Welcome to another edition of Developer Diaries! This week, I caught up with Louis Denizet from Hibernian Workshop, a French indie studio currently working on Astral Ascent.
HI LOUIS, WHY NOT START OFF BY INTRODUCING YOURSELF
Hello everyone, my name is Louis, though you may have seen me around the Construct Community as Xsoul. I became a game developer about seven years ago after a year doing Game Design at university. I started out working in a few independent studios, but I did also have the opportunity to work as a tester at Ubisoft Annecy. While doing my day job though, I was always working on personal projects – initially in Clickteam Fusion 2.5 which I'd learned to use as a prototyping tool at university.
One of those projects was a game called Dark Devotion and it evolved enough for me to find people to work with me on it. We set up a Kickstarter campaign for it in September 2017 (which was successful), found a publisher and started our own studio named Hibernian Workshop!
I'm also a huge fan of game jams, and I think thanks to them, I've developed my own style of game which represents me – very much orientated around gameplay and the core loop. If you wanna check any of them out, take a look at my itch.io page! (All the recent ones, like Loophole, were made in Construct 3!)
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE CONSTRUCT?
I never learned to code but did I learn to use Clickteam Fusion 2.5 in my game design class. Though it took me years of practice before I felt comfortable with it. My work with indie studios got me using Unity for a bit and I even made a few games on it for mobile with Playmaker visual scripting extension. But, it felt really long-winded and complicated to do very basic stuff, I felt stuck.
Eventually, I gave Construct a try with a tutorial from Udemy and it was a true revelation! Everything was easy and really good to use! I genuinely spent my first months yelling with joy as I kept finding features that were missing from my previous engine. So far, I've found that Construct 3 has everything I need to make all the games I want to make!
YOU'RE CURRENTLY WORKING ON ASTRAL ASCENT, TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE GAME AND THE STORY BEHIND IT.
We've been working on Astral Ascent since late 2019 and when we started the project, we wanted to work on a game genre we were comfortable with. So, we've ended up with a 2D platformer that has rogue-lite elements and impressive bosses! At Hibernian Workshop, we love playing these types of games, so it was easy to settle on what we wanted to work on. Construct is still a fairly new engine to us, so we're also trying to stay close to what we know mechanics-wise. As well as settling on the gameplay, we knew we wanted to move far away from Dark Devotion so we've gone from a dark, fairly oppressive game, to a bright, colourful game with a lot of aerial action!
To sum up, it’s a rogue-lite 2D platformer with 4 heroes to play as, 12 bosses (based on the signs of the Zodiac) to face and optional two-player coop.
We're hoping that we're making a game that has a unique atmosphere and is fun to play, and there is a way you can tell us if we are! We're building a demo version that will be available on March 29th on the game's Steam Page, so feel free to download that, try it out and give us your feedback!
YOUR KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN FOR THE GAME GOES LIVE AT THE END OF MARCH. HOW HAVE PREPARATIONS BEEN GOING? HAS ANYTHING BEEN PARTICULARLY CHALLENGING TO GET DONE FOR IT?
Our campaign will go live on March 29th but you can subscribe to it already if you want to!
A Kickstarter is always stressful, but we have already done one with Dark Devotion, so we know what to expect. Plus, we probably made a lot of potential mistakes during our previous campaign. We had no marketing and only focused on development during the campaign. This time though, we come into it much more prepared. We have hired a marketing company (which is very important because there is so much to do, all the time!), we have prepared a lot of very exciting physical rewards and several stretch goals.
We have also left the Kickstarter until later in the development of the game, so we already have a lot of things to show and even the aforementioned demo. Nothing has been particularly challenging so far, but it is a lot of work to put together a campaign and the demo is keeping us busy as we try to make sure we're ready in time!
Although, there is something that is quite the time sink: trailers! It takes so much time to do and it is very hard to make sure it's up to the standards of other trailers that players are used to seeing! I think our trailer will take about 2 weeks of full-time work to be ready.
WHAT'S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST DEVELOPMENT HURDLE SO FAR?
Our biggest hurdle is an ongoing one: we want to self-publish! We think we are capable of it and that now is the right time to take our chance. It will be risky, but if we're successful, we think it'll help stabilise our studio and allow us to grow even more for future projects!
It is challenging because everything is uncertain. When you have a publisher, you have a steady income and less risk, but self-publishing means you have to make sure your studio can handle more tasks like QA, marketing, PR, ports, translations, and of course funding!
Apart from that, so far, we've not faced any major challenge regarding the game's code. I would say for us, the design has more often been a challenge than the code itself.
YOU'VE GOT QUITE THE TEAM AT HIBERNIAN WORKSHOP. CAN YOU GIVE US A BIT OF BACKGROUND ON THE STUDIO? HOW YOU ALL CAME TOGETHER?
Hibernian Workshop started out back in 2017 and there were just four of us when we released our first project. Interestingly, all of us were 'self-taught' in our fields. For example, our lead artist Alexandre never did any pixel art before we started working together. He was working in a pharmacy, and I personally come from a sociology background! We've put in a lot of effort but we've eventually reached the level of quality we wanted from our work!
Dark Devotion was a much bigger success than we had expected and to begin with, we only aimed for a small release on PC. But in the end, it released on consoles, in a lot of languages, had a physical release and it gave a real boost to our studio.
For Astral Ascent, it was only Alexandre and I involved in pre-production in late 2019, but with public help and money from previous projects, we have created a talented team around the project, including Construct community member Relixes who is doing a fantastic job on the game! We have also hired a new full-time artist and we work with freelancers for narrative design, sound design and music.
We are hoping to grow the studio a bit more, maybe with an extra developer and QA tester, but we will see how things go in the future!
You can find additional details about the story of our studio here if you want to.
ANY MEMORABLE DEV STORIES?
I've had a lot of really great moments (and of course some not so great) but a lot of them are linked to game jams either because of the game I built or the people I worked with.
One I remember fondly was a game called L'Ascension. The game was made with some friends, and it ended up winning a competition to be displayed at a museum in Paris. So, not only was it a lot of fun to build, the end result for the game was really cool too.
The first mobile game I released was pretty special too. My girlfriend helped me out with the art, and we were really proud of what we made!
Dark Devotion also had a lot of cool moments associated with it – particularly seeing it on YouTube Let's Play videos.
But if I had to pick just one, it would be when one of my jam games (Orbital) appeared as the thumbnail for an article dedicated to Ludum Dare on France's largest games website. I know there was a bit of luck involved there, but I was very proud and so happy when it happened!
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE DOING THEIR OWN GAME PROJECTS?
A lot of things come to mind, but the most important one in my opinion is when you're starting out, aim for really small projects. First projects are supposed to help you learn and if you start off with something big you will have to re-do things over and over again as you learn!
That is why game jams are so good for learning a new engine. You invest only a few days of work and you end up learning a lot for your next projects. I also think that pre-production is something that is often forgotten on small projects, but it is so important to take the time to plan and prepare everything before really starting things!
ANY FINAL THOUGHTS?
Something that is important for me to share is that thanks to software like Construct 3, anybody can make games with enough effort and dedication! For instance, when I started using Clickteam Fusion I was following German (a language I don't speak) tutorials from and at the time I had really no idea of what I was doing. But with time and effort, things started to make sense. So, even if you are not a trained developer and you can eventually end up making bigger projects with enough practice if you want to!
Finally, thanks a lot to everyone involved in the Construct Community! I really think it makes a huge difference to have people to talk to when you are working on long term projects, and the community is so helpful!