I set aside money, and spend it on game design instead of therapy

“Some people build cars, golf, or go out clubbing, I spend money on software and PCs.”


Foundat.io/n recently had the chance to chat with the team at Cuco Code about their game Occultus Command. Before we jump into the interview, let’s take a moment and watch a short trailer for the game below.

First of all, thank you for having this question and answer session with us. Why don’t you kick things off by telling our audience what Occultus Command is all about?

Occultus Command is about a cyborg and a genetically modified diver, who are both hackers and find information that most of the world is ending. So they act on this information and are attempting to get to safety, where, according to their sources, they’ll be welcomed.

Occultus Command does sound very interesting. Where did the idea for it come from? Out of all the video games you could have made, why did you choose to make this one?

I was watching a movie with my now wife, at that time she was my girlfriend, I think it was journey to the Center of the Earth, and I thought the concept of going underground would provide nice visuals, and also would be a contrast to most stories where the rich and powerful are usually at higher ground. Additionally, I was making a beat-em-up based on a Dominican wrestler, and I felt stuck and instead decided to try my hand at this new story, since I needed a change: a sci-fi metroidvania. I based one character on her, and one on me as a joke at first, but the designs came out pretty cool so I kept them.

I’m sure being an indie game developer has its own advantages and disadvantages compared to being part of a big studio. Can you share with us some of the pros and cons of developing a title as an individual or a small team? What are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced as an indie developer?

What’s great is that I set my own hours, and I can add and take out whatever I want from my game. I have no deadline, or even a budget, which is great. On the flip side, it would be nice to have others who specialize on certain things. I’m doing this because I like drawing, modeling and programming, I don’t really like the marketing side of things, in fact, I am terrible at social media and marketing, but if you’re an indie dev a lot of that will fall on you regardless, even if you have someone who will take lead on that, more than likely you’ll still end up doing some marketing or something else that you may not want to do.

Another thing I’m curious about is how one affords the cost of living as an indie game developer. There are many expenses to consider when starting out, I’m sure. Salaries for your developers, rent for office space, equipment, license fees and advertising are some of the things I could think of. How do you go about managing your budget and how difficult has that been for you thus far?

I’m almost 100% sure I’ll lose money on this project. I have a regular 9-5 that pays the bills, it’s office-cubicle-suit-and-tie kind of work. While it is challenging and steady work, it is creatively stifling. So, I set aside money, and spend it on game design instead of therapy. Some people build cars, golf, or go out clubbing, I spend money on software and PCs. On the other hand, if something exceeds the money I’ve set aside for game design, then I have to do without, sell (donate) plasma, do overtime, or think of creative ways to go about it. For example, I wanted more synthwave tracks, and electronica for the game soundtrack, but it takes money to contract composers, so I reached out to family and friends that were part of a hip hop group in the islands, and got some old beats that I had made for them, but were never used, and I repurposed those for the game. I also sent some of those to a few composers when I had saved some money for them to remix the songs in genres more appropriate to the setting.

Today’s game purchasing audience has become much more varied in terms of which platform they prefer to spend time on. What are your main deciding factors in choosing Steam as your jump-off point for your indie video game? Did you select it for its customer base and the idea of getting the most ROI or does the platform itself inspire the creation of a new game?

At the time I had started making this game, Steam was the most attractive option for me, if not the only one. The Steam Greenlight process seemed pretty good, at least in my mind. Although, it seems like the landscape is changing now, I’ve been pretty happy with Steam, and depending on how it’s received, I might go the Switch route, which I hear is also an attractive market for indie devs.

I know that your video game is still in early access and many developers, big and small do this all the time on Steam. It’s a great way to engage with the community and let them take part in the creation of your video game. What made you decide to forego the full release of the game for an early funding model? Was this decision made before or during the development of Occultus Command?

I always had planned of having some sort of early access/release for the game. I like the idea of balancing things based on community feedback and tweaking it until it’s better. Although it’s pretty standard now for all genres, since I grew up on fighting games, I always had in mind of having like a “turbo” version based on what I saw.

As a game developer, what do you think of people who aren’t happy with a particular aspect of your video game? This can be a complaint against its gameplay, story or customization. Do you take this personally or do you just ignore it and focus on what you have planned ahead?

I don’t take it personally, people pay for a product or invest time in something, they’ll expect something good if not great since there are so many options out there, I’m thick skinned anyways (thanks Drill Sergeant). If someone spends time writing a comment, a critique or making a video, then I’ll read, watch and listen, because they probably have a point, even if it’s expressed in different ways. Some things I expect to get some complaints on, such as the difficulty, and I may move ahead and address it or not, depending on what aspects they have issues with.

What marketing strategies do you use to attract gamers to your title? Has there been anything that’s been working for you thus far?

I don’t think much of anything has worked extremely well, other than grinding and chipping away at it. I think that posting art, WIP blogs or other updates in a few websites has worked out, and being transparent about everything has also been helpful. I ended up finding some people that were interested in my game from random posts. I think one of the times I got a lot of community feedback was from a post about how one of my early team members that was working on my game was arrested in a riot back in Dominican Republic (a riot that he was not a part of), and the other one fell on a refrigerator and hurt himself, so I had to change up my game to not include their style of art, since they both had to bow out of the process entirely.

I noticed that your game also includes local coop. With the inclusion of bosses and power-ups, that seems like a pretty fun time to have with friends. How does the multiplayer aspect of the game work? Do users connect on different computers or can they do it on just one?

The coop is couch coop, it’s set up like the SNES Donkey Kong titles, where one player can tag the other one in. You can do this mid-combo, or as part of other attacks. Each character is better at certain things, and this forces the players to work together to get through some of the harder areas. This also allows one really good player to carry the other. This way I can play this game with my son or wife and still make it to the end, or I can switch before a really hard part and let the other player die at the boss, that way I can blame the loss on them. Either player can switch regardless of who’s actively playing though, which creates…interesting situations.

Lastly, what’s one piece of advice that would you give to aspiring indie game developers?

Make a game that you want to play, that way when the going gets tough, you’re still doing something that you’re interested in, if you’re also doing this as a hobby, then I would also add to involve your family and friends. My wife and I still laugh whenever I bring up a scrapped boss called cyber bear (it was pretty horrible).

Thanks for chatting with us today about your experiences making indie games. To our readers, if you want to play Occultus Command, you can do so by heading over to Steam here.

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