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"Demetrios" Post Mortem – The lowest budget adventure game on all gaming platforms

How a random French programmer made a 10-hours adventure game by himself and his success to make a living out of it!

Demetrios revenues per platformBudget : ~20,000 € *

Gross revenue : ~100,000 € *

Net revenue : ~45,000 € *

Kickstarter : 4,245 €

Units sold (PC + consoles) : ~12,000

Price : $9,99

 

Game text : ~100,000 words

Translations : 6 languages

Middleware : GameMaker Studio 1.4

 

Lines of source code : ~80,000

Hours of work : 6,000

Time spent : 2 years (1.5 full time, 0.5 free time)

Staff : 1 (+ extras for musics & translations)

 

Release dates :

  • May 31th 2016 (PC)

  • December 6th 2016 (PS Vita)

  • August 1st 2017 (PS4 & Xbox One)

  • November 4th 2017 (iOS & Android)

Links :

https://www.demetriosgame.com

https://twitter.com/COWCATGames

* All the numbers are very rough estimates.

* Budget is mostly the money I needed to make a living while making this game. I deliberately reduced my way of living to avoid unnecessary expenses.

* Gross revenue is the total amount of money the game generated, cumulative on all platforms.

* Net revenue excludes all taxes, platform shares, refunds... so basically, the money that got back to me.


Context : A 33-year-old French programmer makes a silly adventure game by himself and attempts to sell it!

Banner

Today marks the two-year anniversary of this BIG adventure!

I've been wanting to write this Post Mortem for a long time, but I kept delaying it. Most are posted right after the release of a game so you only get a short-term view. Instead, I thought it would be much more interesting to wait & see how my little indie game performed long-term!

This especially makes sense as Demetrios is a one-of-a-kind project. How many adventure games do you know that have been released on every single modern gaming platform, with all versions developed, ported and marketed by a single man?

 

How it all started

I am a 33 year old French guy. I started programming games at the age of 10 on an old Amstrad 6128 computer! (similar to the more popular C64) But I only made a game intended for sale recently.

Demetrios old intro

Yes, the original intro and some cutscense were made with ugly CGI. The final version is fully 2D hand drawn, thankfully

Demetrios is a game I started in 1999 when I was in high school, after playing Broken Sword 1 & 2 on PS1. I thought they were awesome, so Demetrios started kinda like a fan game! Then took another, more personal direction. It was a first person adventure, focusing on silly interactions and filled with stupid characters.

Back then, I completed it in 3 years on my free time. Of course, in the early 2000s it was pretty much impossible to release a game without a publisher, so this original version was never released and I forgot about it for years.

PS4 final version

How the final game looks on PS4.

Later on, I studied computer science at school and university and got a job at a service company for 7 years. But I never forgot my will to make games as a living someday. One day I was fed up with my job and decided to give it a try. And the most obvious choice was to remake Demetrios. There was a whole adventure game out there, "ready" for people to play, but no one was able to!

I made sure to reduce my expenses as much as possible and ensure I could make do with the bare necessities. I knew beforehand that doing just the PC version wouldn't be enough to make a living, so I planned Demetrios to be easily scalable and playable on any device from the start.

Development

So, "Demetrios – The BIG Cynical Adventure" is actually a full remake of that first version I did as a teenager (all the figures at the top only take into account the time spent on this remake) Except I redid everything and improved it vastly.

Demetrios mystery

How do you make a quality game on a tiny budget?

I did everything myself. I wanted to keep the budget as low as possible to avoid any risk. I come from a programming background, so I pretty much learned everything in the process - doing art, composing music, writing story and dialog... but also marketing, accounting – and all the annoying stuff! :p

I started programming the remake with a prototype, which was just two rooms. I made them feature-complete so it would be exactly be like the final version. (of course it evolved a bit afterwards, but not too much!) This helped me a lot as I had the game engine ready, I could gauge if the game would be fun and then expand by making new rooms by following the same pattern.

Sketchup

I was very bad at doing perspectives, so to make the first two rooms, I used a quick 3D software called “Sketchup”. Throughout development I re-did the lines / colors of that first room at least a dozen times...!

Even though I was much older and as such, it was made in a much more professional way, I intended to keep the tone of the original game – in particular the humor and all the possible stupid interactions. This makes Demetrios pretty unique. I call it the "most professionally amateurish adventure game" available! How many consoles games do you know that let you pee in a police department or crap on a photocopier?

I worked on this project part time before leaving my job, then full-time for almost two years. Aside from family time, it took all my time. About 8-10 hours a day, weekends included. I never stayed up at night though. I always went to bed before midnight. I need 8 to 10 hours of sleep anyway.

I kept everything from the original version and added a lot of stuff. Chapter 5 (the graveyard part) was almost scrapped during development because I felt it didn't bring anything to the story. However I kept it because it's a nice change of pace, with only puzzles and no characters to talk to.

 

Bathroom

Here's an example of art that evolved while doing the remake. The top screenshot comes from the original version from 18 years ago, the middle one from an alpha build of the remake, and the bottom one from a final build. Quite the improvement!

 

The game is pretty long for the genre (~10 hours) and text heavy. If not for the puzzles and the always-short dialogs, this could be seen as a Visual Novel. I wrote everything myself in English and later translated it into French. But I intended to make it available in more languages. I feel this is very important for an adventure game.

This was a challenge considering all the text involved, but fortunately I was able to find reliable translators, most who were beginning in the field and were especially looking for a good name on their CV! As such, the game ended up available in 6 languages, including Spanish, German, Italian and even Russian! Quite uncommon for a low budget adventure game, I believe.

Aside from the text length, another thing ended up being an obstacle for translations – the text in graphics. Some of the humor comes from the graphics themselves, and having to translate these was pretty annoying because I needed to do it myself and export all these pictures for each language. This was a lot of work! I'll be more careful about that next time.

Demetrios cutscene

This includes some comic cutscenes (which were added specifically for this remake)

Many other things were added for the remake. In particular, a hint system through collecting cookies hidden on the screens. Each room has three and you can check how many you've collected and how many you're missing from each one! The point was to provide an in-game way to get help.

How many times have you been stuck in an adventure game and had to scavenge the internet for a walkthrough, sometimes getting unwanted spoilers in the process? Well, the cookies don't give you the solution. They give you contextual hints! And if you're stuck really bad, you can eat several to get the exact solution.

Little did I know that this would end up as one of the most praised features of the game! Some people spent hours, straining their eyes to look for barely-visible cookies, even forgetting the main plot sometimes!

Technical issues

Making a Full HD (1080p) 2D game isn't quite as easy as it looks from the programming side!

I had no idea until making this game, but even a 2D game can be GPU intensive. At first, Demetrios wouldn't run well on Intel HD graphics or other integrated chipsets, and it took a while to figure out why.

Actually, their fillrate just isn't good enough to draw more than twice the size of the screen (1080p) per frame (which actually isn't a lot at all, when you have to draw so many elements on screen, including full-screen graphical effects) So I had to rely on surfaces (a specific mechanism GameMaker Studio has) to optimize this, which in itself gave me a lot of trouble (more about this on the Mac paragraph!)

For a few months, the YoyoGames forum was closed – this made it difficult to get replies during some parts of development.

Another technical issue relied on the texture pages. Considering the game has 1080p art, the initial loading time was pretty long. On Windows, GameMaker loaded all the texture pages when launching the game – which means loading ALL the graphics within the game on startup! This worked fine for 8-bit graphics, short games or tiled-based ones – but not for long adventure games!

The team who made "Fran Bow" had a similar issue and alerted about this. After a while (a few months before the release of Demetrios) Yoyo Games issued an update with an option to fix this issue! (giving the possibility to load texture pages dynamically during gameplay as they're needed)

One last thing I had problems with were the particles. Initially, Demetrios had some cool particles effects going on in some screens. However, right before release on PC, I noticed the game crashing without explanation on some computers. But not mine. I couldn't reproduce it, so I had to remove them entirely and replace some important effects like rain with generic sprites. Less pretty but at least, the game was perfectly stable for everyone!

Internet issues

But the biggest problem I encountered... is not directly related to the game at all.

For a long while, I just couldn't get a working internet at home.

No internet

No – f***ing – internet.


A project always encounters some unexpected events, and this was the one for me. I could never expect in 2016, in France, in a mid-size city, to not be able to get anything close to a working internet connection. No solution at all. And yet...

[NB : I understand this is a whole different matter and it's pretty long. If you're not interested, you can skip to the next part - I just deemed this crucial as this event almost ended my video game development career early on and abruptly!]

When I planned to start my game development career, I had saved up money from years of working my day job. Enough to buy a small apartment, which would relieve me of a lot of expenses. So when I quit my job, that's exactly what I did!

This was an apartment in a small building of 4 apartments, sold by the mayor's office (previously used for teachers of a former school) and located in a mid-size city named Andrezieux-Bouthéon (10,000 inhabitants.)

When visiting the apartment before buying, I thoroughly checked that there was a phone socket to hook up an internet box (xDSL) Which is something most people don't even do, because, well, you kinda expect to have one. And yup, there it was! (Side note – cable is very rare in France and optical fiber was only available in very big cities at the time, so there was no alternative to a phone line)

I called Orange (the internet provider in charge of all the phone lines in France) to get a line hooked up.

A technician came over. The guy took a long while to search all around. Then he concluded this to me : "I'm sorry, I can't hook up a line. I can't even find the building phone box. The mayor's office has screwed you. They owe you a phone line."

I was confused. Orange, the owner of all phone network in France, couldn't install a phone line..? That didn't make any sense. Later on, I understood that this "building phone box" (which is my translation, it's called PTT or PC) is installed in every building, and that's the way to connect each apartment wire to a bigger cable going down the street.

I then called both Orange and the mayor's technicians to come at the same time (which in itself was very hard to achieve)

After a long search, they managed to find the building phone box... buried under glass wool, in the roof. The Orange technician told me "That's crazy, this is insane! They must have f***** up big to put it there!"

He then proceeded to install a line from my apartment to the roof – hanging by a thread, literally. (NB : This was the only technician who ever agreed to climb up there – most likely because the mayor's technical team was present)

It worked. Hurray!...

Until one day... It stopped working. I'm not sure if this was due to weather, but the wire must have moved and it wasn't connected properly to the phone box on the roof anymore.


My broken connection

This was my internet for months. 0.16 Mb download speed. Which is about 20 KB per second. Worst than an EDGE mobile connection. And disconnecting about 15 times a day. Perfect to work with!

 

I was getting extremely worried. This happened a few months before release. How could I do marketing for my game, upload packages... With that kind of connection?!

And that's when the real trouble began.

In total I had visits from about 10 technicians from the internet providers. They all said the same thing. "I'm sorry, I can't fix it. We're not allowed to climb on roofs." They all left without doing anything except making me sign a paper of their visit. Most of them came without any way to climb, anyway. One told me he had never seen anything like this in his 20 year career.


I spent hours on the support line. They said they would bring a basket to go on the roof, but they never did. Support never communicated with the technicians, who were subcontractors. Each time a technician came, I had to explain everything all over again. And it was never was the same person. It never ended.

I also realized that my neighbors had the same issue. After two years of living there, two of them still had no internet at home, not even a wall socket! They had all tried getting internet but faced the same obstacles I did and gave up.

 

So what went wrong?

The mayor asked their technical service team to do some renovation before selling the apartments. These people are not supposed to do such work; they're not home builders. But the mayor did not want to spend money on this. When they added isolation to the walls and the roof, they temporarily moved the building's phone box in the roof... and forgot to put it back.

I called the mayor's technical service directly. Considering I suspected they moved this box, I asked them if they could place it back on the wall, as it was initially. They accepted and tried, but... They had trouble, according to them the wires hooked to the box were too short. (Unfortunately for me, one of my neighbors DID have a working internet, and was the only one, so they just couldn't cut all the wires to move the box)

So they left it, on the roof. Open. Yup, the wires freely open to all winds, the moisture, the sun and the rain! Of course, this didn't do me any good – my line just got worse, totally unusable. I was getting stressed out. One of my neighbors managed to close the box cover before it got filled with water and could cause electrical problems.

 

Nonsense
The infamous Orange building phone box on the roof!

It was impossible for us to repair the line ourselves, because only internet provider technicians have the technical knowledge to fix it.

This was a physical problem on my line, so changing internet providers wouldn't have done any good either. Only Orange technicians are supposed to access that phone box, but they're not allowed to climb roofs.

 

Later on, I asked for a meeting with M. Mayor, Jean Claude Schalk.

He cancelled it, stating he was busy, and instead, they organized a meeting with one the mayor's consultant and the head of their technical service.

I explained everything. When I said it was a hidden defect, they laughed at me.

How could I have known about all this trouble? I couldn't. There was no way for me to be aware of this issue before buying. How is this not a hidden defect?

They insisted that Orange screwed up and initially put the box in the roof, years before. Which is impossible, because the phone box's bracket is sealed within the wall isolation – which should be enough proof! An Orange technician noticed and confirmed this fact for me. They don't even have a checkbox for "roof" on their intervention forms for the box location. Besides, Orange confirmed that according to their data, it's located on a wall. Not a roof.

At the meeting, I said the existing, initial phone line in my apartment was cut off from the wall. The mayor's technical service guy said this was due to the sun rotting the wire. The SUN!

I claimed I gave up everything in my life to do this game development job and if I couldn't get internet working, I was ready to kill myself. I was dead serious.

They. Laughed. At. Me!

 

I just couldn't believe it. They said "No big deal, a lot of people live without internet". And then "Do you think we would use public finances for private matters?" Yeah, right. It's not as if I'm not paying taxes in YOUR city, and I GAVE you almost a hundred thousand bucks for this apartment...!

I wasn't even asking for money. I was asking for help. The least they could do is help me, call Orange and set something up with them. But no, they couldn't care less. I had never seen such bad faith in all my life.

The people responsible for this mistake were the mayor's technical service. But they just wouldn't admit it. Somehow I think they knew they were wrong, but they just didn't want to blame their own service for the blunder.

Of course Orange wouldn't do anything either. I kept asking, to no avail. They were rejecting the fault as the mayor's, while they did the opposite. An unsolvable situation.

 

I talked about all this with my neighbors. We were totally pissed. Three of us apartment owners tried to arrange a meeting with M. Schalk. We went to the mayor's office and they gave us an appointment.

The day after, I got a call. Our meeting got cancelled without explanation. The girl I had on the phone said she had warned the other apartment owners about the cancellation. After checking with the neighbors, she never did. Yet another lie.

Later, I called them back for proof, a letter or anything written that they cancelled our meeting. They outright refused!

I considered suing the mayor's office. But I was just an individual, without much money at the time. I couldn't go along with that kind of procedure, which would have taken years – and in the end, I could even have lost. The mayor's office can afford good lawyers, but I couldn't. It was the same for the neighbors, unfortunately, and they had lost the right to sue the mayor for a hidden defect because it had been more than 2 years since they moved in.


After a while, exhausted by this issue, I talked about it in a local newspaper – "La Tribune Le Progrès". They were in awe about it.

The journalist met M. Mayor, and here's what he said to the journalist : "If the guy wants us to solve this situation, we will meet in court" What kind of mayor would say something like that to a citizen of his city who had just moved in?! I could never talk to him. He never gave me a chance to explain! To this day, I still don't understand the mayor's reaction to all this. I never did anything to deserve that...

 

An arti

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