Game Development from Scratch:
An Interview With Breaker's Yard Developer Dan Dujnic

Apr 16, 2015
protophant breakers yard sprites and dice

In a market as diverse as video games, the fact is that getting the word out about your game is often a difficult task. While Breaker's Yard by Protophant may not be the next big thing in gaming, it caught my attention for one reason: the developer's mission of game development from scratch. Dan Dujnic is the sole developer at Protophant, and has been working on the game in his free time for the past two years.

At the moment Breaker's Yard is a pretty simple twin-stick shooter. Pick one of multiple characters with different advantages, and shoot hordes of enemies using stackable power-ups. It doesn't sound or function different than most games of its kind, but do other games let you rain ricocheting chainsaw projectiles on your enemies? Didn't think so.

Dan was nice enough to answer some of my questions about the creation of Breaker's Yard from the development process to the challenges of bringing an indie game to PAX. Read along to find out more!

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Breakers Yard has been in development for two years. What has the process been like? I only remember seeing three or four people working at your booth the whole weekend. I imagine you guys have been doing this part-time, and I think that's awesome!

The process has been just me plugging away in my kitchen for two years on nights and weekends. You're assumption that I do this part time is correct, but the other guys at the booth were just some buddies doing me a solid. The whole game, soup to nuts, is me except the music (a guy I know out in Cali) and the fancy title-screen art (my brother). Glad you think it's cool!

What's your philosophy behind "Game development from scratch"? I noticed you're using the Unity Engine, but all the assets seem to be your own. This sounds like a great way to learn the ins and outs of development in great detail, but how has it been working for you?

I don't have any formal training in programming (or art for that matter) beyond a high-school C++ class. I learned everything I needed to build the game, from object pooling to how to build a leaderboard, through brute force and Google searches. The nice thing is that if you're persistent enough the answers are out there and eventually you'll get the result you want by trial and error; you just have to be willing to spend the time. As far as Unity goes, it's been working out great! The community is lively and there is a fair amount of documentation, so there are a lot of people that went before me that I can learn from.

You have mid-PAX fixes listed under one of your builds. Were you updating your builds throughout the show, and when did you get the time? I know conventions are a generally a huge opportunity for playtesting. What did you learn from player behavior over the course of the weekend?

Yup, I did update the builds mid-show. Saturday morning before the hall opened, and then mid-show on Sunday. There were two basic issues I was addressing:

  • The basic principle of "bring the rope to the catapult to get to the next level" is difficult to communicate in-game.
  • The fact that the weapons stack is not immediately apparent and should be surfaced early.
breakers yard sprites and dice rope catapult

What better way to punctuate the end of a level than catapulting the player straight into the next one?

I actually happen to have a list of the actual changes made on hand, if you care:

Saturday Morning:

  • Change Old Man speech bubble from "rope + catapult" to "rope -> catapult". Emphasizes the bringing of the object, instead of the combining.
  • Drop barrel health again (to 6). Lets the player see more weapons, and so more combinations.
  • Default players to 3 weapon slots. Lets the player see more complex combinations sooner.
  • Make old man talk automatically. Player will see his message without having to walk up to him.
  • First level is very small, no cars. With less distractions, hopefully the player will pick out the rope easier.

Sunday, mid-day:

  • Put old man on left and catapult on right. Since people read left-to-right and the speech bubble reads leaf-to-right, it would make sense if I oriented the objects to be manipulated left-to-right.
  • The struggle to communicate "bring the rope to the catapult" continues. The latest build puts the rope on the first level behind the old man, so it gets more weight as a game-object from that. The honest truth is that I may have to lighten the colors of the rope to make it stand out more, or even put a flashing outline around it.
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A demonstration of how weapons stack. As you can see, things get chaotic pretty fast.

My main takeaway from playing the PAX build was how well the weapon effects stacked. Are you at a point in development where you have a clear idea of where the game is going, or are you still experimenting with features to see what sticks?

I definitely feel like the weapon system and current enemy roster is pretty solid, although enemy behaviors could use some tweaking. Beyond that there are plenty of features (ex: boss-fights) that I feel pretty confident will work, it's just a matter of prioritizing which on to work on first (and of course, finding the time!).

Many thanks to Dan Dujnic for providing answers to my many questions. I'm currently the only web developer at Sprites and Dice, so this is particularly a point of inspiration for me. As you may already know our site is run independently by full-time workers and students. I'm in the midst of developing a new community-based website for us, and it's nice to know that there are other people out there doing this kind of work every day.

Breaker's Yard is still very much in development, but there's still plenty you can do to participate! Sign up for the Beta here, and if you like it, vote for the game on Steam Greenlight! If you would like to see regular updates on the game's development, you can follow Protophant on Tumblr and Twitter.

If you'd like to see more post from me in the future, follow me on Twitter! I often Tweet links to cool things I'm working on. We'd also appreciate any support on Patreon so we can keep our server costs down and keep building our new site!

Zoë Wolfe

Co-Founder, Webmaster