Meet Sim Yih Chun A.K.A. Nerdook. He’s been making games for many years now, and you can play most of them for free his Kongregate Page. During his time making browser-based titles he developed both skill and an recognizable style, and just yesterday he has released his first fully commercial title, Vertical Drop Heroes HD, DRM-Free on GOG.com. Nerdook was kind enough to take a short break from his two jobs that he’s very passionate about (game development and being a stay-at-home dad), to answer a few questions from me, GDoc, your humble GOG.com blogger-in-chief.
GDoc: Vertical Drop Heroes HD is packed with ideas and features. Would you like to give a shot at explaining the essence of the game in five short sentences or less?
Nerdook: A key part of the game is the use of randomisation to produce a fun experience. The random hero chosen is unique enough that you feel an attachment to him/her.. just before that hero dies a horrible death and is gone forever! The randomised level layouts and varied enemies ensures that each run feels fresh and just different enough. However, I also wanted to have some persistent upgrades, so the players feel that each run, no matter how short, gave them a small advantage and/or more choices for future runs.
GDoc: You were kind enough to include some GOG.com-exclusive content in your game. Some GOG-themed content, to be exact. What was your train of thought when deciding upon those features?
Nerdook: Myself & Digerati (the publisher of VDH-HD) really love what you do at GOG in terms of the type on ‘inventory’ you hold and the way you procure said inventory. We see a service like GOG’s becoming even more important in the future if other portals begin opening up, making it even harder to find what you’re looking for!
Titles on GOG already have that ‘seal of approval’, so when VDH HD was accepted by you guys (which was an amazing feeling, given this is my first full release), myself and Nick Alfieri from Digerati had a long discussion about how we could show some support for you in the same way you would be supporting us. Naturally we thoughts about exclusive content and after some great talks between us and GOG, we decided on a number of features, themed around the refreshing lack of DRM on GOG, which I really feel adds to the gameplay, while remaining relevant to the feel of the game.
GDoc: The original version of Vertical Drop Heroes is available as a free web-based browser title. How is the standalone HD version different? What new features and upgrades were implemented?
The biggest and most important change is the migration from Flash on the original web version to Gamemaker Studio. This enabled me to use hardware accelerated graphics, which in turn frees up the processing for other things. Due to technical limitations, you cannot even go back up in the original Flash game! In this standalone HD version, the game structure is massively improved, you can now select one of three Heroes, there are a LOT more abilities, enemies, bosses and powers, the level generator has been totally revamped, the artwork is completely new (although it’s all still drawn by one person, and that’s me!), and the game is truly bigger and better in every way possible.
The original web version had co-op multiplayer, but that was extremely limited: just two heroes on screen, with one hero teleported ahead if he lags behind too much and goes off the top of the screen. In the standalone version, I added proper split screen co-op as well as Local Network play: you can now go through the entire adventure with a friend by your side, for twice the mayhem and twice the fun!
GDoc: You’ve made a name for yourself in the indie gaming scene creating browser-based games and publishing them in such on-line arcades as Kongregate. In that time you’ve developed your own recognizable style, and surely had the chance to polish your skill. Now, you’ve released your first full commercial title. What were the challenges of the route you’ve taken? Would you recommend that approach to other devs?
Looking back, I would say that starting from the browser based scene was definitely an invaluable learning experience. I had to do all the art myself, so this gave all my games a similar drawing style that evolved with each game released… this enables people to associate that particular style with “Hey, a Nerdook game!”. One of the challenges I faced was keeping things fresh with each game. To do this, I dabbled in as many genres as possible: including turn based strategy games against homicidal neighbours, a game where you play as a rogue Artificial Intelligence, a zombie survival game where you rescue your daughter in a randomised city, and so on. It’s always tough to come up with a new idea and make it fun, but doing it repeatedly taught me a lot about game design.
A bigger challenge, at least initially, is getting yourself noticed. There are a LOT of games coming out every day on the major portals, and you have make each game good enough for players to rate it highly. The competition is intense, and I really have to thank Greg McClanahan from Kongregate for his great advice and support throughout the years.
For other developers, I think there are many, many ways to get a great game out on the market, and my way is neither the best nor the quickest way, but I enjoyed every minute of it! I would like to mention that I am deeply grateful to Digerati for helping me prepare Vertical Drop Heroes for release. There is only so much one person can do, and they’ve helped me enormously by handling the public relations and marketing side of things, as well as in polishing up the game.
GDoc: Have you got any plans already for your future games? Will you be skipping the browser-based versions, or are going to keep that step as proof of concepts, prototypes, demos, or “light” versions of your future works?
I definitely would like to continue making more games for people to enjoy, and I have a few ideas in mind. My focus now in on getting Vertical Drop Heroes to as wide an audience as possible, and hopefully it will be commercially successful enough for me to make even better games in the future! I have no plans to stop making browser-based games at the moment… in fact, I just released one last month, and will continue doing so as long as the players are happy to play my games!
GDoc: Now, this is something I ask all of our guests here, at GOG.com Blog. Apart from your own homepage (and GOG.com, of course!), what is the current hottest place in the web, for you? Is there something happening currently that you’re excited about and would like to take this opportunity to share it with our readers? Or maybe just a place you visit so often that you cannot imagine the Internet without it?
Nerdook: Right now, I’m a big fan of board games, and I’m happy to note that the board game industry is actually enjoying a revival at the moment. I visit sites like BoardGameGeek, The Dice Tower and Shut Up & Sit Down daily, and I’m actually learning a lot about game design from board games! A great PC game is just like a great board game: they strike a balance between mechanics and theme, and above all, they generate memorable and fun experiences for the user. I’ve even designed a fan-made cooperative variant for the second edition of Descent: Journeys in the Dark by Fantasy Flight games, and it’s the second highest rated variant on BGG right now, which is kind of awesome. The internet has really brought the community closer together, and I cannot imagine going back to a time when it’s difficult to find anyone to play board games with, and you end up playing just Monopoly, because it’s the only game your family would play.
Well, there you have it! One exceptionally hard-working and creative indie developer, to say the least. Nerdook’s first fully commercial release, Vertical Drop Heroes HD, has been received extremely well by GOG.com users, who give it 4,5 out of 5 stars in their reviews on average, and emphasize the great value it offers for such a low price as $4.99 (or $4.49 with the release-week special discount). On my part, I really do hope the game sells exceptionally well and sets Nerdook on his further path towards indie game development greatness! Go buy it! ;-)