Today we present another interview with a game developer! We had a chat with Kodera Software, creator of the hard sci-fi ΔV: Rings of Saturn which is available in Early Access.
GOL: First of all can you introduce yourself
"My name is Mariusz Chwalba and I am a sole proprietor of Kodera Software. I mostly work on business software and making games is currently a side-project and an experiment."
GOL: How did you get started with game development?
"I was writing software for a long time - first for fun, later as a profession. I also love to play games and always wanted to make one, and one day came a realisation that with a current independent game market it’s actually possible to create a game by myself. ΔV is actually a third attempt at making a serious, commercial game - I abandoned the first two few weeks into development realizing that the scope I picked for them was just too wide. Rings of Saturn was the project cut down to the size I was confident I can finish in a finite time."
GOL: Tell us about your game ΔV: Rings of Saturn. What’s it about and why do you think people would like to play it?
"ΔV is a realistic 2d space mining simulator. I always liked to play space games, but I found most of them either being just arcades, or going too far into other directions and ending up as full-blown simulators that don’t actually have much game at the core. I wanted to actually pilot a spaceship, and I wanted it to behave as spaceships do.
I always knew that the game would not be for everybody and I chose to embrace it - instead of making it appeal to the widest possible audience, I focused on making it perfect for people who really like hard science fiction. It helps a lot that I am a member of its target audience - I can test if it’s going in the right direction just by playing the game myself and checking if I find it enjoyable."
GOL: How hard has it been to stick to your vision when developing ΔV: Rings of Saturn? Have you had to make any compromises for players? Considered changes to appeal to a wider audience?
"I made two significant changes to the game due to player requests, but none of these were compromises. In the initial draft of the game, there was supposed to be no communication with other ships, and the game would rely on environmental storytelling to convey the story. Addition of a dialogue system was a huge change, opening up new ways to tell a story, but also introducing a lot of additional work that was not planned initially. That set us back more than a year, but I’m glad I went that route. It opened up an opportunity to tell more complex stories and made the crew you hire behave more like humans, and not just upgrades to your ship.
A second significant change was the shape and appearance of the rocket plumes. I was approached by players that actually work in the rocket industry and told that rocket plumes in vacuum look nothing like I presented them - with videos of actual rocket tests. That change was the opposite of a compromise - it actually focused the game more on it’s intended niche."
GOL: You did something interesting with the demo that I don’t remember seeing anywhere else. You can play the full game, and save it - but not load it. Why did you decide to do this? Has it helped sales at all?
"If people want to play your game for free they will and there is nothing you can do about it. At the time I released the extended demo I knew that the people who really like ΔV spend hundred of hours playing it, so I was confident that the players that are really going to enjoy it will buy it to continue playing - and these that don’t, well, I think it’s better if they didn’t purchase something they don’t like. It’s important to note that releasing a full game as a demo, with a single option locked out, is actually a lot simpler and cheaper than making a stripped down version. I run a single shell script and 5 minutes later I have 6 executables ready - 3 full versions (for Linux, Windows and Mac) and demos, built from the same sources.
While I came across opinions that demos hurt game sales, in my experience they help - and help a lot. I can’t give you exact numbers because many other things happened at the same time as the demo release - being covered in press and influencers on youtube, but ever since we released the demo sales did increase."
GOL: You work with the open source Godot Engine. Why did you pick that over other game engines and toolkits? Can you also tell us a bit about your workflow?
"When I started working on ΔV I was considering making my own engine for it, but chose Godot as the next best thing. As a MIT-licenced open source project I could make any modification I would see fit and all the low-level plumbing was already in place. It was a really good choice, as I ended up modifying it only a little, and it sped up the development tremendously.
I use a subset of agile methodology for my software development, meaning I’m moving swiftly and in small steps. I start my day with a stable master branch, pick a task that I think I can complete in hours, and hours later I end up with a stable master branch again. If a task is too big for a few hours I split it up. It’s very important - for me - to have a publishable project at all times. That means stable code, but it also means no placeholder assets, no half-baked dialogues. At the end of a day I need to have something that I can publish - and most often I do, as the “experimental” branch updates for players daily.
If you are curious about the software, I use a lot of FOSS. I render my sprites in Blender, compose them in GIMP, edit audio in Audacity, put it all together in Godot Engine, control my version with git and use gitlab as both an online repository and issue tracker."
GOL: ΔV: Rings of Saturn has now been in Early Access on Steam since 12 Aug, 2019 - can you tell us how the sales have been across Linux, macOS and Windows?
"Windows sales are, unsurprisingly, the majority with 90.3% units, followed by 6,3% for Linux and 3,4% on Mac."
GOL: How challenging (or not) has it been to support Linux for you?
"Out of 2070 hours I spent developing ΔV so far about 30 were spent on what I believed at the time to be Linux-specific problems. It turned out they were not, in fact, platform specific - these were race conditions that just happened to trigger more often on Linux systems due to different timing of events, but they caused the same problems for everybody, and they would be next to impossible to pinpoint and fix without the other angle Linux gave me. Looking back I think supporting Linux actually saved me a lot of time I would have to spend on hunting down bugs that were very elusive on Windows systems."
GOL: If memory serves, you actually used the Windows Subsystem for Linux to help diagnose and fix a bug in the Linux version of Rings of Saturn is that right? Care to tell us what happened there? (If I totally have this wrong, feel free to ignore this question…)
"Yes that did happen. One of the first race conditions that were exposed on Linux was triggering pretty reliability in seconds on Linux, but took a few hours to manifest on Windows I’m usually working on. I made a specific test case that I could run on my local machine on, effectively, both systems to check that the problem was fixed. Windows Subsystem for Linux helped me to automate the testing process, as I could run all the tests for both systems with a single script on my usual laptop."
GOL: What’s next for you after the full release of Rings of Saturn?
"I think I will support and expand the game for at least a year. I had real fun making it, and I still have ideas on how to extend it. The game format lends well to that plan - as I can add new ships, upgrades and story events seamlessly. After that - we’ll see. ΔV is ultimately a benchmark project, made to gain first-hand experience if games alone can support my business. If it can (and it sure looks like it can at this point), I’ll start making a sequel. I already have some ideas."
GOL: Any wise words or advice to leave it on for other indie developers?
"Start small. Figure out a game you think you can do in weeks, you might end up finishing it in a couple of years. I mean - look at ΔV, I initially thought it would take two weeks, a month tops - and here we are, three years later. If it’s the first game you are making, make something you would really like to play. It’s important to be able to see for yourself what works well and what needs changing. Try to pick a subject for which you can do everything in-house, in a pinch. It’s good to outsource, but you might find that artists you worked with are not available for urgent fixes. Pick an engine that allows you to go cross-platform and try to do that early. It will save you a lot of trouble later on - and trust me, once you see even a moderate success, you will want to go cross-platform. I found that it’s also very important to forge a proper development schedule - humans are creatures of habits and it’s much easier for us to work on something that we keep doing it regureally.
And remember - even a single person can make a successful game. I started alone and got my team as I went, and so can you."
A big thank you to Mariusz Chwalba for having a chat with us at GOL here today.
Want to chat with us about your game? Do reach out!