Creating games in a one-person company is not easy, but possible.
Tobi's Adventure Story
My name is Sergio Martino. I am from Argentina and I created Kekus Game Studio, a small company hoping to make a mark on the world of video games. Actually, I developed two games because making games is a hobby for me, and because every game requires being presented by a company, then I had to create Kekus Game Studio. I suppose there are many people in the world in the same situation so I think this story may be useful for them. In several parts of the story, I included some tips, which I called "game developer's laws." I hope they'll be useful.
Tobi’s Adventure has been released this month for Android devices. It is my first game made with Unity and my second game for Android. I expect to release it next month for iOs devices but in the meanwhile, I will tell you how I made it.
Basically, it is one of those games where you must guide a nice character through a myriad of obstacles, to achieve a goal, usually heroic. In this case, his mischievous puppy is lost and barks at the tip of a map asking for help. This obviously worries Tobi a lot so he decides to go look for it.
Why do I want to tell this story?
When I get it (and believe me that it is not easy in Argentina) I buy the Spanish version of a magazine called RETRO GAMER, which remembers, with articles and very colorful photos, games that were raging in the 80's and 90's mainly.
As you imagine, I grew up with the games of that time so when I read these magazines I feel a great emotion to relive those beautiful moments.
Almost all the numbers in these magazines include one or two interviews with retired programming legends or successful companies in the 80's that today ceased to exist, were acquired by others or continue to publish games successfully such as Konami or Nintendo among others.
I love reading these interviews because, in general, they tell the difficulties that these programmers had to go through to get their works published. Reading the anecdotes of great players in game programming often motivated me to go ahead when I found obstacles in the difficult road to the final goal.
A few days ago, I published Tobi's Adventure and, because it is unlikely that in 30 years someone wants to interview me to tell how I did it, I decided to get down to work and tell some interesting facts about the development of this game right now. After all, if in 30 years a magazine wants to interview me, it will be easier to remember if I turn to this story.
The first days of Tobi's Adventure
Let's start with the name. My youngest son is called Tobias. Quite obvious, but I do not think Shigeru Miyamoto (the creator of the arch-famous Mario Bros) had children named Mario and Luigi. Neither is Tobi’s Adventure a very good name in terms of marketing, but I owed my son a game by referring to his name. This comes from a few years ago, when I did my first game (as I said, Tobi's Adventure is my second game) and named it Pixie Qualee, referring to the name my oldest daughter gave each protagonist of the stories she invented when she was 5 years old. Having listened so many times Pixie Qualee I said "I have to do something with those words", and thus the name of my first game arose.
Law no. 1 of the game developer: If you have two children and published a game with the name imposed by one of them, there is nothing left to do another game and put it a name that refers to the other.
I had already made a match-3 game, so I decided to go for a bigger challenge and start to think about a 2D platform game. I had the name, now I needed a character. Again, the obvious ending: Let me introduce Tobias and Tobi together.
I went to some drawing classes and used some drawing programs pretty well but for this face my friend Ignacio helped me with a sketch.
With these strokes, and helped by the free InkScape program, I got to the right face.
Law no. 2 of the game developer: The character of the game is very important. It is who will define how everything else should be. History, scenarios, obstacles and enemies depend on the protagonist of the story.
The next step was to define the style of the game. I already had it in mind. One of the first games I had the pleasure to meet as a kid was Konami’s Athletic Land, so I took its perspective and in honor of it, the first obstacle has a lake like the one seen in this.
The same lake and perspective also appeared in the Pitfall from Activision. This perspective is not common on 2D platform games. Another game that had it was the Prince of Persia from Brøderbund. The most common on 2D platforms is not to see the ground as is the case of Nintendo’s Super Mario, Sonic from Sega or Lep's World.
To get to this first screen of the lake many things happened. The first, Unity. Highly recommended to develop games. The first game I did was in Java. To do Tobi's Adventure I wisely decided to learn how to use the Unity framework. Its environment makes life easier and the free version is fully functional.
In its official page, there are infinity of resources to learn how to use it. I highly recommend the videos of learning.
While learning development techniques with Unity, I was designing drafts on paper and was taking note of the progress I made to forget nothing.
Law no. 3 of the game developer: Take note of everything you think and do. There is no need to document exhaustively. With simple notes in a notebook can save a lot of time when reusing techniques.
That brings me to the next law of the game developer.
Law no. 4 of the game developer: If you decide to take notes in a notebook, be very careful with the rain because this may happen to you.
Losing about 30 pages of notes discouraged me a lot, those notes were my treasure. After two weeks of inactivity I remembered that I owed the game to my son and returned to the race. Taking notes in a notebook is practical (at least for me) but if you do, remember to photograph all the papers to backup them.
Despite having taken some drawing classes, they were not enough to create the fantasy world in which Tobi had to move. For a few dollars you can buy non-exclusive licenses to use magnificent drawings created by others in the Unity asset store.
Law no. 5 of the game developer: If you know how to draw, then draw. If you do not know how to draw but you have a friend who can draw, ask him to make the drawings. If nobody can help you with the drawings, then buy them. Never take pictures online if your game is going to be published. Such images may have copyright and use them without the consent of their creator may lead you to legal problems.
I looked for a few funds and animals. Other objects were drawn by me. Although it takes to me a lot of time to draw because I am not an expert, I use that time to clear my head when I'm stuck with a developmental problem or when I run out of ideas.
Something similar happened with the sounds. There is a very interesting site to generate noise (BFXR) and if you do not know much about digital music, it does not cost much money to buy it in a place like Sound Cloud.
The next step is the development of the game. Now I had to put all the pieces together. To do this I used some books and several videos from the official Unity website. Giving details on this could take a long time but I will leave before finalizing this story, a few more laws that I personally discovered.
Law no. 6 of the game developer: Be patient. You cannot finish a game in two days.
Law no. 7 of the game developer: Write lots of sketches before you start something. Getting down to paper what you want to do will help you to figure out how you're going to do it.
Law no. 8 of the game developer: Remember that your game should be fun. Do not forget every moment to show what you are doing to some sincere friend. Ask for opinions and listen to them. Be generous and give the game the needed time to immerse the player into a pleasant and entertaining experience.
Law no. 9 of the game developer: Take the necessary time to give the protagonist an excellent movement. I'm not exaggerating. It should be perfect so allow the attention of player is put into the fun and not in trying to adapt to a bad move.
Law no. 10 of the game developer: Forums are your best allies. Do not ask me how or why, but, amazingly, someone has always gone through the same problem we are facing and, amazingly, someone has the solution and shared it. Everything is on the internet.
Law no. 11 of the game developer: Tests help not to give a bad image. If after so much programming you do not want to see the character of your video game, ask your friends or family to use it and see if they can overcome in a reasonable time each obstacle. If you never get tired of your character, it's a good sign that the game is fun.
Law no. 12 of the game developer: Have fun. Making games is a wonderful art. If you have fun creating your game, that fun will be transmitted to every detail you put into it. This, from my humble point of view, is the most important law.
Special thanks to readers
I hope you have enjoyed my story and my game. If you found it useful, please let me know. Thank you very much for reading this story. See you in the next game!