Atari 2600. This year, I’m completing 30 years in this universe, passing through all generations of devices, including PC. The Super Mario franchise was a great inspiration for me (our very first game, Lunata Rescue, is also a platformer).

However, the idea of actually making games came about when I was 14. I was traveling to the USA for the first time, and I got into a huge toy store. I was fascinated when I saw the games section with piles of boxes! And then I came up with this thought: those games don’t spring from this shelf; I know that big companies are selling them, but there are people who work there to bring games to life. How cool it would be to work in one of those companies! This idea came true when I grew up. At that time, I had been working in engineering for 10 years, but I decided to switch from my job of a director of a construction company to making games, something I had been thinking about since teenage years. However, the engineering times wasn’t useless: it was this job that gave me the resources to set off on the game development journey.

Creating games with no experience

The Beginning: 4 people, 8 computers

Initially, Insignia Games was based in Belém, a city in the region of the Amazon Forest in the North of Brazil. It was the first game company in the city, and therefore, a huge challenge. Back in 2005, information was the biggest problem on the way to starting a game company, followed by the issue of creating a team with a minimum of production capability. It took almost a year to gather my first team. But in the beginning, no one knew how to make games, including myself. We started studying everything: in what direction to go, what tools to use, and how to use them. I had to be the game designer, the producer, CEO, and the marketing guy at the same time to make production cheaper. And of course, I financed the company from my own pocket.

We spent almost two years like this, while today, you can finish a full game in just three months. My initial plan of studying and then creating wasn’t really working, so I finished that office in my hometown in the north of Brazil and move to Florianopolis in the South, where I could meet people with more experience in game development. This city is a big tech center in the country. In a year, we got used to the new place, met new people, and were ready to restart my dream project to develop games.

It was 2011 when I finally managed to gather a team of two programmers and an artist and finally start working. I put up an advertisement in all local universities and waited for a response. That’s how I met and (programmer and artist). After six months, Robson introduced me to Ycaro Weschenfelder (programmer), and we’ve had this team of four ever since.

We started with eight computers. Each person used two machines: one for internet, and one within the internal network for our projects. Everyone had something to learn: the programmers were studying Unity 3D, the artist had to improve his animation techniques, and I needed to understand how to produce and finish the game design of the project. That was definitely not easy. On the other hand, when you work with something you love, all the difficult things that get in your way become “good” difficult things. It was great: finding the team in a completely new city, settling down, designing Lunata Rescue, and watching the character you imagined becoming alive. The whole process of production and resource management felt like playing a real-life game, with the first achievement of finishing the game and the second one of selling it. The first achievement has been unlocked, now we are working on the second one.

Rescuing Insect Babies

In the beginning of 2012, we were finally ready to start our first game project called Lunata Rescue. In Lunata Rescue, the player controls a little treehopper, questing the surroundings for its lost babies. Each level encourages players to explore the environment collecting bonuses, evading enemies, trying to rescue each and every lost baby, and finally facing the evil ant queen Donatella.

Each of five available maps are 100 percent hand-drawn, no tilemaps are used. Unlike in many platform games, the whole level design of Lunata Rescue is not linear, meaning the player doesn’t just move from left to right, but scouts the environment in all directions instead. The cartoon style shows common things from a bug´s perspective: tree leaves, grass, and even bigger animals are just platforms to reach other areas of the level. Five game modes are there for the player to combine their skills with abilities and upgrades obtained through the game to pass all challenges and accomplish achievements.

Using Unity 3D

We decided to work with Unity 3D because of the multiplatform possibilities. But our project turned out as a 2D project in a 3D tool, so we used a sprite manager plugin and the game was ready…and then Unity launched their 2D tools. Still, I think Unity 3D was the best choice for indie developers like us, who needed to start making projects, get into the market, and make it possible to launch our game on many devices.

We’ve done a lot of changes in the game during the development process, and I think this is natural for a first project, though the main idea, the objectives, and the characters have stayed intact since the initial idea. While the things around the game were growing, I kept telling the team that the game will be finished whenever it’s ready. That was the good side of being the finance man, the game designer, and producer at the same time. I just had to balance the three positions and finish the game.

Ready is When You Wanna Play as a Gamer, not as a Developer

I understood Lunata Rescue was ready for release when I felt it’s a game I’d play as a platformer player, not as the developer. It took eight days to get Apple approval, and we launched Lunata Rescue on iOS on October 21. We made the official launch on BGS (Brazil Game Show), the biggest game event in Latin America in São Paulo on October 25. The people’s feedback made us happy: we had 5-year-old kids playing as well as 40-year-old men. The cartoon style appealed to the younger players, and the classic platform style attracted the big guys. Within five days, we could show our game to 150,000 people. It was an enjoyable experience to see them playing, and they really liked our creation.

In my opinion, as a developer you need to put yourself in the player’s shoes and ask: is the game I’m making worth one day, one week, one month of my gameplay time? Or do I want people to play this game just because my friends and relatives said it’s awesome, and they play because it took a lot of work and investment?

Every day in Facebook gamedev groups, I see high-quality games being created by completely new companies like us, with three to five people. And I think that’s the way to put us on the world map of developers. We need to start making more games, do more mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and keep raising the quality.

Lunata Rescue is available . Insignia Games made a promotional launch for Brazil, and are still looking for partnership to make the Android, Windows Phone, (iOS outside of Brazil) launch of Lunata Rescue by the end of this year. They are also working on a new game they want to launch in the second quarter of 2014.