Morphopolis: A leap into games

Haiku Adventure developer Ceri talks about how an arty indie game side project lead to a move into the games industry.

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Morphopolis – A hidden object puzzle game released for PC in August 2014

Today – 14 August 2019 – marks five years since the first game I ever worked on – Morphopolis – was launched for PC. Working on this game changed the course of my career and opened up a whole new world of design that I was previously unaware of.

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Previous design projects spanning products, prints and architecture.

Over the course of 15 years I trained and worked as an architect. My love of design has always been broader than architecture however and given the opportunity I’ve always preferred working across different creative disciplines. From installations to illustrations, products to prints and films to furniture I’ve relished learning new processes and broadening my understanding of design.

I just didn’t know at the time that game development would tick so many boxes for the way I like to work!

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Games developed by Morphopolis co-creator Dan Walters – Peregrin, Terrorhedron and Calvino Noir.

In 2013 my friend Dan Walters (developer of Stormworks, Calvino Noir, Peregrin, True Legacy and Terrorhedron) asked me to team up with him and take on the art production of a videogame. At this stage I knew very little about games and nothing at all about the industry. I certainly didn’t know about the developments in game engines and distribution that had massively opened up the medium to independent developers who were increasingly able to forge new exciting directions for the industry.

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Art tests during the development of Morphopolis

Starting work on Morphopolis introduced me to a wealth of wonderful and original games I had no idea existed. Delving into this new medium I started to understand the tapestry of creative disciplines that goes into their creation and the richer, more all encompassing world of design they contain. The combination of art, narrative, music, spatial experience, UI, gameplay, etc. etc. all coming together to create a single project felt much more creatively complete than some of the previous projects I had been involved in.

After the relative constraints of working to architectural client briefs, developing a game independently permitted a liberating freedom to experiment with each thread of the disciplines involved.

Morphopolis – Chapter 2

It wasn’t just the creative aspects of videogame development that attracted me however, the entrepreneurial spirit of making a game as a commercial product is also an enticing prospect. With established platforms that can deliver the final product direct to consumer, almost all of the headache involved with the distribution of physical products is removed.

To be able to easily sell games globally and avoid any further upfront unit costs that usually limit the scale of sales is a very enticing prospect. And, while there are of course no guarantees of financial success, the absence of barriers that could limit the games success sets provide a useful boost of ambition.

Morphopolis – Chapter 3

It was hugely exciting launching the game and receiving almost immediate feedback that confirmed the work we’d put in was actually reaching people. To be able to view sales graphs on Steam and mobile, read reviews as they are posted, watch live updates of website traffic and see new youtube videos uploaded is a validating experience after working hard on project.

Even if it was just the initial spike, seeing revenue come in and knowing the the game is being played live across the world is intoxicating stuff!

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Morphopolis – Chapter 4

Working alongside James on Haiku Adventure continues to teach me more and more about the industry and the design of games. I’ve still got plenty to learn but am grateful that a side project released 5 years ago triggered my leap into this fascinating industry.

Independent game development offers me a seductive balance of creative and commercial endeavour. A chance to make original design decisions without answering to a client’s brief but to still have a reasonable chance of making the product financially viable, even with growing challenges surrounding distribution and discoverability.

While it’s still possible for an experimental indie title like Morphopolis to sit alongside titles by huge established studios, then this industry will continue to be where I want to focus by creative energies.