If you think it's expensive to buy video games, try developing them. The average major game release costs upward of $30 million to make, to say nothing of marketing it afterward. But Dean "Noogy" Dodrill, the man behind "Dust: An Elysian Tail" on Xbox Live Arcade, made a hit title with a lot of love and only a little money.
"Dust: An Elysian Tail" debuted in August 2012 during Microsoft's "Summer of Arcade" on Xbox. This side-scrolling action role-playing game took strong influences from the "Castlevania" and "Metroid" series with a large, open world to explore and robust sword combat.
Dust, an amnesiac swordsman who looks a little like an anthropomorphic cat, inhabits a vibrant, rainbow-colored world of quirky townspeople, snarky sidekicks and menacing villains, each with his or her own voice actor.
Constructing a 2D game that looks prettier than many big-budget titles with a complete voice cast is no mean feat, but Dodrill accomplished it with diligence, persistence and a small crew who knew exactly what they were doing.
"I don't have exact numbers, but most of my budget was for basic living expenses as I worked on the game full time," Dodrill told TechNewsDaily. Although Dodrill won $40,000 from Microsoft after showing off an early build of the game, it's not clear how much the first build of the game cost, or where the money came from.
Dodrill worked with about five people for co-writing, sound, music and voice direction, but aside from voice actors, had no outside help. "All of the design, programming and art were done by me over the period of 42 months," he said.
When he first started programming "Dust," Dodrill had no particular ambition to make a hit game. In fact, his primary concern was fleshing out the "Elysian Tail" world, which he was also developing as an animated film.
"My original goal was simply to learn how to make a game," he said. "I thought I was playing it safe by creating a game in [a series] that already existed, but the game continued to grow and I continued to fill it with new characters and stories."
Single-handedly creating a deep, gorgeous game over the course of almost four years is tough enough, but recruiting a voice cast added a whole new level of difficulty. [See also: 10 Great Games You're Missing ]
"For a long while I was against adding voice-over, since I knew I already had my hands full just learning how to make a game," Dodrill said. "But as I neared the end of production, it seemed a shame that my story had to remain silent."
Dodrill reached out to a casting director who auditioned more than 100 actors, selected 40 of them for the final cast and recorded more than 1,700 lines of dialogue with them. Many members of the voice cast were either amateurs or just starting in video game voice-over, which kept costs to a minimum.
The game has delighted Xbox audiences, and is on its way to Windows PCs with a Steam release scheduled for late May. Dodrill is not quite ready to let the Elysian Tail story end just yet, though.
"I would like to return to the film someday, which originally inspired the game," Dodrill said. "It has a completely different cast and story, but they exist in the same world. But I'm also really enjoying game development, and one day hope to continue the story of Dust and his companions."
As before, money is not the limiting factor.
"I've got lots of great ideas," Dodrill said. "All I need is time!"
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