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So I’ve been playing a pretty cool new game recently. Soulash is an awesome fantasy roguelike in a vast open world, which has quite a lot of things to delve into. Recently I got the opportunity to interview the developer of this game, Artur. Here are his responses! You can pick up Soulash here:
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you do?
My name is Artur Śmiarowski, and until recently I was a Systems Architect and Tech Lead at SeaChange International, now working as an indie game developer after the successful release of my game, Soulash.
What does being a game designer actually mean?
My guess is, it means you get to imagine gameplay mechanics, story, or even the whole worlds and take them from your mind into something real that you can share with others. I never considered myself a game designer, it seems like a small part of a large team with very specific specializations, so my understanding is probably inaccurate.
There has been a great deal of controversy in recent years about microtransactions in gaming. Not so much an opinion, but why do games tend to cut out content to sell later as DLC and loot boxes? Is it to do with development costs? Or is it time-related?
I don’t know how it looks in big gaming companies, but just like in any other business they do it for the money. Some companies will be more greedy than others, but overall they want to stay in business and keep growing. Some companies need that money to make more ambitious games, and some just consider this a business opportunity. In the end, if people are willing to pay, the companies are willing to provide.
Having said that, I wouldn’t assume that content is always cut to release later for additional pay. It’s very difficult to hit a release date with as complex games as we have today, and employing more developers is not a viable answer because it takes a long time to get someone to a productive state in a big, already established project. Sometimes content is cut because it cannot be finished on time, and spending more time would be too costly.
Tell us about your current project.
Right now I’m working on Soulash, it’s a traditional fantasy roguelike where you take the role of a forgotten god set on destroying the world. It was released last month on Steam.
As anyone who creates anything, we must all deal with criticism from consumers. How do you go about it particularly in the prolific and viral standard of gaming today?
The release week was pretty wild because suddenly thousands of people came at the same time, with vastly different expectations, suggestions, and demands. It can be daunting to take criticism, feedback or suggestions in such high frequency, but it’s very much worth it. I think it’s important to read as much as possible, have discussions, and share opinions, but give yourself time to think about the whole game and take your time before making big changes. At the same time, after that initial boom, people left me requests that would take me a year or two to implement, but a week later many of them already moved on to the next game. Always have to consider the cost of changes, because perfection is extremely costly, and players are not willing to pay extra for it.
On the other hand, Soulash was released in alpha for over 3 years, it was an enormous help to get feedback from a smaller group of players. It helped me understand what would people like to see more, help in shaping the direction of changes, and help build a community. I think some form of early access in such a limited capacity is vital during the creation process and plan the direction of development, and unfortunately, after the full release, a lot of the requests can’t be implemented anymore.
What advice would you give budding developers into taking the plunge into game design?
If you don’t have a burning passion for it, don’t do it. The pay is subpar to webdev, there are a lot of sacrifices you’ll have to make and learn things that are meant for a team of experts. If you are ambitious, creative, and you can’t get rid of that passion of yours, try to enjoy what you do as much as you can, because at the end of the road, there’s just another road. There will be multiple failures on the path to success, so have a tenacity of a cockroach and keep going if you really want it. If you want to take the indie dev path, you want to be an artist, so get a job and work on your game after work. It’s much easier when you have your finances covered, and if your job is coding-related you’ll progress in both your career and your dream until you can choose one.
If you still have time to play video games, what are some of your favorite ones to play?
I try to find some time, but I can’t play longer games anymore, unless I dedicate a couple of days or weeks to just go deep into another world, otherwise, I hesitate to get back into them after a break. I took 2 weeks of vacation time for both Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 when they were released, and I had a great time in both of them. I usually jump into Rocket League, or League of Legends ARAM match when I need to clear my mind and relax for a moment before I get back to the grind. I also have kids, so my playtime is extra limited.
What inspires you to do what you do?
I loved computer games since I was very young and now that I know how to make them, I can’t get rid of a desire to create worlds that noone else is interested in making. That interest in worldbuilding comes from my love for pen & paper RPG games as well. Even a successful webdev career couldn’t quench that desire of mine. There is something profound in the thought that there are things in my head that only I can create and share with everyone, or leave behind for my children, and if I won’t create these things, they will die with me one day.
Other than that, people who already accomplished something similar before me are a great inspiration. Tarn Adams with his Dwarf Fortress, Jeff Vogel with his approach to game development, and many others.
What is the hardest part of your job?
There are so many difficult things it would be hard to just pick one. Coding-wise I think AI is one of the more difficult parts, but then there are other common challenges of indie development like marketing, finding a path to sustainability, planning the work, finishing a game, restricting your vision because of the cost…
What was your favorite thing about game development? Is there anything you find difficult or challenging in dealing with the struggles?
I love coding the most. Overall, everything is a struggle, but I guess that’s when you know that it’s worth pursuing.
What lessons have you learned from your first game?
One of the important lessons was – it’s not all about the game. Marketing is crucial, and marketing means you want to reach people who will be interested in your game. When you have the players, listening to feedback and player desires is crucial, because you’re not building a game for yourself, if you want to do it commercially.
But the most important of all, know when to move on to your next project. I failed with my first game because I believed I could just make more stuff, add more features, and make the game better, and the people would come, they would pay the monthly subscription, and I could keep doing what I was doing. It wasn’t the case. It’s even less the case with a game that you buy once and keeps getting updated. If there’s no money, there’s no more game development, so it’s critical to not be afraid to earn as much as possible.
What are your future project(s)?
There are a few things I plan to do in Soulash still, but I’m already thinking about a sequel. It will be built around the failed Kickstarter stretch goals that we planned last year – procedural world, factions, new progression system among other things, but it’s too early to say more.
If you couldn’t be a game developer, what ideal job would you like to do?
I would do web development, I enjoy it quite a lot as well. But I would probably enjoy making any ambitious coding projects.
What is your ideal video game if money and time were no object?
My ideal game would be a roleplaying game with roguelike and strategy elements, where the core element would be a deep procedural world with hundreds of thousands of simulated characters with their own goals, ambitions and routines. Then it’s a matter of having systems in place that would allow living in a fantasy world and choosing my own path with no restrictions. Kill everyone, conquer everything, break the world into pieces, or become a goat farmer, explore ancient ruins in search of long lost artifacts, build a tavern on the road, become the most famous burglar, build a trading empire, ideally the character choices would be as vast as in pen and paper RPGs, while having enough procedural stories, quests and events to keep the game entertaining on each of these paths.