I would like to introduce Davide Pasca, another indie developer, a good friend of mine and a real kick ass developer.
1. Davide, give us an intro about you.
I’m a guy with a passion for programming, especially computer graphics, but not necessarily.
I started early as a programmer in Italy, working as a software developer on Mac, while cultivating my passion for graphics and video games on the Amiga first and on PC later on.
I eventually moved to the US in 1995 for my first real job in the game industry. Six years later I moved to Japan, in Tokyo, where I’ve been for about eleven years now.
2. What made you take the decision to be an indie developer?
Working for big developers was very formative and interesting. You get to try out the latest hardware, go to key conventions such as GDC and Siggraph and get to put your name in on famous titles. Which is something that as a programmer I don’t really care about, but still, there’s certainly pride in that and the recognition from people that wouldn’t otherwise remember that I existed five minutes after meeting me.
3. Why video games? Do you plan to develop another kind of applications?
Video games tend to be more fun than other kinds of software development.
At some point I contemplated quitting games to move to computer graphics, perhaps for movie VFX, where I’d get to work on more advanced graphics, but lose the interactive part of it.
However, at a personal level I care for writing code that is also interactive. Games to me are a way to interact and simulate things that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.
Games give a chance to simulate things that if done for real, they would require a life-long commitment, or they would be downright impossible.
It’s only a surrogate, but it’s getting better every day and it’s the only option anyway.
Of course I could just be playing games. But it turns out that I prefer developing them.
Every new game is an excuse to learn new things. Programming is only on the surface, but there are many more things implied. It’s a constant problem solving and an improvement exercise.
It can be very frustrating and it makes me not want to see the game again once I’m done working on it, but the end result can be very rewarding: I feel like I’ve learned new things and thousands if not millions of people will be playing the game. It’s my code running around the world!
I just wish it were as rewarding economically… but that will come as well.
4. Why Japan? It’s not a cheap place to start your own business.
Business in Japan because I live in Japan.
Tokyo is really the city I like. It may not the best place for a game developer, but it’s not the worst place either.
All in all, I think that it’s really important to get to choose where you want to live, and if I couldn’t do that as independent developer, then I wouldn’t feel that independent after all.
5. Which of your mobile games supposed the biggest technical challenge?
The latest and the baddest: Fractal Combat X
Frankly, the technical part wasn’t the most challenging, because it’s usually the fun part to me. The real problem are the boring bits, like setting up the UI and making it act. It’s a bit like doing business software development, with all that code to put into menus with all the whistles and bells that make no difference to the actual in-game experience, but those touches are apparently quite important nowadays.
Of course there are also true technical challenges. For example, the actual in-game rendering does require some compromises to balance rendering quality vs hardware capabilities.
On a PC or a console, things like HDR would come out rather elegantly with full-screen post effects, but on mobile I’m forced to use alternatives that aren’t as heavy on the GPU.
Also, I had to be careful in optimizing the shaders. It takes very little to drag down the performance of a shader, and that can immediately affect the frame rate of the game.
6. Are you doing the whole work or you have your own tribe? If yes, was it hard to find and put together the team?
I’m writing most of the code myself. I write on PC and iOS. Then there’s a friend that takes care of the painful Android ports and helps with the data build pipeline and other things as necessary, all in his spare time from his day job.
As far as art goes, I did most of it in “Final Freeway”, with the help of a couple of friends, one of which also designed a couple of tracks.
Giuseppe ‘MisBug’ Longo took care of the pixel art in “Final Freeway 2R”, and Max Puliero did most of the art for “Fractal Combat” and all of the art and level design for “Fractal Combat X”.
Audio tracks are done externally. The main track for “Final Freeway” was by Angel Studio from Nagoya, Japan. While the tracks for other games are by by Simone Cicconi of the UNDAtheC Studio.
I’ve been waiting for the situation to settle economically to then try to find some more consistent help. I don’t think that I want to keep going doing most of the programming myself. It’s also not very good to design most of the code on your own.
7. During these years, what was the biggest mistake and the best idea?
The best move was probably that of going independent, although it hasn’t been an economical success. But it certainly gave me more freedom and also personified my work more. Gone are the long winding projects that are often canned. Now I get to release what I work on, and friends and relatives see the fruits of my work. That’s really satisfying.
The worst moves were probably ignoring the evolution of the mobile market. I was late to catch the free-to-play train and I relied too much on word of mouth, or being noticed by sites to get reviews and being noticed by Apple to be featured on the App Store.
That’s a portion of the business that shouldn’t be left to chance. On the other hand, it was useful to experience some of those mistakes. Now perhaps I’m better at the business of selling games as well, although I don’t have a solution yet, and the market is a moving target.
One thing is sure: making a quality product and putting it on the App Store or on Google Play is not enough anymore.
8. Any plans for the future? Moving elsewhere or keep growing in Japan?
I’d like to keep my base in Japan. My dream is to earn enough to be able to take time off or simply to live and work somewhere else one month at the time. But so far Tokyo is what feels like home.
Although recent catastrophes happened in Japan have put many things into question!
9. Finally any advice for developers that are planning to make a career as an indie developer?
Like many say, quality should be there, first and foremost. That also means care for the detail in the UI and many other touches that make one feel like the game is “polished”, a term that I find somewhat ironic, but that best describes the attention to the details that is often lacking in cheaper productions.
Then don’t go on the market thinking that the game will sell. It’s hard on iOS, it’s very very hard on Android. There are developers that spend tens of thousands of dollars in marketing and still flop.
If you’re willing to share your revenue, going through a publisher could be a solution, but that also doesn’t guarantees success.
Perhaps try to test the waters making a free but ad-based game, maybe even with optional in-app purchase. Ads are unlikely to make you rich or even sustain your business, but they can be a good source of income.
We had some luck with iAd, Millennial Media, AdMob and Chartboost. Actually, at some point “Final Freeway (Ad Edition)” is what kept me in business. So, try to diversify your monetization models and if possible also try to diversify in the type of games that you make. And Good Loop!
Thanks Davide for your time!
Check out his games, I spent hours having fun with them!