The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Zytron II

Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We believe they deserve a wider audience with the Joystiq Indie Pitch: This week, Kevin Murphy of Trinosis unveils the neon beauty of Zytron II, a game that's firmly in the "If you like Geometry Wars..." category, and proud of it.


What's your game called and what's it about?

Zytron II is a neon glow, twin-stick, multiplayer, scrolling shoot-em-up for Windows PCs. I like to describe it as a scrolling version of Geometry Wars.

What's with the "II" in the Zytron title? Is this game a sequel?

Yes it is. Zytron II is the sequel to my original 1990 C64 game Zytron Megablast, Sold though the classic Commodore 64 magazine of the time, Zzap64.

How important was hacking games during your initial progress as a developer?

Well, back in the day when I first got started programming computers in the early 1980s there wasn't any kind of formal education in computers open to me. Believe it or not, my school didn't have any computers at the time, let alone any teachers to teach the subject. So I was left to type in magazine listings of games, which often took days to do, and to hack other people's games to see how they worked.

Although this involved a lot of trial and error it did give me a thorough grounding in how computers work. I was forced to learn assembly language in order to write more advanced games and this knowledge has stayed with me over the years and has been invaluable.
I'm now at the point where I consider myself competent enough to create most things I envision.

What inspired you to make Zytron II?

Partly frustration.

I'm strictly a PC user and I couldn't find a decent old-school scrolling shoot-em-up on the PC that I wanted to play. So, I decided to write a game that I would want to play and that I thought was missing in today's PC marketplace.

I was always frustrated with classic games like R-Type or Gradius where a single hit from an enemy would instantly kill the player. I wanted a Gradius style of game but with easier, modern gameplay and auto-firing player ships.

So that's basically what I ended up writing and I'm really pleased with the end result.
I often play it for fun now, even though I've played it thousands of times during play testing, so I'm pretty sure I've hit the sweet spot of gameplay I was looking for.


You bill Zytron II as a "scrolling version of Geometry Wars" - Do you ever feel stuck in this "games like Geometry Wars" category? How do you break out of that?

No, not at all. I use the term "scrolling version of Geometry Wars" because it gives people an instant vision of what the game is like. Geometry Wars has been so successful that it's a really well-known game, so that plays to my advantage giving people something to compare it to. If you loved Geometry Wars, then chances are you'll love Zytron II.

Zytron II isn't about originality. It's about old-school fun brought up to date with modern gameplay.

How long did Zytron II take to make?

All in all it was a two-year project. I'm a lone developer, which means I do all the game design, programming, graphics, sound effects and most of the play testing.

The only part of the game I didn't create was the music, which is a bit ironic as I'm also a musician, having played the guitar for over 20 years now.

I had previously spent another two years writing a platform game and had written a lot of editors for that but ran out of steam on the project and had abandoned it. So when I decided to write Zytron II, I was able to re use a lot of the code and editors from that platform game, which helped to speed up the development a lot.

I used the excellent games-programming language Blitzmax from Blitz Research to write the game and I didn't have any issues during development.

What's the coolest aspect of Zytron II?

I would have to say the gameplay. It's simple, old school, pick-up-and-play gameplay, and not with an insane difficulty level either.

I want people to be able to complete this game, so I have spent a lot of time balancing the difficulty and hopefully 32 large levels provide enough content and variety for players to enjoy. I personally hate the fact that a lot of old school games were insanely difficult to complete. I always used to think, what a waste of the developers' time and energy creating an amazing game with awesome graphics, but that was so difficult to play that you would only ever get see a fraction of the game content, let alone the game complete sequence, if there was one.

With Zytron II, I decided from the start to make this game completable and with a decent game-complete sequence to view as reward for players that finish it.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?

I've never wanted to work for someone else. I enjoy working to my own schedule and the freedoms that provides. If I want to take a break from coding, I can. If I want to crunch, I can. It suits my relaxed lifestyle. The only downside is lack of a regular paycheck that working for someone else provides.

Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?

"I'm an old-school coder, who was self-taught and brought up hacking on the ZX81 and C64 home micro's in the 1980s when virtually all game coders were indies."

Basically, yes. The term "indie" is a well-established meme now. I'm an old-school coder, who was self-taught and brought up hacking on the ZX81 and C64 home micro's in the 1980s when virtually all game coders were indies.

Then the industry matured and became quite corporate and dominated by big publishers and now we are seeing a revival of the indie developer, free from the constraints of working for big companies and publishers and where self-publishing via the Internet is very easy to do.

Sell Zytron II in one sentence:

If you want an old-school scrolling shoot-em-up for the PC that's brought up-to-date with modern multiplayer gameplay, then Zytron II is the game for you.

What's next?

At the moment I'm in marketing mode, so all my time is spent trying to get publicity for the game. But as for future games, I have a lot of ideas I'd like to explore. I'm lucky that I can take my time to experiment on a lot of these ideas to see what works and what doesn't.

And there's also the possibility of creating extra levels and updates for Zytron II if there is demand for it.

Zytron II is available for $8 via Desura and $6.83 through the game's official site.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.