Mathematical Principles: Waveform Interview

Conducted By Adam Ames

Ryan Vandendyck (pictured above with composer, Scott McFadyen) from Eden Industries spoke to TPG about developing his first PC title, Waveform.  You will read about how a doodle became a game, the difficulties in marketing and system configurations, thoughts on DRM and piracy plus more.

How do you feel about indie bundles and Pay What You Want Pricing?

I think they’re very cool for getting more exposure for indie games, but I hope it doesn’t get to the point where people see the bundles as the only way to get indie games. I’ve been contacted by a number of different bundles about including Waveform, and I’m sure you’ll definitely see it bundled somewhere in the future.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Waveform.

Well my name is Ryan Vandendyck, and I’m the founder of Eden Industries and pretty much the heart and soul of Waveform. I designed the game, programmed the game, and did all of the business-type stuff related to the game. And I did all that while working a full-time job as a programmer in the mainstream  games industry!

How did you get started in developing PC games?

Waveform is the first full PC game I’ve made; my development experience is actually more on the console side from working in the mainstream game industry. Although I’ve worked on some pretty awesome games (Mario Strikers: Charged and Luigi’s Mansion 2 being prime examples) I always wanted to make my own indie games as well. And seeing as how I had a PC at home, I just started making games for it! Luckily my employer, Next Level Games, allowed me to make indie games while still working for them, so with my strong desire and permission to do so, I just sat down and started coding. If I owned a Mac instead of a PC I probably would’ve made a Mac game and we wouldn’t be doing this interview 🙂

Where did the idea for Waveform come from?

Well shortly before the time of Waveform’s conception, I had played two rather interesting games, Auditorium and Art Style: Orbient. The thing that struck me about both of these titles was the simple, but effective, game mechanic and the simple, but attractive, art style. In fact, in Auditorium’s case, there’s almost no art at all! And yet it still managed to be very visually appealing. Being a fan of mathematics (which is what my university degree is in), I also felt impressed by their use of a simple mathematical principle to create fun gameplay.

So I posed a challenge to myself: create a game using a single mathematical principle that would require no art to understand or play. This hit most of the major points for me, since it would be something I could implement myself (not being able to do art), would be simple enough for anyone to play, and would leverage a mathematical principle in order to hopefully make the gameplay instantly recognizable to people.

The idea for Waveform came to me one day as I was doodling in my notebook. Since I’m not an artist, I can’t doodle much. In fact, one of the only thing I can doodle are mathematical graphs! Pretty boring, but it’s the unfortunate truth. And as I was drawing a sine wave on a piece of paper, it suddenly hit me: what if the game was about controlling a sine wave traveling along and you had to line it up with objectives? It would essentially be a game of dynamically, and visually, manipulating a sine equation in order to do phase matching.

I immediately began programming this idea and in less than a week I had a playable version of Waveform. And it was pretty great! And things just kept growing from there.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Waveform?

Well I the biggest success I think is just having a game released on Steam! That’s a tremendous accomplishment for us, especially since Waveform was our first project. And everything we learned in making the game, including the technical knowledge and business experience in actually trying to sell a product, is really invaluable. And of course the fact that the reviews for Waveform have been super positive and people are having a ton of fun with the game is an amazing success and something we’re of course extremely proud of.

In terms of failures, the biggest one I’d say is not anticipating the sheer number of different PC configurations out there and making sure Waveform ran correctly on all of them. I’ll go into that in a bit more detail in a later question in this interview, but another failure I’ll mention is the lack of getting the word out about Waveform more before release. The development of the game was quite strange in the sense that we were all working full-time jobs to make the game, and I had to contract out the art in the game since none of us could do that. So trying to coordinate that in addition to working on the game and working a full-time job really didn’t leave any time to talk about the game. This has actually hurt us quite a bit in the short-term, since although the game is quite awesome now the first response a lot of people have to it is indifference since they haven’t heard about it before. So I think if we were building more attention over time, by the time release came more people would’ve checked it out since it was something they had been hearing about for a while.

In its current form, how close is Waveform to your initial vision?

Pretty close! Here’s the very first sketch I ever made of the game in my notebook:

In the third graph, the dotted line is the player movement, the solid line is a wave that needed to be traced, and at a couple points along the dotted line if you have really sharp eyes you can see darker balls that I imagined would be targets you had to hit. And at the bottom you can see my initial ideas for how to control the game (increase and decrease frequency and amplitude) and initial goals (collect balls, avoid obstacles, and trace waves).

Now obviously the game grew far beyond that, but really only in the types of objects and situations you interact with. The basic idea is nearly identical in that first drawing and prototype as it is in the released version of the game.

Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game.  Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Waveform and if you faced a similar challenge.

This is actually one thing I’m quite proud of with Waveform. Waveform is a very hard game – but only to master, not to play. For new players, jumping in and enjoying Waveform couldn’t be simpler. With only one control in the game it’s very easy to play and advance throughout the first half of the game, after which it begins to ask a bit more out of the players.

But this idea of making it dead simple to play and enjoy but very tough to master was a strong goal for us. I wanted a game that literally everyone could play, from soccer moms to hardcore gamers. And I think Waveform  has done a great job of accomplishing that. Of course it’s not perfect, but the vast majority of players experience the game exactly as the difficulty was designed – they manage to get to the end of levels fairly easily, but they don’t get 100% completion until they’ve played it a few times. And I think that level of difficulty is great to encourage new players to keep on going but also give completionists something they can be proud of accomplishing.

Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Waveform would run on the various PC system configurations?

Yes, and in fact I can say that this was absolutely the greatest challenge we faced in developing Waveform and the primary thing we want to improve upon for our next release.

Being indie, we don’t have a lot of resources. We only really have access to the computers that we own and any we can borrow from family and friends. So we endeavored to ensure Waveform ran on every machine we got our hands on. But of course there were many more machines out there! So there were a few problems on launch that people faced, which we feel quite horrible about.

Thankfully people have been very supportive and appreciative of our efforts to fix up the game. I personally respond to every single person that has trouble, since I really do appreciate every person that plays Waveform and want to make their experience a positive one.

Although we did have a number of people play Waveform before release to test it and make sure it works, in retrospect we should’ve cast that net much wider in order to ensure we were able to test the game on even more configurations.

So, that was certainly a lesson learned!

Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Waveform.

To be honest, I can’t take much credit for any of those! I hacked together horrible, ugly placeholder art that I suppose set the groundwork for the type of art that was later created. But the real style was established by the artists. And the same goes for the level design and music. I found music and sound effects that I felt approximated what I envisioned, but the true magic of the music was all in Scott’s talent. And for the level design, I created small experiences that illustrated the fun of Waveform, but the level designers took those ideas and ran with it to create the experiences in the game today.

So I really just have to thank the others guys on the team for being so awesome and making Waveform what it is today.

Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?

Without question, the toughest thing is getting people to care about your game. I don’t have big marketing dollars to push the game into the face of anyone who touches the internet, so getting the word out is hard. As I mentioned above, since I was working a full-time job in order to fund the development of Waveform, I also didn’t have time fostering a community in the way other indies have managed to do with great success. I hope this is something we can improve upon as time goes on, especially since we now have a fun, well-reviewed game and all we have to do is get people to play it! But it’s certainly an uphill battle.

How did you go about funding Waveform and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?

Well as I mentioned earlier, I funded Waveform out-of-pocket by maintaining a full-time job in the games industry during the development. It was a pretty grueling process that had me work 100 hours per week over nearly 3 years. So no I didn’t receive any financial support; instead I just threw everything I had at Waveform, both in terms of time and money, just hoping that it’d all work out in the end.

I did receive emotional support of course from family during the time, although my mom unfortunately passed away during the development of the game so that was a difficult thing to bear on top of the struggle of making the game.

So to sum up, it was a pretty difficult development 🙂

Tell us about the process of submitting Waveform to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.

Actually submitting Waveform to Steam was very easy since luckily I was introduced to a guy at Valve by the artists I had contracted to help with Waveform and whom I also used to work with at Silicon Knights. After that introduction, things were incredibly smooth with Valve since they liked the uniqueness of Waveform and thought it was a fun and polished product. So that was fantastic. After Waveform’s release, I’ve reached out to a few more platforms now that I have a bit more time on my hands and their response has been quite positive as well. So thankfully things were pretty simple on that front, which saved a ton of potential headaches.

How much pull do you have when setting sale and regular pricing through digital distribution channels?  Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?

I did do a lot of research, but it was still a very tough decision process. I have full control of sales and regular pricing, which is great. But it doesn’t make the decisions any easier!

For the most part, big budget studios no longer release PC demos while almost every indie developer does.  Why do you think this trend is occurring?  Tell us why you released a demo for Waveform and the difficulties in doing so.

The primary reason I released a demo for Waveform is that I believe it’s the kind of game that you need to play in order to really appreciate. It’s quite unique, and the trailer can’t communicate everything we want to tell people about the game.

The other reason was that the last thing I want to happen is for someone to pay money for Waveform and then not like it. I don’t like that as a customer, and so I don’t want the customers of Waveform to feel like that either. I don’t believe tricking people into buying the game is good for building a strong community.

Unfortunately I think that’s what a lot of big budget studios do. They rely on hype to trick people into buying the game, and of course usually for much higher prices than what Waveform and other indie games sell for. And if people don’t like it, those studios don’t really care because they already made a sale and they figure that the next time the hype train rolls around they’ll be able to trick new people so the unsatisfied customers don’t matter.

But our goal with Waveform isn’t just to make money. Yes we want to make money so that we can make future games, but at the end of the day we want people to enjoy the game! And I think that is a priority that a lot of indies have but not as many big budget studios have, which causes the trend you’re seeing.

How important is it to get instant feedback about Waveform from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?

Incredibly important! I’m very active on the Steam forums for Waveform, on our own forums on the Eden Industries website, and on Twitter as well. I personally respond to everyone since I’m so thankful for them taking time out of their day to provide feedback. In fact a number of the early updates to Waveform on Steam came directly from the community requesting new options and features. So I love it when people provide feedback and just for the opportunity to interact with the community,.

How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Waveform professionally?

Quite a lot actually. Mainly because their words will impact all of their readers and can make or break the decision for someone to try the demo or purchase the game. Every new review for Waveform is actually very stressful as a result!

How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?

I think they’re very cool for getting more exposure for indie games, but I hope it doesn’t get to the point where people see the bundles as the only way to get indie games. I’ve been contacted by a number of different bundles about including Waveform, and I’m sure you’ll definitely see it bundled somewhere in the future.

What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?

I think it’s a tough problem, and I understand why people are trying different methods to solve it. Waveform was pirated mere hours after its release on Steam, which to be honest was a little heartbreaking. As someone who is personally in debt financially after making the game and having invested about 6000 hours over 3 years in its creation, when I see people pirating the game it hits home in a very real way. I literally celebrate over every sale of the game I see on Steam, since each sale represents a significant step towards paying off the debt of making the game and enabling us to make future games. I know people pirating the game might think that we don’t need their money, but that really couldn’t be further from the truth.

So I understand the desire to want to protect what you’ve poured sweat, blood, and tears into. That being said I think intrusive DRM is the wrong way to do it, which is why I didn’t include it in Waveform. But I’m sympathetic to the desire at least, especially after Waveform was pirated. Going forward, I hope people will be able to place themselves in the shoes of the people affected to see what it would feel like. And that’s both people that are pirating games and those imposing very restrictive DRM on their customers.

18.   How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Waveform?

I think it’s awesome! Seeing the unique experiences people have with Waveform is an amazing feeling and I love watching the videos people make of the game.

How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?

I think as a concept, DLC is fantastic. And we plan on making a lot of DLC for Waveform. That being said, I think the way DLC is executed for a lot of games could be much better. I think it’s seen as a money grab by a lot of people, which is really quite sad since I think customers deserve to be treated better.

I want to make DLC for Waveform because I believe there’s a lot of room to grow the idea of manipulating a wave. And given the rate at which some people are consuming the content of the game and their enthusiasm at doing so, I think people out there agree!

A lot of DLC we release for Waveform will be free. I feel this is a great way to reward the supporters of the game and making people have a great experience with Waveform is something we’re really passionate about.

In general, I think the implementation of DLC in the PC gaming industry would be improved if people first asked themselves, “If I was a customer that bought this game, would I be excited or disappointed about this piece of DLC?” And if you can’t honestly answer that you’d be excited, then don’t make it! Or at least certainly don’t expect people to pay money for it; release it for free if you still want to make it and then just see what the response is.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about modding of PC games and the relationship developers have with modders.  How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Waveform?

I think mods are awesome and a fantastic way to expand the experience of a game. We actually hope to make a number of “mods” in the form of expansion packs. And if anyone wants to make a mod of Waveform they should contact me and we’d love to have a chat about how to make that happen!

Speaking of which, someone did contact me recently that really wanted to contribute to the future of Waveform. And as a matter of fact I’ve got him all hooked up with our source control server and he’s hard at work on a mod as we speak!

What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?

The best advice I would give is to just sit down and make a game. Make whatever you can, given your personal skill and situation. The first small game experience I made was a completely text-based JPRG. It was primitive, and probably not a whole lot of fun for anyone besides me. But I loved it, and making it was a huge learning experience.

I actually hope to be able to develop something in the new future which will hopefully empower up-and-coming indies to start making games. I’ve got my hands full with Waveform and plans for future games at the moment unfortunately, but hopefully someday I’ll be able to make that a reality! -End

We would like to thank Ryan for offering some great insight and such detailed answers.  You can pick up Waveform via Steam.

Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Follow TruePCGaming on Twitter and Facebook.

More TPG Interviews

TPG Home

6 thoughts on “Mathematical Principles: Waveform Interview

  1. TPG, this was a fantastic article that really touched both the techincal side and the personal side of independent game design. I want to wish Ryan all the best with his new game and hope to see other games from him using the same hard work and vision.

    • I appreciate your comments. Ryan was extremely forthcoming with his opinions and experiences.

      Usually when that happens, you will get a solid interview such as this one.

    • Thanks darshil, I’m glad you liked the interview and I really appreciate your comment! Feel free to let me know if you have any more questions and I’d be more than happy to answer them.

  2. Pingback: The Sunday Papers | Rock, Paper, Shotgun

  3. Pingback: Superlicious | Superlevel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s