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An interview with ΔV: Rings of Saturn dev - Mariusz Chwalba

Mariusz Chwalba, creator of ΔV: Rings of Saturn on starting as a game creator, rituals, and decisions in gamedev.

Have you always wanted to make video games or was this a relatively new direction for you?

I always wanted to create games, that’s why I picked up programming. My first program was actually a game - but that’s normal if you start programming as a kid.

I overslept the first occasion - when games were made by small teams for the Atari or the Amiga. As with the second occasion - when mobile games were made on the same scale. Today we have a very good situation - independent one-man studios publish games, which sell pretty well. And that’s when I grabbed onto.

I like making games, and in an independent studio there’s this incredible directness - there’s me, there are gamers, and no one in between. I don’t have to explain myself to management, publishers, or anyone else - I answer only to the players. And that suits me very well.

Were you experienced in making games when starting working on dV?

In Gamedev - no, that’s my first serious project.

I had a lot of experience in business programming, though.

What technologies do you work with usually?

Oh, a lot: docker, VMWare, NodeJS, Golang, Java, PHP, MySQL, couchbase, ElasticSearch, angular, electron, Cordova, git - to mention only the ones I used lately. Overall, I do full-stack.

So programming isn’t new to you. How long are you a programmer? Both as a hobby and professionally?

As a hobby - 36 years, professionaly - 23.

I can say with a clear conscience - I’m not new to programming :)

How old were you when you started working on dV?

A little over 40.

If I remember your tweets correctly, you made dV in Godot. Which language did you pick?

Yes, in Godot. The entirety was written in GDScript.

What made you pick Godot?

In the beginning, I wanted to write my own engine and started to look after proper libraries to use. But it turned out that Godot had most of the things I needed, and I liked its scene model very much.

Did you dive straight into making the game, or have you done some time doing tutorials first?

Not with tutorials, but I twice wanted to make an RPG. Because I like RPGs. But the scope was way too large at the start.

You wrote about your game: “A game where you pay the physics of spaceflight proper respect, but it’s still a game, and not just a spacecraft simulator”, were there games that you enjoyed although did not approach the gameplay same way as you did?

I think you asked too wide. Skyrim did not have such an approach and I enjoyed it. I don’t think that’s what you meant :)

Indeed :) I was thinking about space games, specifically.

When it comes to games where you fly spaceships, the last game that pulled me in was Elite 2: Frontier. Yes, in those days. I was hoping that Elite: Dangerous will go in that direction, but I was disappointed.

The X Series does not stick to the scale and its entire “space” is in reality very small.

CoaDE [Children of a Dead Earth] is nice when looking at its realism, but that’s rather a spaceship simulator than a game.
How large is your team?

That’s a very complicated question. Depending on the criteria of “working on a project” the answer would be 1, 4, or tens of people :)

I work full-time, with 3 additional people from time to time and we share profits, and there are also several dozens of gamers, who add things like discovering bugs, sharing ideas, or translating to different languages as part of playing with the game.

Oh yeah, and there were 4 trainees at some point too.

In what phase did you start to delegate work? And what kind of tasks did you delegate?

The team assembled over time, mostly from players.

Modders of your game adding new graphics? Programmers implementing new features?

Coding and graphics I did mostly on my own - I had trainees (also out of gamers) to do that, but they were rather learning, they did not do much of actual resources for the game.

Out of gamers, I manage to recruit the composer of the entire soundtrack, the writer responsible for the story and dialogues, and a person who does marketing.

What is the biggest challenge for beginners in your opinion?

I don’t think I’m the best person to talk about challenges, although I did not make games before dV, I had a lot of experience with software - so I can tell what I observed are problems among my gamedev colleagues.

What did you observe?

Most often - problems with discipline. Leaving bug fixing for later. The tendency to add new ideas to the project results in feature creep with old bugs, which you don’t know how to fix, because they were discovered long ago and can be seen in submodules, which models are way outside the current mental space of the programmer.

Should a gamedev wannabe go straight into making his first game, or would it be better to do some small projects first? Should he learn the engine on a “need-to-know basis” to reach his goal or would it be better to actually learn it first?

There is no contradiction here - he should go all in making his first game, but he should make it small.

What was dV’s MVP like?

Hehe, Delta is still in MVP, I just successfully raise the “minimum” bar :) Its earliest state would be from the moment it was published in Early Access.

How do you find time to work on your game? Evenings? Weekends? Or something else?

I spend a few hours every day (planned, except for Fridays) - creating a habit of working on a project is very important to see it through till the end, and that means doing something every day. On average, I work on the game for 2-3 hours daily, at various times of the day.

What is unchanging are the mornings - every morning, I drink coffee and check all the statistics, I record the progress, and I read the entire feedback for the previous day and night. A tradition of mine.

Are there game genres/types that should not be tackled by beginners?

The classic answer is MMORPG :)

Basically - a beginning game developer should pick something, he thinks he can do in a week. Then in a year or two, there’s a chance it might actually be published.

People often do not realize how much additional work there is when making an application - a game in particular - outside of the basic functionalities.

So the last 10% is the last 90%? But 50 weeks for a game whose prototype took one week?

You can make a prototype in two days on a game jam, but then you have to make a menu, handle resolutions, controllers, keyboard mapping, and settings - a lot of things you don’t think about when starting a project. And there’s scope creep guaranteed. I don’t know a project it did not appear.

Out of experience - when I started working on dV I was thinking it was “something to be completed in a week, so I’ll finish it in two months.” That was in 2018.

Do you have any game ideas you will make after dV?

Yes, three at least :)

Will you return to In Dead Company?

Perhaps, but not as my next project. It was an ambitious idea, which I can enhance with additional experience and even more ideas to add - but I gathered a community around dV, and they will be most probably more interested in science-fiction games.

Could you tell us what were the main features of In Dead Company?

First of all, it was an RPG with many characters and procedurally-generated stories. And that demanded a few times the work dV has.

Do you have any advice for creators who have problems delivering on their own timelines?

You are asking a person who’s doing his two-month project for four years?

My advice is the same as answering the question “What to do when my cat is scratching the furniture?”. Get used to it :)
dV works, because thanks to its format, I can add new content which does not interfere with its gameplay. So it works. It wouldn’t be so easy with other formats.

The game ΔV: Rings of Saturn can be found here.

This interview appeared in my newsletter Wannabe Indie Gamedev first. Subsribe :-)

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