Recently released indie game Waveform introduced an innovative concept of controlling a wave of light through a galaxy of various planets and obstacles. After reviewing the game
and becoming addicted to its innovative gameplay concept, I reached out to Eden Industries Founder and Waveform Creator Ryan Vandendyck
to get an in-depth look at the development process from first concepts to finished product.
Could you introduce yourself and talk about your role on Waveform?
Sure, my name is Ryan Vandendyck, I’m pretty much the heart and mind (and many other organs) of Eden Industries. I designed Waveform about 3 years ago now and started the initial prototype way back then. During the course of its development I handled the game design, programming, and portions of the level design and art. Interestingly, this was all while working a full-time job in the games industry! So it was a pretty intense balancing act trying to work on Waveform in the evenings and weekends, handling the majority of the work in addition to managing contributors and contractors.
For readers that are unaware with Eden Industries and Waveform, can you give us some insight into how the company and game project started?
I’ve been working in the mainstream games industry for about 5 years now, and about halfway through those 5 years I had worked as both a programmer and a game designer at various companies. And while I really enjoyed my experiences, I realized that deep down I really wanted to make my own games as an independent developer. Thankfully I was given permission to pursue this outside of work (which is a very rare privilege in the games industry, since the standard contract has you signing over the rights to everything you work on outside of work) and I began developing some game prototypes.
After making two very neat prototypes, one an interesting arcade/action game and another a very innovative JRPG, I challenged myself to make a game based on a mathematical principle. I know that’s kind of a weird restriction, but sometimes the best ideas are formed from thinking within a box! Waveform was born out of the idea that controlling a sine wave might be interesting, and after 3 evenings of prototyping I knew I had something very fun on my hands. I showed all 3 prototypes to some colleagues in the industry and Waveform was the one that really stuck so I decided to choose it as my premier game. Eden Industries actually came about roughly a year after I made the prototype for Waveform. Things were progressing well and I wanted to make everything official so I incorporated the company. That was about 2 years ago, so it was a long road from that point, but I’m very pleased with how it all turned out!
How did you get started with game development? Any particular inspirations with books, games, or movies? What has your experience been within the gaming industry?
I was very fortunate to get hired for a co-op position (kind of like a paid intern for anyone unfamiliar with the term) while studying at university with Next Level Games in Vancouver, Canada. It was originally supposed to be a 4 month position helping them with UI programming on Mario Strikers: Charged for the Nintendo Wii. It was my lifelong dream to make games, and especially work on a Mario property, so this was a dream come true! After a couple months they were thrilled with my work and wanted me to stay longer to help on Spiderman: Friend or Foe, so I extended my stay to a year and worked as a gameplay programmer on that title. So I’m very thankful to NLG for giving me that opportunity as it really got my foot in the door to begin my career.
For inspiration, I’ll definitely have to cite Nintendo’s early games on the NES and SNES. I was hooked from a very young age and looked up to Miyamoto as a hero. I recently got to meet him while working on Luigi’s Mansion 2, so that was a pretty amazing experience! All in all my experience in the gaming industry has been great. It’s a lot of work. Really, a lot, lot, lot of work! But it’s a lot of fun too, and an incredible learning experience. At the end of the day you get to make games that bring people happiness; that’s an exciting and rewarding privilege!
Can you provide us some insight into the ideas behind the light wave-based gameplay of Waveform?
Well as I mentioned, it all started when I challenged myself to make a game based on a mathematical principle. I had recently played the excellent indie game Auditorium by Cipher Prime and the experimental game Art Style: Orbient by Nintendo. Both had a very simple aesthetic and a simple gameplay hook involving gravity. But despite the simplicity, they were very deep and engaging game experiences, especially since the core concept (gravity) was something everyone kind of understands intuitively. So I challenged myself to do something similar. One day I was doodling in my notebook, but I’m a horrible, atrocious artist so instead of anything interesting I was doodling sine waves. My education is in mathematics so my mind tends to think of math a lot! But it suddenly struck me that playing as a sine wave could be a very interesting, mathematically-based game.
I started prototyping what it would be like to manipulate a wave, and it actually proved to be extremely fun! Bizarre and unique, but very fun! To be honest, I wish I could tell you that I had a grand design at that moment for the game that Waveform would be. But the fact of the matter is that I didn’t really know what to do with the idea. I knew it was fun, but it was so unique that it was hard to see what sort of gameplay it would support. So once I had that core mechanic of manipulating a wave I experimented for months and months to discover where the fun was. Soon the ideas began to coalesce and it became apparent that there was a lot of very fun things you could do as a wave! So although the initial idea began as a challenge, the majority of the ideas for Waveform came with experimenting and prototyping anything I could think to do with a wave!
How long did it take to nail the “feel” of the wave manipulation in the game? Were there alternate control schemes you considered?
The first couple months actually were devoted almost exclusively to getting the feel right. That was the most important thing for me, since I knew that if it didn’t feel good upon first picking it up it didn’t matter how good the rest of the game was. I did consider a few other alternate control schemes. At first actually the game was controlled with the keyboard. But it quickly became apparent how limited that was since you can’t control how fast you manipulate the wave with a digital input like that, as opposed to an analog input like the mouse. Also one of the first control schemes actually had you manipulate speed instead of wavelength. It had a similar effect, since going faster would implicitly stretch out the wave and going slower would likewise contract it. But I realized it didn’t make sense to have the player manipulate one thing (speed) and have another (wavelength) tacked on as a side-effect. So I settled on manipulating amplitude and wavelength, ironed out the feeling of it, and to be honest didn’t really change it all that much for the next 2 years of development!
When creating Waveform, what were some of the challenges/obstacles associated with indie game development?
There were several! First of all, not having a budget to make a game is hard. I had to pay out of pocket for some things and find kind-hearted people willing to work for a portion of the game’s profits. This was one of the reasons I continued working a full-time job while making Waveform actually – I knew I was going to need the steady income if I ever hoped to make the game. Second, not having a team is very difficult too. My specialty is in gameplay programming, which means my main skill and passion is in rapidly developing new gameplay ideas and iterating on them to quickly develop fun and polished gameplay. However without anyone to take on the other aspects of programming, like rendering, audio, tools, etc., I had to learn to do all that as well. I even had to develop my poor artistic skills as I created all of Waveform’s particle effects. And finally, and possibly most critically, a huge challenge to making an indie game is to get people to know about it. Waveform has received great critical reviews, but is still very unknown to the general public.
Were there any gameplay concepts or pieces of content that were cut from the game during the development process?
Yes, a fair number of things were cut actually. Two gameplay concepts are returning though on May 24th when we release our Eris DLC pack. And we hope to return to the others in a similar fashion through DLC or expansion packs if there’s enough demand for the additional content. Some things, like the content in the Eris DLC pack, were great ideas but we felt at a certain point that we had plenty of gameplay and adding more would just start to get crazy! But it would be great to be able to return to them and show everyone some of the other ideas we had.
Now that the game is out, what are you doing to get the game noticed and to get people playing and keep playing it?
Well to encourage people to keep playing Waveform we’re doing a number of things. First off are our Leaderboard Challenges, which leverage the Deep Space Modes of Waveform in unique ways to create limited-time challenges. And the top finishers win other indie games on Steam, which we think is a pretty cool reward and one that promotes the general health and strength of indie development. So far we’ve had two such challenges, with a third arriving to coincide with the release of the Eris DLC. And speaking of which, the development of DLC is another thing we hope will encourage people to keep playing Waveform.
As for what we’re doing to get the game noticed, we’re trying to get the word out via social media and contact press about new developments with the game. But it’s been an uphill battle so far! Part of the challenge is that I’m essentially solely responsible for supporting Waveform post-release while also trying to make progress on a new game, and adding marketing and promotion to that list starts to create some serious time-management challenges! But we have Mac and Linux ports arriving soon, as well as iOS shortly after that. So we’re hoping that helps spread the word to new players as well.
How the response been so far to your recent weekly leaderboard challenges for Waveform? Looking to the future, what are some plans for additional Waveform downloadable content?
The response has been great! People seem to really appreciate the fresh challenges, and being able to win another indie game is icing on the cake. In terms of future DLC, we hope to release a few other planet packs in the same vein as Eris that will provide more levels with new gameplay objects and bonus modes. We also have plans to develop some very interesting expansion packs that will take the gameplay in a new direction. One such product is a mode that will let you import your own music and levels will be automatically generated that synchronize the gameplay to the music. We think that the potential of Waveform is huge; hopefully enough people out there agree with us to keep us fed while we make it!
What is some advice that you would offer to others that wish to pursue indie game development?
Indie game development is very difficult. I certainly don’t say that to discourage people from doing it, but rather to prepare them for the realities of what to expect. The two biggest things I would suggest is to firstly resolve in your mind that you really want to do it, no matter what. That passion and dedication will be critically important while you’re pulling all-nighters! And the second thing is to find people that share your ambition and can work alongside you. Having a few friends to share the joy and pains, bounce ideas off of, and contribute unique skills will go a long way in ensuring not only the success of your work but also that you can retain your sanity along the way!
And actually one last piece of advice I’d offer is to just do it! In some ways that may sound contradictory to my other bits of advice, but I think sometimes people get too caught up in thinking about making games rather than just making them. As I said, Waveform’s prototype was made in 3 evenings after work. It was bare bones and simple, but fun! If you want to make games, just sit down and start making them. I think you’ll be surprised how much cool stuff you can come up with!
What are your thoughts on the recent influx of game projects seeking funding on Kickstarter? Do you think the Kickstarter craze has cooled at all?
Well I think Kickstarter has become an amazing avenue for generating support for games that might otherwise not be able to be made. And the fact that the community can be involved in the process is really fantastic, both for the developers and for the players. I think the craze is still going strong, and will continue to grow as more and more success stories are created.
Now that Waveform has been released, what are you game design plans for the future? Can we expect Waveform appearing on other platforms, such as Mac and possibly tablets?
Yes! Mac and Linux ports are in development, with iOS development to begin shortly. As mentioned above we hope to support the game with DLC and expansion packs, and of course we’re working hard trying to prototype new game ideas and explore what’s next for us.
We'd like to thank Ryan for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find more information about Waveform on the Eden Industries website.