My first game developement... a long history

The story of my first video game. A post with many questions : Why ? How ? When ? What ?

Three months ago, my first game came out. I did a shoot-them-up of the twin-stick shooter family.
I thought that this experience, others might want to try it. So today I will take the time to tell you about what happened during the development of Gaijin Charenji 1: Kiss or Kill (and to avoid repetitions sometimes I would use the term KissOrKill to describe it). 

Why I started it.
I started working on Gaijin Charenji 1: Kiss or Kill in October 2017. At that time, the game did not yet have that name. What made me make a video game? Several reasons.
As an employee of a company, I am not passionate about my work. With the passage of time, we get to know each other, and I think that my development (and therefore my happiness in everyday life) goes through a job that interests me, amuses me, fascinates me. So I sought, in the depths of my soul, another field of development.
For that nothing better than a little introspection.
When I was a kid, I liked to tell myself stories and play alone. I also liked to make jokes, surprises and see how others reacted.
Later, when I discovered video games, on Game & Watch, atari 2600 and then with my first Japanese consoles and arcades, I discovered passion. I then crammed into a video game magazine and frequented arcades a lot.
I was born in 1978, in 2017, it was time to make a decision. In view of this brief assessment, the idea came to me to make a video game.

We have to get started.
Starting to develop a video game on my own, without being a professional, without any particular training, is a choice I had a hard time making. It doesn't seem to be the choice of the obvious, the rational, the reasonable. Especially since as a game enthusiast, I am aware of the difficulties encountered by independent developers. A lot of work, a lot of competition, no guarantee of sales and profitability, a lot of abandoned projects. And then with all these people who want to work in video games, it looks like a crowded area, why would I do it when so many others fail?
Anyway, the decision was made, so you have to assume. You have to take the encouragement of the people who push you to do it, ignore the fears of those who are surprised (worried) at the thought of seeing you go alone. I have enough doubts not to bother with other people's doubts.

Concretely, how I started.
I very quickly opted for Unity as my engine. I had had the opportunity to touch a little bit on the "beast" and it seemed to me to be a pretty versatile environment and adapted to what I wanted to do. However, my knowledge of video game programming being quite limited, I started by training in unity. 
I looked for a tutorial on Udemy and for the modest sum of 10€ I bought some lessons that set me on the stirrup. 
This type of course is not perfect. What is described there is not always optimized, it is not always the best way to do it, but in my case, it allowed me to get started. 

The beginning of the development.
My basic idea was to propose a shoot-them-up in which we would have the possibility/choice to kill the enemies or make them peaceful. I wasn't stopped on the type of graphics or the script. Ideas came up as the development progressed. And to find these ideas I based myself on my constraints, that is, what are my strong points, what are my weak points. 

My main weaknesses 

  • I don't know much about graphics.
  • I'm not fussy about finishing.

My main strengths: 

  • I adapt by learning quickly
  • I am resourceful and imaginative

To compensate for my lack of graphic design skills, I thought it was important to keep it simple. For the simple side of the game to be acceptable from a player's point of view, variety was needed. 
To have variety, it is necessary to change often and that this change is justified. So I defined different types of graphic universe.  But it didn't have to be just a change of skin, it had to be that each change of universe brought its share of novelty. It was while looking for these particularities that I had the idea to wink at the classics of arcade video games (centipede, space invader, pac-man). At that moment, I imposed a rule on myself, each level must surprise the player in one way or another. This is to avoid fatigue. Once there it was certain that the game would not be a game with a long life span, but rather a very arcade game that can end in an hour or two.

Another flaw is that I have never been very thorough. Whether it's to tinker with my house or cook, I like to do it, but the details and finishes to the millimeter are not my strong suit. However, to sell a video game, it is necessary to have a finished product. How to make sure that my game has a visual rendering that makes you want to play it and that it is consistent. To achieve this I added a graphic visual effect that gives a CRT rendering of the cathode-ray screen. This hides the defects of the game and also allows to add a transversal coherence to the different graphic universes. It was also from that moment that the idea of the game's scenario came to me. The story of a game that began 20 years ago by a man, then continued and ended two decades later by his son.

Development steps and tools
In concrete terms, how these two years of development have gone.
After a one-month training period, I started developing the prototype. First thing to set up the gameplay mechanics in a first level. You control a character, his actions impact his karma, time passes. If the character controlled by the player is hit by an enemy or if the time is at 0 it is called game over.
After 3 months I had a first prototype that I had a few members of my family test for Christmas 2017. The game really didn't look like much at the time. However, these first tests allowed me to collect a lot of feedback. This type of step is very important to redirect the development of the title and motivate yourself for the future.

Shortly afterwards, I offered my game for a demonstration at Stunfest 2018 in the independents' corner. We are then in February 2018 and Kiss Or Kill is retained by the Stunfest to be exhibited in the prototype part of the indie village. It was very good news but also a stressful time, because it meant that I had just over two months to present a demo that looked like something. 
A demo worthy of the name must have a beginning, an end, several levels, a high score table, a nickname generator and have a certain coherence. Of course, all these new features must be developed and integrated quickly without creating (too) many new bugs. 
The months before the Stunfest​ were quite challenging, but the game progressed a lot thanks to this. Setting ultimatums is essential to the development of a game, committing to present your game is a good way to constrain yourself and impose milestones (especially when you are alone).

To keep up to date with my tasks to be done, I used a scrum board type progress chart. In my case I used the one proposed by github for the project management. It looks like this.

I had done several columns for myself:

  • backlog with all my ideas. 
  • todo with priority ideas to be developed
  • in progress with the tasks I'm doing
  • to test with the feature dev that had to be tested
  • done with the finished features.

In this painting I put everything in it, whether it's graphics, sounds, paperwork to do or features to develop.
It doesn't seem like much, but this type of painting allows you to organize yourself and see the work done. 

Then came May 2018 and the Stunfest​ show. I was under a lot of stress because of my fucking sense of illegitimacy. I was going to show my first game alone to people I didn't know, calling myself a video game developer....
And then the players arrived. And then something happened. They took the pad out of curiosity and, for the majority of them, didn't let go of it for several minutes of play. Some of them even finished the demo. The audience seemed interested in the pitch of the game, they liked the atmosphere, the originality, in short many reassuring signs. Of course, they came across many bugs and blockages that I hadn't seen. But that's normal on a demo.
In the end, only the positive aspects of this Stunfest​ came out.

At the end of the festival, I knew what pleased and what didn't, and I had a precise idea of how my game should evolve before being released. All that remained was to fix the bugs, add some effects, decline the levels (simple, a priori).

While the plan was clear, implementation was very quickly complicated. Until then I had managed a part-time job with my employer to free myself two days a week. But that ended, I only had evenings and weekends left to move KissOrKill forward. 
Then life playing dice with fate and major personal events came to take priority over everything else. The second half of 2018 was very complicated to move the game forward. So much so that in November 2018 I told myself that the beta version was sufficiently complete to send a first version to Microsoft and offer them to integrate the [email protected] program.

I think at that point I had to wait two weeks before I got an answer from them. Before I find out that it is, Xbox is interested in a game I created. As a passionate player, this moment was a culmination. An unlocked achievement. And once the contracts were signed, the discovery of the dev kits was a real pleasure.
In February 2019, I started integrating Xbox services (authentication, cloud save, achievement, leaderboard). I'm not going to go into detail, but this is not my favorite part. It was very technical and less fun than inventing universes, traps or jokes. However, the Xbox​ testing/validation team was a great help to me at that time. Once all the services were integrated, I sent my game for validation in June 2019. The validation period was also quite long and once again [email protected] made me full of useful feedback quite quickly. The validation of KissOrKill took a little over two months. Two months fixed small bugs and fine-tuned the integration of Xbox APIs. I worked in the morning before work, at lunchtime and in the evening after the children went to bed.
And finally, in a slightly rock n roll way, a little bit hard, I gave birth to my first game on September 4, 2019.

I was not ready, no communication planned and an advanced state of fatigue, and everything was not over....

Now we have to sell.
I was planning to release my game in the summer, a relatively slow period. With the delay, it was released in September, i.e. at the beginning of the big AAA video game end-of-year ball. The week KissOrKill was released on Xbox, it was released among a list of 13 games: 

  • Restless Hero
  • NBA 2K20
  • Creature in the Well
  • Monster Hunter World
  • Gears 5
  • River City Girls
  • Throne Quest Deluxe
  • Monochrome Order
  • Himno
  • Post War Dreams
  • Gaijin Charenji 1 : Kiss or Kill
  • Final Fantasy VIII Remastered
  • Torchlight II

You will notice that in this list there are very large titles and also independent titles that are quite well known.
So how can I sell with all this competition, especially since during the validation phase, I didn't really have time to make contacts and communicate.

What is certain is that we must communicate in all possible directions. Personally I have posted on twitter and facebook. I also contacted sites specialized in video games to try to get a news and/or in the best case a test (a review) of my game. Clearly this step is not easy. Big sites don't bother to answer. Even if they have contact emails, they are certainly too busy with major game releases to focus their attention on a game that comes out of nowhere and that no one has heard of. Especially since proposals like mine must be received several times a day.
That said, I have managed to contact a few specialized sites with a smaller audience, more "fan sites" than professional sites. Metacritic is a good way to search for sites of this type. I then set myself the objective of having a metacritical score. Why not? Why not? If I have to make one game in my life, I might as well do it all the way. So I tried to have enough review to get a metacritical score (you need at least 4). I contacted a lot of people to finally get a score of 80/100 ( in October 2019.
With all this, how many games have I sold? 
After 3 months of marketing I am at 200 copies sold. This is a rather disappointing figure. I really wish I could have sold more. I am currently working on the PC version (steam), maybe it will allow me to do better financially.
The positive point is the feedback that the players have given me. There are really people who liked my game and made more than interesting criticisms of it. It's really nice to see you.

Maybe KissOrKill is too much of a game. It may be too atypical to sell more? I think it benefits from being known. I know it's a unique, weird and atypical game, but I sincerely think it has at least as much quality as it has flaws.

If it were to be done again
Would I do it again. Financially the operation is not interesting. Humanely, I have learned a lot about myself. Technically I learned a lot about video game development. So I have no regrets. I even want to do more. On the other hand, I think it is really important to communicate early in a project and try to create a community. Easier said than done, and then this aspect takes a lot of time. In addition, physically, KissOrKill exhausted me. So I don't think I'm going back to a game development project in addition to a full-time job. It will be necessary to find one or more solutions.

To be continued.

Thank you for reading this post.

If you have any questions about video game development or KissOrKill, I would be happy to answer them.

If you want more information about the game: 

The game site 
The steam page 
The Xbox page 
And to vote for Gaijin Charenji 1: Kiss or Kill as indie of the year on the indieDb website 

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