While Zelda fans twiddle their thumbs until Breath of the Wild 2 and Call of Duty fans burn out after an entire pandemic full of Warzone, followers of budding independent game developers always have something new to look forward to.
The next big indie game could come from anywhere, even Centralia.
In 2020, William Cleveland returned to a childhood dream: designing and releasing his own video game.
“I was like, ‘if I’m not doing anything else, let’s give this a shot.’ And so, I just dug into it and tried to grab anyone around me who had talents that I didn’t have and tried to pull them along,” Cleveland said.
He didn’t have to look far.
He assembled a team with his sister, artist Calista Brasher, and his wife, marketing manager Catherine Cleveland, who currently does marketing and social media work for Twin Cities Rotary. They added friend Sheila Johnson to the marketing team, and Mauve Gaming was born.
On July 30, the team will release its first project, “Billiards Dungeon.”
Billiards Dungeon is named for the gameplay. It uses the mechanics of pool in a dungeon crawler setting. The player acts as a cue ball, attacking enemy balls. Once completing a level, players advance deeper into the dungeon, until coming to the end where they meet a final boss.
Billiards Dungeon falls under the genre of “rogue-lites.” The levels and their aspects, including items used by the player, are randomly generated. In this design, the game can be played hundreds of times and never look the same.
“I love playing pool. And it’s also not a game that’s been established in a video game sense very well,” Cleveland said. “There’s really only simulation style games, in which you’re just playing bad pool online. So, the idea was to kind of take that aspect of it along with the rogue-lite aspect and marry them in a way that hasn’t been done.”
Doing things nobody has done before means running into the obstacles nobody can warn you to avoid. But it also means each team member has the opportunity to expand the scope of their talents.
For Brasher, a lifelong artist, the obstacle was digital drawing.
“Generally that’s a skill that takes several years to acquire,” she said. “But if (the game) doesn’t look visually appealing, nobody is going to want to touch it. Which is why it’s so stressful sometimes.”
Over the course of this project, she has drawn an entire video game and learned how to animate.
Brasher and Cleveland both work on Billiards Dungeon full-time, which has allowed them to complete it in about seven months.
“If it was something I was doing, like, an hour a day after I got off of work, it could take years,” Cleveland said. “But because I’ve been able to dedicate as much time as it needs it has the benefit of having a quicker release cycle.”
When releasing a new independent game, Cleveland said, developers either slog through hours of social media interaction every week or simply hope their games are good enough to become popular by merit alone. Mauve Gaming went with the first option.
“As many games that are released that you know about, there’s hundreds, if not thousands, that just never reached that. So, we made it a goal from the beginning of the project to not have that pitfall be the one that trips us up,” Cleveland said.
Catherine, as the marketing manager, therefore tweets every day but Sunday. Often, tweets call for followers to share their own projects or favorite games. Then, Catherine will reply to each of them, which may mean reading and responding to 50 individual tweets and the tweets that follow those tweets, which is why the addition of Johnson to their crew was a necessity.
The game will be released for $19.99 on Steam, Itch.io and VoxPop, platforms chosen by Mauve Gaming for the diversity of their audiences. Selling through Steam offers the chance to reach the most people. Itch.io is specifically for buying and selling indie games, and is a completely free service for developers.
VoxPop, a newly established distribution platform that connects streamers and game developers, reached out to Mauve Gaming after seeing positive engagement with the company online.
Cleveland’s dream is for Billiards Dungeon to do well enough that he can start from scratch on a new game, but if fans of the game called for more content, he has some ideas for that as well.
“A lot of what’s gone into this game is saying ‘yes’ I feel like,” said Johnson. “We are not definitely the most experienced bunch, but we are fairly ambitious. We want to try new things and we want to get it done no matter what it takes.”
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