We got the chance to sit down and speak to indie developer Kevin Giguere from Dragon Slumber. It’s here we discussed indie game development, wider trends in the games industry and much more.
Kevin Giguere is a programmer with over 15 years of programming experience, and the founder of Dragon Slumber, an indie game development company set in Quebec, Canada. As an indie developer, he has created a retro JRPG called Arelite Core and a 3D runner racing game called Astral Traveler.
What inspired you to get into game development?
I was always into video game creation, even as a young kid. My older cousins have multiple anecdotes of me drawing level maps and asking them to illustrate some aspects of them. As a teenager, I learned Basic and started making a few (terrible) games, as well as creating my own maps for Warcraft and Doom. I eventually went to college to get a programming degree, although anything gaming related I had to learn on my own.
What games have you created and which is your favourite?
I have worked on over a dozen commercial games over the course of my career. During the mid-2000s, I worked as a programmer for a flash game development company. We made weekly promotional games for brands like Spongebob Squarepants and Avatar, so very small in scope, usually only a few weeks of programming.
As an indie developer, I am publishing my second title Astral Traveler on September 13th, 2017, but my first game Arelite Core will always have a special place in my heart. I worked on that one for over four years and invested about 50k of my own money into it. It was a long, painful project, but it also taught me so much about the industry and bringing a project like this to its full completion.
What advice would you offer for those just starting out?
First of all, if you want to make a profit on your game, do your research. There are thousands upon thousands of games being released each year, so if your game doesn’t hit home, you’re likely to get lost in the shuffle. Everyone feels their idea is special, but really the right game at the right time, as well as a flawless execution, are the first steps that can lead the way to success.
Networking with other industry professionals is a key component as well. I think Arelite Core would have struggled a lot less in the market if I knew the people I do now who have helped me out on every aspect of development and promotion. It’s important to remember that everyone has a project they care about, so don’t just ask for help but actually, get invested in the community.
Finally, don’t wait until the last minute to put your game out there, start talking about it as early as possible. Communication is key and you need to talk with your audience, not at them. That means listening to what they’re saying and reacting accordingly.
What do you think is going to be a key trend in the games industry this year?
I think financial viability is becoming an issue for a lot of developers, both in the indie market as well as for AAA publishers. Gamer expectations are through the roof due to so much competition, so it costs more to produce games. However, game prices themselves aren’t going up that much, with bundles becoming the prevailing method to get new games for a lot of players. This is leading to more alternate ways of making money, from crazy premium bundles, to loot boxes, exclusive pre-order DLC, and so on.
On the indie side, I think outreach is being done a bit differently as well. For instance, I stream the development of my games on Twitch and I have a Patreon which greatly helps me out as well. I think for a lot of full-time developers, diversifying their approach is becoming necessary to be able to sustain themselves. For every success story, there are thousands of forgotten titles.
“I think financial viability is becoming an issue for a lot of developers, both in the indie market as well as for AAA publishers”.
What’s your favourite platform to sell games on?
Since I’ve only released PC games thus far, I’ll have to answer Steam. The ability to control your game and to update it at any moment makes a world of difference, I can put out a patch for a found bug within minutes, which I believe would be more difficult on other platforms.
Conversely, I think mobile is the most dangerous platform because it’s so easy to get lost in the shuffle. I’ve seen people work on games for years, release for free and only see a few hundred downloads. I think there is money to be made, but unless you’re Flappy Bird levels of lucky, you absolutely need the right market strategy and that takes a lot of investment.
What are your favourite tools for game development?
I’m really enjoying Unity, I find it really easy to use as an engine and it lets me accomplish a lot in not too much time. It’s not without its inconveniences, such as code optimization issues and requiring a very specific structure, without which games end up lagging really fast, but overall I would recommend it to most developers out there with a good grasp on programming, whether your project is 2D or 3D. And it’s free, can’t beat that price.
However, the tool I am known to use the most is Open Office Calc (or Excel), which really came in handy on Arelite Core to create enemy stats, inventory items, story segments and so on. On Astral Traveler, I actually use it to create levels themselves, setting the elements up in the spreadsheet and then converting them to a json file which can be read by the engine. Sometimes tools really can do a lot more than expected with a few tweaks.
How do you stay motivated to achieve your goals?
When I officially became an indie developer in 2013, I decided to throw myself into them entirely, including whatever sacrifices would be needed. That includes 80 hour work weeks, reduced contact with friends and family, and investing tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket in the case of Arelite Core. Then, in January of this year, I quit my job to dedicate myself full time to my passion.
Because I invest so much into the creation of these games, I can’t really afford to not work on them and I think that really helps drive me forward, including in those stressful moments where nothing is working as planned. If I don’t release and sell games, I can’t afford a home and food, simple as that. I also think having realistic expectations can help motivate me, knowing what I can expect in terms of sales and reception, and learning to create better games moving forward.
Being an indie game developer is about making sacrifices, and I think a lot of people are not ready for that. But if you know what you’re getting into, I think it makes the process a bit more tolerable.
Which events do you recommend indie developers showcase their game at?
Depending on the scope of the game, events can be cost prohibitive. I went to PAX East 2016 to showcase Arelite Core, which ended up costing around four thousand dollars over all. I can honestly say that it didn’t drive enough sales to warrant the expense, at least not directly.
However, I did get to meet with numerous game industry people through the indie megabooth initiative, and I signed a distribution deal for my game as well. For me, that event was an opportunity to network and plan long term beyond the launch of Arelite Core.
I think the important thing is to understand what your goal is when attending an event. You can use them to test your game and get feedback or meet people, you can even make a few direct sales.
What do you think about VR?
I recently got an Oculus Rift and for the little time I’ve had to play it, I absolutely love it. I think the ability to use your hands in a 3D space provides a lot of opportunities, but like any other control scheme, the games need to be built around that. Robo Recall does a fantastic job at that, it’s a first-person shooter where you hold your guns and can throw them around, as well as grab robot enemies in front of you to tear them up. It makes the player feel like an action hero in a way that holding a controller couldn’t accomplish.
I’m glad that the costs are going down, and am really hopeful that within a few years, VR will be in more households, in a more customer friendly way. I don’t think it’ll replace the platforms already out, but I’m definitely looking forward to more high-quality VR titles.
Games console of choice?
The SNES by far my favourite console and it has definitely influenced me a great deal as many will have gathered from the look of Arelite Core. Games from that generation are so well focused, building upon the NES era into longer and more in-depth experiences without being any less approachable.
I also love that the time between powering up your console up to playing the game is almost instantaneous, as opposed to consoles nowadays which take forever both from the console booting and the games preloading so much information.
Thanks for your time Kevin. It’s been a pleasure.
Our review of Astral Traveler will be up on the site shortly.