This month, we spoke to two of our developers, who decided to do the impossible and make a game entirely by themselves: Gareth Damian Martin, the developer behind In Other Waters, and Coyan Cardenas, who created Stillness of the Wind. They spoke about their experiences being a solo dev and offered their wisdom for anyone considering following in their footsteps.
Before we dive into the interview with our solo devs, this Travel Diary ties into the Tiny Teams event happening on Steam at the moment.
Tiny Teams Festival & Indie Arena Booth:
Yogscast are hosting an event on Steam, the Tiny Teams Festival. From August 9 – 15, celebrating games developed by micro studios.
Later this month, from August 27 – 30, we’ll be participating in Indie Arena Booth, where you’ll be able to visit digital booths for our upcoming games, play demos, and watch live streams.
Solo Travellers 🚶♂️
Why did you decide to make a game by yourself?
Gareth Damian Martin, In Other Waters: “For me, making a game by myself came naturally. With a background as a writer, graphic designer, artist, and games critic I knew that I had the necessary spread of skills to make a game. In fact that was what drew me to games: it is a medium where so many different types of creative work come together. In all my previous work I used one aspect of my skills, just my writing, or just my design, but in games I could use all my skills simultaneously to create something complex and multi-layered, that was very exciting to me! Of course I didn’t make In Other Waters totally by myself, no one does, I had assistance from a programmer for more technical tasks and I had a composer and sound designer, the wonderful Amos Roddy. But I welcomed the chance for almost complete creative control, even if it meant a lot of learning and revision along the way.”
Coyan Cardenas, Stillness of the Wind: “I started making games by myself because I didn’t think anyone would want to work with me ;( But I enjoy the creative freedom that comes with it now, there’s a certain expressiveness that comes with not having to justify design decisions which I think can be hard to maintain in bigger teams.”
“Stillness was my first commercial game, so I was pretty much learning as I went, doing everything for the first time”
– Coyan Cardenas
What was the hardest thing about being a solo dev?
Gareth Damian Martin, In Other Waters: “I think there are two things that are particularly hard when you are a solo dev. The first is managing all your different roles, you often have to switch between being a producer, a programmer, an artist and a game designer in a single day, and this can be tiring and difficult. Planning my time around this became important, and creating systems that allowed me to plan and re-plan the process often, to keep it flexible and respond to what I felt like doing helped to keep me going! The second is not having anyone to bounce ideas off or to discuss issues with. I think as a solo dev its important to have a support network of people you trust who you can use as play-testers and show builds to, so you don’t end up lost in the minutiae of your idea. This was something I had to learn, and am still working on.
However, I think learning is one of the most exciting parts of being a solo dev–it is not about having all the answer and then making the perfect game, it is about learning new things, staying open, and adapting to your abilities and limits in order to produce something original and reflective of your own desires and interests! This is why I love it – I think it’s a whole different practice to working in a traditional game dev team.”
Coyan Cardenas, Stillness of the Wind: “I think for me it was when you’re just not sure about something and don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off, and you need to make a call. Trying to hold back that self doubt, not to get paralysed by it, can be really difficult. Something I think gets easier with the camaraderie of a team effort. (Also if things go wrong you can always blame someone else :), but being solo there’s only one person to blame, which adds a lot of pressure). Stepping back and getting some perspective always helps, though as a solo dev working on a passion project it’s easier said than done. It doesn’t help that Stillness was my first commercial game, so I was pretty much learning as I went, doing everything for the first time, which adds a lot of time and stress to development.”
“In games I could use all my skills simultaneously to create something complex and multi-layered, that was very exciting to me!”
– Gareth Damian Martin
Would you do it again?
Gareth Damian Martin: “Already am ;)”
Coyan Cardenas “Sure”
Do you have any tips for people looking to try solo development?
Gareth Damian Martin, In Other Waters: “Give yourself a fixed window of time (no more than 6 months. A single month, or even just a week is probably better!) and design a project around this time limit. Stay fixed on this limit and make sure the idea you have fits, if you are running out of time, cut the idea down to fit. Then once you have something show it around to friends, evaluate it, and see if you can build on it. This is the best way to learn–keep it short, keep it simple, and don’t succumb to bloat or scope creep. If you want to know more about this approach look up Adam Robinson-Yu’s GDC talk on making A Short Hike, he is a master at this!”
Coyan Cardenas, Stillness of the Wind: “I would say pace yourself. A lot of work goes into making a finished game, way too much to be handled by one person really, so if you decide to do it take all the time you need, don’t try to rush it. It will try to engulf your life and suck up every hour of your day, but it’s important not to neglect family and friends and time to relax, or you’ll soon burn out and our dream project could turn into a nightmare.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
Gareth Damian Martin, In Other Waters: “It’s worth remembering every solo dev has years of experience and a whole group of people behind them. I couldn’t have made In Other Waters without the decade I spent working in creative jobs, and I couldn’t have pulled it off without the support of my partner and friends, as well as the support of Fellow Traveller (<3).”