indie games

National Novel… Again

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BookSLEEPer Game Logo

One of the best things I’ve done as a novice game dev is get involved in game jams. Itch.io’s Finally Finish Something Jam motivated me to finish the alpha of my largest Twine project to date, Wreath of Roses, and submit it for feedback. After that was done I took a short break to focus on short stories, and just as I was wondering what my next project should be, I remembered that March is NaNoRenO.

I’ve blogged about NaNoWriMo before. It’s a month-long challenge to complete a novel draft, which has been running for years and engaged thousands of writers. NaNoRenO takes its inspiration from there, but is a rather more modest affair. The challenge is to create a visual novel or story-driven game, in one month. While some people can work alone to create all the writing, code and art for their game, most people prefer to work in teams and focus on their strengths.

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Niche – an Eco-Romp to Give Linnaeus Nightmares

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The game’s full title is Niche: a Genetics Survival Game, and thank Darwin fish for that, because “niche game” is the worst Google search term in history.

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Niche opening screen. Image via niche-game.com.

Anyhoo. Niche is an eco-bio-something sim that charges the player with raising a pack of vague mammalian critters, collecting food, breeding, fighting off predators, and exploring their surroundings. The game world’s science is a biological grab-bag of sorts. Differently colored tiles represent different “biomes” with different physical characteristics. Each critter has its own genome, where some traits divide to dominant versus recessive, and others mix interestingly, like fur color. A “mutation menu” lets the player pick specific traits to introduce into their newly-bred nichelings, rolling the dice and letting the odds determine the outcome. “Immunity genes” exist to discourage consanguinity. Later in the game’s life cycle, “alpha/beta” status for critters was also introduced.

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Greatest Hits

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Some of the posts on this blog receive very regular hits, regardless of how old they are. Hits from Google, or from social media of the shareable kind, where someone might decide to revive an old-ish post and give it second wind. It’s easy enough to trace my most popular posts through this method, as well as by the hit-count which WordPress provides. It’s almost as easy to get to the bottom of why these posts in particular receive more attention than others.

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Blog hits by month for the past year. See that big bump in January? Guess where that came from.

Some of them are reviews for niche products, obscure enough that my little blog is able to climb up the Google results to a visible place, maybe even on the first page. I’ve also been getting a few Image Google hits since I started including images in most of my posts. By far the most important factor, though, are the creators of the media that I review.

I review both books and games, most of them visual novels or other non-combat games from small-to-tiny indie studios. Game devs like these have to do most of their own promotion work. Authors also find themselves in this position sometimes, if they are self-published or else backed by a small publisher. Maybe the larger media review sites pick up on their creation, maybe they don’t. Either way, they need reviews. They need to get their name and the name of their product out there, to reach the readers or players most likely to pick it up.

Reviewers also need content creators. Most obviously, we need media to consume and review, for entertainment as well as work. But there are many mass media products floating around that I could be spending my time and money on. I could add my voice to the huge internet chorus talking about Star Wars or Supergirl (as I sometimes have). The media outlets that produce those properties, though, will never be aware of me and my work.

Not so for the independent creators. My best-visited review is still the one for Solstice, MoaCube games’ hybrid mystery visual novel. As I pre-purchased the game and played it before the release, my review was published right around the time that it became publicly available. The developer retweeted it shortly after, which led directly to three days of record hits for my blog. It’s still my most popular post by far.

Content creators and reviewers depend on each other. Books need readers, and so do blogs. When someone links to my review, they’re not only promoting their work, but also mine. They are also, to a lesser extent, promoting every other piece of media I’ve reviewed on this blog. Just as I rely on other review blogs, and on creators retweeting each other’s self-promotion, to find the subject of my next post. In fact, that’s how I find most of my favorite games and books, these days, especially through review-intensive sites like Goodreads.

Crossposted to Dreamwidth.