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Seedling: A Post-Mortem

Okay, so I really should have posted this some time ago, but here is a post-mortem for Seedling that I wrote last August for a magazine that did not get released. It features my at-the-time view of the game and its reception, as well as lots of pictures!

Seedling, in essence grew out of a few relatively unrelated factors. I’d just started college and made some new friends, so I wanted to show them that when I said I “made flash games” that it didn’t mean “I make small, simple games.” I wanted to show that I could make a big game, and one series that several of them seemed to like was the Legend of Zelda. I’d hardly ever played any LoZ games (only a Link to the Past, for which I have some intense nostalgia because a childhood friend had it and I didn’t—my view of the quality of the game was bloated by my jealousy and, ever since, I’ve always had a soft spot for the game), but I had it on my game-development bucket list to put an epic adventure game together. Thus was born my largest project: it would be a large adventure game, it would take me about 4-6 months to work on, and it would be inspired by the Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

The original character sprite.

The final character sprite.

From here, I immediately began work on the game. I knew it would be tile-based, and I started on a character design that remained, generally, unchanged. The original character had a two-pixel black slit for its one eye, while the final version now has a blue stripe between its two eyes. The name for the game at this time was “Shrum,” which is still my name for the character, and is just a little adaptation of “mushroom.” My favorite part about developing this game was the amazing amount of interest I had for it. Throughout the entirety of development, I never once became truly bored of the project—even designing all 116 areas wasn’t a grating experience, as it usually is for me. I think this is due mostly to the fact that it was a real world-building experience. I could just throw out ideas and almost all of them would stick; I have only one enemy animation that didn’t make it into the final game, and I’d actually programmed most of him, but I just forgot about him. The development process was very painless and organic in this way. Also, the theming of the

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dungeons (lava, ice/water, forest) gave me a lot of room to play with tilesets and color, which also contributed to the world-building part of the development process. This let Seedling be a very fun creative outlet, and I was able to push out content at a pretty rapid pace.

An unused enemy.

One of my favorite parts of the game is actually the level where there is a transition from the forested area into the cold north. The blizzard picks up as you move to the top of the area, and the colors become less and less colorful; this effect really made me feel like the world was multi-faceted, as if it was really a place with different regions governed by different peoples and monsters. For me, this part really contributes to the “fullness” of the world, and I love that.

The icy north!

One part of the game that I am almost embarassed by is the lack of real attention I put into the lore. Not to disillusion anyone who finds it interesting, but I really didn’t put much thought into it. The Creatures of the Relic are all named by the first (maybe second) name that came to mind, and even the title “Creatures of the Relic” is completely arbitrary: I have no idea what “relic” I’m talking about either. Sardol, who is mentioned in the statue plaque, by the man standing next to the statue, and by Sardol himself (who you can talk to via an easter egg) was a very late add-on, but some people have gone so far as to think that the Oracle, who is also randomly named, might be Sardol in disguise—this, to me, is why I love what little structure there is in the storyline. People are able to ask their own questions, like “what is the relic?” and “who is that tooth-shaped guy who is all over the place?” I often don’t have an answer for them, but I don’t NEED to have one, and that is really a cool thing. They can have that wonder and excitement about the Creatures, and they can think about Sardol and his effect on the storyline, but I don’t have to put it all there for them. In that sense, the game is different for each player as they play, and I don’t feel bad one bit for not handing them my interpretation.

The Watcher has been called “the tooth guy” numerous times in comments.

I think it might surprise some people to find that most of the art for the game is as it was when I first put it in. I didn’t go back to edit much of anything in a significant way, aside from the main character sprite, after putting it in initially. For this reason, in-development screenshots of the game are almost identical to the current game. Pictures of the fourth dungeon, where I’m less than halfway into making the game, are almost indistinguishable from the current screenshots in every way except for a removal of black borders in favor of dark-but-slightly-colored borders in most of the art. Here are provided a few shots from when I was 3 months (halfway) into development, and you can probably see what I mean.

One of the funniest and most random additions to the game is the character “Adnan.” He is featured in the corner of the area you teleport to after defeating the Lights. He faces a wall, and when you talk to him, he yells that he is the “DESTROYER OF WORLDS.” I’ve seen videos online where people give pretty hilarious responses to him, and one person even went so far as to say that he is the most interesting character in the game. The origin, in fact, is a friend of mine from college, whose name is Adnan, first saw the game and immediately responded with “put me in it!” In about five minutes, I drew him up (he’s indian, thus the darker skin on the character) and put him into that room with that same text, as a joke. I intended to swap him out for something more meaningful, but I thought it was funny to leave him, and so he has remained!

“I AM ADNAN, DESTROYER OF WORLDS.”

Once I was nearing the end of development, I sought out a musician. I was referred by a mutual online friend to Roger Hicks, who is known for projects like Celestial Mechanica and rComplex, and he agreed to take on the project. He did an amazing job, putting together 22 minutes of music with 15 tracks, and fitting it all into about 5.5mb. He also helped me with a lot of the end-game design because he’s a big fan of these kinds of games—he had a big influence, and I’m really hoping we’ll continue with more projects together.

The character sprite for Roger in-game.

Roger finished the music for Seedling and, from there, it was ready for sponsorship. This was a pretty nerve-wracking prospect for me, as I have done several sponsorships, but not at this scale, and I needed some money to let me quit my new McDonald’s and pizza delivery jobs. College is expensive, and this was going to be important for next year.

Luckily, the end of development happened to coincide with Tom Fulp’s discovery of one of my other games, Hollow, on Newgrounds. He liked it a lot and featured it on the front page for a while. This came as a total shock to me—I didn’t know why it was featured, as it had been on the site lying in obscurity for several months by this point. It wasn’t until Tom emailed me saying that he’d put Hollow up there that I knew why. The second part of his email was even more exciting, however, as he said that he saw my blog post about “Shrum” and that he was interested in seeing demos and possibly sponsoring the game.

As it turned out, we ended up going with Newgrounds for the final sponsorship, and I earned enough money from the deal to quit my jobs. Ever since, Seedling has had a pretty fine reception, including very nice review on websites like IndieGames.com; Rock, Paper, Shotgun; DIYGamer; JayIsGames; and IndieGameMagazine. Seedling is still featured on Newgrounds and was featured on Kongregate just a few hours ago (at the time of writing), as well as receiving the weekly prize for second-highest rating. It was also on the ArmorGames front page for a time, where it has done pretty well.

The beginnings to Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s article on Seedling.

Aside from these positives of its reception, the negative responses to Seedling have been very frustrating. I have received many an email, private message, bug report, and hateful comment about the plethora of bugs and areas in the game where you can get stuck. This has been a dominating force on the ratings of the game, I imagine, as many players give very bad ratings when they get stuck. The issue for me, however, is that it is frankly at the fault of the player—most of the “bugs” and “broken areas” of the game are actually just fine, but they couldn’t figure out the puzzle. For me, this has been disheartening, as it seems it is my fault for releasing for flash. The short attention span of the platform’s players, as well as the free-to-play aspect of it really open the gates for comments that condemn the game’s structure based often on the fact that players just aren’t willing to dedicate the time to really work through the game; they didn’t pay for it, so they don’t have the investment to work at it.

You’re not stuck… You just aren’t much of an adventurer.

Even so, Seedling has been an incredible experience for me, and I’m hoping to make another game soon of this scale for Steam in the

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future. I won’t swear off a Seedling 2, but I may just take a break from adventure games for a while!

Since I wrote this, Seedling has done even more for me–it led to over a million plays across some of the largest flash portals in the land, a segment on the Philip DeFranco show, an interview with Kotaku, and a subsequent meeting with a member of the Adult Swim Games team. This all snow-balled into my next project with Noel Berry, Prism Panic, which we did for Adult Swim. Seedling has a place close to my heart, as I feel very proud of what it is and how I managed to make exactly the game I wanted to make. Now, onto the next one!

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