From iPhone to Xbox
Published 5 years ago
An Indie Shop Grows Up
Once there were a handful of web developers who found the economy had shot itself in the head.
“People aren’t buying websites the way they were a year ago! Now there are tumbleweeds in the servers - what are we going to do?” said the lead developer.
“There’s this new iThingy out there…maybe we could make a video game,” said the sales guy.
“That’s a great idea! I mean, we’re programmers and artists already. How hard can it be?” so said they all.
And Soma Games was born as such in woeful ignorance of what they had endeavored to accomplish.

Eating the Elephant

With time on our hands we conceived of a game that “seemed” modest in scope and one that played to our perceived strengths. We had a deep back story because one guy fancied himself a writer. We had complicated physics simulation because one guy fancied himself a scientist. Add to that a starving musician who offered a complete soundtrack and an out of work actor who could do voice over and we set out with alacrity!
When we started our first game, G: Into The Rain, the truth was that we had no idea what we were doing and the “how hard could it be” attitude came crashing into the complex reality of video game development like a raw egg meeting the cast iron skillet. Without any point of reference we first thought we’d make an Xbox 360 Arcade game…but that was ruled out almost immediately. Four months later, when we finally launched on iPhone it was bittersweet. On the one hand were were happy with what we’d done. After all - we were now officially game developers (huzzah!) but many, many compromises had to be made along the way and there was a certain melancholy too at all the things that we didn't have time or budget for, or just were beyond our technical ability.

“A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” - Paul Valery

While G was a modest effort compared to a console game, it was actually quite ambitious for the burgeoning mobile space and the comments we got were effusive in their praise for our attention to art, sound and polish. A few awards later and we were suddenly awash with paying work. “You made that game - can you ma one for me?” and so the next several years had us in the enviable position of making more video games, honing the craft, on somebody else’s dime - it was perfect! 
But with all that side work in full view none of us ever stopped thinking about our baby. Feature and content cuts notwithstanding, we kept pushing forward in the times between projects and before long we’d actually come a long way in building a sequel. 
But F: The Storm Riders, primarily for budget reasons, just sort of languished - for years - and even though the first ~80%* was probably complete within the following year we just never found the time to tie it off. When the work load finally stabilized and we started thinking seriously about finishing it a full four years had passed. That’s a long time to launch a sequel and expect folks to remember what they were playing and what the story was. Too long.
With that in mind we decided, instead, to take a whole new run at the game as a way to reboot the story and put our learning to use. That’s how G Prime came into being.
Starting with all the story and art and music we got right in the mobile version G Prime expands on that effort by a factor of 10 just in terms of content. We had the luxury to expand the script, record scores of new lines, remaster the music, add two new voiced characters and dive even deeper into the visual language of the ARC Universe that brings Jules Vern into outer space that still looks and feels like a submarine journey.
So now - with our baby all grown up and set to launch on Xbox One via the ID@Xbox program we can’t help but feel like we’ve come full-circle. But now we’re a little older, a lot leaner, and we’ve got a dozen new tricks under our belt.

But Where Are We?

The other day I was talking to the leader of a band I’d just heard. She was living in Nashville, had a record contract, and was out touring around with her friends and their (gorgeous!) guitars - I was there to get an autograph no less. But I was the last person in line so we had a moment to chat and it came up that I made video games when her jaw dropped in shock. “You make video games? For a living? You are SO Living The Dream!”
The life of the Indie game developer can sound so glamorous and fun to the uninitiated. We have a steady stream of high-school students who want to job shadow at our shop, all stary-eyed and fawning. But those of us with a keyboard in hand know it’s a lot harder than it looks - and not hard in the technically-challenging sense nearly so much as in the money-only-for-noodles sense.
Without question, we are thrilled at all the things we’ve been able to do these last years and to see G Prime head out to the market. It feels like the game we all longed to make back in 2009 and it’s been an absolute blast to resurrect all of the unpublished content from the backstory to the character development not to mention all the technological tricks we’ve learned since then. Even more exciting, and something that blows my mind when I think of the synchronicity of it, we made G for iPhone as a deep compromise from our “big idea” of making games for the Xbox 360. Now it’s like we’re not just rebooting a game, but more like we’re rebooting the whole company in a sense! We’ve come a full spiral around the mountain and we’ve climbed a fair piece in the process. Yeah, we’ve been accepted to Xbox One, but also aiming for Steam, GOG and the Humble Store which all feel within realistic reach. 
So it’s not that Soma Games is in any way calling the last 7 years a mulligan, but rather that we’ve grown and we’re returning to first principles and goals with hard won wisdom. If somebody had told us in 2008 that we’d need to spend seven years just getting ready to get ready I doubt we would have ever put our hands to the plow. But here we are today, coming home to our targeted console (more or less) with the game we really wanted to make and so much exciting stuff in front of us.
A much overlooked but critical aspect to the Monomyth is that the Hero MUST return home. He brings with him something new that he gained on his quest, and he brings that sword/strength/wisdom to serve the community that gave him birth. If there is a moral to the story at this point it’s probably about perseverance and commitment in the long-run. It’s something like a cat poster..but in space.
* Not to be confused wih the second 80%…
Chris Skaggs