Abobo's Big Adventure is great to have made, but was grueling to complete. I learned a lot in the process, about Flash, about game promotion, and about myself.
I'll just start out by addressing the elephant in the room: Yes, many of the sprites used in ABA were ripped directly from NES emulated games. Is this technically against the law? To be honest, I don't know. The way we sleep at night stems from the fact that we made this game for free, in our spare time.
We justify the use of these assets because of our pure love for the material. We aren't trying to damage Nintendo or rip it off for our own gain. In fact, the exact opposite is true, we are trying to pay tribute and write a love letter to our 8-bit childhood in the best language we know how.
To us, using anything less than the original material would have blunted the edge of the experience. For example, would seeing a facsimile of the "Duck Hunt Dog" get charred to a crisp be as satisfying as seeing the actual un-mistakeable original "from-the-game" dog be murdered? Would killing some unrecognizable old man instead of the actual old man from Zelda have the same impact?
Rog, Pox, and I are old-school Newgrounds hipsters. We were into the Flash scene when it was the Wild West and anything was allowed. In a sense, using the actual sprites, in addition to what I mentioned above, was our way of referencing that era of Flash creations.
Many have looked down their noses at us for making this choice, but we felt that this game could not have met our expectations and goals in any other way. Our hope is that it transcends the stigma attached to "Sprite" movies and games and provides an experience that elevates and tributes the referenced material.
Motivation: The black abyss
The original inspiration for Abobo's Big Adventure was Domo Kun's Angry Smashfest. This was the first Flash game that made me say "Wow, I didn't know this was possible in Flash!" Tom and Rog made it in much the same way we made Abobo... a reckless stream of consciousness whose scope kept growing and growing unchecked.
When Rog asked me if I wanted to re-code his old demo of Abobo's Big Adventure and finish the whole game, I was so starstruck at working with one of the Domo creators I immediately accepted without realizing what I was getting in to. That was in 2007...
I coded the first 3 or 4 levels fairly quickly, but around the Zelda stage, which is the longest level in the game, I burned out. At that point I looked ahead and realized I was only 1/2 way through the game. I couldn't conceive of doing levels as large as the Zelda level 4 more times and was spoiled with the usual Flash rapid release schedule where you work for 2 or 3 weeks and then get the rush of releasing something.
I felt like I was spending countless hours sculpting an intricate work of art that would NEVER be seen by anyone. We were also running into some technical issues which were pushing the limits of Flash and pushing game compile times into the "minutes" range (which quickly adds up). I went into a blue funk and avoided opening the Abobo .fla source file for over a year.
I never admitted it openly to myself, but thoughts of just scrapping the project flitted through my mind pretty often during this time. I felt like Abobo had a death lock on my ankle and was dragging me down the deepest darkest underwater plumber's pipe ever constructed.
I should mention that most partners would have ditched me at this point. Pox, who has an inhuman work ethic, had already completed most of the game's extra art and outrageous cut scenes. He had invested hundreds of hours into the game so, to see me brushing it off and not working on it, must have driven him crazy. I have to thank Rog and Pox for sticking with me through my depressed times.
Luckily, around this time Rog suggested we show off our Abobo progress at his Comic-Con booth. We returned to CC for 3 years in a row each time with more of the game done. Having the Comic Con deadline helped me push myself to work more on the game so we'd have new stuff to show off every time. It also spurred me to do something I've always wanted to do: Build an arcade cabinet that features a game I made. With the help of my best friend and some family members (+ Jeff on cabinet art) the cabinet turned out 1000 times better than I imagined.
This year's Comic Con will be the final one where we show off Abobo, it will be a triumphant experience to finally have the completed game there for all those nerds to enjoy.
Recovery: Get by with a little help from Adobe & friends
Around this time I discovered .swc files and figured out they were not just for as3, thanks to Mike from Newgrounds. Basically these allowed me to create entire levels and jam them into a "compiled clip" that could be imported into the main Abobo file and play normally, but didn't have to be re-compiled with the rest of the file (faster compile times). It also made concerns with managing my library and library limit concerns evaporate. With this boost, I was motivated to ASK FOR HELP.
I asked Steve and Dave if they would want to help me out by coding an Abobo level. Steve decided against it, but Dave lifted the Megaman level off my shoulders. With 1/8th of the burden off my back and .swc files opening the door of feasibility, I was back on track!
We finished the game and were about ready to release it when we had a bright idea...
Let's bundle another ORIGINAL game inside of Abobo
So we had a bright idea that, if we advertised an original game inside of Abobo, and that game continued the "story" of Abobo's son "Aboboy" (our own creation), we could capitalize on the huge amounts of traffic the game was sure to garner and help offset the ridiculous amounts of time we had invested into making the game.
One problem though, now we had to produce an ORIGINAL game, figure out how to collect $ (which we decided to collect in the form of donations), and figure out how to deliver the game to, potentially, thousands of people without Rog having to write a custom email to each donor.
In the end, we decided to use Paypal, which we figured would be most international friendly and trusted (even though they have pretty huge transaction fees). I had some experience with php, so I researched the Paypal API and built some test pages. With the help of Josh we got all the bugs worked out of the system and had a working game delivery system. This required us buying a domain name, setting up a website with a database, and jumping through some hoops with PayPal to get upgraded to a "business" account.
This was all largely an experiment. We had no idea whether our method would pay off and actually get people to donate, or just be a wasted button on the game menu.
We had hopes that it would explode and start inching us toward minimum wage for the time we invested, but in the end, it ended up performing fairly well and, while it hasn't made us 5 digits yet, it has showed us that Flash devs could probably be eeking out quite a bit more from their games if they tried our approach, or something similar.
In the interest of helping out other devs, here are some figures:
Domain Name: $10 per year
Hosting: From free to $10/month
Paypal Business Account: Free
Paypal PHP transaction API: Free and documented well
Return (as of 2 days ago, the game has been out for 2 months):
In-Game Ad Revenues (for comparison): $1,758 ($0.79 eCPM)
Mini-game Sales: TOTAL GROSS: $8966.19 TOTAL PAYPAL TRANS FEES: $694.35 (7.7%) TOTAL NET: $8271.84 ($2.48 eCPM)
As you can see, the minigame is outperforming in-game advertisements by more than 300%
These results may not be typical since we advertised the game for 4 years before it came out, had a really amazing trailer and got a write up in Game Informer magazine (+ write ups in tons of other big name gaming sites). Also, considering what can possibly be earned on Steam and other indie console channels and mobile platforms, doing Flash games may never really pay back the time invested unless you break into the multi-player or Facebook arena. But now you all know how deep our wallets extend.
Oh yeah, divide all that 3 ways...
In the end, the game wasn't about money. It may seem trite, but it was something inside us that we had to do, a story we had to tell, with characters who wove themselves into our life-matter as we were growing up.
I learned so much about Flash and games in general that I think I deserve an honorary doctorate in "Abobo." By the time I was done, I was really tempted to go back and re-code the earlier levels with my newly learned skills, but Pox and Rog didn't want to wait another 4 years... There are bugs true (mostly in those early levels) but I couldn't be prouder of what we accomplished and especially the fact that we never gave up even though friends, family, and logic continuously encouraged us to do so.
Abobo's Big Adventure put me through some really tough times and was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I think we've made something that might live on as a landmark even in a world that's flooded with video games.
As you can tell, it was much more than just 3 guys making a game. A huge thanks goes to Newgrounds and especially Tom Fulp for supporting this effort. This community inspired us to push a part of our souls out through our computer mice, digital pens, and fingertips.