The end of an era

That title sounds so dramatic! In Marvel terms, maybe more appropriate would be "the end of Phase One". With the release of The Adventures of Elena Temple: Definitive Edition just around the corner, on December 24th, the first two years of my indie adventure conclude.

My first indie game

While I knew for a long time I wanted to be an indie developer at some point, it took a lot of saving before I finally had the courage to embark on this adventure. That the company I previously worked for had shut down surely helped too. Like all dreamers, I too thought about making big complex games that would put my name on the map. But I'm also a realist (pessimist even?) and I knew I alone had no power to create such things. And in all honesty, while my ego thought it wanted that, my heart didn't. My heart wanted to enjoy making games. To make them for the love of the craft.

Considering that, I started working on my first indie game, The Adventures of Elena Temple, thinking that likely nobody will care for it. The people who heard what I was doing and who saw initial screenshots were less than impressed and for good reason. Who in their right mind would think that a monochrome (the visual skins with two colors came much later) pixel art platformer is a good idea? And yet that made me want to see it happen even more. "Make the games nobody else would" became some sort of mantra for me. I was going to make it, put as much love into it as I could while also maintaining a decent work schedule and timeline, and I was going to enjoy the hell out of the process.

One year later, I had my game on:
  •, having also tried early access there
  • Steam, for the first time witnessing for myself that just releasing a game isn't at all good enough
  • Nintendo Switch, such a dream come true for me and it was actually selling well enough, with a very warm reception by smaller reviewers and streamers
  • IndieBox, a PC physical edition of the game, with a map, manual, stickers and more inside, which was a blast to work on and so blissful to finally hold in my hands

Publishing games

A little more than a year after first starting work on The Adventures of Elena Temple, I started prototyping something new, namely Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale. But then I had a very interesting talk with Square Heads Games. We agreed I'd help them out with porting and publishing their game, Cake Laboratory, for Nintendo Switch. I loved how delicious it looked and I welcomed the opportunity and experience. To our delight, the endeavor was a success, the game having sold very well, at least for us, a handful of people.

We followed with Rollin' Eggz, but although a lot of love had gone into the game to prepare it for the Nintendo Switch release, sales were nowhere near as good as those for Cake Laboratory. I'm still very happy to have the game in my portfolio though. If nothing else, at least for the fact that a Russian clone of Nintendo's Game&Watch Egg was I think my first ever contact with video games.

More Elena Temple

After a rocky start of the year on my personal life - being an adult is really hard - in April I was left with a choice. I now had The Adventures of Elena Temple concept approved for Xbox One, PS4 and PS Vita, plus all the dev kits in my new office. So I had to choose between porting Elena Temple on a new console or go back to Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale. Since I took a break for Elena Temple while porting the two games from Square Heads Games, I returned to it with much fondness. This was a game that did well enough for me when I thought it would be completely ignored. Even more so, there were a decent amount of people who actually loved it.

So I decided to give it more visibility by bringing it to at least a new system. I chose Xbox One to be the first because of a contract requirement. I hoped I'd do the PS4 and PS Vita versions after. But, while I'm very happy I went with Xbox One, as it allowed me to finally interact with the last huge part of the gaming industry I had little contact with before, the porting took me much longer than expected. Not wanting to release the game on a new console more than a year after its first launch with nothing new to show for it, I decided to add an exclusive new dungeon, with 20 rooms and new game mechanics, plus a bunch of other improvements.

Just like on Nintendo Switch, the reception was immensely friendly. Once again, there were people loving my quirky little game and praising me for it. It didn't sell as well as on Switch, but it sold enough for me to be happy that I decided to bring it to a new console. My community increased, I met awesome new people and I now have enough experience to bring my next games to at least two major consoles and PC.

The Definitive Edition

Once I got a taste for making new levels for Elena Temple and feeling like the new ones were an improvement compared to the originals, I wanted to make more. I knew I'd need to bring the second dungeon to Nintendo Switch and Steam eventually, so an idea formed in my head. What if I made a third dungeon, almost doubling the content of the original version of The Adventures of Elena Temple? From 55 rooms, including the secret ones, I'd go to 102 rooms, also including the secrets. I could release this new version as a standalone on Nintendo Switch, with the extra content hopefully justifying a purchase even from previous owners - who would get it for 80% off, so basically just one Dollar or Euro.

And so I decided that's what I'll do, make a Definitive Edition and have it release before Christmas. The problem? The deadline for submissions on Nintendo Switch to make the release date was super tight. I had to crunch for more than a month, effectively working with no breaks day and night, weekends included. At the end I started to get sick, jumping from one cold and infection to another, and I'm still recovering more than a month later. But, my Definitive Edition is ready to release on December 24th, on Nintendo Switch as a standalone and as a free update on Xbox One, Steam and itch - hopefully the added content will give it a sales boost, since releasing a separate version on these platforms would make no sense.

Vacation, plans and hopes

Now that I'm done with most things for the Definitive Edition release, I want to take a vacation for the rest of the year, recover my health and energy, spend time with my family and play some games. It's been a really hard year for me, especially on the personal side, but I made it out alive and I want to enjoy some well earned time off.

For next year, first I intend to work on porting Buddinpals for Nintendo Switch. When that's taken care of, I'm focusing fully on Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale. I'm excited to design some nice puzzles and to make something very different from Elena Temple. I don't know how much time it'll take me, but I want to once again enjoy making the game and to create for the love of the craft. I'll probably spend too much time on a puzzle game, but hopefully it'll end up at least as loved as Elena Temple is. The goal is to release it until Christmas 2020, on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Steam and itch. But who knows how it'll go? Maybe I'll be able to release it on all simultaneously, maybe not, maybe I won't even finish it next year. I don't know, but I want to enjoy the process.

There is another game I want to publish, hopefully also next year, one on which I'm also helping out a bit with the design and polish. But it's still early to say anything more. All I know is that if we end up working together, porting it will be a pain, since it's made in yet another engine, not Unity which I'm using and not the one for Buddinpals. The positive side is that in the end I'll also have three engines I can work with, both for myself and for publishing. Which is awesome for one person, but also a bit overwhelming. I'm very excited about this game though, I really hope we manage to find a solution to make it happen.

I want to also bring Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale and The Adventures of Elena Temple: Definitive Edition on PS4 and, if it'll still be possible, on PS Vita, but that's probably something for 2021, if something more exciting doesn't get in the way. I also want to return to my pixel art and probably Elena Temple in 2021, I have a couple of spinoffs in mind I'd like to create before making a proper sequel. And if Long Ago: A Puzzle Tale sells decent enough, I want to make more puzzle games. But that's way too many plans and other stuff will surely make me change them.

As for hopes, I have two big ones and a tiny one. First, I hope that The Adventures of Elena Temple: Definitive Edition does well enough to justify the effort put into creating all the extra content. Second, I hope that next year I can take on the difficulty spikes life throws at me more light-hearted. And the tiny third hope is that I'll have a bit more time to play some games, read some books, watch some movies etc.

After more than two years since going indie, the first stage ends with the release of The Adventures of Elena Temple: Definitive Edition. It was a great couple of years, with more achievements than I could hope for. Here's hoping to the next couple ones being at least as good and, if I may indulge in such frivolities, with a bit more sales - breaking even with my bills would be so perfect!