torcado: Being a Solo Game Developer

Torcado told us about their approach to making art for their games, shared why they decided to work on their own, and spoke about the challenges of being a solo game developer.

torcado's first game, Technometry

Introduction Please introduce yourself to our readers. Where did you study? How did you get into game development? How did you get the skills you have?

torcado: Hi! I'm torcado, I'm a solo game developer, and I have been making games for more than 10 years. I’m completely self-taught, with no academic education for game dev. I got into game development as a teen; after being inspired by games like Cave Story I thought "Hey, I could do this too!" and started tinkering around with Scratch and GameMaker. Spending nearly every day since then designing, drawing, and programming for my games has certainly contributed to me having the skills I have now!

Homerun Bun

Projects Could you tell us about the projects you have contributed to? What inspired you to create your games? What are their concepts? Which of them are you most proud of?

torcado: I've worked on tons of projects. The biggest of my own is probably Heck Deck, a bullet hell card game. I've also contributed to some collaborative projects like 10mg, with my game ":)" which is a series of bite-sized games with a twist. Also my game Homerun Bun, a high-velocity game of keep-up starring a bunny with a baseball bat, which was included in the first SuperRare Mixtape collection.

But I've made many many more games than just that, most of them being game jam entries. I'd say Heck Deck is the one I'm currently most proud of (which also started out as a game jam game), mostly due to how much time I spent with it. I'm not sure what inspires me, I think I just like making playable experiences, and I enjoy all the disciplines involved like art, design, and programming. I also really love exploring unique mechanics and systems, and the problem-solving that comes with making them actually fun.

Heck Deck

Art Style How do you approach making art for your games? How do you choose the art style for your games? How to create a game that would be visually appealing?

torcado: This is something I still ask myself! For the most part, the art of my games has been a product of the limits of my artistic ability, whatever I'm comfortable with and able to do at the time. But with each new project, I get better and better. I think a key component to making a game look appealing is to make sure it is visually coherent, I spend a lot of effort making sure of that in my games.

For instance, with Heck Deck, I chose a kind of cute hand-drawn art style, and throughout the game, I used a consistent 4px round brush. The player and all the enemies have a consistent “outlined” style, all the backgrounds have a simple flat design. The needs of the game help dictate what individual elements may look like (e.g. “Does this element need to be more obvious? Give it a bright outline or a flashy effect”). I also tend to think about shaders and dynamically drawn visuals a lot, lately. A really nice dynamic effect can go a long way, especially if the player can interact with it!

Creating a Game Let’s talk about the technical part of creating a game. What engine do you use to make your projects and what is the reasoning behind your choice? What tools help you bring your ideas to life?

torcado: I use Stencyl for nearly all of my projects. Originally, I started playing around with the engine because it was similar to another tool I used, Scratch. But at this point, I use it mostly because I’m so familiar with it. Especially with the nature of time-restricted game jams, being comfortable with your tools is incredibly important. But I’m interested in exploring other options like Godot or Luxe.

Outside of the engine, I do all of my pixel art in Aseprite, any vector art/design in Figma, and sound effects using Audacity. Occasionally I’ll make my own tools if there’s something super specific I have a need for, but otherwise, the vast majority of what I make uses these tools.

Marketing How do you approach the marketing part? How do you attract audiences and what monetization models do you use?

torcado: I’m pretty averse to a lot of monetization and marketing methods. I’ve never wanted to make games for the sake of making money, and if I could have it my way all my games would be free. For the most part, my marketing efforts go no further than sharing gifs/links on Twitter, and the occasional email to content creators when I finish a full-size project.

In the case of Heck Deck, I also contacted publishers once I was far enough into the project. I consider myself pretty lucky for having landed a publisher for the game, and it allowed me to focus on finishing it. I think there’s a lot I could do to improve my exposure/return on income, but I’ll explore those options when I need to!

Being a Solo Game Developer Why did you choose to work on your own? Have you ever had the experience of working in a team? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of being a solo game developer?

torcado: That’s a good question, I think for my case it was mostly out of necessity. When I started making games, I was the only one I knew doing it. As time went on, I think it continued that way because I was the only person who knew exactly what I wanted each game to be, but also because I knew I could rely on myself, and I can’t be entirely sure of that when working with others. I think enjoyment in the disciplines involved is also a part of it as I mentioned earlier.

I’ve had very few experiences working in a team for a game, the closest I’ve gotten has been making games for collaboration projects such as 10mg, but even then my contributions were still made all on my own (apart from music, which I have gotten from musicians for a couple of my projects). I would definitely like to try working with a team on a game in the future, but I think I need to reevaluate some parts of myself first to be fully comfortable with that, haha.

I think there are a lot of advantages of being a solo game developer, having full control over the result and ensuring it matches your vision is a big one, and also not having to risk relying on others, as I mentioned. But on the other hand, of course, a game can never take longer to finish than when only one person is working on it. Also, getting input and contributions from other people will almost always make for a better and more interesting product, especially for games. You can pull from so many more experiences that way.

Challenges How difficult is it to get noticed today being a solo game developer? What challenges have you faced on your way?

torcado: It’s very difficult! So many people are making games, and the barrier to entry is getting smaller and smaller each day. I think we are in a boom of indie games, anything you make will likely be a drop in the ocean. And I think it’s great! There are so many incredibly interesting ideas out there, seeing everyone making all these games is super inspiring. But it does mean getting noticed is very difficult unless you get lucky.

PID Games, the publishers I worked with when releasing Heck Deck, have done a very good job at getting the attention of Apple and Google for getting the game featured on their app stores, without that I don’t think the game would have done nearly as well. But even with that help, the game has gotten little attention outside the mobile market, at least for something I’m trying to sell.

Advice for Beginner Game Developers Finally, what advice could you give to those who want to try their hand at indie game development?

torcado: Do it! Start right now! There’s no reason not to try, especially these days with all the tools and information available. Someone with no technical experience and an idea can make a game in a day, using something like Twine or Bitsy.

For those who do want to get more technical and involved with it, I would say that learning your tools is extremely important. Knowing exactly what you can and can’t do is very helpful when working through a project (and finding a new feature or system can inspire lots of decisions!). And finally, start small. No, smaller than that! Finishing games is a skill, and it gets exponentially harder as the size of the game increases.

torcado, Game Developer

Interview conducted by Ana Kessler

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