My Journey with the Steam Deck!
Previous Who Can Join the League of Legends Champions Queue?
I’m back! It’s been a busy time for me recently. First of all, my Steam Deck arrived!
I will be working on some articles for this at some point, but I wanted to show off a gamedev interview today. This one is with Sergio, solo dev of the awesome mech roguelike known as Mech Armada. It was rather unlucky not to make my Top 10 favourite games in 2021, and the game recently left Early Access. you can pick the game up here:
I was able to grab Sergio’s attention for a little interview, and here are his answers! I highly recommend the game if you are interested in a turn-based roguelike with plenty of customization and options.
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you do?
My name is Sergio and I’m a solo indie game developer and owner of Lioncode Games. I started making games as a kid and entered the industry in 2001 as a programmer. Over the years I’ve had a chance to contribute to multiple games in a variety of genres and platforms.
What does being a game designer actually mean?
Game development is a craft. You’re creating an experience for your players, of a certain kind. At a very high level, a good frame for it is to start from what kind of feelings/emotions you want to evoke on the player, then work which systems can produce them.
This is all very theoretical of course, so you then have to put meat on the bones and iterate on your design with real players until it’s working the way you intended, which takes time.
There has been a great deal of controversy in recent years about micro transactions in gaming. Not so much an opinion, but why do games tend to cut out content to sell later as DLC and lootboxes? Is it to do with development costs? Or is it time related?
I actually worked on F2P games for a few years. Based on that experience, it’s not really development costs or lack of time. Any business will always try to maximize revenue, as even if they’re already doing well they could be growing faster. So, they will use any and all the tools at their disposal for that, including microtransactions.
These days I do think that controversy is behind us, and players either have accepted them as part of normal life or avoid them like the plague (largely on mobile).
Seeing it from the inside, there are considerations about being “fair” to the players, but only insofar as engagement is maintained: if you squeeze too hard, people will leave and the game won’t do as well.
Personally I decided this is an aspect of modern game design I have no interest in, as it complicates the simple principle of making the game as fun as it can be, by having to consider how to maximize ongoing revenue, and both goals are often in conflict.
Tell us about your current project.
I’ve been working on Mech Armada for around three years and it just released on Steam, after 10 months in Early Access. It’s a turn-based rogue-lite where you create and command custom Mech teams in small tactical battles to defeat the Swarm, monsters that have taken over the Earth.
Mech Armada is designed to appeal to players who like strategy and customization, while providing realistic and fluid 3D graphics (and explosions).
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?
Let’s be honest, criticism is never easy, even when it’s constructive. I do love feedback, though and I freely admit that Mech Armada wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is today without all the feedback I received during Early Access. I implemented many changes, big and small, to the economy and all the other systems and they elevated the game significantly.
I’ve also been fortunate that for the most part I’ve been spared some of the most toxic behaviors that other creators experience regularly, so my experience interacting with the community has been very positive.
What advice would you give budding developers into taking the plunge into game design?
I’m going to appear a bit jaded here. The truth is, this is an unforgiving business, so lower your expectations. Maybe even a bit more. It takes lots of work just to have a chance, and the competition is fierce.
In my case, having the experience of working at AAA studios for years helped me immensely understanding game production so I could plan and execute more effectively than if this had been my first game. At the same time, that’s a luxury that other people may not have access to, so just start making games and most importantly, finish *something* and ship it. I remember hearing this advice years ago and it’s true: “He/she who ships, wins”.
If you still have time to play video games, what are some of your favorite ones to play?
These days I mostly play similar games to whatever I’m working on, for reference, or play with my son. For the former, I really enjoyed a turn-based tactical RPG called Druidstone, which has beautiful graphics and a very varied campaign. For the latter, well, we’ve been playing Minecraft, you may have heard of it…
What inspires you to do what you do?
For me, game development is a mixture of solving interesting problems while trying to provide a rewarding experience for players.
Selfishly, I enjoy game development as I enjoy programming and creating art (within my capabilities), so I would probably do it even if nobody played my games. Luckily, I can also ship the game and let people enjoy it, which is also very rewarding.
What is the hardest part of your job?
As a solo developer now, the hardest part is to remain focused while riding the roller coaster of game development, with constant changes and challenges, and without anyone to pick up the slack. In a big studio, you can focus on your area and, if you have a bad day, the rest of the team is still making the game better. When it’s just me, if I’m not feeling it, or if I’m busy responding to emails or working on a trailer, the game just stops.
Besides the purely production concerns, maintaining my mental health is also much more difficult when I’m the team. Adversities tend to get amplified as you internalize that you’re the only one responsible for the game – no one else is to blame, but you.
What was your favorite thing about game development? Is there anything you find difficult or challenging in dealing with the struggles?
As my training is as a programmer, I tend to really enjoy programming problems, especially in AI. I could spend hours working on some intricate piece of code without realizing it.
On the other end, creating assets for marketing (screenshots, trailers) is very difficult for me, not so much from a technical point of view, but more wondering if people will find what I’m doing exciting or not. And let’s not even talk about posting on social media as an introvert.
What lessons have you learned from your first game?
Don’t start a studio just before a global pandemic.
In all seriousness, technically Mech Armada is not my first game, even though it’s my first solo project. And I expected it to be hard, but I guess I didn’t expect it to be *this* hard. Working solo felt very isolating, so I would look to work with other devs in future projects, partly to have somebody along for the ride, partly to complement my skills and pick up the slack in areas where I’m not strong.
What are your future project(s)?
I will start thinking about this as well as Mech Armada’s roadmap once the dust settles from the launch.
If you couldn’t be an game developer, what ideal job would you like to do?
Funny you ask, because I didn’t start as a game developer. Before switching I was programming at a big IT company for over 4 years and some of my friends are still doing that, so I guess that would I’d be doing too. Not sure I’d call it “ideal” though…
What is your ideal video game if money and time was no object?
Because I started as an AI programmer, I’ve always wondered if AI could play a more central role in game design, so I’d love to try some experimental ideas in that area (that probably wouldn’t be commercially viable).
Outside of that, I really enjoyed playing Zelda Breath of the Wild, so I’m sure cloning and extending that game would be fun!