Hecticube is a multiplayer pong-like mobile game where you shoot bullets at a ball in order to make it hit your opponent's goal. Instead of scoring points, each time a goal is hit it shrinks until it's completely destroyed. It's the first game I've ever made mostly by myself, and was a very fun and challenging experience. A lot of the project went swimmingly, but like most other projects, some things were just a nightmare.
What went right?
If there is one thing I can say that I am at least 98% pleased with, it is the visual aesthetic of Hecticube. I am a fan of the phrase "less is more", and I think I nailed it with the art here. From what I have seen at events where I've showcased it, the art does a fantastic job of attracting people to play and even encouraging them to play more even just to witness it in action. This is one thing I wouldn't change a single bit. A good looking game is a game that everyone will show some interest in.
Gameplay / Fun
It took me a very long time to arrive at the final gameplay mechanics. This is because it started out as a PC World Cup themed Pong game which I decided to move over to mobile. Eventually though, I broke it down and remade it specifically for mobile and the end result has proven to be a very fun and challenging, hectic experience. I found this especially true in the multiplayer mode of the game. It was initially multiplayer only, and you really feel the excitement and energy when playing with someone else.
Hecticube's sound design was masterfully done by George Hufnagl. I will never forget the first time George sent me a video with all the sounds and music in play - it's as if he literally breathed an new life into the game as if he was a fire breathing dragon. It's magical. The sound perfectly compliments the visuals and they truly combine to convey the hectic nature the game's name implies. Getting a professional to do things you aren't especially great at will always be your best option. The sound ended up being the most expensive aspect of the development, but it's also in my opinion, the best aspect of the game. Thanks George.
Hecticube marks the first time that I've done every aspect of the game (sound design excluded) from start to finish on my own. The experience was packed with victories and defeat. My biggest victory however was learning how to use Unity and vastly improving my minimal coding skills. Hecticube (World Cuppong) initially stated as a project for me to just learn Unity, and while I have so much more to learn, I think it was a great start for me.
What went wrong?
Lengthy Development Cycle
I didn't clearly define what my ultimate vision and goals were until way too late into the game's development. This lead me to constantly change the game and feature creep unnecessarily. Combine this with the fact that I have a full time job, and we have an extra long development cycle on our hands. If you are going to be developing a game (or any product for that matter) after already spending time and energy at a full-time job, you must have everything properly planned. Otherwise, a lot of time may be wasted as a result.
Released Unfinished / Updates
Because of how long the game was taking me to make, I decided to figure out what the minimum viable product was and launch with that instead. This is my biggest regret. Not only did I end up launching only part of the vision for the game, but I think this also hindered the sales as well. Also, after the launch, I felt more and more unmotivated to actually push major updates because I already hit my launch deadline and the game was out in the world. This has been one of my biggest takeaways. Finish your initial vision, then launch. Don't let anything rush your process and negatively impact the product.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, Hecticube originated as a PC game called World Cuppong, a World Cup themed Pong game. At some point in the development, I decided to try it out on mobile and I was initially sold on the idea. It was only after extensive play testing that I finally realized that the game just wasn't as fun as it was on PC. I couldn't pin point exactly why that was at first, but then i realized that it was just not a right fit for the platform. Instead of trying to rethink the idea and how it would work on mobile (or even just going back to PC), I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Eventually it all worked out nicely, but it definitely added significantly to the development time. Know your platform and build specifically for that.
Speaking of platforms, Hecticube launched both on Android and iOS. On iOS, it's a beautiful experience. It runs exactly as I want it to. On Android however, it drastically varies. Now, if you know me, you know I am an avid Android user and fan and I'm usually using the latest hardware from Google. However, developing for Android can truly prove to be a nightmare. On some devices, Hecticube doesn't even have shadows. On some it lags. At one point, the game consistently crashed, but only on newer devices. How is that even possible, that the newer ones crash? It was just very frustrating, and looking forward, I'm definitely going to have to find a better way to deal with Android (that is, if I even stick to mobile at all).
Lack of persistent marketing & promotion
I think Hecticube came very strongly out of the gate with a launch ad, a plethora of tweets and support by other devs and friends, and a few articles already written up. After that however, promotion fell pretty flat. This was partly due to me being busy with my day job, and partly because I simply didn't have everything planned out for post launch promotion. Don't wait till your game is launched to think about and make promotional and marketing material. Getting your game known is just as important as making the game itself - if nobody knows your game exists, it's almost as if you didn't even release it.
Lastly, the price. I was torn all throughout development on the issue of whether or not I should have made the game free with in-app purchases or a paid app. Some industry vets who I trust said "Hey, it's your first game. Make it free so that you'll get more eyes on it." Others who I equally trusted and whose opinions I equally valued said "No, always make it paid, even if it's just a dollar. This helps to add worth and value to the game and makes it get taken more seriously." I ended up following the latter advice and Hecticube was released at a $1.99 price point. In retrospect, while the artist side of me is still quite fine that I made it paid and lost potential gamers, the developer in me just wants everybody to get their hands on it. Also, though the game does have a single player aspect to it, the local multiplayer is where the real fun lies, and making it a paid app I feel has hindered people from wanting to delve into it. This is why, as of this posting, Hecticube is now free on both Android and iOS. I really want everybody to experience the game, and judging by both the low conversion rate (store views vs actual downloads) and the amount of pirated copies, I think it's safe to say people are interested, just not interested enough to buy it yet because they don't know me as a developer yet. I'm not sure how much that matters on mobile, but we'll see.
All in all, I am very proud of Hecticube, especially considering that it's my first solo effort and the second game in general that I've ever worked on. While (in my opinion) I succeeded in making a very solid mobile multiplayer experience, there were ultimately a few issues that stopped it from achieving its full potential, but those were very necessary lessons for me to learn going forward as a developer.
If you haven't gotten a chance to play it, as I previously mentioned, Hecticube is available for free on both iOS and Android. Feel free to check it out and if you do, please leave me a review on the store! Thanks for making it all the way to the end of this article, and a special thanks to those who followed and supported me on my first of many game dev adventures.