ACE spoke about the perks of being a solo game developer, shared what titles they drew inspiration from to create their upcoming action-adventure AIKODE, and discussed the game's numerous worlds and various gameplay mechanics.
Hi! I'm Ace, a 22-year-old 3D generalist from Spain. My first exposure to the world of game development was when I was 13 years old. To be honest, I didn't do much; I just used a character from the asset store and made it walk around on a large field with nothing else. After that, I created some games using "RPG Maker." I didn't work on anything related to game development again until I was 18-19 years old. That's when I started animating characters using Blender, and that's when I realized that I wanted to become a 3D artist (although I didn't know which 3D field was the right one for me).
So I started trying out everything – rigging, VFX, texturing, modeling, animation, compositing, etc. I finally realized that I could do it all if I put enough time into it, and that's what I did for 2-3 years. I did a lot of work as a freelancer at the beginning with a fairly low price, but it helped me gain more experience.
Lately, I have worked on some games, although I can't say much about them, at least not for now.
The turning point where my workflows started to improve (and get faster) was when I discovered the work of Ian Hubert. I realized that everything has a shortcut; you just have to find it.
Being a Solo Game Developer
Honestly, AIKODE is my first project as a solo developer, and obviously, I have made a lot of mistakes.
I think the best thing about being a solo developer is avoiding all the hassle of editing a project at the same time with multiple collaborators (although Unreal Engine 5 has started to add some very cool fixes for that) and not having to explain my vision to each member of the group.
Knowing everything that happens in the project at all times is something quite reassuring for me. I know that this is possible in team projects, but in my experience, it's usually a bit chaotic. Before being a solo developer, AIKODE went through three different groups, which failed due to a lack of funding. If I had kept any of those teams, AIKODE wouldn't even have the combat system finished. So, in my case, the decision to be a solo developer was the best that I could take.
Probably my biggest challenge as a solo developer is the concept art of scenarios and the level design. AIKODE has very complex cities with a lot of verticalities, and without a doubt, it's been quite challenging.
In my opinion, if you really want to create a game as a solo developer from start to finish, you should have some "3D generalist" skills (because if you don't want to use assets from the asset store, or even if you want to modify them, you'll need to have that knowledge). In terms of code, thanks to Unreal Engine, you don't really need a lot of coding experience since you can use their blueprints system (but you should acquire some knowledge in C++ for optimization and complex tasks).
And if you really want to do it all 100% solo, you should also have a background in music theory (although it's probably better to hire a composer, which is what I've done). However, my friend Stephen Ddungu is a solo developer doing 3D, programming, and the music of Sword of Symphony, so it's possible to acquire all those skills. (Certainly, it also depends on the style and scale of the project since knowledge of stylized art and realistic art are two completely different worlds.)
AIKODE is an idea that originated from a three-game saga, with AIKODE being the first game that I began writing six or seven years ago. People's initial impression was of the NieR saga, and I can understand why. However, with the new video showcasing the flight system, people are now noticing similarities with Anthem. When I upload the next video featuring one of the cities, people will likely compare it to Gravity Rush.
Many games have influenced AIKODE, which I have combined in a logical manner. The game's style is inspired by Final Fantasy and VisualWorks' work. The movement and combat are influenced by NieR, with cities inspired by Gravity Rush, secondary missions in the CD Projekt Red style, Persona-style relationship mechanics, Yakuza-style secondary content, Anthem-inspired flight mechanics, and even bosses inspired by Shadow of the Colossus. There are so many inspirations that it's hard to name them all, and each AIKODE video will remind players of a different game.
What I aimed to do with AIKODE, and I think that's the essence of the game, is to reflect the change. Players will go from being in a cyberpunk city to a floating steampunk one, then to a replica of Shibuya, and suddenly find themselves in a world with a completely different style, as if they were inside a painting. After that, they will close their eyes and be in a post-apocalyptic city or a majestic white town in the middle of an endless ocean. Along with this, I change the color correction of the game, the style of the music, the character the player controls, the mechanics, the combat, the movement, and more.
In AIKODE, nothing is fixed, and players do not know what will come next. It was certainly a risky concept, considering how other games in the industry are, but I think people will enjoy it.
However, explaining what AIKODE is about is a bit complicated. The story is the best thing about the game, regardless of how much players like the visual style, mechanics, or settings. I could tell you that it's about an android that was born seven days ago in a world she doesn't know, and the player discovers everything while the protagonist does the same.
But that's only 5% of the game. For that reason, explaining what AIKODE is about is a bit complicated. I could tell you that it's about the world we both live in, something based on real events. At the same time, I could also tell you that it's about immortality and death, AI, quantum physics, theodicy and faith, and motherhood, all at once.
The same applies to the settings. If I told you that in the same game, you would visit Shibuya, a cyberpunk city, a steampunk city, a world covered in nature full of fantastic creatures, a painting, a post-apocalyptic city, a world where you defy gravity, and other areas, each one stranger than the last, you would probably think that none of this could be connected and happening at the same time. However, surprisingly, all these scenarios are in the same era, and they all coexist in a logical way. The challenging part was connecting everything.
I cannot even tell you if the story takes place in the future since it takes place in the present, past, and future at the same time.
The AIKODE world is a fundamental part of the game, and probably the most challenging part to create, from the concept ideas to the final assets.
The program I use for work is Blender, along with Substance Painter/Designer for textures. Currently, I am using Unreal Engine 5.0.3 for the engine, but for each area, I use completely different workflows.
For instance, Shibuya is a full-scale replica of the real Shibuya in Tokyo. When I say exact, I'm not exaggerating, the latitude, longitude, height, and even the number of squares in each building are the same as those of the real Shibuya. I used the PLATEAU project data provided by the Japanese government with all this information. With the help of many images and Google Maps, I detailed each building, which is probably one of my best works in terms of world creation.
For the other cities, I prefer to use kitbashing by combining various assets and creating new ones in Blender. Probably the most challenging thing is to optimize everything afterward. I want a very specific look in my cities, so kitbashing assets is an excellent way to achieve a clearer vision in no time. I also use many Quixel textures, although I optimize them with RGB masks and sometimes tweak them to work precisely how I want.
To be honest, I even use MetaHuman for my characters (even if my characters don't look like MetaHumans). The process is relatively simple. When I finish modeling/sculpting my characters, I use "Mesh to MetaHuman" to get the incredible UVs and textures of MetaHuman. Later, I modify them in Substance 3D Painter to give them a more "stylized" touch.
I used to do everything from scratch, but I started integrating all the Quixel and Epic tools into my workflow, which allowed the project to progress faster and enabled me to model hundreds of NPCs with the same level of detail as a main character (and with the same art style).
As for the style, as I said before, it's strongly inspired by the work of VisualWorks, the CG department of Square Enix.
AIKODE's Gameplay Mechanics
There are a lot of mechanics, especially related to secondary content, such as a relationship system with different endings/timelines for each relationship, a customization system with more than 200 outfits and hairstyles, an arcade with different games, fishing, housing, gardening, cooking, restaurants, jobs, among many more things.
On the other hand, there are many types of movement in AIKODE. As you have seen, the character can fly, perform a triple jump, run, sprint, walk, perform parkour, swim, dive, ride a motorcycle, and even ride animals. All of these systems are 100% unified, so it feels great to transition between them all.
I think that after finishing the story, players will have a lot of time to explore the rest of what AIKODE has to offer. Without a doubt, none of the areas will feel empty. That's also the reason why I preferred to make open areas instead of an open world.
As for flighting, as many have noticed, it's inspired by the Anthem flight system, although I've decided to add some extra things like combos and attacks while flying/hovering. However, it's very similar in terms of limitations. For example, you cannot fly indefinitely, but you can take advantage of the environment to increase the duration of your flight. You can also improve each system with chips in a skill tree.
The interesting thing is that each character in the game has different abilities. For example, Aiko, the main character, can fly, but there is another character capable of altering gravity and walking through buildings in a completely different way. Another character has a very high jumping power and can run up walls in all possible directions like a spider. Then there is another one who uses "drawings" to explore the areas.
Each character has something unique, so exploring the world is quite fun, as you not only adjust to the new areas but also adjust to the new characters and mechanics.
Promoting the Game
I use all the social networks I can, even the ones I don't normally use, and I try to promote the game everywhere, including on Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, TikTok, and more. However, my favorite place to engage with people interested in the game is Discord, where it's easier to answer questions and clear doubts. I try to be an active member and always love to answer questions, even if they are not related to AIKODE.
To be honest, I'm not exactly sure why the game started to gain more views and interactions, but it happened within a couple of weeks. This opened the doors for me to other articles and even allowed me to interact with director Yoko Taro.
However, I believe that one of the main reasons I'm excited and motivated to work on this game every day is that I'm part of The Sphere Sector, a group of seven creators who are working on their own projects individually. Apart from me, the group includes:
- Stephen Ddungu with Sword of Symphony
- Zahid with Enenra
- Astrum Sensei with Cosmic Strain
- Avedis Massoyan with Neo Divinity
- Ronald Purnell with Arisen
- Sinitus with Allure
We are not just a business group, but friends who constantly help and encourage each other to continue working on our ambitious projects. When you're surrounded by people with the same mentality and motivation as you, it's much easier to advance.
In addition to that, AIKODE will have crossovers with several of these projects. One that has already been announced is the crossover between Sword of Symphony and AIKODE.
ACE's Future Plans
I plan to work for 2 more years full-time on the project, and then I have two sequels planned for AIKODE (which are already written), so I don't want people to wait 10 years to play AIKODE.
As I said above, the game will have many more mechanics. What people have seen in videos is barely 10% of the game, there is still a lot to add and polish, but a large part of the complicated "things" in AIKODE are already finished!
The game will be released on PC and on next-gen consoles (PS5, Xbox Series S|X), but another of my future plans is to release AIKODE on a portable console such as Switch (or a future portable console). However, this is more difficult to confirm, but it's in my plans.
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