Phew. Here we go then, Death Ray Manta SE is go and what a ride it’s been.

It’s available to buy on Steam, DRM free (hah!) on itch.io and for one week only, in a Humble Bundle.

(In case you’re wondering, best *for me* is itch.io, Steam in second, Humble after. Best for making your money stretch further will vary, natch)

The Bundle

For the first week, you can grab both the game and a snapshot of the source code from Humble in the Humble Weekly.

I did promise that the game would be affordable at launch, right? So there we are. I can promise that unless an absolutely amazing opportunity presents itself that I just can’t say no to, this will be the cheapest the game will be for *at least* 12 months. It’ll surprise no-one to find out that I’m not expecting such an opportunity to land so, yeah.

FACT FANS: It took less than 24 hours from launch for Indie Gala to contact me and ask me to be in a bundle and inform me they have slots free this month. Needless to say, this is the exact sort of unhealthy and exploitative behaviour I referred to in my previous post on pricing. This is not bundling in the interests of developers or players, this is industrial scale bundling that only serves to keep bundlers bundling along. So no, Indie Gala. I do not want to be in your bundle this month or next month. Or indeed ever unless you clean up your act.

But anyway.

How we got here

There’s a couple of reasons for launching with Humble and YoYo. I wanted a way of being able to encourage people to have a shot at making their own twin stick shooters (I’m selfish, I like playing them and I want more) but more than that, I wanted people to be able to look at the flashy light stuff I do and know that making a game that looks really nice isn’t as out of reach as they might expect. But how did this all come about?

A fair few months back YoYo asked me would I be willing to put the old Death Ray Manta (2012 version) in a bundle with the source code. To which the answer would have sort of been “umm not really”. To say that the source code to that thing is an unreadable mess would be a giant understatement. As I’ve detailed elsewhere, I’ve never really been happy with the game either. So what to do? Well, I’ve had a Steam deal sitting there, I’ve got a fair few bits and bobs I’m using for New-DRM that I could do something with and I haven’t put anything out in 3 years so I need a bit of cheering up. And nowt would cheer me up more than being able to try and get more folks into making games somehow so…

With that in mind, I rebuilt Death Ray Manta from scratch to make it shinier, twin stickier and did it in such a way that beginners could get to grips with the source code and use that source code in next to no time at all. If you’ve never considered writing a game before, you can be up to speed for working with GM and Death Ray Manta in a week, easy. It wasn’t the easiest task I’ve ever undertaken, especially given that life is a bit up the wall this year with me not being at my tippermost toppermost health but I think I did OK with it in the end and hopefully folks can get something from it.

Anyway, obviously as you now know I said “yes, I’ll do this” and “yes, let’s put this on Steam as well”.

Launches Are Scary

I won’t pretend that I wasn’t worried about how launching in this manner would go but I’ve been genuinely overwhelmed by how great the support is. I haven’t managed to get a game across the finishing line and out the door in 3 years and everything you know about surviving in games changes constantly. I keep my ear to the ground, I knew a lot of what to expect and still a lot surprises me.

It’s even more scary when you’ve had this daft idea to build a game from the ground up and know that’s going to take you right up until the deadline to manage. It’ll probably surprise no-one to find out that I was still tweaking hours before launch. (After a few days break, I’ll be back onto things to fill out the stuff I never got chance to put in)

Add to the mix a necessary level of secrecy around how you launch the game (you generally don’t announce HEY I’M IN A HUMBLE!!!111 before the Humble launches) and doing press relations stuff pretty much fell by the wayside. A combination of just me working on a thing, family life and deadlines all conspired to make this “the launch where Rob does everything he’d advise you not to do”.

I didn’t manage to drop a press release until a day before launch and I only managed one solitary email to the press before that. I can hear the Gamasutra comments section and Twitter knowbetterati tutting from here.

To top it all off, I’m releasing a small videogame on Steam and that’s a hairy enough proposition at the best of times unless handled carefully.

As it is between Humble, Steam and Itch.io and the kindness of everyone out there, the game has already way outperformed what I’d ever hope for a small game like this to manage in the year of our Molyneux 2015. Seriously though, I went to bed last night with a big grin on my face knowing that not only had I reached my lowest goal of “be able to afford a copy of Mario Maker” but “Christmas will be pretty alright in the end”. I’m very happy with how things have panned out so far.

Obviously, I absolutely do not recommend this route to anyone. Not only is it hyper stressful, it’s got way, way more points where it could all come collapsing around you. And, of course, it helps that I have incredibly modest goals for success with this. Vastly more important to me is getting the source code and stuff out there for folks and having a bit of fun doing it.

(as an aside, if you’re looking at the Humble numbers and thinking “Man, I bet Rob is going to be well comfortable from this”, I’m afraid not. I’m not seeing that much money from this at all!)

The Source

The Source is a snapshot of Death Ray Manta’s development. I’ll update it for compatibility issues with newer versions of Gamemaker but it won’t be updated alongside the release version. In fact, the source is already a number of revisions out of date. So yeah. The main reason for this is that whilst I want to encourage learning and stuff, the game is still very much a commercial concern for me in a lot of ways, right?

So what can you do with that source? You can remix it, rejig it, throw it up on the internet, strip out the assets and use them for your own works or whatever. And yes, you can use it as the basis for commercial works.

I know for a lot of folks who’ve put their source in to this bundle, they’re kinda licensing it to use for personal use and educational purposes only and that’s cool! We all have our own lines of comfort we draw. For me though, as far as I’m concerned if you have the source I don’t care if you Harry S Price it, learn from it, build off of it, remix what I’ve got in there or just tinker with it to see what happens. You have my blessing to go and do something with it. Make Death Ray Manta better, make Death Ray Manta worse, mess it up, improve it, use it as the base to go and do wild things with. It’s cool!

The only gotcha is please don’t reuse the music from the main game in any capacity. I only license it (not own it) so it’s not mine to give away, thanks.

All that said, I’d love it if you told me what you’d made with it. No matter how small. Drop me a tweet and help cheer an old man up, yeah?

Right. That post turned out a lot longer than I anticipated so in the interests of going off and eating my tea, I’ll wrap that up here until the next one.

Thanks mightily to everyone who has supported and helped get Death Ray Manta here now. It’s appreciated.

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Two sticks, one fish, some flashing lights. Death Ray Manta is, quite definitely, a videogame in the purest sense. Rejigged, rebuilt, remastered for Steam in the year of our Molyneux 2015.

Death Ray Manta is a short form top down arena shooter where you blow up enemies using colourful laserbeams. You spawn in the centre of the screen, moments later the screen is filled with mines, robots, rabbits and lasers from beyond the stars. Collect space gems for a bonus and shoot everything else that you can in order to flash lights at yourself. Aim for your own personal high score. How far into fish space can you get?

32 screens of increasingly colourful and crazy laser firing mayhem from the brains behind (amongst other things) Squid Yes, Not So Octopus, SYNSO 2 and the challenge mode in Waves. Also, he’s that hairy dude off the internet. You know the one.

Death Ray Manta is made with the fine assistance of Mike Daw who provided the legwarmer chic tunes and Andy White, who helped out under the hood and kept me sane. Cover art by the legendary Ste Pickford.

“Absolutely Brilliant!” – Rob Fearon

“The light displays are something else, too: you’re born, each round, in the midst of a blizzard of rainbow particles, and your foes fragment in a rich neon shower under impact, staining the 2D world with their reds, greens, purples and pinks.”
8/10 – Edge

“it may look like a Geometry Wars type of experience, but DRM is a much more tightly-focused and unforgiving game. Each stage lasts seconds, buffered by a few seconds of visual transition, so there’s a strange rhythm to playing it: constant bursts of intensity with pauses for breathing.”
8/10 – Eurogamer

“…a mainline hit of pure colour and light and energy and noise and speed and then more colour and more light and lasers, lasers everywhere. It’s like opening your skull and dunking your brain in a bowl full of sugar.”
5/5 – RGCD

(Also, PLEASE stop asking Ste for keys. Come on now, he’s just the artist and doesn’t need his inbox clogging up. Thanks!)

As Death Ray Manta SE releases this week onto Steam I figured now is as good a time as any to detail the current plans around pricing and discounting for the game.

Whilst I’m loathe to say that anything is set in stone (this is videogames and I’ve been working it long enough to know not to deal in absolutes), it’s currently as close to being set in stone as can be.

Pricing and working out a bundling/discount policy is an awkward thing at the best of times. Whilst there’s a lot of advice around what you should/should not do when making and selling a game it’s not unusual for a lot of this advice to be more generalist and well, not all games suit generalist advice, right? Shortform, compact, budget games like Death Ray Manta are especially awkward to fit into traditional videogame selling advice because traditional wisdom assumes that you’re making a certain kind of indie game and with the intention of making as much money as you possibly can from that videogame. This rarely, if ever, fits the stuff I do or the way I work.

That’s not really to say I’m making anything particularly exceptional, more just most advice around selling games is very, erm, ‘interesting’.

The Price

My aims with Death Ray Manta SE are a bit more complicated than just “make a game, make some money” and I hope that by the end of the week the [stuff that I can’t talk about right now] will make this abundantly clear. I also want Death Ray Manta SE to be affordable to as many people as possible. It’s designed, always was designed in this incarnation, as a budget game. Think along the lines of the Mastertronic of the olden days, the Firebirds, Players and what have you. If you’re not that old, have a quick google or something.

This route, of course, demands a low price. You can’t have a budget game that isn’t cheap really. That would sort of miss the point a tad, right? Of course, things get more complicated by me needing to eat (always handy) and wanting to make sure that my work has value (which is needed for me to sell games and eat). Like I say, this stuff is messy and sorting out pricing around this is messy.

So after much consideration and weighing up amount I expect to sell vs amount I need to carry on making videogames and a few other things, I settled on £2.79. It’s under three quid which keeps it in the affordable range but it’s not *too* cheap as to be entirely disposable and not *too* expensive that I’m asking silly money for a short game. To be fair, it would have been £2.99 but I couldn’t be bothered manually working out the price difference across who knows how many other currencies to keep things reasonable so £2.79 it is.

After Valve have taken their cut and the taxman’s had a go, that leaves me “a bit of money per copy”. If I launch at lower, I’ll have to sell a substantially larger amount of games just to get by. That’s a bigger ask than the internet often assumes. Like, the sort of big ask that’s somewhere close to miraculous to pull off given the sort of numbers the kind of games I make tend to sell anywhere.

In a nutshell, if I charge less money I’m just going to make less money rather than attract loads more people. So.

Obviously, I anticipate that for some people this is simply too much money. And I don’t mean this in the weirdly traditional games industry way that “people are entitled” or whatever, I mean this in the rather literal “some folks really find three pound for a videogame a bit of a struggle”. I’ve spent a lot of my time on this planet where three pound isn’t a coffee (as I believe is the favourite go-to for ragging on people who struggle to pay for games), that’s a day or two days or more’s food. I get that and I understand that and where possible, I want to make sure there’s going to be ways where I’m not excluding these folks as I go on.

Bundles

With that in mind, I’ve obviously had to consider how and when I’m going to discount the game and what, if any, bundles the game will appear in.

Bundling in 2015 is a mess. It’s no longer the case that most bundles will bring you a good payday. In a lot of cases, developers would probably be best ignoring a lot of them entirely as the days of bundles as having any sort of prestige attached to them are long gone. It’s only Humble that provides what I’d personally see as ample recompense for shifting thousands of copies of a videogame at a percent of a dollar. With that in mind, Death Ray Manta will only appear in one bundle within the first twelve months of launch and that will only be if the bundle is a Humble Bundle.

In the land of “never say never”, I’ll of course add the caveat of “unless something drastic changes and there’s another bundle or way of bundling that seems worthwhile”. Just not under the current industrial-scale-bundling model. That’s generally more exploitative than useful at this point and I don’t think it’s a healthy space for a lot of devs to play in. Not that something not being healthy ever stops them, obv.

Discounts

To counter this a tad, I will be joining Steam sales within the first twelve months and beyond. Rather than go straight from “a little under three quid” to “that’s less than a Freddo Frog”, I’ll be using stepped discounts. Or in clearer English, as time goes on, the amount I’ll discount from the game will increase but for the first twelve months or so, expect the sale discounts to be minor rather than drastic. A ten percent, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five percent here and there.

It’s already a budget game at a budget price so I don’t want to be pricing at “hoping enough people buy it that I get a single pie” prices for a while. Contrary to internet wisdom, just dropping the price doesn’t bring all the boys to the yard. Sadly, that’s milkshake and when you get to my age, you don’t have much milkshake left. Besides, it’d break my heart to see “a game I spent time making: 7p” or something, y’know? Even the tattiest game in my collection is worth more to me than that.

Not Everyone Has Money To Spare

Now I realise that this still might not be satisfactory for a lot of people. So even though I will be gently reducing the price during sales times and the discounts will be deeper as time goes on, even though I’ll happily agree to be in a Humble Bundle and sell my work for a percent of a dollar, either someone might miss that bundle or still find the price a little out of their league.

Well, given the start price it’s probably not going to be too long before it falls under your “yeah, that’s doable” threshold I’m sure. I’d absolutely recommend that if you want the game but money is a problem, hang fire and it’ll be down to some level you’ll be happy to pay. If you’re concerned the game costs too much now for what it is, the same! Hold fire, it’ll be cheaper before you know it.

Mind, there’s always the chance that even having a quid to spare on a videogame is, like, just unreasonable right now. Maybe you could find a way of trading for it or asking a friend or maybe you just can’t. I get that.

Well. I think at this point the fairest thing I can suggest for both of us is you go and torrent the game or whatever it is the kids use to get hold of copied games these days. I’m not saying this to get you to sod off or to be rude to you, I think honestly, this is the best bet for both of us. You get to play the game, I get the knowledge that you’ve played the game because you wanted to play that game. I know full well that it’s not cutting into my bottom line because I’m old and not silly (plus, like I say, I’ve had a limited spend myself for most of my life). If you like it and you want to pay me when you do have some money, the game will still be on Steam and elsewhere and you can do that. Consider it a trial if that makes you feel better about it, right? I trust you to support me later, aye?

I am absolutely OK with folks going off and doing that. Obviously, obviously, obviously, my first preference is for folks to come right along and give me some money but hey, sometimes stuff doesn’t quite work out like that, yeah? So please, if price is that much of an issue, torrent/copy or whatever my game. However! If you do acquire a copy for nowt and you like it, if you could tell someone else you really liked it and point them at my store page on Steam or wherever, I’d appreciate that a lot! Word of mouth helps a great deal. (Obviously, they themselves might then go “ok, well I’ll go over here and grab it for nowt” but that’s the chance you take isn’t it?)

But if you are rich

On the flipside of the coin, I’m also aware that folks might want to give me *more* money for a game than I ask. To that end, Death Ray Manta will also be launching on Itch.io on the same day it launches on Steam. Itch is great, safe and a nice alternative marketplace to Steam. Handily when checking out, you can choose to add a few quid on top to tip or treat the developer. As a developer who isn’t going to say no to being tipped or treated, this is great, obv.

Are we there yet?

So yeah, that’s it. That’s my pricing, discount and bundling policy for Death Ray Manta:SE. In short, it’ll launch this week at an affordable price. It will be £2.79 full price and be discounted during sales when possible. I’m happy for it to appear in a Humble Bundle so that folks who want it very cheap can have it very cheap and well, if that’s still out of someone’s price range, there is an alternative route out there for them to take. It will not be in other bundles from this point on unless something miraculous happens that changes the fundamental nature of how we bundle videogames in the year of our Molyneux 2015.

I hope, if nothing else, my reasons for all this pricing guff is laid out clear. Now though, it’s back to preparing for kicking this damn game out the door. It’s all a bit exciting. Someone hold me down.

Death Ray Manta SE will release on Steam this week.