Welcome to another edition of Developer Diaries. This week, I caught up with Rory Mitchell who is currently working on action RPG Story Arcana.
HI RORY, WHY NOT START OFF BY INTRODUCING YOURSELF.
My name is Rory Mitchell, and I'm an indie game developer from Singapore. I also recently founded my own game development studio Cyomo.
I started toying with making games at an early age with Klik & Play and RPG Maker. Around 2003, I started helping out on game projects I found online that interested me - pro bono I might add. (I was 11... I didn't know I could ask for money!)
Some of the work I did for free started leading to freelance opportunities, though they were mainly web design jobs initially. I later studied game development for 3 years, worked in the local game industry for the experience, and then realized it wasn't for me - so I quit to work on my own ideas while funding them with freelance work. I've never looked back since.
As of January 2019, I've been working on a game called StoryArcana, which is actually the first major single-player game project I've ever started.
Illustration by Pina
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE CONSTRUCT?
I think the main reason is how comfortable I am with the engine. I think that has to do with me being exposed to Klik & Play and making Warcraft 3 custom maps when I was young. Somehow wc3edit's paradigm ended up being a good introduction to Construct's.
Although I do have programming experience, I don't really enjoy writing code. Programming is a means to an end for me as my passion is making games... so I use anything that I can to get the job done. For that reason, visual scripting has always been more enticing to me.
There are a lot of engines these days that have node-based visual scripting implementations, but those never really interested me. In my experience, they get messy fast. It could be because I started off and spent most of my years programming, but I actually do like the traditional format of top-to-bottom code, so I think Construct's event system is perfect for me.
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT STORYARCANA AND THE STORY BEHIND IT?
StoryArcana is an Action RPG set in an open-world centred around an academy of arcane arts. You play as a young boy who is transported to this world and gets to attend the academy for one year as part of an exchange program!
The game started out as a simple idea that I jotted down in my notes which just read "Isekai RPG". I started to develop a world around that idea, inspired by anime I enjoyed like My Hero Academia & Naruto, as well as movies and TV shows like Harry Potter, The Magicians and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
YOU'VE RECENTLY BROUGHT IN SOME PEOPLE TO HELP YOU DEVELOP THE GAME. WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FOR FINDING THE RIGHT FOLKS TO WORK WITH?
Well mainly, I've really been lucky to meet truly great and talented people in the past year that have helped shape parts of the game that I could've never done alone. It's not all luck though. You really need to keep a keen eye when it comes to screening people and learn how to say no.
I believe that as an indie game developer, it is important that your own time is spent working on the parts of the game that you are skilled in. Don't find people to do what you can do yourself. Find people to fill in for your weaknesses lest your job ends up as just full-time team management.
Besides skills and talent, I've found that an important trait to look out for is humility and eagerness to improve. A good question you could ask is, "is there anyone in your field you really look up to?"
Lastly, I think when you have a good idea (and something to show for it), good projects tend to attract good people and keep them motivated naturally. Don't worry too much!
WHAT'S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST DEVELOPMENT HURDLE SO FAR?
For StoryArcana, I think I've been extremely blessed. I've really had a smooth time working on it so far! Thanks of course to the Construct team, the Construct community, and my amazing teammates.
Recently, however, I released a gameplay teaser that has garnered some responses. While most of it has been positive, I've gotten some feedback that the game resembled Harry Potter too much. This could be a good thing to some extent (since it is one of my inspirations), and any similarities that I included was out of love and not malice for it. I really thought that would be clear, but some people still seemed to take offense to its similarities.
Anyway, the feedback did affect me quite a bit even though I did expect the comparison. I had hoped it would be pointed out as a good thing. In reality, the comparison was rather negative.
It's completely my fault though. Looking back at the teaser video, I definitely leaned too heavily into its similarities and didn't showcase what was unique about the world we're creating. Since then, we've been hard at work making radical changes to the game's characters and world. As such, a lot of the promotional material shown just over a month ago is already outdated. I also believe that when people eventually try the game, they will find it sets itself apart rather quickly!
ANY MEMORABLE DEV STORIES?
At the risk of sounding like an old man reminiscing about the good ol' days... I just want to bring up some experiences I've had that have little relevance today but might be interesting to newer game developers.
When I started working on games in 2003, game engines were really expensive to license. Game development was really strange back then, and we spent a lot of time building games from open-sourced game codebases or just building game engines from the ground up.
A lot of these homebrew game engines weren't very advanced either. The first game engines I worked on used to load up bitmap files (.bmp) which didn't support alpha/transparency, so the renderer sampled the colour of the top-left pixel of the image file and treated that as a colour to remove from the rest of the image. Essentially, chroma keying. People who used RPG Maker 2003 would probably remember this!
Also, back then, dithering wasn't just a pixel art shading technique to give the graphics more texture or blend colours. It was the only way we could get pseudo-translucency in our graphics. Even after renderers were able to render alphas, some developers still used this technique as it was a lot less graphically intensive than real alpha rendering. This was especially useful on less powerful hardware like the Gameboy Advance as seen in the game "Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand". In it, you will find both methods of rendering, a rare blend only really seen in that generation of games.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE DOING THEIR OWN GAME PROJECTS?
Don't work on a game you aren't interested in. What I mean by that is, if you need to make a living, of course, take up jobs that make you money. But if you're embarking on making your own game and you can choose anything at all to work on... don't just work on something because you think it's a good idea based on today's trends.
Choose to work on games that you'd want to play yourself, and that you'll still be in love with a long time from now. Most games worth making are going to take years of work, so it's important to deliberate on what you're going to invest all that time and money into.
It's a little morbid to think this way, but each of us only has X amount of games we'll be able to work on and finish in our lifetimes. What do you want your legacy to look like?
ANY FINAL THOUGHTS?
I'm really thankful to Laura and Scirra for reaching out and asking me to do this developer diary. I'm someone who has a lot I want to say, but never really has an opportunity to put it into words.
Finally, I just want to say that as someone who has been through the days of hardcoding game engines with Visual Basic 6 (in an IDE that doesn't even have scroll wheel support), DirectX7 as a renderer and WinSock as a networking socket... I really appreciate the conveniences that modern-day engines, and especially Construct 3, provide me. As someone who isn't interested in any of that low-level work, modern game development tools are truly a luxury and one I'll personally never take for granted.
If you liked what you saw on StoryArcana, do follow me on Twitter and Wishlist the game on Steam! If you have anything you'd like to ask me, I'm in the Construct Community Discord as well.