There is so much that a developer tells you through their game, but there is always more to the story, more to learn and to appreciate. We at Playism would like to take a time out and turn the spotlight onto our game designers and let them tell their tale, in their own words, for everyone to read and appreciate. It’s with great pleasure that I give the blog over to the wit and writings of Smoking Wolf, the patron saint of One Way Heroics and the Wolf RPG Editor.
The journey to becoming a game developer
Like my father who loved model airplanes and radio controlled vehicles, I was into plastic models as a youngster. But, when I turned 12, I became tired of making them exactly as instructed in the manual. After the model is finished you’re meant to admire the details, but I guess I never had much interest in that. I wanted to use my imagination and make something from scratch.
It was around that time that I found RPG Tsukūru (RPG maker) SUPER DANTE for Super Famicom at a second-hand store. I bought it straight away. It had data of a game made by the previous owner, and though I don’t remember in great detail but it was really makeshift and completely different to other games on the market. With this, I felt I had discovered a new kind of freedom. Unlike the plastic models, there was no instruction manual for building, and no parts or materials required. You could make everything inside your head. If I had not encountered RPG Tsukūru, I may not have seriously considered pursuing a career as a pro designer. I guess the timing of it was a real stroke of fortune. A video game flyer also came along with the RPG Tsukūru, which left me wading through a sea of games to discover.
Around the age of 14, I starting wanting to achieve more than what I could with Super Famicom. I borrowed my father’s PC and taught myself to make games with RPG Tsukūru Dante 98 II. Since I went ahead making progress on the structure of the world and creating the elements within it, I was able to touch on the joy of creating events, but the core of the game remained incomplete and I couldn’t do anything with it.
After 5 years of tinkering with Tsukūru I still didn’t have a game that felt complete, but I continued development in the hope of achieving my dream of submitting a game to LOGIN SOFCOM. However, SOFCOM ended while I was a highschool student, so I had nowhere to submit a game. My objective was lost, and I remember feeling downhearted.
In order to overcome my feeling of downheartedness, I told myself I would make a game in just 3 hours, and created an adventure game called “Legend of Restall”. The game could even be considered a joke, but it is the first game I made.
My high school friends found the game very funny when I had them play just the first episode. Realizing I could create something people could enjoy within a number of hours, and that it wasn’t necessary to make something perfect, I was finally able to make my own games.
My friend encouraged me to spread this to the internet, and so my homepage was created. At first it was not Silver Second, but more of a personalized and informal SmokingWOLF hub called Willful SmokingWOLF’s Room. I also uploaded “Legend of Restall” there, but as there were few page views at the time it did not receive a big reaction. The site was accessed about 10 times per day. But I do remember receiving comments from a group of people.
At high school, even during study for the entrance exams I’d borrow my sister’s pen tablet and practice drawing, making games… while at home I somewhat secretly continued to do these things. My household was quite strict, you see. At least, not the kind that would easily allow you to pursue a career as a musician.
As for University, I wanted to study in a department that handles artificial intelligence and entered Hiroshima City University. At this time I had not thought of making games for a living, but now that I was living alone and no longer under the eyes of my parents, I could continue to make games as I pleased.
So I made “Silhouette Note: Kembunroku” while at University, and distributed it as a free game. Somewhat unfinished, the game ended after 5 episodes, but it was received extremely well. My homepage was unable to cope with the sheer amount of comments coming in, and neither was I. At the time there were few people who could draw facial graphics, so I guess that had been my advantage.
Now I had an understanding of game systems, so I set out to make“Celestial Silfade Story” as a reputable work. As if to clear away my disappointment at no longer being able to submit to LOGIN SOFCOM, I entered a contest and won first prize.
Access to the site was pretty high – it was the peak of SmokingWOLF (laughs).
It wasn’t like now where it is standard for companies to make free games, so I think the lack of competitors was to account for the large number of views.
Whether to change jobs, or live off gaming
In the end I hit a point where IT-related work had become so exhausting I felt I had to make a decision whether to change jobs or live off of gaming, and the realization that I physically just couldn’t take it anymore. If I was making money at my own pace, I could simply change jobs again should that fail. So I made the decision to put my efforts into selling games.
So I entered graduate school to give myself an extra two years, and planned to use that time as a testing period. That way I would have nothing to lose. During that period, I had a few offers from some game companies but, not willing to give up wanting to focus on making what I wanted to make, I turned them down and spent many days splitting my time between creating games and going to school. [I worked so hard] I even found blood in my stools. (laughs)
At the time, I don’t think shareware was as popular as it is now, but I was interested in AlphaNuts’ “A Smile of an Angel,” where you could form a contract with WebMoney and sell the game on your own site. I was impressed by this setup, and when I requested WebMoney documentation, all of a sudden we were exchanging introductions. I think that now, an individual can’t become a member store, but at the time I was approved immediately. Maybe I was just lucky and they were pushing for more WebMoney member stores at the time.
Once “Silhouette Heart” went on sale and did pretty well, I showed the results to my parents and they agreed to support my decision to devote my life to creating games. That was when I realized this world really does run on money. (laughs) That was when I fully devoted myself to the game-creating lifestyle.
There was nothing to lose, but deciding to make games for a living while everyone around me found more stable employment took some courage. Thinking back on it, I owe a lot to dumb luck, but in the process of making that decision, I continually considered my chances of survival and succeeding; like my own life has been a case of “One Way Heroics”.
Where do you start when creating games?
I start from the very basic parts to get it going. It was around the time I was making “One Way Heroics” that I started thinking from “What do I need to make the alpha version…?” Until recently I didn’t put that much thought into it, instead just randomly starting by drawing the character’s faces and so on. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, out of all the work that goes into making games, the visuals and fleshing it out are fairly interesting aspects. But to do that first means all that’s left in the end is the not as interesting work that goes on and on, so I feel it’s better to save the visuals for later and make a prototype while the idea is still fresh. If anything, if the prototype isn’t interesting, it’s easier to let the project die at that point.
Looking back on the international release of “one way heroics”
I think I started considering an international release in an abstract way when I found out about IGF in 2009 and thought I could enter if I made a shooting game. In my blog I wrote that I wanted to submit something to IGF but didn’t know any English so maybe I would start studying it, but in the end I didn’t get any studying done and spent all my time in making the game. I finished “One Way Heroics” around 2010, which was the perfect timing.
At the time there was a definite attitude that international was the way to go. Or maybe I was just jealous of other people I’d seen who had garnered support and released Japanese games internationally.
To be honest, I felt that “One Way Heroics” wasn’t actually complete. However, as a free-to-play game, there wasn’t much more that I could do with it. This is why when the international release was proposed as a “plus version”, I thought, “yes! Now I can complete it!” In the end, making the game complete took over a year and a half.
The time was also good, too. If it had all happened a little earlier, my drawings would have been too embarrassingly bad to put out into the world. Even at the point I was doing “One Way Heroics” my art was only barely passible.
I had no idea what the overseas market or tastes were like, so I honestly had no idea how well it would sell. Someone from PLAYISM said that it could have some niche appeal, which seemed alright to me. Once we released it, I found that there were more people than I had even imagined who enjoyed the JRPG-look of it. Additionally, it helped that we released the original version first. It was just before the Steam market became saturated as well, so there were a lot of people who downloaded the original release. If we had waited to start with the Plus version release, it might not have sold at all. A lot of happy coincidences came together and we ended up with the best result we could get.
You could actually say that “Astebreed” is where we’re really testing our limits. Since it doesn’t really have the ‘look’ of something that would sell well, how we push it and just how much luck we’ll have will be equally important in the future.
This time luck was on our side. It’s a one-sided thing, but it really does feel like the results we get are 70% luck, 30% everything else. When you think about it that way, you really begin to understand why Nintendo chose a company name that basically means ‘leaving luck up to the heavens’.
A huge thanks to Smoking Wolf for all his time and dedication to One Way Heroics, the fans and his history with Playism. If you’d like to read more, you can go back and check out our interview that we posted last week!