7 Years for 7 Beats
Hello everyone! We are the team behind Rhythm Doctor, a one-button rhythm game where you press the spacebar on the seventh beat. Some of you might have played it all the way in 2013 and wonder what is happening with the game. Well, here is a story about the development of our first game, right from the very beginning.
In 2011, I was in my first year of university, studying engineering.
Well actually, we can go back even further: in 2000, I was 9 years old and discovered Game Maker 3.0 and started making bad fan-games based on Sonic and other games. Fan-games used to be popular to make because you didn’t need an artist, you could just rip the sprites from Sonic or Mario, and there were lots of websites where people had already ripped the sprites for you so you could just download them and use them. Anyway those games I made were quite immature haha, but it was really fun having people play your simple games in the Game Maker forums. I stopped this hobby after a year or two.
Ten years later in 2011, I was studying engineering at university and had forgotten all about game making. I was still the kind of person who played indie games, and around that time indie games were starting to become more popular with the mainstream crowd.
Somewhere between daydreaming in electromagnetics lectures and composing music for a play, I had an idea for a game about trying to keep track of two different rhythms at the same time. Spent a chunk of the summer holiday between university terms making an initial single-level prototype. It looked like this:
You’d keep track of crotchets (quarter notes) and quavers (8th notes) and triplets all at the same time, and press space whenever any of them hit their seventh beat! Wasn’t this the most fun thing?! I showed it to my friends, the feedback was “huh what is this?” It was clear the game needed a better learning curve.
At the same time my college friend at the time, Winston, somehow decided he would spend the whole night until he got a perfect S in it. He is a completionist kind of person (or maybe he just was being a good friend, thank you Winston). He then came on-board as an artist, and during every holiday for the next two years, we’d work on the game. We never really had any big plans for it, or a scope, or anything - it was just throwing cool rhythm ideas together and improvising, and sending it to our friends for feedback.
A few winter and summer holidays later, on the 28th of December 2013 we finally released a demo on TIGSource and woah, lots of people liked it! We got featured on some game sites!
And then we made some more changes, adding a boss level (which people liked too!), and at that time, we found out that there was this competition called the Independent Gaming Festival (IGF) which had a Student division. Looking at the previous winners (big beautiful 3D games), and how most entries seemed to be from people who were actually studying game development, there was zero chance we would get it. But hey it was free to enter (and also made me feel sort of legit) so why not? And so on the night of the deadline, I found myself sitting on my bed working towards what was a 6 am deadline for the entries. I then fell asleep while working and woke up ten minutes to the deadline. Ah.
What followed was tense. In those ten minutes, it was a scramble to compile it, put it on Dropbox, make a new entry on the IGF site.. and then I saw that it wanted a trailer.
We didn’t have a trailer.
In the end, we got in by mere seconds. Took some video of a streamer playing it on YouTube as a ‘trailer’ (wow great trailer). And one browser refresh after submitting, the entry form changed to ’Entries are now closed’.
In retrospect, this was a time when waking a few seconds later would have changed everything.
Because fast forward two months, I had completely forgotten about the IGF (yes I had that little hope), but suddenly StatCounter was reporting a thousand hits an hour on our ‘website’ (which was just a Dropbox index.html page). How strange.
It turned out that out of the 300 entries, we were one of those chosen for the IGF Student Showcase! Then we were flown across the Atlantic to San Francisco, to take part in the Game Developers Conference! But first I had to apply for a US visa and explain to the immigration officer that it was because we made games.
“Oh! You mean like Candy Crush?” she asked.
Anyway we got our visas, and while preparing to leave to the US during our term holidays, we made a special controller for the exhibition. It was fun going through airport security while carrying a giant homemade device with a big red button.
Over there we made friends with lots of indie game developers, like a fellow Student Showcase finalist Albert Shih who made the Museum of Simulation Technology! We met a guy called Giacomo from Peru who was interested in working with us. And Matt Thorson was exhibiting his game Towerfall a few booths down (he’s known for Celeste nowadays), and he came to play our game! We were happy he liked it.
And then, well, getting the IGF recognition, that changed our direction a little - it now felt valid in some way to expand this to be a 2-3 hour game, with bosses and remixes and a story. But my graduation was looming, and after graduation there would be no summer and winter vacations to work on it any more. Realistically, I wouldn't have had the time to finish another three quarters of the game if I worked only on weekends or something. And the niche in rhythm games was NOW, when Rhythm Heaven had just paved the way, and left this big hole of one-button-rhythm-gameplay on desktops and mobiles. We couldn't wait!
So the one possible solution was to actually take a year out of being employed to work on an indie game.
In the end, thanks to a lot of kind encouragement from other developers and fans of the game; Winston agreeing to draw for us while he was finishing his own degree; and our government in Malaysia giving us a grant to fund us, it didn’t seem like such a crazy plan.
So we started proper full-time work around March of 2016. That programmer Giacomo who we met during the IGF contacted us again a few months later, and he was really good at working with us, so he joined me and Winston to help with programming. Before we could continue making new levels, we had to remake the whole engine in Unity again because the first version we did was in Flash. It took a few months but in retrospect that was definitely the right decision, since nowadays Flash isn’t supported much anymore and Unity let us code more surprising things into the game, like moving the game’s window around the screen.
Since then we have been working with Giacomo in Peru via online messaging, and he himself found some more programmers and artists in Peru to help us part-time: Daniel Wopa, Alberto Gonzalez and Jose Cahuana. He even helped us get some extra funding from the Peruvian government. So our game now has government grants from two different countries! We welcome developers from more countries to join us, this is our funding plan now. (that’s a joke)
One of Rhythm Doctor’s early fans Kyle Labriola from the US, who was a great artist, also joined the team to help with PR. With his help, we started having exhibitions to showcase the game around the world. And by showing the awards we won to Nintendo, they gave us a license to develop it on the Nintendo Switch too.
Even later in 2016, we started releasing some special betas to our mailing list, and when we asked people what they wanted the most, they said they wanted a level editor to make their own levels.
So we started building that and released an early version of the editor in 2017. Through the community of level creators, we found some talented people who also joined us to contribute some of their own levels to the full game. We were really fortunate to have their crazy ideas in the game that we wouldn’t have thought of on our own.Plus, we were also fortunate to find the publisher Indienova through one of Giacomo’s friends, and they are now our China publishing partner and helping us with the publishing and localization in China. They have been really hardworking at showcasing our game at lots of events, and even entered us in some competitions like Tencent’s Innovation competition, where we won a Bronze prize. We really appreciate it.
It’s been a long journey for all of us. I still am not used to the reactions from our parents / grandparents generation (Gen 2 / 1), when they ask where I’m working at now, after graduation, and I say ‘hmmm we are making small indie video games‘. Sometimes I tell relatives I make ‘apps’ instead and that impresses them more because it makes them think of silicon valley tech people...
But I do know that had I gone into industry as an engineer right after graduation, this game would have never seen the light of day. So I guess that’s ok as a justification for doing this. Hmm! Well. That and the fact that having a game on Steam would really be pretty cool. Overall looking back, it seems like it was a long chain of coincidental events that led the game to keep going. Even though we are a small team, we got kind help from a lot of people along the way, that without them the game would not have continued on. We’re grateful to everyone who has joined us and given us encouragement in making our rhythm game.
The game isn’t released yet so I guess you will just have to wait to see what the conclusion of the story is. Our publishers indienova have started a preorder page if you would like to support us, but of course you can just wait until the game is finished (soon…)~
Also if you like music games, we actually just released a smaller game too, also published by indienova. Here’s the link! Thank you for reading our story!