George Abdallah is the games developer behind 2DEmotion, the one-man indie development studio. He has presented his games at the London MCM Expo several times and in this exclusive interview he discusses the soundtrack and design of his latest game, Love Propulsion, how he got into game development, and the difficulties when it comes to working without a dedicated team and promoting an independent game.
Laura: Hello George. For those unaware, could you tell us a little about your story? How did you get into game development?
George: Well, I have always loved playing games, especially on the SNES and Megadrive. As time went on next gen games became very linear and boring and I started to play more indie games. All throughout my life I thought about and talked about game ideas with my friends, and thought wouldn’t it be great if we could make games ourselves.
So, I decided to take up game designing, and started playing around with a few basic game ideas so I could get a grip on how game development really works. I eventually got pretty decent at making games, and decided to release my first game “Sapharia” at the London Expo, back in 2009. Since then my programming skills have improved and I can make much more complex games than I did before.
Laura: How would you describe Love Propulsion?
George: Love Propulsion is a kind of homage to the old platform games. Simple idea, avoid obstacles, save the girl, done. The game is very challenging, and this stems from the “Nintendo Hard” era of game design, in titles such as CONTRA. If you make the game hard and challenging enough, but fun to play, people will play it with a determination to complete it. This is what I was ultimately aiming for. The graphical style of the game is also very unique. I wanted to make it pretty, as it is based around the love of two characters. I went for bold graphics, and floating hearts to make it all stand out.
Laura: What feedback have you received about Love Propulsion and your other titles?
George: I have received both positive and negative. Some people say they love the challenge, whilst others say it is too hard, which I can understand to be honest. However, everyone seems to love the graphical style of Love Propulsion, which is great to hear. As for my other titles, my most popular title is “I Wanna be The Shrine Maiden 2“. If you search that on YouTube you will see lots of videos with people trying to complete it. I have had lots of requests to make a third one, which I will do, so on the whole [feedback] has been good.
Laura: What’s it like running a one person development team? What challenges does it bring up and in what ways is it easier do you think?
George: It is pretty difficult to be honest. I have other people to help me with certain things, but overall the art, design, programming is all me. The main challenge is finding the time to do it. What with university and stuff, it is hard to sometimes find the time to actually focus and work on a game. As for it being easier, it is easier in the way that I can make all the decisions, I don’t have to consult with others, and waste time on ideas that potentially won’t work.
Laura: What’s it like trying to promote your games to a large audience as an indie developer? What sort of methods do you use? How much success do you have promoting yourself at MCM events such as the October London Expo you attended?
George: It is incredibly difficult. There are so many indie studios that are extremely good, and have a team of people, rather than just one person. You have to have an astounding game to get on something like Steam. Once you are on Steam, you know you have made it. I use the method of advertising on sites where I can. I also count on people uploading videos of the games on YouTube, which always brings in traffic. As for Expo, I have had mixed success. I have broken even twice, but with Love Propulsion I didn’t. I think this is because Expo is more tailored towards Japanese goods such as clothing, manga, confectionary etc, rather than games.
Laura: Are there any other platforms you would be interested in developing for? Is there anything holding you back from doing so?
George: Nope, there is nothing holding me back. This year I am going to start developing for Android and iOS, so that is pretty exciting.
Laura: And what challenges or differences do you see arising when developing for iOS and Android, systems that usually just have touch screen input?
George: The main challenge in making a game for phones is the other games on the store. The game is going to have to really catch people’s attention and be a high quality game if you want to make any money from it and get popular. The main difference is the type of people that I will be aiming for. Mobile games are more tailored towards casual gamers, rather than hardcore ones.
Laura: With the increased importance of digital distribution in games, and developers such as Mojang developing PC titles and charging for them with little to no publicity, do you see yourself charging for any of your future titles?
George: I will charge for my iPhone/Android games, but only for like £0.60. As for my PC games, I think I will always just release them for free. I love it when great games can be downloaded for free and I know that it makes people happy, so I like to do the same thing.
Laura: What influenced you when you decided to start developing games, and particularly, what influenced the design of Love Propulsion?
George: Indie studios influenced me. I always looked at their games and wondered if I could pull off the same stuff and realised that many things they do, I can do as well. The design of Love Propulsion was influenced by the old style of platform games. The game had to look cute, and had to look pretty. I didn’t want an ugly looking game. I think a nice looking game is the most important thing. I wanted something to brighten the game up, so I added hearts that float up, to make it all a bit more active. I also went with a theme for every world, just to mix things up a bit.
Laura: Love Propulsion has a fantastic soundtrack. How did you go about creating the soundtrack, what influenced it at what point did you decide the soundtrack was strong enough to put together the soundtrack CD you had available in October?
George: I didn’t create the soundtrack as it goes, I am pretty useless at making music. The soundtrack was created by a friend of mine called Kurushi (http://www.soundcloud.com/kurushi). He makes superb music, and offered to do it for me for free. I listened to each track, and assigned them to each world as I saw fit. Once this was done, I knew it was ok to be a proper soundtrack for the game, and had the OST discs printed.
Laura: What did you prioritise when developing Love Propulsion? Where did you begin? Was there anything you wanted to include that had to be left on the cutting room floor?
George: The first thing I needed to make sure I got correct was the gameplay. I made some very basic graphics, and tested out the features of the game. Once this was done, I created the [art] style of the game. As time went on, I tweaked things, removed things, added things, and more. But mainly once you have the gameplay sorted out, and how the game will look, the rest is pretty much easy. I also get a notepad file of all the things I needed to add, and checked off every one as I did it.
I was going to add a different mode called “Boss Rush“. Basically, when you completed the game, you could defeat each boss in order and then submit your time to an online leaderboard. However, due to time restrictions, I couldn’t add this 🙁
Laura: And do you think we might ever see Boss Rush or something like it turn up in future games? Many popular iOS and android titles benefit from this sort of functionality.
George: Yes, definitely. The games I will be making for phones won’t be very complex or in depth. They will be very simple games, as simplicity is what is most popular on phones at the moment. So a game where boss rush mode is the only mode could be a good seller, as it is pretty simple.
Laura: The character design in Love Propulsion is very simple, but it really drew me in. I instantly understood the characters, the enemies to avoid, and had a desire to rescue the girlfriend I had only briefly met. What do you think are the benefits of the character design and art style you chose?
George: I think the benefits are like you said, being able to draw people in. The game has a vibrant feel about it, and also a retro feel. I think this is what most gamers associate with, when they think of 2D games.
Games such as Super Mario World, Super Meatboy and others use these graphical styles, and people love it. As for the character design, I didn’t want anything complex, so I went with very simple blocks. Also, I am not the best at art, so I didn’t want to risk my animations looking terrible!
Laura: Do you have any advice for someone looking to start developing games in their free time like you have done?
George: Yep, I would say, just focus on learning how to build basic games. Start off small, nothing too fancy, and over time your skills will grow. Look at other games for inspiration, and take it from there. Also, make sure your games look good, ugly looking games put many people off.
Laura: Lastly, do you have any final words?
George: Thanks to everyone at the Expo who has bought my games and thanks to all those throughout my life who I have learned stuff from in order to be where I am today 😀
Love Propulsion and its OST can currently be downloaded for free by visiting http://www.2demotion.com/lp.html