The Moon Fields is a multiplayer brawler inspired by Super Smash Bros. and the Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It's still early in development, the but basics are already taking form. Controlling space and controlling momentum, awareness of both your own opportunities to attack and the risk of counterattack are all key to winning. But unlike most brawlers, The Moon Fields is the creation of just one designer.
Indie multiplayer games face a host of problems, among them finding enough playtesters to iron out balance issues and uncover the parts of the game that are fun. Raphael Azcueta, creator of The Moon Fields, has an inventive solution for this. He takes his game on the road, touring conventions and showing it to members of the fighting game community—the expert players who know the ins and outs and whose suggestions have been invaluable.
Azcueta has learned a lot.
"Did you know that in Tekken where you have movesets that are like 80+ moves long, most everyone but the best players use 15 or less?" he says. "The Moon Fields is designed so that you can be a super technical player with enough items to slot out 15 different attacks, but you can also be a bruiser that uses three different attacks really well. I added a character named Tree Lord specifically so that new players can pick someone who's silly and fun and still has a chance against a really technical player. Tree Lord has three attacks and a shield, and it's awesome. A lot of the more reluctant players will pick Tree Lord and they just click."
We're going on a road trip
Back in 2016 Azcueta was working on a different game when he hit on the idea of testing it out at a convention: Combo Breaker in Chicago. The convention a formative experience. "I actually met Lupe Fiasco [at Combo Breaker]. He did not like the game I was showing." The rapper had trouble with the game's inventory loadout system, and "the people who were already playing just wrecked him. He complained about being bodied and was like, 'It looks cool, though.' Accessibility totally shot up the design priority list after that day!"
Azcueta abandoned that project and returned to a simpler idea of his, which had begun as a 2D adventure inspired by The Legend of Zelda. He retooled it as a voxel-based arena brawler, and started showing it at local conventions. The Moon Fields was born.
"I realized that face-to-face community is really important for multiplayer games," he says. "Showing off multiplayer games is just a ton of fun. It's like Thanksgiving or Christmas where your family and friends are just hanging out and you bust out some multiplayer game.
One of the first places he found success with The Moon Fields was GlitchCon, a Minneapolis "unconference" for game developers associated with the University of Michigan. Glitchcon attendees vote on their choice of games to be displayed at the Minnecade showcase. "I didn't actually make the cut for a showcase at Glitchcon," Azcueta says with a laugh. He wasn't bothered, though. "I actually had a crowd of folks playing The Moon Fields at the Glitchcon playtest. I think I got more publicity that way than some of the folks in the exhibition."
After Glitchcon came his return to Combo Breaker in 2017, and his reconnection with the fighting game community. "It was really cool going to Combo Breaker with The Moon Fields. The Moon Fields is a lot more technical of a game than the game I was doing with my friend the last year, so getting feedback from FGC folks was super, super helpful. I find myself seeing Combo Breaker folks at all the other conventions I go to, actually. They're really helpful to see and get their repeated feedback."
He's been pleasantly surprised at how many people are interested in The Moon Fields. "A lot of people are super into 'their games,' whether that's Street Fighter or Tekken, but the few folks that were interested in a wide variety of games were pretty cool and really got into the game."
As he learned more about Minneapolis's game dev scene, Azcueta found out about "a more traditional con called 2DCon." At 2DCon, he ran into one of the players who'd tried The Moon Fields at Combo Breaker, and it helped him better understand a problem he'd had with balance. "One of the guys figured out how to kite really well in comparison to the slower characters. It was one of those things that I was certain I had designed around, but he had a combination of really good aim and patience."
The feedback from competitive players helped Azcueta better understand his own game. "I knew the game was about understanding space before, but after [Combo Breaker 2017], every single one of my design decisions is about space, direction, or time." Players keep surprising him, though. "I think it's really great when people figure out how to play the game in ways I never really expected. One dude took a really slow hammer and a bunch of traps. He would draw a line with the traps that people would have to go slow around or jump over. Either way their path was super predictable. So what is normally a really difficult attack to pull off was super easy for him."
Ever since then, he's gravitated toward showing his game at fighting game tournaments, or larger conventions that contain them. "I don't want to be exclusive and elitist by focusing just on those, but I think those places really help me tighten the game."
It hasn't been all big conventions. "I got invited to some FGC weeklies at some dude's house here in [Milwaukee]", Azcueta tells me. For moral support he brought a friend who worked with him on his previous, abandoned project. "We brought the game and I was kinda nervous. Paul and I were at the event for like an hour before busting out The Moon Fields, but we eventually pulled it out."
Paul had been working on a character build that involves kiting, then charging up and firing magic orbs. "Whenever Paul shot magic orbs, the dudes just started yelling 'KAMEHAMEHA!'"
Another fond memory Azcueta has is of a cosplaying kid who showed up to try The Moon Fields at Geek.kon in Madison. "The Naruto kid was super into the game. He was there for all three days of that con." His enthusiasm was infectious. "The kid was so into the game. I like multi-day conventions because I can get both long plays and repeated plays, and this kid did both. He really didn't wanna leave!"
Translating that enthusiasm into sales isn't easy. "Connecting players and the final game is hard. At cons they have their friends, [but] when they go home they don't have the impulse to buy it. Most people don't game with their friends in their own homes."
He's looking forward to the future of The Moon Fields though, with plans including a single-player mode similar to Zelda Randomizer. He doesn't yet have any firm idea how to release the final thing. Right now, it's more touring. He applied to PAX East, and the Indie Megabooth at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this year, and plans to apply to Indiecade in Los Angeles. He also hopes to qualify for Media Indie Exchange, a program that helps indies show games at major game industry conventions. "MIX at Evo would be amazing!" he says.