Game’n Breakfast : IndieKlem & Suzon

 Hello and welcome to this Sunday morning. I’d also like to say hello to those of you who are reading this at another time. This article is the first stone in what I hope will be Game’n’Breakfast, a building that joins the magnificent city that is Point’n Think, the metropolis of video game erudition. Here you are in the cosy little café in the neighborhood. I’ll be reporting on my discussions with various people from the world of video games (VG), a bit like two strangers chatting, leaning against the counter about this universe that fascinates us. For this first issue, I welcome Clément, aka IndieKlem, who is developing a little game with Suzon, his partner in life and on the Another Door project. Enjoy your reading and see you at the end.

Interview indieKlem : Couverture du jeu Another door

A long way to go

Clément knew early on that he wanted to make his mark in the VG world. As proof of this, when the famous question of career choice came up at the end of secondary school, he replied that working in this field would appeal to him. The logical thing to do was to go into development. As we all know, games are only made by crazy coders, not designers and graphic artists. But that’s not true! Being a gamer from a very young age, he had already cleared the way by learning to code from secondary school onwards with the Zero site, which old-timers will remember, since renamed Openclassrooms. It’s a French site, which claims to be an online school, bringing together hundreds of courses in different areas of tech. The first game that could be attributed to IndieKlem was that of a little Luigi running through space.

So it will be a BTS SIO (Services Informatiques aux Organisations) in Saint-Étienne. The two-year course is a mixture of database management and development fundamentals. It was an opportunity to learn several languages and network architecture. He then went on to do a one-year work-linked ‘digital professions degree in web design and production at Sciences-U in Lyon. This year enabled him to take his first steps in the professional world in a web agency with a developer and a designer. Clément, for his part, took on the role of integrator, which consists of acting as a link between the two fields. This configuration meant that he was not only involved in development, but also in design, a subject that aroused his interest and prompted him to attend conferences to find out more. With a 3-year postgraduate diploma in hand, the next logical step was a master’s degree. But this time, things didn’t go according to plan: the teaching programme wasn’t really what he was looking for, and the sandwich course was less rewarding. So he decided to stop his studies after five months.

His first real job was with the company where he obtained his bachelor’s degree. He then joined the start-up Yurplan, which created a ticketing platform. He describes this job as a very good experience, rich in encounters with talented people. It was there that he began to get more and more involved in design. The company was running with a freelance designer, so Clément helped out when the designer wasn’t available, all the while officially working as a developer. It was his turn to try his hand at professional independence. All the same, he joined Econocom in Lyon, a SSII (Société de Services en Ingénierie Informatique, formerly known as Entreprises de Services du Numérique), this time as a full-time designer. The last company he joined was 365 talents, a human resources management software company. He stayed for 4 years, just long enough to get to know some talented people again, and he took up the post of designer (no code).

But that doesn’t mean that development has left his life; he continues to code in his spare time. Game jams are starting to catch his eye. I’ll come back to this notion a little later. He took the plunge with some of his former Yurplan colleagues at the Global Game Jam in 2020. This first attempt was a success, because apart from the lack of sleep, he got nothing but positive out of it. He repeated the experience online and with friends, “just for fun“. It was the catalyst for a turnaround in his professional career.

Call a waiter: Game Jam

It’s an event where video games are created in a short space of time. First of all, let’s go back to the composition of the name, game for game and jam for jam (hello captain obvious!) as in music. A jam, mainly in jazz, is a session during which musicians who don’t know each other play an improvised piece. As far as the game part is concerned, this can be games in the broadest sense of the term, video games, board games, role-playing games and so on. The basic principle, as we’ll see varies a lot, is that the participants all get together in the same place to create a game. Participants are given time to form groups, or not, according to the initial instructions of the game jam. Once the groups are in place, the organisers give the theme for the game. They leave a little time, but really a little, like 5 minutes at the most, to exchange ideas and define what they are going to focus on. Then it’s off! The clock starts, the game is created from A to Z. The timer runs out, everything is put down and the game is finished. Then it’s time for the teams to present their work to the jury. A ranking is then drawn up and the winners rewarded, if there is a reward. The participants finally get a chance to rest – it’s exhausting. And finally, most of them plan their next game jam.

What about my video game?

Let’s get to the heart of the matter: video games. Broadly speaking, the principle remains the same, except that certain qualifications are required. It’s hard to code when you’re just a graphic designer, or to improvise as a sound designer for a weekend. That’s why the ground rules can change depending on the event; it’s often the case that well-established teams take part in these jams, or that a game designer is looking for a developer and/or graphic designer. It’s also often the case that the game jam takes place remotely, for two main reasons I think. The first is that it’s easier to work at home on your own equipment than to bring it with you or work on unfamiliar material. The second is surely that it’s easier to put together an effective team across the world than in the depths of La Creuse (bim! a stray bullet). And that’s of course without mentioning the organisational problems of an event requiring a hall, dozens of PCs, all open day and night. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that most jams take place 24 hours a day.

So, to sum up, teams sign up for the game jam so as to cover the various positions (at least development and graphics, even if there are solo players). The game jam takes place either at a given location or remotely. The theme is given on the day. The team works until the end time. The game is then uploaded to the platform so that the jury can access it. The rankings are established and the winners rewarded. End of the jam. It should be pointed out that the ranking and rewards are not systematic. Above all, it’s the euphoria of seeing a project through to the end that makes it all worthwhile.

Une petite immersion en Game Jam

The doorstep

 This is where Suzon joins our story. She went to art school and also does freelance work. She would have liked to join the JV industry, but as we know, places are very expensive (and not necessarily well paid). So she took part in some jams with Clément, which earned them second place in one of them. All in all, a winning team makes you want to work together. On the personal front, she and Clément are engaged. Love and pixels, what better way to be a happy couple. Clément has stopped working for a company. Thanks to his freelance activity and the additional unemployment benefit, he starts working on a game project with Suzon’s help. He admits that the allowance is a great help, preventing him from swallowing up his savings with no certainty of any return one day. The urge to create was too strong, and the ‘indie’ adventure had been calling to him for far too long. It was impossible to do anything other than take the plunge.

Even though a number of games were created during the various game jams, this title is his first big project (yes, even a small game can be a big project, especially when there are two of you) and first concept with a commercial aim, and that changes everything. The roles are well divided. Suzon is in charge of design and graphics. She learnt pixel art for the occasion with Asprite, and created all the artistic direction. She even designed the game’s magnificent cover. As for Clément, he’s in charge of development using the Gamemaker engine (see below for an insert on game engines). This duo is the bare minimum, even if there are a lot of ‘die-hards’ who do everything on their own. He admits that a third sound designer wouldn’t be out of place, and is considering asking a musician friend to join them in this area.

They started work on Another Door in the summer of 2023, around 6 months at the time of our interview. Clearly, unemployment is a big help when it comes to working full-time on this new game +. If development ever takes longer than expected, Clément has no intention of stopping. He would go back to freelancing, but intends to see the game through to the end. For the time being, they have no plans to officially set up a studio, as they see that as an additional constraint, both financially and administratively. “The A38 pass! They’re already short of time, so there’s no point in running a business until it’s necessary. If the game is a great success, it will be time to think about it.

The other door

The time has come to talk about their project, and I mentioned Another Door, Clément and Suzon’s risky bet.

So this is a local co-op game only. Yes, yes, I said risky. Players explore unknown lands map by map, a bit like a board game. Each stop gives rise to an event: a chest, a building, a merchant, a monster, etc. Each fellow adventurer then has a choice of actions. These are not revealed to the others until the end of the turn and can lead to a number of conclusions, such as damage, healing, escape, etc. Every N cards, the game offers the option of ending the adventure or continuing. The essence of the game lies in the choice between helping and betraying, in other words, sharing the wealth or lining your own pockets. It’s up to you to test your luck by taking risks to collect gems. I’ll leave you to imagine the atmosphere with your mates on the same sofa, promising some great evenings in front of the split-screen (thirty-something nostalgia incoming!). Add to that the masterly art direction, and you’ve got all the ingredients you need to make your wishlist.

It’s time to tell you the story behind the door. Like all JV fans, Clément has had dozens of game concepts in his head. He had the good idea of writing them down in a notebook. He admits that inspiration has waned since he started developing. But it’s clear that doing jams has filled up his notebook (“like anyone who starts out”) and allowed him to try out a lot of concepts. One of his ideas was:

“You meet a monster, everyone faces him. You either hit or you defend, but everyone has to make the same choice.”

It was this idea, which seemed the most affordable, that was pulled out of the hat to give birth to the current project. Neither Clément nor Suzon have any experience of 3D, so the game will be in 2D, although we shouldn’t ask too much of them. The aim, above all, is to gain a good first experience of independent development. It’s better to think small if you want to be sure you’ll get to the end and not have invested time for nothing.

Clément’s ideal project would be to work on an MMORPG (a bit ambitious for a duo, isn’t it?) but they are aware of their limits. The first step is to get ten people playing, and that would mark a success. The main inspiration is undoubtedly family evenings playing board games, and there are many of them. We could mention Celestia, among many others, a ‘stop or go’ style whose best-known representative is blackjack. So it’s a mix of game jam and board game. Ideally, Clément would like to include a LAN or even remote multiplayer function, because, let’s face it, Steam and local multiplayer aren’t great. A port, adaptation to another platform, is planned for the Switch, but first things first. For the record, development is being carried out using GameMakerStudio, an engine (I’ll let you have a look at the second insert) that’s pretty flexible for this sort of thing. At the time of the interview, the game already had over 1,000 wishlists, which is quite an achievement in itself when the devs manage their own communication.

Speaking of comms, Clément has had discussions with a publisher, which could have provided financial support and visibility. But he was turned down, as local cooperation just doesn’t sell these days. He was advised to rethink the game as a single-player game. On reflection, this would reduce too much work to nothing and the title would lose the user-friendliness so dear to Clément. Another Door falls into the category of so-called niche games, but that’s what Clément and Suzon are passionate about, so to hell with the marketers, hello creative people! In any case, this project has enabled them to learn a lot about the job and about themselves, and to acquire new skills. If there’s one stage where you can experiment excessively, it’s the first game, isn’t it? These first steps into the world of JV developers allowed Clément to realise that the French scene has nothing to be ashamed of compared to the rest of the world (you don’t say). Names like game next door, doc geraud and the late game spectrum came to mind. We’re also thinking of little-known Frenchmen, because communication is mainly in English, on the networks – hello Tinykin and Chants of Sennaar. Welcome to the French IndieGame. To sum up his experience of these first few months, independence is all positive, but also a lot of mutual help and encouragement on the networks, forums and discussions. We always end up finding a solution to our problems in the indie community.

Interview indieKlem : image du jeu Another Door

Call a waiter : Game Engine

Every gamer has heard of the Unreal Engine or even Unity. These are what are known as game engines. Without going into too much detail, these are software programs that allow you to use assets and make them interact with each other. Assets are all the elements that make up a game, apart from the code. They include the scenery, the appearance of characters and items (skins), sounds, etc. In the engine, we create objects to which we apply skins. For example, the ‘Player’ object will have the ‘main character’ skin, as will everything visible on the screen.

These skins can be made up of several images, which creates the animations. Once the objects and animations have been combined, you can start coding. This involves using a specific language to tell the computer (or console) what should happen in an event.

Basically, when you press the “advance” button, object “player” takes the “walk” animated skin and moves one square. If object “player” encounters object “enemy” and you press the “attack” button, “player” takes the “hit” skin and “enemy” takes the “wound” skin (he also loses a certain number of health points).

The engine then translates this mess into machine language so that it can be used without the software.

There are several engines because there are several companies, but also several functionalities, not all of them do 3D or 2D, and some of them are simplified RPGs. The choice also depends on the engine’s payment method: percentage of game sales, subscription, permanent purchase, free, etc. There’s something for everyone. In addition to the two main ones, there are Godot, Game Marker, Construct and many others. Some require you to know how to code, others don’t. In any case, there are plenty of tutorials.

The state of play

The next step was to present a demo at Indie Game Lyon. It’s the ideal opportunity to gain visibility and also to gather the opinions of visitors who will be trying out the game. It was a good experience (Clément even did a post-mortem here), they came back with good feedback, a few meetings, and even some wishlists, a positive balance. Speaking of playtesting, the first test sessions took place at the beginning of the year with people close to the developers. The version on offer was an ‘ugly’ prototype, but people stayed with it for 3 hours, so it’s a validation of the concept, and that’s important!

For the future, Clément would like to be able to make a living as a game dev, still dreaming of making a WoW-like game (editor’s note: World of Warcraft). But the first step is to release and sell a first game. He’s quite optimistic, as the 1K wishlists were reached in ten days on Steam. He would like to avoid having to go back to freelancing. In the longer term, the aim is to release two games by 2025 to make a name for himself in the industry.

His advice to those who want to get started is simple and terribly effective: do some game jams! It can’t be said often enough that it’s a great learning experience in so many areas, and it’s a great way of testing out ideas. Want to hone your game design skills? Game Jam, of course! The importance of art direction or sound design? Game Jam, of course! You learn from your own creations, but also from those of others. And to top it all off, you also get to meet new people, and that’s great.

One regret in all this: when you’re developing, you rarely have time to play.

Interview indieKlem : image du jeu another door

The difficult question

 We’re almost at the end of our chat, so the difficult question comes up: “If you had to recommend one game, what would it be? On reflection, the title that springs to mind is Lethal Compagny. And unsurprisingly, it was the multiplayer, the evenings out with mates, that tipped the balance in favour of this game. But also the fact that the developer is only 21 years old, with 15 games under his belt, and I quote, “he’s a god”. The sound design was another point that stood out for him. It’s worth noting that Clément is particularly fond of multiplayer games, and says he’s even incapable of playing solo, citing BattleBit remastered, World of Warcraft and Guild Wars. Even his first experiences were of co-op, with his brother, on the family console. He intends to try the Outer Wilds experience, but not on his own – that’s something he wants to discover with Suzon. Sharing is an important concept for Clément. Proof of this is his participation in this article. We also talk about Core Keeper, which can be played by eight people, a game I highly recommend. In the end, we come to the conclusion that his real favourite game is WoW – after all, he spent fifteen years playing it. MMO and medieval fantasy, the winning combo.

The last game comes from an anecdote. Heave Ho is a game he discovered on New Year’s Day 2020 with a friend – amazing, isn’t it? They had a great time. This friend works at ZQSD productions, which works with Zerator. The buddy meets up with Z, and Bim! We find the game at Zlan 2020

The famous one

The bottom of the cup

We’re coming to the end of this Game’n’Breakfast. I hope you’ve made it this far, but more importantly I hope you’ve enjoyed the experience, because I hope to do it again. This immersion on the other side of the gamepads/keyboards is an interesting way of appreciating what’s happening on our screens. There’s no promise of regularity, it’s the opportunity of the encounter that creates the opportunity. But I can’t hide the fact that I’ve already got a little something up my sleeve. In the meantime, I’ll leave you in the care of my colleagues at Point’n Think, who are a safe bet. I’ll say goodbye now, and I wish you all the best for the future.

Play well, play fun, play indie!


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