Happy Holidays everyone! I’m winding down things on here to close out 2022. Been a long year, but I have one or two more interviews to share. Today’s interview is with Arek, developer of a cool indie RTS called Winter Falling. Hope you all enjoy!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you do?
Hello, I’m Arek. My cat and I live in a small city in eastern Poland, on the border with Ukraine.
I’ve been creating games on my own for 14 years now. Usually small personal games or freelance projects for clients. Doing it solo means I’m a programmer, artist, audio engineer and designer all at once! There’s a lot to learn and technology changes so quickly it’s a bit difficult to keep up. Opportunities change as well. My journey took me from flash games to mobile games to big games on Steam. I even met a couple friends along the way and we sometimes collaborate!
What does being a game designer actually mean?
It means being responsible for the vision behind the game. It’s not enough to code the game. Or to draw the necessary art. Someone must know how everything will fit together. Preferably in an interesting way. And that’s a game designer!
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?
Cheap content is the best content. From the developers’ point of view it makes sense to prepare some quick content ahead of time. Sometimes that content is cut out, sometimes that content is created by people that have nothing else to do when the game launches. It’s all about getting additional 10-20% revenue.
Tell us about your current project.
I’m working on Winter Falling. I’ve been working on this for 42 months now. Huge personal project. Basically a remake of an old strategy game from my childhood – Shadow of the Horned Rat. But with modern mechanics. It means that even a simple battle tactics game needs roguelike elements! At least it’s a chance to play around with new ideas. That’s the best part of game development. What interesting ideas can I add to this game about managing a mercenary company?
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?
In the beginning, it’s really difficult to understand what people say. Positive comments are exciting and negative comments are crushing. Id’ say it’s an important skill to analyze feedback. Most of it is pretty bad and pointless, but sometimes there are hints on how to make a better game. After some years negative criticism doesn’t sting that much anymore. Sadly positive comments also lose their power. I’d say every creator needs to disconnect themselves from their output. My value as a person isn’t connected to the game I made. My life is a lot bigger than just that game. With that realization, life as an artist becomes a lot easier.
What advice would you give new developers taking the plunge into game design?
Don’t stress over perfection. There are so many resources out there and so much advice… It’s overwhelming for veterans and we just learnt to ignore it. Create what you want to create, don’t get bogged down by others. Because everyone will find something in your first game that “could be done better”. This kills projects. Introduces fear, doubt and pretty soon you’re in a loop of pointless changes. Destroying systems that were already fun, just to fix something unimportant.
If you still have time to play video games, what are some of your favorite ones to play?
I don’t really play games anymore. That comes with the job, sadly. Very rare that I pick up a game. Only when I’m ill or on holiday. Recently, I played Lacuna, it was very nice! Shadowrun games are fantastic, love coming back to that world. Even though their dystopia is very quickly becoming our reality.
What inspires you to do what you do?
Money. Oh and making people laugh. I like to please people and when they have fun, I feel good. Personally, I enjoy designing games and playing them in my head. Usually, my design ideas come from my childhood. I remember how those games felt. I know how to make them better. So I spin those ideas in my head, and understand how they play. Those imaginary games are the best games I’ve ever played! Obviously, I’ll try to make those games a reality, so others can enjoy them and maybe I’ll earn something.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Managing social media and contact with other people. I like making games, I don’t like marketing them. The industry is dominated with psychopaths that will pretend to be your best friend just to get a positive word. I really hate that.
Oh there’s also that horrible feeling… that I won’t be able to create all the ideas I want. Because we’ve got a limited amount of time on Earth and we’ve got to choose how we spend it. The more time I spend on horrible parts like marketing – the worse I feel about my job.
What was your favorite thing about game development? Is there anything you find difficult or challenging in dealing with the struggles?
The beginning is always the best part. Designing a new interesting game system is really fun! In the beginning everything seems simple, endless possibilities are tempting. Feature creep at that stage is really difficult to control. I really like this part because it’s the moment when you can thumb your nose and say: Yeah I’ll add that interesting element, why not? And I’ll make it work, even though no one has done it yet.
What lessons have you learned from your first game?
Most important – it takes a lot of motivation to finish anything. Good thing is that it’s all it takes. Fear and doubt is what kills projects. Not lack of skill, those can be learnt. And it doesn’t have to be perfect, nothing is.
I still remember I was really motivated and excited to make my first game and then I spent a long time in a dark place with fear and doubt. Took me a long time to understand this lesson.
What are your future project(s)?
No projects planned yet. It’s a balancing act between commercial viability and personal fulfillment.
There’s always that one personal game. It’s been haunting me for 10 years now. It’s a game with a nice message, based on a lifetime of my own experiences. Thinking about its story always gets my tears going. Feels so powerful to me. Don’t know if I’ll ever get around to it.
If you couldn’t be a game developer, what ideal job would you like to do?
Probably artist or any other job where I can freelance. I hate commitment to any kind. Can’t imagine working a stationary job for years. I must feel I’ve got control over my time. Otherwise I feel like my life is just passing me by.
Finally, what is your ideal video game if money and time was no object?
Story-heavy detective game. I’d love to create an engaging/immersive story like the best detective stories. Sadly, time is the real problem. The way I see it, it would be a cheap game to make. But time is another story entirely!
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