Playing it Forward
URBANA — As an independent video game designer, Luke Schneider has learned what works — and what doesn't — when it comes to selling games.
Over the last four years, Schneider's company, Urbana-based RadianGames, has issued nearly a dozen games, most available at app stores for download.
Schneider, who previously worked for the Volition video game studio in Champaign, said most of the games he designs are arcade-like puzzle and action games.
"They're small games of high quality," he said. "They're not violent. There's nothing objectionable about them."
Most of the games are simple in terms of objectives — "get a good score and do well," Schneider said.
The action games include "Inferno," "JoyJoy," "Super Crossfighter," "Fireball," "Ballistic," "Fluid" and "Bombcats," and the puzzle games include "Crush," "Sideswype" and "Slydris."
Plus, Schneider recently developed a game for Cartoon Network called "The Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville." It's based on characters from the network's "The Powerpuff Girls" animated series.
Ryan Harwell, partnership manager at Cartoon Network, counts himself as one of Schneider's fans, describing his work as "minimalist graphics mixed with psychedelic gameplay."
"From sound design to programming, he can do it — and he can do it well," Harwell said. "Artists like this are pretty rare in the games industry."
Since Schneider founded RadianGames in 2010, he has worked from offices on the lower level of the County Plaza building in downtown Urbana.
"I enjoy not having a boss to answer to," Schneider said. "But every minute I'm not working makes a difference to income."
And that's important to Schneider, 38, of Urbana, who has a wife, Cathy, and two daughters, 8-year-old Natalie and 5-year-old Anna.
Schneider grew up in the Quad Cities area, attended one year of high school in Rock Island and spent the remaining three at the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora.
He received a bachelor's degree in computer science at the University of California at Irvine, where he became fascinated with the "Descent" series of video games originated by Savoy-based Parallax Software and continued by a spinoff, Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Outrage Entertainment.
After graduating in late 1996, Schneider got a job as a level designer for Outrage and worked there until it closed in 2003. He did game development on his own for a few months, then applied for a job at Volition, which, like Outrage, had been spun out of Parallax.
Schneider was hired, and Volition put him to work as a level designer and associate designer for the "Punisher" video game. He then worked 41/2 years as a multiplayer designer and design architect for the "Red Faction Guerrilla" game.
After briefly serving as an editor for the "Saints Row: The Third" game, he left the company in February 2010 to establish RadianGames.
Schneider said he had enjoyed designing games on his own in 2003 — and by 2010, there were more options for independent game designers.
Plus, "I had some game ideas I wanted to try," he said.
Initially, Schneider self-published games through Xbox Live Indie Games. He issued six games in 2010 and one in 2011 and got 70 percent of the sales revenue.
In 2011, he developed "Super Crossfire" — the name was later changed to "Super Cross Fighter" — and published it through Chillingo. He also did part-time contract work for Volition, working on the user interface for "Saints Row: The Third."
In 2012, Schneider issued five games for the PC and Mac and four games for the iPhone. He also began working on "Bombcats."
He spent nearly a year on that game and published it through Chillingo, but found he spent "way more time and made less money" than he had on other work.
"I almost stopped doing RadianGames," he said.
But in June 2013, the puzzle game "Crush" did "decently well," and Schneider decided to press on.
That year, he started issuing all his games for Android devices through Google Play, and sales of those went better than expected.
Then he got a deal with Cartoon Network and began working on "The Powerpuff Girls" game in August. That game came out for PC and Mac in March of this year and for iPhone and Android devices in June.
Cartoon Network's Harwell said his company couldn't be happier with how the game turned out. He said it "has received nothing but positive feedback from both fans and press."
Greg Donovan, who works at Volition and knew Schneider from there, said Schneider does much more than game design.
"He's also programming his games, composing audio, creating some art and even marketing them," Donovan said. "The guy wears a number of hats well. Radian Games is, for the most part, a one-man shop from initial concept to market, and it's all Luke."
He said Schneider has shown he is willing to change his business plans and games based on player and market feedback — even if those changes aren't what he personally wants to do.
"I think that trait has helped him maintain RadianGames for as long as he has," Donovan said.
Since spring, RadianGames has been issuing games monthly for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 8.
The games are available for $1.99 at the iPhone App Store, Google Play, Amazon Appstore and Windows Phone Apps+Games Store.
Schneider said 2014 is on track to be RadianGames' best year in terms of revenue. He said 2012 was also a good year, but sales didn't go as well in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
Of all his games, "Inferno+," an enhanced version of Inferno, has made the most revenue over its lifetime. Schneider said he has received more requests for sequels to "Inferno" than any other game.
In September, he intends to issue "Inferno 2," an all-new game, for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 8.
Beyond that, he plans to work on a larger project involving virtual reality.
Donovan said it's not uncommon for game developers to try to go independent, as Schneider has, only to have things not work out.
"Luke's been able to make things work through focus and dedication and hard work," he said.
Here's a summary of games that RadianGames has designed, with snippets of descriptions from app stores where they're offered.
Super Crossfighter — "Old-school arcade shooting meets dazzling graphics and energetic music. Blast alien invaders ... acquire special power-ups as you obliterate wave after wave of enemies."
Inferno — "Blast your way through 40 atmospheric levels ... Explore the gauntlet of stylish environments, destroy hordes of enemies and upgrade your ship along the way."
JoyJoy — Twin-stick shooter game that allows you to "blast your way through 24 unique waves and six intense challenges" and "upgrade six varied weapons, along with your ships' speed, armor and special attack."
Ballistic — Another twin-stick shooter game in which you blast your way through waves and dive into intense challenges.
Fireball — Dodge swarms of enemies, and lead them to their destruction across three modes and two difficulty levels.
Fluid — "Time-trial racer mixed with arcade gameplay of Pac-Man. Speed through mazes to collect the dots, find the optimal path and avoid the swarms of spectres."
Bombcats — "Explosive action-puzzle game" requires players to "help Fuzzball and friends rescue the bombkittens across five modes and 900 levels."
The Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville (for Cartoon Network) — "Use your arsenal of superpowers to stop Mojo Jojo's latest scheme in this Powerpuff Girls adventure shooter. Play as Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup as you explore the far reaches of Townsville battling Mojo's evil robots in a quest."
Crush — "Keep blocks from filling screen by matching colors with a single touch. But the blocks keep coming, and each touch boosts the stack even higher."
SideSwype — "Minimal block puzzle game with combination of four-way block sliding and match-three game play."
Slydris — "Slide and drop blocks to create full lines of blocks ... create a row of a single color for a color burster. Play in Infinite Mode, Zen Mode or Survival Mode."