Cosmoteer Starship Architect & Commander is a starship building simulator that allows players to build ridiculously elaborate starships and fly them across galaxies to explore the stars. Or battle enemies and fight other players of course. It took Walt Destler 7 years to develop the game and after all that time he’s happy with the result: “Yup, it’s pretty much what I had in mind!”
Destler decided to go solo after he quit his job at mobile games studio Rumble. He says he felt he had very little agency over the success or failure of the games he made there. “I wanted to be the one making the decisions. If it was my game that was going to fail, I wanted it to be my fault.” And so he took the side project he was working on and turned it into a fully solo developed game.
Why did you become a solo developer?
“I had been working on Cosmoteer as a side project for a few years while I was working a ‘real’ game developer job as a programmer at a mobile games studio. But I had become unhappy for various reasons and decided to quit. I figured I would just work on Cosmoteer until a better opportunity came along. None did, but then one day some YouTubers started playing the free ‘classic’ version and the game went viral on YouTube. At that point it became clear to me that there was an audience for the game, and so I decided to stop looking for other opportunities and finish Cosmoteer.”
What are the biggest advantages of working solo?
“Being in charge of my own destiny. One of the things I was unhappy about at my ‘real’ job was that I felt like I had very little agency over the success or failure of our game. I didn’t really disagree with the decisions that the company was making, but I wanted to be the one making the decisions. If my game was going to fail, I wanted it to be my fault.”
And the biggest pitfalls?
“Self motivation is probably the hardest. I’m generally very motivated when working with other people, but as a solo dev I’ve had to find other ways to motivate myself. The community that has grown around Cosmoteer has been a huge help there.”
What’s your creative process?
“Honestly I don’t really have a ‘process’. Cosmoteer mostly just designs itself. I’ll have an idea for a new weapon or game mechanic, and I’ll just sit down and code it up, play with it, and iterate on it until I’m happy with it. Then I’ll usually share it with the community to get more feedback.”
How do you stay motivated through (years of) development?
“Haha, see above I guess. But to elaborate, the community’s continued enthusiasm for Cosmoteer has been the thing that kept me going.”
Will you ever work in a team or is it only solo for you?
“I don’t know, maybe! I’m not solo-or-bust by any means. I have some friends I’d love to team up with some day, and there are some indie studios that I’d be honored to work with.”
Cosmoteer has been in development for 7 years. How much has the project changed over time?
“One of the most surprising things about Cosmoteer is how little the grand vision has changed. If I could go back in time and show myself the game, I think my past self would say, “Yup, that’s pretty much what I had in mind!” If there’s one thing that has surprised me, it’s how deep the PvP is. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Now the game is finished, what are you most proud of?
1) The community that grew around the game. Some of the players have been around for years. I’ve even hired some of them to work on the game!
2) The fact that ship design is actually an interesting strategic challenge. That was the whole goal of the game, so I’m really happy that worked out.”
The toll on your mental health can be quite high as a solo developer. How do you deal with that?
“I’m not sure I have a good answer to that. I guess just by not working too hard? Even leading up to launch, I was getting plenty of sleep and exercise. Other than the final week or two before launch, I would not really say that I crunched at all.”