Long days pass sailing across the endless blue of my pixellated ocean, and soon I find five whole weeks have passed since my last blog update.


That’s the the thing about solo indie development; it’s massively time consuming, exhausting, tedious and sometimes immensely rewarding. When you’re coding every system in the game, from the way the clouds move in the sky, to the way sailors react when a crewmate dies, time gets away from you. This leaves precious little time to actually ‘talk’ about developing your game.

Some people are naturally apt at marketing and promoting their game at every stage of development. Others toil away in secrecy, hiding it away from the world until it’s complete and then quietly uploading it to an app store or game portal. I tend to fall somewhere in between the two categories. I like to talk about the game and share screenshots as often as I can , but I don’t really have the gift for self promotion. You’ll rarely (if ever) find me at a game conference or casual developer meetup. I’ve started posting in forums like TIGSource and IndieGamer but momentum builds slowly. My main form of communication is through Twitter (you can follow me here), talking with other game developers, artists and interested fans of my work. Twitter is great for getting fast and useful feedback on in-game screenshots, helping to gauge the popularity of certain features you might want to put in the game and so on.

Anyway, the point of all this is firstly I need to seriously start thinking about going with a publisher at some point. Once the game has reached a point where I can release a playable prototype and perhaps a nice gameplay trailer, I’m going to start approaching a few publishers and see if there’s much interest. Ships and Scurvy does not have the graphical eye-candy or slick polish of many other games on the market, but what it does have is what I believe a very addictive game loop.

Having had a large degree of success building the browser RPG Swords and Sandals series for 3rd Sense back in the day, I know what makes a good game loop. For Swords and Sandals, it was simple:  Build character > Fight enemy  > Level Up > Visit Shop , and repeat. For Ships and Scurvy, the process is as below:

  • Build ship / hire crew
  • Sail round ocean singing sea shanties
  • Explore islands and harass natives
  • Level up
  • Die from wonderful tropical diseases

And repeat! Your character is essentially immortal, washing up on the same deserted tropical island after each death – but with slightly more skills (and miraculously all the gold you had when you died) .  It’s a game loop not too dissimilar to the one Rogue Legacy used to great effect – the art of exploring the same overall world map again and again, all the while dying and gradually unlocking more power in your character.

So what’s new since our last update?

You may remember I wrote a detailed blog post on a real-time combat model I’d built for island-based combat. Well….. scratch that. I spent a few days building it only to find that whilst it was lovely to watch all these little soldiers running at each other and fighting autonomously, the player’s input felt very minimal. You could influence the outcome of the battle with commands issued to troops, but the effect was so subtle it was lost on players I tested the game with.

The new battle system is turn based, and looks much like this:


Characters line up in neat little rows and are issued commands each turn. They rush into the middle of the battle and duke it out, then return to the line. It’s not realistic at all but from a gameplay perspective it works so much better. The ability to plan which troops to send in next and their level of agression/caution is quite enjoyable. Battles last a minute or two depending on the size of the two crews. In addition, I was able to include the player character as a hero unit to the game. Players are hugely powered heroes, with large health bars able and the ability to attack multiple opponents in a round or even heal their own crew.

There was actually a second, more subtle reason for including the player character in battles. In a game where the majority of time is spent looking at a ship, it’s important for the player to see the hero they have created is actually involved in the action whenever possible. Hence they will appear in land battles, be seen on the scenes where there is fishing, diving, mining and so on. The more you feel part of the game, the more invested you are when your character dies.

Having adjusted the land based combat to turn based, I went back and did the same with the sea combat. On the advice of the great game designers and nautical experts at PiratesAhoy.Net, I added a few features to ship to ship battles, such as the ability to advance/retreat with your boat or even board the enemy ship for battle.

Notice above also, the boats now have customised sails on them. Your character’s crest and colours are reflected here on the ship and also in the uniforms of your sailors. It’s a little touch that personalises the game for you with the limited art assets that I’ve been able to draw. That’s another thing – it’s extremely time consuming to do your own artwork and also program your game. I’m hoping to enlist the help of two artists for backgrounds and miscellaneous assets, but the character art is all mine. I’d call myself a fair artist , not a great one, but mine is a unique, funny and colourful style which I think people enjoy.

The last month or so I’ve spent building character creation screens and the game’s intro , which I’ll reveal in a video at a later point. It’s short and sweet but I think does a good job of setting the scene for your adventure. Finally, I’ve nearly got all the systems in place for the game – I’m building the all important island exploration scenes over the next few week; this is where the player can try ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ interactive stories, visit taverns and shops, go diving and fishing and experience many other interesting activities that may result in rewards or death.

Progress moves fast on the game – I hope to have an early playable build of the game available in about 5-6 weeks. If you’re interested in being a tester or maybe doing a preview for your games review site, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me here at info@whiskeybarrelstudios.com and I’ll send you everything you might need.

Cheers and happy journeys!

Oliver Joyce
Whiskeybarrel Studios