Solo Dev - Bastien Giafferi

Bastien Giafferi, creator of The Operator

After graduated of ENJMIN, Bastien then worked for a time at Digixart as a programmer, notably on Road 96, before going solo with The Operator. Influenced by works such as X-Files and Her Story, this game immediately caught my eye because of its aesthetic and the themes it tackles. So I was delighted to chat to Bastien to find out more about his background and his game.

Point’n Think: Can you tell me a bit more about your path to The Operator? What made you decide to get involved in this game in time? 

Bastien Giafferi: Basically, like many people, I’ve always loved video games. And then the moment comes when you’re asked, what do you want to do in life? I didn’t think that developing video games was a viable option. When I was still at primary school and even at secondary school, I imagined that it was only the Japanese who made video games. I started looking into this seriously when I discovered a developer sharing his mobile game on the web, on OpenClassroom. I was talking about Frédéric Roland-Porche, who had his studio Equilibre Games at the time. It was a revelatory moment when I realised that creating games could be much more than just a hobby. I was still a student at the IUT at the time and I took the initiative of contacting him to find out more about his career and to try and get a work placement with his company. Aware of my lack of experience in tools such as Unity, which were preferred in the industry, I knew I had a lot to learn. I then went on to study at ENJMIN, where I honed my skills and sharpened my artistic vision. My internship at DigixArt, where I contributed to projects such as 11-11, Memories Retold and Road 96, gave me valuable work experience in the industry.

solo dev Bastien Giafferi

And in the checklist of things I wanted to do in my life, there was “make an ambitious game on my own.” But I knew very well that I didn’t have what it took to do that. After my stint at Digixart, I left to do my project on my own.

PnT: Can you share with us the inspiration behind The Operator and how the concept evolved?

Bastien: The Operator has its roots in my desire to create a game that stays within my comfort zone, allowing me to concentrate on familiar themes and a manageable scope of action. It’s an idea I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while, fuelled by my love of plot twists and user interfaces. The inspiration for the concept began to crystallise while I was watching The X-Files, where I was fascinated by the perspective of the people behind the scenes, the agents who are barely seen on screen but who do all the research. I’ve always had a multitude of ideas in my head, written down in a little notebook, but The Operator became a special project for me. I’m drawn to games with a reasonable scope, where I can exploit my existing skills rather than branch out into unknown areas. Even though the game is out of my comfort zone at times, such as creating videos of surveillance cameras from the 90s, I’ve been able to overcome these challenges by using available tools and resources. 

solo dev Bastien Giafferi

PnT: Can you tell us more about how you integrated these constraints into your work on The Operator and how they ultimately helped to shape the artistic and narrative identity of the game?

Bastien: Initially, the idea of confining the gameplay to a computer interface was a constraint, but it became a deliberate artistic choice. This limitation ultimately enhanced the player’s immersion by placing them in the shoes of the protagonist, who only has access to this unique perspective. This approach allowed us to create a unique atmosphere and explore narrative themes such as conspiracy and investigation in a more immersive, front-row way. Rather than seeing constraints as obstacles, I saw them as creative opportunities. The computer interface is a perfect example of this. Although it initially stemmed from practical considerations, it eventually became a defining feature of the game’s identity. The absence of traditional cinematics or animations was not simply a constraint; it became a stylistic choice that contributed to the game’s unique charm and atmosphere. Even as the project expanded and we had more resources at our disposal, we remained committed to preserving the essence of the original vision, ensuring that every design decision reinforced the game’s distinctive identity. The initial success of The Operator at events such as the Future Game Show was an important milestone for us. It introduced the game to a wider audience and highlighted its qualities.

PnT: How have your influences been woven into the game’s gameplay?

Bastien: One of the overriding influences was the X-Files, a series that was a major source of inspiration for the game’s plot and themes. As a huge fan of the series, I tried to capture its atmosphere and twists in the story of The Operator. I was also inspired by Parasite Eve 2, which is one of my favourite games, and I tried to reproduce its atmosphere in my own game. Other influences, such as Her Story and Telling Lies, helped shape The Operator’s narrative approach, with its emphasis on solving mysteries and twists.

solo dev Bastien Giafferi

Sam Barlow’s investigative games, such as Her Story and Telling Lies, are unique narrative experiences that immerse players in complex stories. Barlow often cites novelists and film directors as influences on his work. He says that David Lynch, Mark Z. Danielewski, Paul Auster, Shirley Jackson, The Exorcist and Gene Wolfe have influenced his work since his experience on Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.

In Her Story, players explore a video database to reconstruct the story of the interrogation of a woman whose husband has been murdered. Using keywords to search for video extracts, players must piece together clues, contradictions and revelations to uncover the truth. Telling Lies follows a similar but extended formula, where players explore video recordings of a series of conversations between several characters. These videos are stored on a computer, and players must use keywords to find relevant extracts and understand the relationships and events taking place. The plot develops through the characters’ dialogue, gestures and facial expressions, offering a deep immersion into a world of lies, betrayal and secrets.

PnT: Can you tell me more about how you structured the different sequences in The Operator in the form of episodes?

Bastien: I think to answer that, I need to explain how the whole game came about. Basically, when I was watching The X-Files, I thought it would be so cool to make a game where you play with people from outside, operators helping the agents on the phone. Then the project was born, with a particular focus on the key moments and plot twists that I wanted to include. I started with the twist plots I imagined, the puzzles I thought would be cool to solve, and I built the story around these elements. For example, I absolutely wanted a sequence where a bomb is defused over the phone, an idea that I found very intense and striking. Each sequence, like the murder in the restaurant, was carefully planned with its own narrative stakes and specific gameplay challenges. I structured the story to maintain a fluid rhythm, alternating between intense moments and quieter ones to keep the players’ attention. For each sequence, I had a list of mysteries to solve and answers to provide, ensuring a coherent narrative throughout the game. Ultimately, the way I structured the sequences was similar to planning a TV series, with each episode bringing its own revelations and defining moments, while helping to advance the overall story. This allowed me to keep the focus on the story where each episode was an essential step in their exploration of the mystery of the game.

solo dev Bastien Giafferi

PnT: Do you use organisational software or a specific methodology to keep track of your own project?

Bastien: Given that most of my resources are in my head (laughs), I concentrated on tools that allowed me not to forget anything and to keep track of all the important information. My main organisational tool is Notion. For each sequence in the game, I created a detailed sheet including the agents involved, the dates of the events, explanations of the mysteries, and much more. For example, for a murder investigation sequence, I noted the date of the event, the protagonists involved, the objectives of the sequence, and explanations of the mysteries to be solved. In addition, I used diagramming tools such as Figma to visualise the overall structure of the game. I created a diagram with post-its representing each sequence, the mysteries to be solved, the plot twists and so on. This allowed me to keep an overview and make sure that nothing was forgotten. For the dialogue and character interactions, I opted for a nodal tool called Flow Canvas in Unity. This type of nodal tool allows me to easily create and manage the game’s scripts and dialogue. It’s a very practical approach to scripting, such as moving characters or activating events, because it offers a clear and intuitive visualisation of the game’s logic.

PnT: Are there any other tools you’ve used for development? You mentioned off the record that you used Jenkins in particular.  

Bastien: For the code, I preferred Rider. For version management, I chose Plastic over Git. I found that Plastic was better suited to video game projects, particularly when it came to managing large files, rather than Git LFS. Plastic offers a simpler and more intuitive interface. Finally, I used Jenkins as a continuous integration tool to automate the game builds. I’ve even set up a dedicated server on which Jenkins can run the builds according to my specified parameters. To set up the automated scripts, I used my programming skills and broke down the process step by step. After that, I have a dev background, so it’s true that this stuff isn’t scary, and it’s something I’m pretty comfortable with. For example, I launch the build with Jenkins, when it’s finished, I go to my server, I copy the build here, I extract it, I delete the files, I copy the files to the right place and I repeat like that until I arrive at a workflow that works well for me.

solo dev Bastien Giafferi

JetBrains Rider is a powerful and versatile integrated development environment (IDE) specifically designed for developers working with .NET programming languages, including C#, F# and VB.NET. Designed by JetBrains, the same company behind popular development tools such as IntelliJ IDEA and ReSharper, Rider offers a comprehensive range of features to facilitate software development on the .NET platform. The IDE features an intelligent code editor with autocomplete, real-time analysis, an advanced debugger, refactoring tools, integration with Git and other version control systems, as well as unit testing and performance analysis capabilities.

PnT: You were in the spotlight at the Future Game Show and you also took part in events like Stunfest and Game Camp. How did that go and did you see any impact on wishlists, for example?

Bastien: This has enabled me to showcase The Operator in a variety of contexts and explore different opportunities, so to speak. For example, at the Game Camp, the emphasis is more on networking and meetings with investors and publishers. It’s an opportunity to present the game, pitch the idea, and possibly forge partnerships for the development and distribution of the game. On the other hand, events like Stunfest or Spawn offer a platform for interacting directly with gamers. It’s a chance to present the game demo and gather valuable feedback that can guide future adjustments and improvements.

One thing I do want is to be able to share the figures, to be a bit transparent about what I can. In this case, to talk about wishlists, I’ve hardly seen any impact from Stunfest. Yet the game was quite popular. Everyone who played it loved it, but we’re talking about maybe fifty or a hundred more wishlists. I can’t remember exactly, but overall it didn’t have too much impact. On the other hand, I was a guest on Stream, a programme that has since closed down, but which had a huge following on Twitch. That’s where I started to get my first wishlists.

solo dev Bastien Giafferi
solo dev Bastien Giafferi

Before the Future Game Show, I was at 4,500 wishlists. To give you an idea, now we’re at 10,600 wishlists. There’s been an impact. It took me two years to get my 4,500 wishlists. Obviously, I’m far from the best at marketing. I’m developing the game, but the most interesting things are things that Ico could talk about better than I could, because they do this work with the press and influencers. The events on Steam are also very interesting for wishlists. You have to sign up for every possible event. 90% of events won’t respond to you, you’ll be turned away, but that’s not a big deal. These Steam events can give you a lot of exposure, and if it’s promoted on the platform, the numbers are really huge.

PnT: How did you go about selecting potential publishers, and what were the main difficulties you encountered when looking for partnerships?

Bastien: Finding publishers is a real obstacle course. To begin with, I had to scour the market to identify publishers who could potentially align with my ethical values and financial needs. Some publishers, although reputable, simply didn’t match my vision of the project. The process of sending the presentation files to the selected publishers was laborious. It takes an enormous amount of time and energy, with no guarantee of success. Receiving rejections, after having invested so much effort, can be deeply discouraging. Sometimes, everything seemed to be going well with an investor or publisher, but in the end, things didn’t materialise at the last minute, whether because of differences over the contract or simply because the game didn’t correspond exactly to their expectations. These disappointments are difficult to live with, especially after having spent so much time on the process. It’s crucial to maintain some control over the process. I’ve realised that I might need to rethink my funding expectations and not commit to over-ambitious projects if I’m not sure I can fund them. Certain industry events, such as Game Camp, have been key moments to meet investors and publishers in person, which has often unlocked opportunities for more concrete discussions. These events offer a unique opportunity to present your project in a more tangible way than through a simple presentation file.

PnT: And how did the meeting with your Chinese publisher, Indienova, go?

Bastien: In fact, it’s quite funny because their aesthetic, their artistic sensibility, matched perfectly with what we were proposing. It was a very positive encounter. I’m really happy to have a publisher in China, because getting a game out there is a real challenge. There are two routes, the official route, which is very expensive and takes years, and the less official route, where you release on Steam but without government approval. But with Indienova, we’ll be able to reach the Chinese market much more effectively. They’re funding the translation into simplified and traditional Chinese, as well as the marketing. We even have a trailer in Chinese, which is great. As far as the schedule is concerned, our aim is to finalise the writing by May so that we can then start localisation in all the languages. It’s a long and expensive process. We’re also planning to do some dubbing, particularly for the demo. We’ve applied to a number of Steam events, so if we’re selected, we plan to release a new version of the demo. But to do that, we first have to do the dubbing, and that means finding the right actors through casting sessions.

solo dev Bastien Giafferi

Localising a video game is a complex and crucial challenge for developers, particularly in a global market where linguistic diversity is the norm. It goes far beyond simply translating texts, and also involves cultural adaptation, converting units of measurement, modifying cultural references and taking account of local sensitivities. For French developers, this often means making their game first in English before considering French, in an attempt to achieve maximum visibility.

PnT: How important is the community and feedback from players to you?

Bastien: Initially, I planned to stream the creation process live on Twitch, thinking that this would allow me to get immediate feedback while gathering a community around the project. I’m not really a regular streamer, and I have to say that broadcasting gamedev is a bit different from what you might expect. It’s not really an entertainment thing, it’s more slow and technical. But there are people who like it, and I’ve managed to build a little community around it, which is really cool. We’ve even set up a Discord for The Operator, and that keeps me in touch with them, even though I’ve been streaming less lately. With all the administrative tasks and work on the end of the game, I’d rather avoid spoilers. It was really nice, and above all, it helps me stay motivated. Because working alone isn’t always easy. When you’re not motivated, there’s no one to push you forward. So streaming has really helped me to stay the course. Even if it’s not necessarily a great marketing tool, it gives you immediate feedback on what you’re doing. We can even exchange ideas to solve certain design or programming problems. At first, I was a bit afraid of the reactions, but in fact, people are generally very benevolent. 

solo dev Bastien Giafferi

PnT: Finally, can you tell us what stage you’re at in the development of the game and what’s in store for you after the release of The Operator?

Bastien: The game is currently in its alpha phase, which means that it is playable from start to finish, with the entire story and gameplay in place. A few things still need tweaking, such as adding some music and finalising the cinematics. To improve the quality of the dialogue, I’ve worked with a writer to give the characters more life and to rectify the wording that didn’t sound right in English. As far as our timetable is concerned, we’re aiming to finalise the writing by May, which will allow us to start localisation in different languages. After that, we’ll be concentrating on polishing the game, fixing bugs and translating it into several languages, including French, in addition to English, which is the main language for maximum visibility on the market.

After the release of The Operator, I intend to turn my attention to new projects. I’m already thinking about new ideas and I feel a real need to change my creative horizon. Of course, this will also depend on the success of the game, but I’m open to the idea of working on smaller projects in the future. I’d like to avoid reproducing a scope as ambitious as that of The Operator, because it involves a lot of work on assets and team management.

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