Remember the guys from local gaming development company Rotten Mage?
One-third of the passionate game developers, Chin Yong Kian, has recently embarked on a solo side project, working on a Nokia-inspired game.
And he does all of these while holding down a job at Rotten Mage and lecturing at a local polytechnic!
We find out more about his new passion project and what’s it like to live and breathe game development in Singapore.
The last time we caught up with them, they were working on Spacejacked, an arcade tower defense computer game where you defeat alien monsters and survive.
Rotten Mage is currently working hard on bringing Spacejacked to the PS Vita and PS4 platform and will be due for release by the end of April.
Yong Kian described Serious Scramblers, his latest solo project, as “an intense mobile game” where the player dives into a pit and tries to survive before vanquishing the boss, which is a “massive centipede”.
Space seems to be a recurring theme for these serious game developers, for now.
An old game he played on his old Nokia phone called, Rapid Roll.
Serious Scramblers is still going through beta testing and revisions on the iOS and Android and was slated to be released in May, but after reviewing feedback, Yong Kian decided to work on adding more content and balancing the game.
He shared with a smile that he hopes to launch it “soon”, by the middle of the year.
Yong Kian explained the difference between Spacejacked and Serious Scramblers, despite their similar-sounding names.
“Spacejacked is a blend of two vastly distinct genres and we often found ourselves facing some difficulties with communicating what the game is truly about on social media.”
“With Serious Scramblers I’m aiming to make a game that can be easily understood from a single three to five second gif,” he added.
He revealed that as Serious Scramblers is his personal project, it will not be launched under Rotten Mage.
Doing Some Serious Solo Scrambling
29-year-old Yong Kian started working on Serious Scramblers since March 2017.
To support himself, he became a part-time lecturer at Republic Polytechnic (RP) teaching the Games Programming module, so one of his challenges on his solo journey is finding time to develop the game.
“I spend between two to three days a week [working] at RP, [the other] two to three days on my responsibilities at Rotten Mage, and my free time on personal projects,” he told me.
“As such, I made it a point to make at least a little progress each week, especially during the weekends.”
Another problem he always has with his projects is that he tends to make
his games “really challenging without enough consideration to accessibility”.
So, he’s thankful that some testers and local App Store editors have been exceptionally helpful in giving him advice and feedback, and humbly admitted that he still has “much to address before the game is ready”.
The determined developer has spent a “few hundred bucks” on the music, promo, and icon artwork, and more than 500 hours on development which is entirely self-funded.
So how does he go about designing and programming his game?
“Generally, I have a specific game ‘feel’ I’m aiming for. I would write down on paper certain features I intend to implement, do a graphical mock-up of a level or said features, then implement it in code and continue to tweak it until it ‘feels right’ to me.”
“It’s only then that I’ll show it to friends for feedback and continue to iterate on the features until it is satisfactory,” he told me.
While misconceptions about gamers are common, it was a surprise when I learned that gamers also form misconceptions about game developers too.
“There are gamers who seem to believe that the pixel art aesthetics is adopted by several indie game developers due to ‘laziness’. That is not true – many of us grew up with retro classics like Mario, Zelda, Sonic and so we have an appreciation for the art style.”
“Furthermore, it’s just sometimes not financially feasible for small teams, like Rotten Mage for instance, to adopt a more elaborate and expansive art style. We have limited resources,” Yong Kian explained.
I can tell he doesn’t dread a single day at work, not even at his formal part-time job.
“Teaching game development has allowed me to talk to various passionate students, some of whom spend a great portion of their free time working on their own games,” he quipped.
“It’s always nice to be able to talk to aspiring game developers and share my personal experiences with them.”
The RP lecturer thinks that if anyone intends to “make and release a game” then there is “almost no barrier of entry” to becoming a game developer.
“Tools such as Unity and GameMaker have made game creation more accessible than before. Making money, on the other hand, is a lot harder,” he mused.
“Most of the students I’ve taught are just starting their second year of education. Yet, I know of a number that’s actively working on their own personal projects or taking part in game jams. One even has a game fully playable on mobile devices and looks feature-complete.”
Ah, kids these days! Full of energy and zeal.
The cheerful game developer recounted to me this story: “Back when I was a polytechnic student, I sneaked into Old Changi Hospital in broad daylight with one of my current Rotten Mage partner, Jon, in an attempt to draft out the floor plan of the hospital.
“We wanted to make a horror game based on OCH back then. Clearly, we weren’t nearly equipped enough with the skills and resources necessary to make the game we envisioned back then, but we hope to return to the idea one day,” he shared with a laugh.
Moving Forward From Mistakes And Planning For The Future
He revealed that the number of downloads for his previous mobile title he developed, Jump Over the Rings!, “was abysmal”.
“I can only guess, but I imagine the game’s simplistic graphics and the somewhat unintuitive controls (for a mobile phone) might have a part to play,” he shared.
“In addition to that, the game wasn’t featured on either the App Store or Google Play, so it was very quickly buried under the hundreds and hundreds of newly released games. My style of games tend to be… fast-paced and challenging.”
“With Serious Scramblers, I hope to have as many people as possible download and play the game and consequently slowly grow an audience for my style of games,” he shared.
On how he intends to monetise or make the game profitable, he admitted that he doesn’t have a “sure-fire way” of doing that.
“To keep the barrier of entry as low as possible I’m making the game free, but with ads. […] What I did…was to talk to various people for advice to increase my chances (Tapdaq is very helpful, advising me on how to monetise with ads),” he shared.
“I’ve also reached out to Apple with a build of the game and they have been very helpful with dispensing suggestions on how I should improve the game to make it more accessible and to improve retention.”
Last year we asked his team on what they thought about the gaming culture in Singapore, his co-founder, Lim Chian Song pointed out that there is “still a lack of support for locally-made games” even though it is slowly gaining momentum.
Kian Yong echoed that sentiment saying that “there still is a general lack of awareness for locally-developed games” here.
“[But] as the volume of local games starts increasing, I hope that Singaporeans would begin to recognise local game development efforts as well,” he told me.
“This month alone sees the release of Umiro, Dusty Raging Fist, Streets of Red, Muffled Warfare and our own Spacejacked – so that’s great!”
For aspiring and self-learning game developers, he was more than happy to share his knowledge on some of the free and easily accessible tools for them to use.
“Unity, GameMaker, Construct are all established game engines. For pixel artwork, tools like PyxelEdit and Aseprite are particularly useful – and also inexpensive,” he quipped.
“To generate sound effects, one could also use bfxr, which is a free tool easily downloadable from the net.”
The humble co-founder of Rotten Mage’s advice to developers just starting out: “I’d say to start small.”
“Make sure one’s first game project is small in scope and can be finished within a year (or less!). Making a small game for a first project is significantly less risky than spending years on a single game and counting on it to be a hit – there is a high chance that wouldn’t happen.”
“Actively participating in game jams like Ludum Dare could also be another way to get one’s feet wet – there are quite a number of notable titles that started off as game jam entries made in three days,” he shared.
I asked him what can we look forward to in the upcoming months, and he said that his team wants to explore various other genres and intentions to develop for the Nintendo Switch.
Yong Kian revealed that after Spacejacked is launched on the PS Vita, they’ll go “back to working on quick prototypes to test before deciding what game to work on next”.
“On the side, I’ll also continue to work on personal, small side projects – gotta keep the momentum going,” he said cheerfully.
“For me, it was just fun to be making games. The creative freedom I enjoy from my solo side-projects is also very liberating.”
For those of you like him, a “starving gamedev” as he calls himself, he advised, “I think it’s important that we seek feedback early and ask for help whenever necessary, especially for solo developers, who are missing teammates to act as sounding boards for ideas.”
Featured Image Credit: chinykian