An Indie Journey : The road so far

This is the full and personal story how we became an indie developer. Indie developers are emerging every day in a rainbow of ideas and talent. Maybe some share our story.

The spark that lights up the path

The journey my team and I have faced has been a long and tremendously difficult one.

In the spring of 2011, still in my final year of University, I decided to take my XNA assignment a small game I made called - Komodo Crunchtime - on the road with me. I took it to London's Anime Con to see whether anyone on site would give me some feedback; maybe give me some ideas as to whether they liked it or not -- whether it was something I could work on or worth binning. 

The code was buggy, the graphics as basic as the Sainsburys product range of the same name; the animation was painfully absent and there wasn't even a title screen! I simply took my assignment built in good ol' XNA and presented it to the world.

That was one of the smartest decisions I ever made.

Inside London Metropolitan University's student union, players lined up to play this against-the-clock game. Players proudly wrote down their names and high-scores coming back to claim the top spot. Xbox 360 controllers in hand they were honing their timing, dying and replaying to get better. I was speechless.
I'd put lots of heart and work in but it was completely unfinished. To the public that didn't even matter: it was fun.

I decided this was it, I had something. I had so many ideas but I never knew which would resonate with people. Rather than try to make a best-seller from the formula immediately, I sat on the idea for a while, trying to think about what could make it my flagship title. I re-read Salen and Zimmerman, Jane McGonigal, Flannagan and Sicart et al and even dug up some ideas from my dissertation. After a few months of perculating, by December 2011, the idea had grown wings.

That's when things got exciting. 

Taking the plunge!

Like any University graduate, I spent weeks searching for a job to make a start on my savings. Fortunately I soon found a well-paid job as a marketing executive; the downside was the role was pretty hectic and I had to relocate. Either those dreams of making Komodo Crunchtime would have to go, or I would have to get help.

I initially chose to put the game aside and focus on my work - but my love for game development won out. The reason was a simple catch-22: if i worked and saved I wouldn't have the time to develop and I'd rush something out. On the other hand, if I quit I'd have all the time I need but none of the perks in my lifestyle. No nights out, no netflix, no fancy car. That wasn't an easy decision.

I quit my job and began my journey to create the game full-time. I moved out of my rented flat in Stratford and moved back in with my parents (desperate times, desperate measures). All the way through this I had a bit of a nervous breakdown with a now-ex girlfriend.

I created a team from students of the University of the Arts London, linking up over skype and in cafés around London. Caroline, Tarik, Adi, Aaron, Dau and myself; we became RIE STUDIOS and we were ready to make Komodo Crunchtime. Having saved two grand from my salary to keep the team going things were positive. Registered company? Check. Domain? Check. GDD? Check. Game Engine? Check. Coders? Check. Artists? Check.  We had the tools. 

As our design turned into development, we joined Ukie; the UK's hub for the games industry. As we had never developed something on this scale for commercial release, they were the structure, advice, space and support we needed - and have been ever since. 

Keeping the gravy train moving

After three months of full-on development the little cash we had is drying up and we've lost former team-mate Caroline to Sony Computer Entertainment! We've had more ups and downs along the way than a sine wave. The entire game was corrupted at the pre-alpha stage. 

Pressure is mounting on us to keep creating when it would be easy to earn cash doing something else. Kickstarter? Well, that's US only. Why not just give up?

The beautiful thing is, somehow, we're making it through. Struggling each week has not only made us focus, it's brought the team closer. How can any of us look at each other with anything other than pride and happiness when we choose to keep going despite the burdens of making ends meet? I personally, no longer have a penny to spend but I feel a million dollars. This connects you to the arts in a way that I think those who've struggled to create passionately know only too well. 

Komodo Crunchtime is in alpha now we're a stone's throw away from putting an alphafunding release on Desura. The netcode is almost done and things are moving forward.  Having approached IndieGogo an international crowdfunding platform, publishers and others, we're hopeful our passion shines through and the world will support us. That's why we can't stop the gravy train despite the struggle. Why? Making games is what we love, and love needs passion!

Let's see what the new year holds.

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