Space Gladiators: How Thomas made an entire game alone

Space Gladiators

Tell us more about your game, what is it about? Share your story with us, contact info@gamedevelopertip.com

Space Gladiators: Escaping Tartarus is a 2D hand-drawn roguelite platformer where you play a bunch of prisoners fighting their way out of an alien planet. 

Which platforms did you target?

As of now, the game is only on Steam for Windows. It’s still in early access and I hope I’ll be able to take it to consoles later down the road, but that’ll depend on the success of the game.

Skills

What kind of skills did you already have when you started working on the project?

I started working on the game as soon as I finished my studies in late 2018. I have a masters degree in IT / business and I worked 2 years as a web developer at the same time (it’s a special program that I think is specific to France and a few other places) so I knew how to code.

I liked to draw as a kid but I have no art education and I don’t know anything about making music.

Do you have any past experience in the game dev industries?

Basically none. I made some unfinished Warcraft III maps when I was a teenager, a pong and a snake in JavaScript during my studies and I played around with Unity a bit but that’s it.

Tools

Which software tools did you use to make this game?

I’m using Game Maker Studio 2 as an engine and Krita to make the art, which is basically a free and open source equivalent of Photoshop. 

Those are the two main ones that I spend most of my time in, but there are a few others. I use Git to version control the code, Notion to organize my todo-list, OBS Studio to record gameplay footage, Shotcut to edit videos and TexturePacker to make spritesheets out of the different frames I draw in Krita.

Have you found out any plugins or tools absolutely amazing to speed up your workflow?

Yes! I discovered Tilesetter while making the game and it saved me hours of work. It’s an app that you can use to create tilesets super fast. 

Before I had to draw 48 different tiles manually to make it work with Game Maker’s autotile system. With Tilesetter I only draw a few tiles and a few corners and my whole tileset is generated automatically.

Organization

indie game developer failures

When did you start to develop your game?

I started developing Space Gladiators in November 2018.

How long did it take?

I had a vertical slice / demo after 3 months of work. The Early Access was launched after 1 year of work and we’re now 6 months into Early Access. I expect the game to take another 3-6 months before reaching 1.0.

What was the most difficult part you faced during the development time?

Probably the fact that it’s taking way more work and way more time than I thought. I expected to finish the whole game in 3 months and move on. It’s hard to be patient and to keep working on a game for months and years with basically no results and no certainty that it’ll even be worth it.

Watching people play the game and enjoy it is definitely a big reason why I’m still working on it. If I saw that no one was interested by the demo I would have probably moved on to another game a long time ago.

Do you receive any external help? If yes, how do you find collaborators and which criteria do you use to find the best ones?

I worked with a composer to make the soundtrack for the game. I stumbled upon his work and thought it would fit the game perfectly. He seemed genuine and serious so I contacted him and it’s been great.

I also get a bit of help from my little brother. Mainly for playtesting and to get an external opinion when I have to make some game design decisions, which is definitely pretty useful. Except for that I’m working alone.

How did you organize your work/daily tasks?

I like simplicity so for a long time I just used Notepad and put all the tasks in a single file. As you can imagine it became a mess so I switched to Notion where I can organize the tasks a bit better.

I tried keeping to a work schedule multiple times but most often I’d just work in sprints. When I’d have a burst of motivation or a deadline approaching I’d usually work all the time and some other times I wouldn’t touch the game for a few days. Probably not the best approach and I’m still trying to figure out how to improve my organization in that regard.

Did you have other jobs or did you work full time on the game?

I’m working full time on Space Gladiators. I went back to live with my parents, I have some savings from my previous job and in France we get some help from the state if we’re looking for a job or trying to create a business. 

It means it wasn’t too much of a risk for me to go at it full time. Worst case scenario is that I’ll have to go get a job. I would not recommend going all in if you don’t know what you’re doing and if you don’t have a safety net. 

Most people who try to live off their games don’t make it. Definitely keep your job if you have one and start working on gamedev on the side.

Opinions from  the creator of Space Gladiators

Do you have any tools, software, or books you want to recommend?

I’m pretty happy with all the tools I mentioned earlier so I’d recommend them. Also, Discord is a good platform to create a community around your game.

In the book Blood, Sweat and Pixels by Jason Schreier there’s a chapter about the creator of Stardew Valley, Eric Barone. It’s a super interesting read if you’re a solodev.

Going back to day one of the development, is there anything you would have done differently?

I would have definitely reduced the scope of Space Gladiators. I thought I was making a small game at the time but I was still thinking too big. Like 10x too big. 

Even if you make a game as simple as Super Crate Box it would still take you months to complete as a first time dev. 

You have a lot of hidden tasks that you don’t really think about beforehand or that take more time than you expect: managing different resolutions, different inputs and maybe allowing the player to remap them, all the small tweaks that you need to make to your character’s movement so that it feels good to control, setting up your Steam page with all the artwork in dozens of different dimensions, finding sounds and music for the game…

Every time you add something in your game, it’s one more thing that could potentially break. And sometimes you’ll spend hours or days just trying to fix a random bug that appeared the night before. The smaller your game, the less that’ll happen.

Now you have launched this game, what do you think about the future, would you continue to make games or “you’ve had enough?”

Space Gladiators is still in Early Access so I need to complete it first. But after that I’ll probably continue and make more games, whether that’s full time or on my free time if I have to get a job.

I learned so much in the past 1.5 years and I’m excited to start new projects with all the skills I acquired. I think I’ll try to make smaller games next though. Gamedev is hard but it’s also fun, rewarding and definitely worth it if you have the personality for it.

How did you feel on day one of the launch? Can you briefly describe your emotions?

Honestly, I had a pretty slow launch and I didn’t make too much of an event out of it. I had no idea what I was doing marketing-wise so I knew I couldn’t have a big launch anyway. 

It was the first time I was trying to sell something online that I had created from scratch. And I wasn’t that confident in the quality of my game either so I was OK with having a smaller community in the beginning.

Still, I was stressed and excited at the same time to finally have people playing what I had been working on for the past ~6 months since I had stopped updating the demo. Space Gladiators got picked up by a twitch streamer right away (shoutout to Esty8nine) and it was amazing to see him play it. 

His community was very supportive and made me more confident in the potential of the game. They also shed some light on many issues and things to improve so I got to work not long after that.

Feel free to add whatever you think is relevant or important for our readers.

To continue on the same note, I feel like a lot of devs only try to get their game to the biggest YouTubers or streamers without considering the smaller ones. But there are many reasons you would want to:

  • They’re way more likely to see your game and to give it a try.
  • If your game has big issues you can fix them before too many people see it.
  • It adds up.
  • Even if it doesn’t bring you a lot of sales, you get valuable feedback, motivation and you get to interact one on one with people.
  • It’s just fun to hang out with people who play your game, whether it’s only one person or thousands.

I could go on for a long time. I have a website and a mailing list where I share my ideas related to gamedev, along with my journey, experiments and (soon) all the numbers. The goal is to help you get an idea of what to expect when launching a game on Steam. If you’re interested, go there and sign up: https://thomasgervraud.com/newsletter/

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Marco

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