Going It Alone: Clean’Em Up Interview

Conducted By Adam Ames

From the sands of Egypt comes Ahmed Abdel Samea Khalifa developer of the newly released arcade shooter, Clean’Em Up.  You will read about his journey as an indie dev, his thoughts on DRM and piracy, where the idea for Clean’Em Up came from and his stance on DLC.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Clean’Em Up.

I am Ahmed Abdel Samea Khalifa, I am Teacher Assistant at Computer Department Cairo University and Egyptian IndieGame developer, I love games since the very young, I made lots of games and Clean’Em Up is my first commercial game. I am the Coder and Artist of Clean’Em Up game, beside that I helped in designing enemies behaviors and bosses behaviors in the game.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

I always dreamt of making games since I was young, when I was 11 I wanted deeply to make video games so I searched the internet about game making and I found GameMaker since English was not my main language and I was still young so it was a difficult task on me to fully understand the tutorials of GameMaker so I started to edit in examples in the game maker (like PacMan, Snake and other examples). After lots of trials I made my first game from scratch when I was 12 and it was a sonic clone game and called “Kanfooz”.

I got depressed due to the lack of support of my family and my friends to me no one was encouraging me in what I was doing (as people in my community looks at video games as something useless and childish) so I stopped working on games (because whatever I do no one cared) for 5 years till I entered my college and I enrolled myself in computer engineering department (because I still want to make games). I was hoping there would be stuff about game making in college but that was not true no one at college even care about games or game development.

In that time there was a competition made by 2BeeGames where grand prize was 100,000$ so I was encouraged to start working on games again, I used GameMaker and made a game called “Mind Hunter”, and as usual I failed at the competition. Then I started to enter lots of game jams and competitions and made 5 games using GameMaker. At that time Chevy Ray made FlashPunk so I migrated to it and started using it and made around 8 games using it.

While I was at college I used XNA for making an AI project (which was a bad game) and I used it also on my Graduation Project “Hello World!” which was a huge MMORPG arena game.

Where did the idea for Clean’Em Up  come from?

Clean’Em Up was my first collaboration with a friend called Omar Shoukry, He suggested me to participate with him in this year Microsoft Imagine Cup in Windows/Xbox Design Competition and I was Happy for that as I always wanted to participate in that competition since I was at college.

So we started thinking about the idea for the competition and since we love shooter games, most of our ideas were revolving about that (shooting). So we decided to make a top down shooter game where you play with Antivirus and want to clean your PC from viruses and other threats so we submitted the idea and it was accepted.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Clean’Em Up ?

I became a better at coding and game design, also we started (me and Omar Shoukry) to understand each other which mean less fights and arguing in making games and we decided before the end of developing this game to start a team called Omidos.

Also I had solved one of my main problems which is I am always afraid from doing new stuffs that I don’t know how to do it (technically), but Clean’Em Up learned me that everything is possible and I should try and should work harder, and I am really started trying new stuff that I was afraid from doing it before that.

About failures, we got out of Imagine Cup Round 3 and that’s because we cared a lot about the game and make it a game we love to play than a game for the competition. I know you are thinking how that made us out from Imagine Cup that’s because the game became weakly connected to Imagine Cup theme (How technology helps to solve world toughest problems). I know it’s not a failure as we made a nice game at the end and we made what we wanted and what we cared about a lot but we should (when participating in competitions again) focus more on following some rules.

In its current form, how close is Clean’Em Up to your initial vision?

It is really close; most of aspects we were thinking about were implemented in Final 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 Clean’Em Up  and if you faced a similar challenge.

Mmmm… That problem happened to me a lot of times but we solved it by letting lots of friends to play the game where these friends’ skills vary from completely Noobs to Professionals and getting feedback about the game.

Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Clean’Em Up would run on the various PC system configurations?

I didn’t face a lot of challenges may be because XNA ensure that the game runs on minimum hardware requirements. Beside we tested the game on several PCs and it worked fine, but we will know after launch if that part was done right or notJ.

Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Clean’Em Up.

About Art Style: Since the game played inside computer so I thought neon graphics will fit the best, beside that I was totally inspired by Geometry wars.

About Level Design: it was developed iteratively (btw I didn’t do the level design) my Friend Omar Shoukry design all the levels then he sends them to me to test them and I gave him feedback about how fun these levels are and is the difficulty curve is increasing nicely, and about enemies appearance and order. By the way it was the most fun part in game that we test the levels and make challenges between me and Omar for finishing the new levels first.

About Music: it was done by Mikael Bauer (a very talented artist, I worked with him on lots of games) I asked him to do something Geometry wars-inspired having techno fast paced rhythm for the game and that’s what Bauer did. He was always make music and send it to me to test it and tell him if it fits or should be changed and which parts to be changed and why.

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

To have courage to continue on this on my own, as no one in my community support me neither my family nor most of my friends. Sometimes I got really depressed because there is no community here about gaming where people meets and talks and show each other our games and support each other in developing them.

So I can sum it in one word “LACK OF SUPPORT” is the toughest problem. May be its started to change a little bit but it’s still starting.

How did you go about funding Clean’Em Up  and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?

We fund the games by ourselves as we both worked as TAs. I got somehow support from my friends (for the first time) as they were always saying to me it’s the best game you have done so far nice and neat effects and challenging gameplay, this encouraging helped me a lot to continue working on the game.

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

The game is on Desura now. I delayed other platforms after the launch to have some reviews about the game (most of the press people didn’t reply on me when sending the game to them before) so we could have better chance that more platforms accept us. We didn’t face problems in submitting to Desura they were really fast and helpful.

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 made research about similar games and how much they cost (it varies from 4.99$ to 9.99$) and I took advice from my friends in other countries about the price and most of them said 4.99$ is very nice and affordable. Since it’s our first game so I chose to be less expensive than other games (3.99$) as I care more people to play it than having more revenue. I probably will experiment with price and making sales after the game release.

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 released a demo for Clean’Em Up  and the difficulties in doing so.

About that trend I think because AAA studios are sure people will buy their game based on their trailer and their reputation even if their game sucks, and that not the case for lots of Indies because they feel more responsible and they don’t want people to pay for a game they don’t want or not good besides they are not well known so releasing demo can give people good insight about the game.

The difficulties I faced is to determine how far the demo is, I wished I make the full game as free game so more people can play it but I must make living out of what I do so I must make it a paid game.

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

It’s so important to me I feel responsible about the game and I want more people to play it and I want to know if they loved it or not. The game is like my child to me so it is important to know if people liked him or not, I know that people feedback will affect me emotionally (as I said I feel it’s a baby for me) and may ruin me if its bad but at same time I must release it to light. Beside this feedback can improve my skills in game design and know my mistakes to avoid it in my next game.

How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Clean’Em Up professionally?

A lot I listen to everyone who tested the game and played it so I think a professional opinion is very important and that’s because I want the game to be more enjoyable to more people like I see it’s enjoyable for me.

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?

It’s a very nice trend as it make more people try games with affordable price (as its pay what you want)  and I would like to participate in a bundle as it is nice to have more people play my game. The more people play my game the happier I will be.

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 fighting piracy by what they are doing right now is not a solution and I think lowering price or making pay what you want sales will make games affordable to more people and will decrease the amount of people who download pirated copies (I hope so).

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

As a player I don’t like to pay more money to get a DLC unless it’s a very huge thing which converts it to an expansion more than a DLC. I think some companies overuse the DLC which makes me hate DLCs a lot.

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

Being Indie is not an easy task especially if you are in a community where people thinks games are childish and non-mature stuff but if you like games and love the idea of creating them, you should start right away working on your first game; as your first game may suck and may be no one will care a lot about it but you have started and that what matters and your next games will be better.

Also you should experiment a lot and try new ideas in games and don’t stuck yourself in creating clones of your loved games, as making new stuffs and new ideas what will differentiate your game from AAA game and will make people want to try it and buy it.

We would like to thank Ahmed for this thoughtful and detailed answers.  You can purchase Clean’Em Up via Desura or the official site.

4 thoughts on “Going It Alone: Clean’Em Up Interview

  1. Well you have support here, albeit far away from you. This game looks like fun and I’ll watch for future titles from Omidos. There are many people here who think games are useless and childish as well. My daughter will sit on my lap and watch me code and playtest for an hour straight, my wife just sighs (loudly) and says things like “I wonder if I got any emails” or “I wonder if Cindy responded to my FaceBook post yet” until I’m done.

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