Hello! My name is Nico Tuason, I am an indie game developer from the Philippines. This year marks ten years from the moment I began my journey in game dev. I would like to share with you the story of my entire career - failures, triumphs, important life events. I hope you do not regret taking the time to read.

2010: a leap into the unknown


At the beginning of the new decade of the decade, I was twenty-three years old and I just left my job at a local web development company. I worked there for about a year and received twenty-two thousand Philippine pesos a month (about four hundred and forty dollars). For yesterday’s graduate, the money is not bad, but I did not achieve much professionally and felt unhappy with life. In addition, my girlfriend, whom we met for four years, intensely hinted that she would not mind getting married, so that twenty thousand pesos seemed already not enough.

I am Asian (yes, Filipinos are also Asians) and it would be unacceptable for my parents if I were not busy with my studies or work, so I applied for a master's degree in Multimedia in Singapore. They had no idea that soon after that I received a letter of refusal. I kept telling them that my application was supposedly in the process of being considered, and he secretly worked on the project “for himself” - his first game.

Video games were more than just a fun time for me. As a child, I found refuge in them when I had difficulty or became lonely. I spent almost all my free time at the family computer playing games. One of the first video games I got was Star Wars Rebel Assault II, a small but spectacular title. I repeatedly went through it at different difficulty levels. After that, my parents bought me Command and Conquer, and my fate was decided. Growing up, I spent all my money on pumping a family computer and getting new disks.

While I was engaged in web development, I learned to use Flash to create advertising banners and navigation menus that customers ordered. I also had to master graphic design and learn how to make nice interfaces. Gathering the necessary information on these topics, I came across the FGL.com website (Flash Game License): anyone could upload a flash game there so that sponsor websites would offer their price for the right to put a logo on it. It was shown at what price some of the games go - three, five thousand dollars! In my eyes it was crazy money. For some mythical titles they paid ten to twenty thousand. I swallowed all the tutorials that I could reach. But before thinking about the concept of the game, I had to check if I could handle the simplest animation.

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It looked good! But I firmly knew that I wanted to make the game in isometric graphics. My love of games originated under the influence of classic isometric titles like Baldur's Gate, and I was convinced that my game should have the same viewing angle. So I rotated my animation from different angles.

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The next step was to make sure that the animation would look decent when moving around the surface.

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I did not know any calculations needed for games, but in the tutorials I read that in isometric graphics the width of the tile should be twice its height. Accordingly, when moving along the Y axis, everything should be divided in two. From here loomed a very simple isometric transformation:

CDMY0CDMY

Okay, we figured out the basic principles, now it's time for stress testing.

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At that time I woke up at six in the morning and immediately ran to the computer to get new sprite sheets. It was addictive. Every day I came closer and closer to fulfilling my dream - creating my own game.

I tested everything well and came to the conclusion that you can get Flash drawings on the screen as quickly as possible using the copyPixels method. In tutorials it was called beat-blit, but speed was not of interest to me. Most of the flash games at that time used vector graphics with a very clear, smooth image. This created a big load on processors around the world (which ultimately killed Flash). But thanks to copyPixels, my game could display a lot more objects than others.

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Well, from the technical side everything is settled, it’s time to think about what the game will be all about. In those days, the tower defense genre was very popular, and I myself liked real-time strategies. I decided that the easiest option is to make a bunch of enemies that move in the same direction, and you stop them from the laser gun. As inspired by Starship Troopers and Starcraft, I created worthy enemies that you can gladly destroy with hundreds.

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So I continued to work on the game: I took one element, brought it to mind and moved on to the next. If I had given myself free rein, I would probably have gone into a detailed description of every detail from the development process, but that way we will never get to the end.

Seven months later, I had a short but finished game in my hands. I called her Desert Moon.

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It was time to auction the game. I uploaded it to FGL.com and did not close my eyes for several days. Now I regret that I did not take more screenshots. If memory serves, then the titles remained at auction for a month. Several tens of thousands of page updates later finally announced the winner of the auction. He offered eight and a half thousand dollars! I can’t describe what I felt then, but I think that I was noticeably swollen with pride. I showed the result to my girlfriend and parents, who finally resigned to the fact that I did not go to graduate school.

My girlfriend Terry also loved tower defense games and was my main testing player during the development process. We were very happy. It only remained to stick the company logo, and the game could be released. The release took place on December 11th on all major portals with flash games (Kongregate, Newgrounds, Armorgames, etc.). So began my game dev career.

2011: from indie development to employment


Flash games are distributed free of charge, so after release from the title you don’t have much to do, it’s easier to take on the next one. Preparing for the release and finding a sponsor takes a lot of time, so I, without delay, set to work on a new game called Solarmax.

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Homeworld is one of my favorite games. The feeling that on your shoulders lies the fate of your entire race and even the whole history cannot be compared with anything. I would not have pulled a strategy with 3D graphics in the spirit of Homeworld, but then there was a special kind of strategic flash games - swarm. The most popular of the games of this type seems to have been Phage Wars. I thought that such mechanics would fall well on epic battles in space.

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I spent some time developing 3D modeling software, which was necessary in this game.I was already tired of pixel graphics after all sprite sheets for Desert Moon, and exporting 3D models to a sequence of frames in PNG looked like a great way to get all the angles needed for an isometry without having to draw each frame manually.

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I finished this game in three months - much faster than the first project. I managed to get six thousand dollars from the sponsor for it - less than the last time, but the rights were not exclusive, that is, I was allowed to sell versions of the game with the site lock. Then it was a common practice, there was one version that diverged across all portals. It often happened that on the game with the site lock there was a logo of a completely different site, but it was only launched on the current one.

I planned to continue making small games, gradually increasing my skills, but then an unexpected thing happened: I got a job! I received a letter from the head of an IT company from the USA: he was looking for a programmer for a flash game that his team was working on, and he caught my eye. Who knew that company directors play some random flash games and write to developers themselves?

My first impulse was to refuse this offer, because, firstly, I’m stupid, and secondly, I thought that it’s possible to sprinkle short flash games all my life. Fortunately for me, the director turned out to be a persistent guy and convinced me that I could continue to work on flash games, only more people would be involved in this. And also, yet... they will pay me a ticket to the USA so I can participate in the GDC!

I am very grateful to the people who organized all this. For a beginner gamemiz to get to the GDC - it's like for a convinced Catholic to visit the Vatican. I was in seventh heaven. Well, for the money... three thousand dollars a month. US salary for a person who lives in the Philippines! Honestly, I then seriously imagined myself a cool pro.

Having received my first salary, I made an offer to Terry with full confidence that she would agree, because a year earlier her aunt-lawyer pressed me against the wall and demanded an explanation why I was still not married to her niece.

2012: everything... somehow formed


Terry and I got married in January. I imagined that the next few years we would spend alone with each other, traveling to different countries and coming off for all the times when we did not succeed, because the Philippines is a conservative country and decency does not allow. Instead, nine months later, we had our first child. Well... also not bad...

For me, paternity meant, first of all, that a good night's sleep remained in the past, at least at first. But I still worked from home, so adjusting was not so difficult. My career as an employee of the company, meanwhile, went well at first: in a short period of time we released a number of small titles. But a few months later began tyagomotina. I felt that I was losing productivity. I lacked the feeling that I was constantly learning something new and immediately use this knowledge in games. Maybe I just do not fit in full-time developers?

To show the extent to which I was not suitable as a full-time developer, here are a few prototypes that I created mainly after hours.

Isometric game with aerial combat in a fantastic style with a brace under the First World War:

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Pixel survival game where the player travels through the forest, which is created by procedural generation:

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Pixel Zombie Invasion Game:

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Early Prototype for Space Strategy 4X:

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Procedurally generated house?

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Damn, I don’t even remember what it is, some kind of horror:

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Making small prototypes was fun, but I didn’t extend any of them to a full game. At the main work, things were different... I had to focus on other team members, and any innovation always to some extent mixed everyone’s cards. Work from home and the almost complete absence of live contact with other employees also left their mark... when you don’t see the team’s reaction to their work, it begins to seem that it has no value to anyone at all.

By the end of that year, I was very discouraged and decided to leave the company. It seemed to me that I could easily return to what I was doing before - creating flash games. Now I had a good airbag, and I felt confident in the future. Just did not suspect what changes occurred in the market.

2013: flash apocalypse as a prequel to indie apocalypse


Intoxicated by the newfound freedom, the first thing I wanted to do was join the Global Game Jam, which takes place every January. Until now, I have not yet participated in jams, but somehow it was necessary to warm up. In gamedev jams, participants are given 48 hours to make a game on a given topic. That year, the topic was heartbeat, in the most literal sense. I made a little game and called it Heart the Beat:

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The fact that I managed to finish the game in 48 hours gave me even more confidence in my abilities. I was ready to take on something more difficult!

If we talk about technology, over the past three years, Flash has gone through a significant development. Instead of pulling all the juices from the processor, he could now use the resources of the video card thanks to the new Stage3D API. This made me very happy. So the way is open for 3D games!

Of course, I again rushed to recreate Homeworld.

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But this did not last long - after three months I stalled. Well, my space ships are attacking each other, rockets are flying, lasers are firing. But all this, as I now understood, is only a small part of a good game. What about the atmosphere? What about the story? And the motives of the player’s actions? My ambitions grew so much that they bound me hand and foot. I decided that the best thing in this situation is not to take risks and make the game free.

To restore my shaky self-confidence a bit, I signed up for another two-day Ludum Dare jam, which is held three times a year. The largest online community has gathered around this jam, so they have fun! Before jam starts, participants are invited to select a topic by voting. I really wanted the topic to be potatoes, but minimalism won. In revenge, I made a game where potatoes destroy minimalist figures.

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Ludum Dare has an excellent rating system: the more you play and leave feedback on other people's games, the more players and reviews get your own. This is a very effective method to pump your skills and chat with other developers. I participated in Ludum Dare twice that year. Made a narcotic neon shooter...

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... and a wacky toy where a little ninja cuts up other little ninjas.

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To my great surprise, these two games became the most popular among my works. And still remain. I'm serious. They were played by millions of people. They even lit up on Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun. But despite such popularity, I earned, in my opinion, no more than five hundred dollars on sites like Kongregate, which share advertising profit with developers.

I panicked a bit and decided to stay in my comfort zone - 2D strategy, the action takes place in space.

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The game was called Spiral Drive (here, creativity refused me). I worked feverishly for three months. This is a bit of a lite real-time strategy. With the help of spaceships, it is necessary to capture stations at which new ships are automatically produced. The ultimate goal is to capture all the objects on the map. Enemies do the same.

Thanks to the new Stage3D API on Flash, the game could run at 60fps and run on iPhones and Android phones. I was sure that she would bring good money!

However, since the last time I went to the FGL, a lot has changed there. Compatibility with mobile platforms was now taken for granted, and sponsors rated flash games lower, because they themselves began to make less money on them from advertising. Bidding was slow and sluggish... Ultimately, the highest price I was offered was five thousand dollars for the web version, plus the right to publish mobile versions. I was disappointed, but it's still better than nothing.

According to the terms of the transaction, it was assumed that we divided the profit from the mobile versions in half, so I expected that I would get something else from this title. Alas, I do not want to seem vindictive, but the publisher completely ruined the release on mobile platforms. On release day, we were looking for a game and could not find. It turned out that the publisher downloaded a game called Sprial Drive instead of Spiral Drive. No, I understand everything, such an error can easily slip through, and it’s my own fault that I did not pay more attention to the name, but it all ended up with the application sinking somewhere in the markets and almost nothing worked.

Everything went wrong as I planned. It became clear that you can no longer rely on the FGL as the main source of income.

2014: transition to mobile games


At the beginning of the year, we greeted our second child. Lyrical digression: babies smell very nice. But having children only to smell them is not worth it. Better borrow from someone and sniff for health, just return later.

The family was growing, and I felt a growing responsibility for its maintenance. People went to mobile platforms, and the popularity of flash games was declining. It was obvious that the developers had to go into the mobile sphere.

Over the past few years, I have heard many times requests to release the Solarmax sequel. In general, I usually don’t do sequels, because during the development process I lose the whole game a thousand times and it bothers me to death. It is much more interesting to develop a fresh idea. But the savings were gradually melting away, and I was ready for anything.

When working on Solarmax 2, I focused on the simplest, most transparent interface. The game must be adapted to a wide variety of screens, from tiny phone displays to full-fledged desktop monitors. Terry, who loves games in this style, tested her to holes. I spent five to six months developing.

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We did not want to contact the publishers anymore and decided that we would release the game ourselves. The plan was this: publish the game for free on portals with flash games and put links to versions for iOS, Android and desktop - they were paid. We hoped that due to the first wave of players from flash portals, the game will break into the top on the iOS and Android application markets, which will further increase sales.

On June 7, 2014, with trembling hands, we released the game... and got terrible results.

On flash portals, players could rate the game, from one to five stars. At the same time, only titles with a rating of 3.5 - 4.0 and higher got to the main page. To break into the main page was fundamentally important - it depended on whether the game would bring together several hundred players or hundreds of thousands. We expected that the traffic of flash portals will provide us with good sales for mobile versions.

A few hours after the launch, the rating of the game was 2.7... I remember how I just lay there and tried not to cry. Then I read the comments. Some users were very annoyed about difficulty levels and controls. I could fix that. With Terry cheering on my side, for several hours, as a crazy person, I added additional complexity modes and made changes to the control scheme. When the game was updated, Terry and I tried to write to everyone who left a negative review, and asked again to play the improved version.

It had an effect. The rating gradually crawled up and eventually stopped in the range of 3.7 - 3.9. The game got to the main pages of many portals with flash games, and a few days later it began to appear on pages with the best new games on iOS and Android markets.

In the first two months, the title raised over eleven thousand dollars; at the same time, the profit was almost evenly divided across two platforms. By the end of the year, he brought us over twenty thousand dollars.

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Apple App Store ~ ​​$ 5,500, Google Play store ~ ​​$ 6,000

The most reasonable thing at this stage was to try to repeat success with another game, releasing it taking into account everything that we learned during the first release. I regret that I did not. Mobile and flash games for me have always been only an intermediate stage. At heart, I knew that I wouldn’t calm down until I learned how to recreate the games of my childhood - those desktop titles that occupied all my time and thoughts.

I signed up for a competition for game developers in the RPG genre. Unfortunately, I found out about him late, only two weeks remained before the deadline. I hastily banged the prototype, borrowing the graphic style from the then popular Monument Valley game:

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I couldn’t catch the deadline, but under pressure from time pressure I came up with a new technique for rendering isometric characters. Instead of using sprite sheets on which all possible angles are drawn, I tied everything to a set of points made in 3D and working like the joints and bones of the character, which were then superimposed with figures in 2D.

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Each joint had coordinates along the X, Y, and Z axes.I animated them, and then translated the 3D coordinates into 2D for the screen plane using the following formula:

CDMY1CDMY

Because of this kind of mechanics, what the hell happened in the code. Competitive deadlines have already passed anyway, so I tried to save everything that can be saved, and realized a new prototype; This time, Frozen Synapse served as the inspiration - a game where you need to exterminate an enemy team using tactical thinking and machine guns.

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The prototype looked promising, and I continued to improve in animation and character rendering techniques:

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Unfortunately, I was stuck halfway and did not finish the project, as it happened with Spatial. The game was released in the free version. The problem was that I was good at sketching game mechanics, but I was at a dead end when I had to think through the content so that it was enough for a full game. All my prototypes didn’t look like thoughtful things, but like techno demos.

But what else remains in this situation, how not to make new and new prototypes? After all, you will never guess which one will unfold in the finished game. The next issue of the program I tried myself in the genre of stealth action. The game was in the style of Tron:

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At first glance, it looked amusing, but I could not manage to invent anything interesting with stealth mechanics. I waved my hand at the stealth element and switched to pure action. In doing so, I relied on one of the most popular Hotline Miami games at that time.

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Now the game has become exciting! And the visual part of her was quite original. It seemed to me that I had something worthwhile in my hands. I came up with the name - Lithium City. I was haunted by the feeling that I could finish this game and that it would show itself well in the desktop market. I put in development for half a year - until now, all projects have taken me about this time. I could not imagine that this game would become a central part of my life until the very end of the decade.

2015: honeymoon


I already coped with rendering graphics, development and game design in general, but in order to compete with the stars of the Hotline Miami level, it was necessary to provide the game with a good soundtrack. I showed the game to my younger brother, John Camar, an unusually talented composer and audio engineer whom no one had heard of yet.

John already wrote music for Solarmax 2 for me, and his success owes much to him in many respects. Many people, after playing the game, went to look for the soundtrack. We got down to business. I worked on extra levels, weapons, and enemies, and John worked on sound effects and music.

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One thing so far has been difficult for me - character animation. It was especially difficult to animate the death of enemies: the scenes had to be made diverse, otherwise it turned out too monotonously. I came to the conclusion that it’s easiest to explode characters so that they fly into small pieces.

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With the implementation of the shooter in isometry, there were also a lot of problems, but we managed most of them.
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At some point, I went the wrong way and I decided to radically change the design: from rooms shining with neon lights to realistic lighting and preliminary rendering.

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But it took me more than a week to get one single room! I returned to the original version. With simplified styling, levels were made much faster.

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With game levels, another problem arose. We did not have a map editor, so I created the levels using Photoshop in pixel graphics. A special algorithm then parsed these images by pixels, looking for specific shapes and colors, and based on this, rebuilt walls, furniture, doors and other game objects.

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The game gradually acquired a finished look. To celebrate, we could not wait to show it to the world. We began to think about how to spread information about the title. Among other marketing tricks, we applied for the GDC festival in China, also called IGF. To our complete delight, we were received! The game went to the finals, which means we had to fly to Shanghai and represent it at the festival.

It was scary to finally give the title to the court of players, but the response was extremely positive! With my own eyes, watching people play the game was also very useful. You can immediately see which areas need to be further developed. And, as a cherry on the cake, John received a prize for music! From the festival we took away the IGF award for best audio. John went on stage to accept the reward, and burst into tears from an excess of feelings. Then I hugged him tightly.

We seemed to be moving in the right direction. All that remained was to release the game.

2016: festival fever


Just before Valentine's Day, we had a third child. You probably already ask yourself how many children we generally planned to have. Well, what can I say, and Terry and I grew up in large families - five children each. In our opinion, the experience of living together with many brothers and sisters is very Filipino. In addition, there are other advantages: children always have someone to play with, they socialize early and learn to negotiate with each other, birthdays are always celebrated violently and massively. And also... uh... economies of scale? With the first child you have to completely break the usual way of life, but when there are more of them, you can simply use what has already been done. After all, it is more logical to buy a crib and an electric breast pump with the expectation of using them several times? Well, that’s some kind of stupid reason.But watching children play and grow together is a special joy.

Returning to the gamedev world, I taught a letter with a proposal that caught me by surprise. A fairly large company expressed a desire to buy Solarmax from me as intellectual property. In other words, they acquired the first and second parts of Solarmax, as well as the right to release sequels in the future and port the game to mobile platforms and desktops. In short, everything related.

This caused mixed feelings for us, and there was no desire to tinker with the transfer of intellectual property, so we called the figure significantly higher than the total profit that the game brought during its existence. But after short negotiations, the company agreed to our terms.

I can’t name a specific amount, however, according to my calculations, this money should have been enough for two to three years of life and the costs associated with the development of Lithium City. I doubted that someday I would take on the new parts of Solarmax, besides, it seemed to me that the company might be better off that they would figure out how to develop the game in a new direction. It was hard to refuse.

And what do we do immediately when we get a lot of money? Of course, we spend them at game festivals (spoiler: this is a very bad idea)!

The reward for the audio we received at the GDC in China included two full free tickets to the main festival in San Francisco. These two full tickets saved us a ton of money, but we had to pay for the trip and accommodation ourselves. But we were full of enthusiasm, and at that moment it seemed that it was definitely worth a trip. In addition, I wanted John to experience the experience that I experienced on my first trip to the GDC.

We wanted to make more noise around the game, so we signed up for several more festivals, including the G-star in Busan, South Korea, Tokyo Game Show in Chiba, Japan, Casual Connect in Singapore, as well as the local ESGS festival in Manila (E-Sports and Gaming Summit) and even a small university event.

Looking back, no matter how exciting it was to carry the game to different gatherings, but this definitely cannot be called the best strategy to round off the project. When you realize that the festival is just around the corner, you try to tweak the product so that it looks advantageous during the demonstration - that is, you quickly bring things to action, change the mechanics more often to maintain interest in the game... albeit not for long.

As you probably already guessed, the travel expenses multiplied and we burned through the money very quickly. With such a pace, there were already two or three years of talk, we could be left with nothing next year. So we got involved with festivals and began to honestly hunch over the game.

Development is far from such a fun activity as driving to gatherings, it stretches endlessly and often gets bored. Yes, and the long-standing problem again crawled to the surface... I could not create enough content to stretch it over the whole game. I was too used to grabbing on to projects and throwing them away right away and had a poor idea of ​​how to do something finished. Things have come to a standstill.

2017: collapse


The family grew and demanded more and more expenses. Diapers, milk, food, kindergarten fees, doctor appointments... the list of needs is endless. In March, the money came out. The game was not ready yet.

Until the last moment it seemed to me that as soon as the money started to dry up, I immediately instinctively switched to the mode of increased productivity and finish the game - well, as I added term papers on the last night. It turned out differently. Deadlines passed one by one. I was awakened by an internal critic who insisted that if I release the game in its current form, then all the people to whom we showed it will be disappointed. After all, we traveled the whole world for a whole year, telling everyone what a stunning game we have - now we must not let it reach a stunning game.

To gain a little more time, I, ashamed to admit it, ran to mom-dad. Yes, yes, thirty years old, I asked them for money for life, assuring me that I only need six months more, and then I will return everything. Terry, wisely taking up entrepreneurship, also made money, so for some time we could stretch. I began to take on more household chores.

Realizing the essence of the problem (not enough content), I resorted to procedural generation to fill the voids.

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During this period, the graphics in the game have improved significantly. Terry, who was just taking an interior design course, gave me tips on how to draw furniture and fill up the level space. For different levels I used different algorithms:

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If you've ever played titles using procedural generation, you already understand what the catch is. This is not a magic wand: on a superficial glance, the levels seem diverse, but, in fact, the user experience does not change. Procedural generation made the game not expanded, but simply boring.

I threw prototypes with procedural generation and again began to craft levels manually. This time I decided that the right approach is to add a plot to the game, with characters and dialogs.

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It turned out that the writer of me is so-so. If I managed to write a couple of lines, the next day I could not read them without shame and deleted them as soon as possible.

All these failed attempts accumulated fatigue. Each time, when I tried a new method and faced with failure, it became more and more difficult to gather strength to search for new ideas. Instead of working, I began to do things that made me feel that I was doing something useful, although I did not work. Well, for example:

  • View design and analytics videos on Youtube
  • Read marketing articles on Gamasutra and gamedev.net
  • Buying up all the successful indie games, followed by trying to figure out how they did it
  • Replaying game classics in the hope of gaining new ideas for mechanics
  • Reading books about writing, which should immediately make me a writer
  • View posts and screenshots from other game developers
  • RPG for 250 hours to “switch” and again awaken the love of games in yourself
  • Work on a new project, which "can be completed and launched in a month to bring money"
  • Reading stories from other game developers on Reddit

I promised my parents that six months would be enough for me to finish the game and settle accounts with them. Not enough. In October, our fourth child was born.

2018: black bar


When they say "black strip" the imagination imagines a small area that you just need to overcome, and then you will come out on a bright strip. Nothing like this. Rather, it would be worth talking about the black maze. You can’t see the way out, it’s not clear how much more you have to wander, running into dead ends, and there is no guarantee that you can get out at all.

Despite the fact that all the deadlines were over, the parents continued to send us money for everyday needs. I felt like a finished man. It seemed to me that everything that I had achieved before did not matter, since I got to the point that I was sitting on the neck of my parents and wife. Nevertheless, no matter how lousy it may be, it does not relieve the husband and father of their duties. My game dev career was falling apart before my eyes, but life was full of happy moments with my family. I don’t know how I would survive this period without them.

Children grew up. The eldest went to elementary school, and in our country, lessons begin at half past seven. The morning idleness was replaced by a tough sequence of actions: take a shower, make breakfast, cook food for children with them, and take them to schools.

Any attempt to take up the game ended in my hands dropping and there was no strength for anything. The feeling of inactivity was unbearable and I felt obligated to give all my best in other areas. I started baking.In contrast with the development, this hobby really encouraged me: you do everything strictly according to the recipe, follow every little thing, iterate - and the reward for your work is provided: something tasty that can please others.

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The first iteration and the result of three months of development

Sorry, I understand that this is an article about game dev, but I just need to pour my soul out.
For three months I tried to bake egg tart in Portuguese/Hong Kong. The most difficult thing is puff pastry, it takes two days to make one batch.

All the salt is that the puff pastry should remain icy until you roll it and roll it. In my area, the ambient temperature was 30-33 degrees Celsius. It was impossible to work with the test. I got out of this situation: I dragged the table right under the air conditioner, cut it to its fullest and rolled the dough in such a cold place that my fingers did not bend. The recipe is not quite classic, but for my version I don’t need an oven, burning to 400 degrees Celsius, like professional confectioners.


We also baked and decorated cakes for children on holidays. Terry cool pinned to sculpt marshmallow decorations. I vaguely realized that I was hiding from my problems, but I could not find the strength to meet them face to face. At that time, I almost did not turn on the computer, except to look at a recipe or a tutorial for baking.

2019: bill payment


In early February, we had a fifth child. A few days later, a cropped umbilical cord was inflamed. The temperature rose, the doctor was worried that sepsis might develop. She had to be placed in the intensive care unit for newborns. Terry and I stayed with her all the time, took turns holding her in our arms and comforted when the rather large (for her little body) dropper needle caused inconvenience. Antibiotic treatment and ongoing monitoring were required. According to the custom of newborns, she sometimes began to wave her arms, the needle popped up, and had to be inserted again, causing pain. We spent ten days in the intensive care unit.

We did not have enough money to pay hospital bills. I again turned to my parents for help. They paid. I threw the problem onto their shoulders because I was unable to responsibly manage the money while I had it. I myself was disgusted, I believed that I was only pulling money from relatives. This could not continue further.

I began to feverishly search for vacancies on the network, but in the yard was 2019 and Flash developers did not interest anyone. The local game development industry relied on outsourcing business processes, salaries for beginners were low, and there were few opportunities for growth. In general, a waste of time. I opened files from the Lithium City project, which I have not touched for many months. The person I was before was unable to finish the game. It was necessary to change.

I began to set an alarm at half past four in the morning so that I had enough time to take a shower, get dressed as for work, prepare breakfast and food that the children would take with them. At six in the morning everyone who needed to go to school had breakfast, and at fifteen seven it was time to leave. Near the house was a coffee shop that opened at half past seven. There I worked at least until noon, sometimes until two. There was no Wi-Fi in the coffee shop, and it completely suited me - I did not want to be distracted.

Unlike working from home, you have to pay for the opportunity to work in a coffee shop. But the level of performance is completely different. At home, I walked haphazardly and lounged, I dressed in the same place as in the office, I felt like a professional and this was reflected in my work. I always ordered hot tea without milk and sugar, which cost me one hundred and twenty pesos (two and a half dollars).

Upon returning home, I left the laptop in my bag, and until evening I was pulling iron, preparing dinner or baking something for the children. I read how to eat in order to save energy during the day and work with greater efficiency. It turned out that sugar is the number one enemy, and I tried to completely abandon it. I had breakfast with oatmeal, a couple of eggs and black coffee. For lunch, most often ate sweet potatoes, another egg and fruit. In dinner, I tried to include a maximum of protein food - chicken, pork, beans - and more vegetables. He used cereals only in brown form, like brown rice or whole grain bread. That year I threw about seven kilograms.

Most importantly, I abandoned Youtube and Reddit until I finish the game - it was these sites that took me the most time. I decided that I had already given them many years of my life and that in any case I’m not losing anything, because they won’t go anywhere even years later. I also stopped playing games. You had to think only and exclusively about your own.

All these changes in lifestyle gradually gave a result. Having set a fixed period of working hours for myself in the morning, I found that I was really starting to deliver content. I began to tell myself that it’s better to do at least something than nothing at all, then there will still be the opportunity to make changes if I come up with something more successful.

The new content turned out to be darker... perhaps this reflected my state of mind.

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However, my technique worked. I systematically expanded the content.

In my struggle with the main problem, I chose the tactics of guerrilla warfare: fight and run. If you encounter something too complicated, take your legs and choose another object to attack. Do not stop and do not linger in one place for a long time. If you get stuck, defeat is inevitable.

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You have to pay for everything. My categorical attitude to work began to seep into relations with homework. For seven years of marriage, Terry and I practically did not quarrel seriously, but now the quarrels have begun. Swearing with your couple is an unpleasant thing, but I repeated to myself that the game will not haunt me all my life. Every day I came closer to defeating this monster.

I gave up trying to plan everything and just did what naturally flowed from what was done the previous day. There was nothing sacred: if something didn’t work, I dismissed this option and started again.

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With a similar approach, by the end of the year I finished the prologue and six chapters. It was supposed that by the time of completion the game would have thirteen chapters, but life decided otherwise.

2020: here comes the apocalypse


On the twelfth of January, twenty-five kilometers from the place where we live, a volcano erupted. He pulled out a pillar of ashes one and a half kilometers high, which covered all the nearby cities, not excluding ours.

Fortunately, the walls and roof of our house were strong, so he did not threaten to collapse under the weight of ashes, like many others standing near the volcano. But it was impossible to hide from the ashes. He was abrasive. The slightest breeze threw him into the air, he entered the house through windows and doors. When it gets wet, it becomes heavy and conducts electricity well. With every rain, there were short circuits on the power lines and the electricity was gone.

But ash posed the greatest danger to the lungs. Among our children there are asthmatics, and the mask cannot fully protect against inhaling the smallest particles. We stayed for several days, but in the end we had to evacuate. We drove north to Manila, the capital city, where my parents arranged for us.I took a laptop with me, but in the thick of things and the confusion that changes in everyday life created, I did not progress at all at all.

We are very lucky. Many families were hit harder. We managed to return in a week with a little. The ash did not disappear at all, but it became smaller, and he no longer threatened to cause an asthma attack in any of the children. Many schools and other institutions were still closed, so most of the time we spent at home. I tried my best to stay productive, but started looking again at Youtube and Reddit.

On March 16, before I could make any significant progress, the government quarantined the country. Hopes that we will soon return to normal have collapsed.

In April, my father called me and said bluntly that they are not going through the best of times, and I am only exacerbating the situation. My parents were no longer able to support me financially. I was not able to finish the game - out of thirteen chapters, only six were ready.

One of the lessons that I learned for myself from a year of productive work was this: "Put into use everything that is, and do not expect too much." In my hands was only half of the game that I wanted to create... but still it pulled on the game, and I spent almost six years on it. The content in it was for two to three hours of play. The most skilled players would probably have completed it in an hour and a half. Such a thing really was to release. I made changes to the sixth chapter and the prologue to bring everything together and create a feeling of completeness, a short story. I cut the price - eight dollars instead of fifteen or twenty, as I thought before.

It was announced on Steam that the Summer Game Festival will be held from June 9th to 14th. We decided to participate, believing that the festival will help us arouse interest in the game in the audience and get into the wishlists. We planned a release on June 15th, the day after the end of the festival.

April and May passed in desperate attempts to exterminate all the bugs and prepare the game for release. Some problems only pop up when you sit down and lose the game from start to finish. It takes a lot of time to eliminate them, because you have to repeat the process several times to make sure that everything is now in order.

John, who did not give up work on audio tracks for the game and showed great patience during my unproductive period, took up recording and editing and made such a great trailer .

On the first of June, we sent out a trailer, letters and press releases to youtuber and the administration of local and foreign resources for gamers. On June sixth, three days before the start of the festival, Steam announced the transfer of the event, which was now due to take place from June sixteenth to twenty-second - that is, after our release. We have already publicly announced the date the game will be released. It was impossible to change it at the last moment.

I wrote a letter in support of Steam asking if we could still participate in the festival - when submitting an application in the form, it was emphasized that it was designed only for games that had not yet been released. The answer came as follows:

Hello Nico!

Thank you for contacting us. The purpose of the Steam Game Festival is to present the games that are being prepared for release, the event is designed only for those products that are released after its completion.

We apologize for the inconvenience. We can help if you want to change the release dates of the application and presentation. Let me know if you need to, we will be happy to help.

All the best.

Well, at least they did not say in plain text that they would exclude the game if we did not change the release date. For some time I wondered: maybe release the game on the fifteenth, as planned, and do nothing about the festival? Knowing Steam, everything is automated there. In the end, I decided that it was better not to risk conflicts with the portal, on which I expect, if everything goes well, to feed, and asked to exclude the game from the festival.

The game was released on the fifteenth of June, the number of wishlists did not reach three hundred. Today is the twenty-fourth of June, a week has passed, and we sold two hundred copies.

As far as I know, all marketing articles in chorus say that you need to collect as many wishlists as possible before the release and that the main sales are in the first week. Well then, we screwed up.

But this is not the first release disaster, after which we managed to get on our feet. When this kind of trouble comes in, the only thing left is to solve the problems as they become available. When we released Solarmax 2, complexity and control let us down. This time I am sure that the game is of high quality. With two hundred sales, we received twenty reviews with an overall rating of 95%. So far, the game’s page has been visited by only twenty-three thousand people. The problem is that we did not reach the general public. I am convinced that this can be fixed.

Of course, I know that even a good game is not always successful from a financial point of view. But I know another thing: if now I stop fighting for the audience, this will be a real failure. And I don’t know anything else. It feels like after ten years in gamedev, I start from scratch again.

In conclusion


When I sat down for this article, I thought that I had enough day for it. One week and seven thousand words later, I present to you the final result. As it turns out, I still have not learned how to estimate how long a job will take. Compressing the last ten years of my life into a readable article for the Internet turned out to be harder and more debilitating emotionally than I imagined.

I am still eager to make games. Apart from family, this activity brings me the most joy. Games always gave me the feeling that I can become something big and cope with any difficulties if I invest enough time, skills and perseverance. In the past couple of years I have had a very difficult time, but I doubt that I will ever give up the intention to make games.

If you read the whole article to the end, I am sincerely grateful to you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this story with you.

There is nothing special there, but I packed all the short games and prototypes that I worked on into a zip archive that you can download. Basically, there are SWF files, for viewing which you will need Standalone Flash Player. Adobe will no longer support Flash Player on the thirty-first of December this year, but you can download the version you need here. Scroll to the list of files available for download and click on Download the Flash Player projector.

Download flash games produced by Nico (need Flash Player Projector) - 53 Mb
Download Nico desktop games (Windows only) - 127 Mb
Visit the Lithium City Steam Page
Original article (more photos and egg tart recipe)

Thanks again and see you in ten years !.

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