It took Fabrice Breton, a French solo developer at CowCat Games, 6 years to create Brok the InvestiGator. When he left his day job in 2014 to become a full-time indie developer, he realised he had to come up with something special to stand out from the crowd. He created what he calls the first ‘Punch & Click game’, combining a classic adventure with beat ’em up and RPG elements. “Ever since I left my day job in 2014, I had this croc detective character in mind and figured, why not blend two opposite genres by allowing players to solve situations in several ways. By using their brain or by hitting enemies and stuff?”
While his creative process involves writing down ideas constantly, Breton admits to implementing many things ‘on the fly’, particularly dialogue and interactions. “There’s no easy part when it comes to game development”, he says. “So it’s always a great feeling to finish a project after so much time, but I’m particularly proud of the solid fan community and the overall reception from players, which is reflected by the ‘Overwhelmingly Positive’ rating on Steam.”
Why did you become a solo developer?
“I’ve been making games practically all my life, starting coding in the early ‘90s on an Amstrad CPC 6128 (a popular computer in France like the C64). In 2014 I decided to leave my (unrelated) day job after saving up money for years in order to go ‘full indie’. Even back then I realized two things: it was a risky move, and the market was already overcrowded. So my plan was to remake a silly adventure game ‘Demetrios’ which I made when I was a teenager but never released (this took 2 years to develop). At the same time I would work on a much more ambitious and unique game ‘BROK’. Six long years of development later, I managed to do exactly what I wanted. I created a long, unique and ambitious ‘Punch & Click’ game, mixed with Beat’em up and filled with choices and nostalgia!”
What are the biggest advantages of working solo?
“I am in full control! It might sound the opposite but I feel less stressed working for myself rather than working for a company. If I make mistakes, that’s my own problem! This also means I get to work on my personal dream project, which is practically what BROK is.”
And the biggest pitfalls?
“There’s no easy part when it comes to game development. But if I had to pinpoint particular areas… Program, design and implement controls for all options (mouse + keyboard, keyboard only or controller) for both modes and making it possible to switch seamlessly from one control scheme to another was a lot of headaches and some hard choices. Mouse controls prevented from adding grab moves, for example. You don’t often see Beat ’em ups with mouse controls, but it was required to make this mix work.”
What’s your creative process?
“I write down ideas constantly, most often the best ideas come when I’m about to sleep at night. I collect them all and put them in a basic design document. However I also implement a lot of things ‘on the fly’, in particular dialogue and interactions. For xample hitting Graff’s door and he complains about it.”
How do you stay motivated through (years of) development?
“I’ve put practically all my gameplay ideas into this one project, so I didn’t feel the need to work on anything else!”
Will you ever work in a team or is it only solo for you?
“Actually I’m already kinda working with a team, but through commissions. For BROK I didn’t draw and animate the characters myself, although I still did some inking and coloring work, plus all the backgrounds. I had several artists help, which also includes the soundtrack, voice acting and translations. I admit it’s kinda hard for me to delegate things but I’m hoping to do this more in the future so I’m able to make games faster and better!”
Brok the InvestiGator is a combination of a classic adventure with beat ‘m up and RPG. How did you come up with this unique mix?
“It’s hard to get noticed as an indie dev. You can do either two things – make everything like graphics, gameplay and story better than others or come up with innovations. Make something that has never been done before. As a solo dev it’s hard to compete with increasingly higher budget ‘indie’ teams. Because honestly it should be called something else now – can the 80 people team making Ori 2 and published by Microsoft still be called indie? Considering I use GameMaker Studio, a generic middleware to make my adventure games and not a specialized one like Adventure Game Studio, I’m free to do any kind of genres I want.”
“Ever since I left my day job in 2014, I had this croc detective character in mind and figured, why not blend two opposite genres by allowing players to solve situations in several ways – by using their brain or hitting enemies and stuff? It’s always been frustrating to me when adventure games don’t offer a logical solution. When a door is blocking your way, you could try to lock pick it, but why wouldn’t you be able to smash it open as well? Of course, this action comes with its own consequences!”
Now the game is released, what are you most proud of?
“It’s always a great feeling to finish a project after so much time, but I’m particularly proud of the solid fan community and the overall reception from players, which is reflected by the ‘Overwhelmingly Positive’ rating on Steam.”
The toll on your mental health can be quite high as a solo developer. How do you deal with that?
“Doing okay! To be honest the launch itself was the hardest when it comes to this, a rollercoaster of emotions. I’m actually glad we’re past the release period now! Generally I focus on the most important things. Players love the game and it sold well enough, especially on Steam. I’m not worried about the money aspect itself and that’s something most indies can’t say so, not complaining!”
BROK The InvestiGator is out on all platforms. A demo/trial is available on all of them.