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I think I postponed writing this article long enough. It’s not easy talking about the bottom low moments of developing your game while still down there, wallowing in self pity and trying to climb out. In a way it’s therapeutic, I guess.
I’m currently finalizing the fourth version of ClockwiZZZe. The previous versions I consider prototypes. ClockwiZZZe is a casual puzzle game about a sleepwalking dwarf. The dwarf simply walks around bumping into objects and walls and turning clockwise as a result. You, the player, needs to guide him to his bed by opening and closing doors, altering his path.
In the first three versions of the game the dwarf was a simple rotating smiley trying to reach the exit. The theme wasn’t clear yet. I was just playing around with the mechanic of clockwise movement, the technical stuff regarding level design and the part where you can alter the track by clicking or touching doors. The first and second versions were meant for pc, the third was made for Android, and the one I’m building now can be played on multiple platforms.
This last iteration will be the final product, the game I’m actually going to finish. I made a website, finished the demo which you can download for PC, Linux and Android devices. I’m planning to put the game on Steam greenlight, the Google play store, the Windows store, etcetera. The only thing keeping me is finishing the video/trailer to show some gameplay. I’m not very good at marketing and the intricacies of video editing seem to elude me. But I’m trying nonetheless. This is my very first selfmade indie game and I’m going to promote and support the hell out of it.
In this state of anxiety and anticipation, I wasn’t prepared for what comes next.
Then it hit me
Two weeks ago I was roaming around indiegames.com to check out the latest releases. One of those games is called Back to Bed, featuring the exact same clockwise movement as my game. On top of that, the protagonist is a sleepwalking guy trying to reach his bed. The only difference is that you walk around as a dog trying to alter the sleepwalker’s path. The design seems very similar.
I took a deep breath. Nasty thoughts started crawling into my head. That game is made by a dutch team, I live in Antwerp, Belgium which is just around the corner. So someone very near to me must have stolen my idea. Probably that good-for-nothing artist I tried to hire. It just can’t be a coincidence, impossible.
I scrolled down to the comments and someone thought the whole sleepwalking thing wasn’t very original. Ocean software already made a platformer in 1993 about a sleepwalker whose dog must try to save him and get him back in bed. Back to Bed had very similar gameplay, you also walked around with a dog…
My anger faded away. Sadness filled its space. Why did this happen to me? Every comment I will get will be about that other, similar game with Dali-esque art. I guess it’s better to just post about it and get some more opinions. But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced this is nobody’s fault. The theme I chose only a year ago just fits the simple AI of the protagonist. The only thing missing is the dog… I’m lucky I only use doors to manipulate his behavior instead of some faithful pet.
I talked about it with my wife. She was equally disappointed because she also believed I had something unique going here. The easy way out, by simply not releasing the game became very tempting for a minute. But realising what an incredible amount of work I would flush down the toilet brought me back to my senses. I remembered all the great advice about actually finishing a game, the relief and satisfaction it brings. After some deliberation I decided to go for it and release it into obscurity. Just put it in online stores and see what happens. Maybe someone would buy it out of pity?
At this time I can honestly say I’m over it. When you take a look at the new indie games coming out on Steam, or the games waiting on greenlight, almost every game has a predecessor with more than coincidal resemblance. For my peace of mind I’m glad I found out the way I did, before release and not afterwards. And I’m relieved that the similarities are pure coincidence.