Missile Cards is a fresh, new mash-up of the Atari classic, Missile Command, and the functionality of a strategic, turn-based card game. I recently caught up with the developer, Nathan Meunier, to find out how the game idea came about as well as delving a little into his background in gaming.
Q: Are you a full-time developer? If not, what do you do?
I’m a freelance writer by trade, actually. I write full-time professionally as my “day job” while making games on the side. Up until a few years ago, I was a games journalist, and I’ve written for most of the major games sites and old-school games mags over the years, like Nintendo Power, IGN, GameSpot, PC Gamer, GamePro, etc. I’m no longer in the games press, now that I make games too, but I still write full-time for tech clients and companies. I also write books on the side, and have self-published eight books to date. Basically, between writing work, gamedev, and other projects, I keep myself stupid busy.
Q: What is your earliest memory of playing video games? What was your favourite?
My first gaming memories go all the way back to playing Atari 2600 in the early 80s. After getting my first Atari, I got a hand-me-down box of games from a cousin, and I remember it feeling like I’d stumbled onto a chest full of buried treasure. I loved the early Atari classics, like Missile Command, Berzerk, Pong, Zaxxon, Space Invaders, and all of those great oldies.
Q: How did you get into game development?
A few years ago, I sort of hit the ceiling with my games-focused freelance writing career. I had already reached my biggest goals, professionally, and I was working for less and less games publications at the time. I started to crave change. Interestingly, I had tinkered with Game Maker before — way back 2002, when it was a much more limited thing and the indie gaming world as we know it now didn’t exist — but I dropped it to focus on my writing career and never really planned to get into game development. That changed, however, in 2014.
A few friends and I decided to start tinkering with making a Game Maker Studio project for fun, which rapidly turned into us forming a small studio, Touchfight Games. As things got more serious, we formed a proper LLC, which sort of forced me to make the tough choice to exit the games writing world. Meanwhile, I also started making my own games on the side as solo projects, too.
With a few projects out under my belt, I’m still slinging words full-time for various clients while pushing hard to hopefully get enough traction with upcoming games projects that I can devote more time to gamedev.
Q: Is this your first game? If not, tell us briefly about your best game to date.
So far, I’ve released one solo game, This Book Is A Dungeon — a dark, horrific dungeon crawler made with pixel art and Twine — and one GM:S-made game with Touchfight Games, called Go to Bed: Survive The Night on PC and iOS. I have numerous solo projects in the works, including Missile Cards, but aside from my own projects, Touchfight Games has a bigger project coming out this year on PS4 and Vita, called Nuclear Golf, that I’m really stoked about. It’s a retro 2D post-apocalyptic golfing game with explosions, ridiculousness, and face melting. We’re making that in Game Maker: Studio, too. Look for Nuclear Golf to drop on PS4/Vita likely in mid-2017, with other platforms to follow.
Q: Tell us a little about Missile Cards and where the inspiration for the game came from.
I’m a huge fan of unusual card games, pixel art, and old-school retro games. The original idea for Missile Cards came about a few months ago, very simply, when I pondered the weird question: “what would Missile Command look like as a turn-based strategy card game?” That got my brain churning, and down the rabbit hole I lept.
So Missile Cards is basically my version of re-imagining the beloved Atari classic as a solo turn-based strategy card game — except I take the concept far beyond just the simple arcade defense gameplay of the original. I play a lot of unique card games on PC and mobile, so my goal was to create something that’s very different from the average card game still but fun to play and highly replayable — all while paying homage to a favorite Atari hit from my youth.
The game’s intense strategic card play hinges on blasting away assorted hazards that drop from above, but it’s all done in a turn-based style of play where you have to make strategic decisions while juggling info about your weapons, base health, strength of the hazard cards, and other special factors.
If you’re familiar with Missile Command, the underlying concept of “deadly stuff drops from the sky, blow it up before it destroy your bases” still applies, but I’ve woven a lot of other interesting facets onto that core framework.
Each unlockable base in the game has it’s own modified deck of unique hazards and defense cards. Every turn a new card is dealt, you gain a few action points, and the lower hand cards move along a conveyor one slot to the right towards the discard pile. Hazard cards trigger when they hit the end of the line, initially dropping things like comets, nuclear warheads, solar flares. To deal with these destructive forces, you spend AP to place defense cards on charge slots, and once they’re fully-charged you can trigger them to fire lasers, missiles, cannons, or special powers cards to blast away at the descending dangers.
The game starts off fairly simple, but it grows a lot crazier and more complex as new hazards and defenses are introduced. I’ve also added in special achievement-like missions that you have to complete in each base before you can unlock the next one, and there are some resource gathering, skill tree, and card unlock elements woven into the mix as well.
Q:How many are in the team developing Missile Cards and who are they?
Missile Cards is a solo project, so it’s just little old me cranking away on this thing. I do all the code, all the music + sfx, all the pixel art, and all of the marketing/hustle.
Q: Why did you choose to use GMS2 for this project?
Actually, I’m making Missile Cards in GM:S 1.x right now — mainly because I have all the old export modules and I plan to eventually do a mobile version down the line after I (hopefully) get through Steam Greenlight and launch on PC first. I really need more votes ASAP to get this thing through so I can finish it up and launch it.
That said, I did buy the early Beta for GMS2 and I’ve tinkered with it a bit. It has a lot of really great new features that I can’t wait to explore. I’m just waiting to wrap up my current projects first before diving in, because I know I’m probably not going to want to go back once I fully get into the groove with GMS2. I also have console-export access with GMS 1.x, so I’m hoping to potentially take advantage of that, too, while waiting for the GMS2 modules to be rolled out later this year.
Q: How does GMS2 compare with GMS 1.4?
I’ve only spent a little time with GMS2 so far, but some of the biggest changes I’m most excited about are the new workspaces workflow, the major updates to the animation and pixel art systems, and the dramatically improved approach to tiles and room functions. I can’t wait to really dig into those perks deeper, once I fully transition over, as that’s going to make a huge difference in my speed RE: art design and coding workflow.
Q: Aside from GMS2, what other software are you using?
Game Maker is my primary dev tool right now, except for audio and music. I’m a musician, too, so I use a lot of different music programs for tracking and composing tunes for different projects. For retro or chiptune-sounding projects, I use two amazing freeware programs that highly recommend. The first is BFXR, made by Increpare (Stephen Lavell). It’s a great freeware program for generating and fine-tuning 8-bit style sound effects, and I use it for the vast majority of the sfx in Missile Cards. The second program is a very cool and accessible music tracker made by Terry Cavanagh called Bosca Ceoil.
I’ve used a lot of chiptune trackers, including everything from Nanoloop and Little Sound DJ running on an actual Game Boy to more modern trackers like LMMS, but this one lets you rapidly compose awesome music at lightspeed, then easily export it. It’s great for chiptune-style music, but it also has a lot of other synth and more traditional sounds, too.
I also do a lot of audio cleanup and SFX layering/editing using Audacity. Most of the SFX I make up are multiple sounds I layer together and tweak in Audacity.
Q: What does your hardware setup look-like?
My desktop dev environment is an iBuyPower gaming PC rig that’s a bit old at this point. Nothing super super fancy — i7-2600K 3.40 GHz, 8GB ram, a Geforce GTX 760 GPU — just enough oomph to keep things rolling. I prefer to work with a dual monitor setup most of the time, as I’m always hopping on Pinterest to get visual references while doing art, or looking up bits of code here and there. I finally also got a laptop recently, which has been great for when I need to work on games but escape my home office. That’s a lightweight but souped-up Dell XPS 15.
Q: Do you have a date that you’re working towards for release?
ASAP, really. My biggest challenge right now is getting through Steam Greenlight. The game has been really well received for the most part, but I need a lot more support and upvotes before I’ll make it through. Ideally, I’m hoping to be able to launch the game by February or March, if not sooner, but it all hinges on Greenlight at this point.
Unfortunately, while card games have a small but strong niche audience on Steam, they’re not as popular or as easy to push through Greenlight as other bigger genres like roguelikes and RPGs. I think the game will also be a great fit for mobile, too, but if you launch first on mobile THEN go to Steam afterwards, gamers on that platform tend to give you a lot of flak — which is utterly stupid, but a sad reality of the platform.
From the beginning, though, the plan for Missile Cards has been to keep it tightly scoped and have a fast-pace, short dev cycle. I realize it’s a cool but fairly niche project, so I’m doing this intentionally to minimize risk and keep things moving forward to ensure it doesn’t take a year of dev time to find out whether the game will sell well or not. I’ve worked on the game pretty intensely for about a month and half, and it’s really come together in that time.
I took a month off around the holidays and worked around the clock to develop most of the game in a super condensed timeframe, and I’ve been able to get a ton accomplished in that time. I expect it’ll be launch-ready in another month or two, so I’m pushing hard to try to get things rolling through Greenlight so I can focus 100% on getting the final bits in place and polished/beta tested.
Once I can finally launch it, I think it’ll do well enough with its niche audience that it’ll have been worth the time I’ve put in.
Missile Cards is a fairly streamlined game — it’s not huge in scope, but it’s fun to play across numerous sessions and it’s designed with high replay in mind, with unlockables, challenging gameplay, and missions/objectives to strive for that push you to change your tactics. Basically, it’ll be priced very affordably and have enough gameplay to keep most players busy for a handful of few hours — and hopefully hook them to keep coming back.
Q: What platforms will we see Missile Cards on?
Initially, I’m focusing on a Steam launch with a PC version. I’m considering offering a Mac version, too, but that’s going to take more tinkering and testing. Once the game is out on Steam, I plan to see how it does, then potentially prep for a future mobile iOS port.
If the game does well enough, I’m open to other platforms. It wouldn’t take a lot for me to add controller support and port it to consoles, but Steam is the most flexible place to start (and drop updates or quick fixes if needed), so I’m focusing there first then seeing what happens.
Q: What top tip do you have for aspiring game developers getting started with GameMaker?
It’s important to just get started with something small and simple rather than biting off more than you can handle at first. Don’t worry about trying to make the biggest, most epic dream game you’ve always wanted to make. Chances are your first prototypes will suck, and that’s totally ok. Also, chances are that your first few commercial games won’t take off and sell the way you expect them, so that’s another reason to keep things small scoped.
Making games, even when you get good at it, ALWAYS takes longer than you expect it will. Feature scope creep is a huge issue for new developers, and with so many new games coming out all the time, it’s really important to “fail forward” fast, get through those early learning fumbles quickly, and then learn everything you can to make your next few games better and better. Don’t waste years working on your first game if you’re new to game development.
It’s way better to start with a very small, very constrained idea. Keep it simple. Don’t let yourself get carried away with “oh, hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we add this and this and this and this” syndrome. Creativity is great, but it’s SO easy to let yourself keep adding to the idea pile to the point where you initial game idea gets to unwieldy and out of hand that you eventually buckle under the pressure or strain of trying to create it and give up.
Aim for making a tiny game at first, see if you can make that, make it fun and functional, then gradually build on it if you feel the need to. Don’t layer too many mechanics or ideas on until you know you’ve got something solid and special first.
And once you’ve got something good, FINISH IT. Seriously. Making games is great, but if you never finish and “ship” them, then you’re really missing out.
Also, it’s important to be willing to learn and always work to improve as you go. I started out using GameMaker’s drag and drop to cobble together some neat things early-on, but eventually I got brave and started dabbling with GML. I’m not a code wizard by any means, but I pretty much only use GML now and it’s made a HUGE difference. That transition initially seemed daunting, but it actually happened pretty organically over the course of the last six months. I have zero traditional gamedev education. Everything I’ve learned has been from reading books, watching YouTube videos, browsing the YoYoGames forum, and experimenting over the past two and a half years.
If you’re looking for GMS learning resources, I highly recommend checking out Heartbeast’s great book and online courses. His book and tutorials were instrumental in helping my transition from drag-n-drop to GML proper.
Q: What’s your favourite indie game?
I’d say 95 percent of the games I play are pretty much just indie games. I have a lot of favorites, but lately I’ve been playing Downwell a ton. The fact it’s a GMS game is rad, but I just love the clever mechanics and minimalist design aesthetic. It’s a great example of a well-crafted, but very small-scoped game that’s built with high replay in mind. Lots of cool things you can learn from its design.
For non GMS-games, I’ve been playing a lot of Card Crawl and Reigns on iOS lately, too. Both of those are excellent and interesting card games that don’t fall into the typical CCG/TCG stuff that tends to dominate the genre. I grew up playing Magic: The Gathering (and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons), but the I’m far more interested in card games that take creative risks and try something new and different. That mindset has driven a lot of my design approach for Missile Cards and other card-based games i have in the works.
Q: Would you like to add anything else?
I could really use some Steam Greenlight love right now, so if folks want to take a second to vote for Missile Cards to help me get it on Steam faster, that’d be a huge help and much appreciated. I’m constantly improving and adding to the game, but you can check out a slightly older demo of the first base and 3 missions over at itch.io right here. I’ve already added some new art and improvements that’s not in the demo, but that’ll give you a good feel for what Missile Cards is all about.
Also, I love talking shop and connecting with likeminded dev peeps. I’m happy to connect on Twitter if folks want to chat about GM:S, indie development, or stay up-to-date on the latest things I’m working on. You can also find out more about me and my other assorted endeavors at http://www.nathanmeunier.com/
Thanks a bunch!
Support Missile Cards on Steam Greenlight
Play an early demo of Missile Cards over on itch.io
Follow Nathan on Twitter
Check out Nathan’s personal website
Check out BFXR, Nathan’s free music program of choice
Get Bosca Ceoil, Nathan’s favorite music tracker
Need GMS tutorials? Check out HeartBeast’s work over here (we’ve just picked up a copy of his book and will be reviewing it soon!)