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Wrapping up 2023 • Celebrating the life and works of solo developers

Here at PreMortem.Games we have a great admiration for developers that go through a complete development cycle alone. Because, let’s be honest, creating games is hard. And it takes a special kind of developer that wants to fly solo. This year we featured over 20 brave game creators in our solo developers-series and we like to share some highlights. 

It took solo game developer Graham Reid great effort to finish his game. “I started Super Space Club as a side project and I never really had a solid plan. I paid the price for that when it took way longer to get to the finish line than I had intended. Having a solid, realistic plan is everything.”

Young Dutch indie developer Lente is something of a free spirit. Her upcoming game, Spilled!, is a cozy experience centered around cleaning up oil spills with a boat. “I grew up very close to nature and always quickly noticed when things weren’t the way they were supposed to be”, she says. “Making an eco-conscious game just really made sense to me.”

Feryaz Beer didn’t pick the easiest of genres for his debut game Super Fantasy Kingdom. Actually, the roguelite city builder is a mashup of different genres that Beer somehow managed to glue together. Game development began as a hobby but became serious very fast. “I can focus, really dive deep into it, and make it perfect”, he says. 

Jordan Mochi has been working on his debut game Conscript for 6 years under the name of Catchweight Studio. Despite being a solo dev all that time, he never really struggled with his motivation. “I feel like I was put on Earth to make this game”, he says. “I’ve sacrificed a lot of my 20’s to make this game, and so I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that wasn’t in vain.”

When Jonathan Barbosa Dijkstra lost his job, just before the pandemic hit, he decided to give his dream of making a game by himself a proper go. He took some online courses on programming and he was in business, operating under the name of Frambosa, only six months later. “It’s not hard to stay motivated if you really enjoy what you’re doing”, he says.

Michael Schmidt has been interested in spirituality and Islamic spiritual tradition for a long time, and in his latest game Islands of the Caliph it all comes together. It’s an old-school Action RPG that draws on Middle Eastern folklore and religion. Schmidt developed the game by himself, because “I’ve never been any other kind of developer”. 

Working from home proves lonely sometimes. “Without friends, family or any form of external support it can be really hard at times”, admits solo dev Almar. Nevertheless, he believes going solo was the right choice. “After 15 years working for others, I am finally growing in ways I couldn’t in the corporate world. I am extremely lucky to make Repunk in complete freedom.”

Las Vegas-based Jonathan Haman created Drift Type C, a ‘real physics driving game crafted with an unyielding dedication to authenticity’. To get the cars drifting, Haman fixed a fundamental flaw in the Unity assets he used: “Two lines of nasty-hack later and the cars felt great and realistic.” But why work solo? “I work alone because I believe that to double my productivity it would take about nine more people.” ”

Sandro Luiz de Paula (aka ansdor) grew up in a small town in Brazil so his only option was to go solo. But that didn’t discourage him at all: “I wouldn’t feel comfortable working on a game if I had to just follow someone else’s ideas.” He stresses the importance of looking after your mental wellbeing. “I have anxiety disorder and going to the doctor to get proper treatment was a critical step. I wouldn’t have been able to finish my game otherwise.”

Ginolabo, or Gino for short, is a self-taught solo game developer from Japan. His first game, mobile RPG Soulvars, started out as a passion project. “Developing my first game was a complete learning experience for me. From start to finish, I gained valuable lessons.”

It took a pandemic to give Rutger van Dijk the final push to go solo. “Understanding that a game wasn’t going to build itself, I quit my job and just went for it.” He spent two years building Oakenfold after a successful Kickstarter campaign got him part of the necessary funds. 

The 8 years it took to create Moons of Darsalon really took a toll on Spanish solo dev Daniel Manzano (aka Dr. Kucho!). “The first four years were almost absolute happiness. I enjoyed what I was doing very much. The last four years were hell.” Manzano endured the rough times though and managed to finish the game.

Mario Malagrino, creator of the recently released game Crude, knows exactly why he is working solo. “My speed may not be compatible with everyone. I’m really very fast at creating artwork and assets. This could pose a problem for the average coder or any team member.”

David Stark has built a living from his debut game that he started 9 years ago. Airships: Conquer the Skies is still going strong on Steam and Stark keeps adding new content to the game to keep the community interested. “The game is successful enough for me to support myself. I can live comfortably, just not extravagantly”, he says.

As if developing a game by yourself wasn’t daunting enough, Pat Naoum decided to completely handpaint his debut game The Master’s Pupil. That alone took him hundreds of hours and the whole project now sits at 7 years. But the end is here, the game is out now on steam. “The painting really comes down to uniqueness”, he says. “Every man and his dog has made an indie game but no one has painted a game yet. It’s something different. A point of interest in the indie game sea.”

Hiwarp is an indie game studio based in Spain, run by solo game developer Elwin Gorman. His latest game is called Naiad. In it you guide a freshwater nymph down a river and explore all its beauty and secrets at your own pace. That premise has a lot in common with the way Gorman likes to work. “I spend a lot of time going with my instinct, flowing. Make decisions as I go along, day by day.”

Josh Salley has always been a big fan of gaming, but thought that game development was out of his reach. “I just assumed game development involved writing code all day.” Then he discovered the Unreal Engine and everything changed. He now works under the name of HALbot Studios on not one, but two first person survival horror games, House of Lies and The Nightmare Escape

Chaosmonger Studios, based in Tallinn, Estonia, is a multimedia production company, but actually it’s a ‘one-man-band company’, as founder and CEO Nicola Piovesan calls it. His latest game Three Minutes to Eight is a real tour de force, both in storytelling and visual flair. “The more you raise the bar, the more you risk disappointing somebody.” 

Operating under the name of Xenoplasis Games, solo developer Christos Arvanitis released his debut game Ontosis this year. The Athens, Greece based developer only worked part time on the game, during the day he works in the cyber security industry. “Some days, you might find yourself disliking your own game, while on other days, you’ll feel a sense of pride in what you’ve accomplished.”

It’s a hard pill to swallow if you’ve worked on your game for five years, only to launch it to a largely indifferent audience. That’s what happened to solo developer Simon Taylor (working under the name Plastic Cow Games) and his game Smash Dungeon. “For now it feels like the journey comes to an end for me as a solo developer”, says Taylor.

Working solo comes naturally to Kaighen Finley: “I’ve spent my life working alone. I function well like that.” It took him 4 years to create his game Q’Redux and in that time he learned some valuable lessons. “If you can imagine it, you can build it”, he says.

Splenbit is a part-time solo game developer, known for his game Blocks Tracks Trains. While he enjoys the freedom of developing games by himself at his own pace, Splenbit wouldn’t mind working in a team. “I’m not good with story telling or puzzle design, so combining some expertise would be nice.”

Two years after its initial release, Sixth Extinction is now free to play on mobile and Steam. Developer Juha Salo, working under the name Polte Games, hopes to find a new audience for his cautionary tale about climate change and mass extinction. “Does your game exist if no one is playing it?”

Eric Bartelson
Eric Bartelson
Editor-in-Chief of PreMortem.Games. Veteran game journalist for over 20 years. Started out in 1999 for game magazines (yes the ones made of paper) such as PC Zone Benelux, PlayNation and GameQuest, before co-founding Dutch industry paper Control Magazine.

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