Sekamelica, creator of Insurrection

I discovered Sekamelica via her Twitter page and was immediately intrigued by her bio:

“French indie gamedev working on a metroidvania about insurrection 🪓 ⚒️”

So I contacted him fairly quickly to find out more about his background, his first game jams and the development of Insurrection. Like Rem’s Lifelong, Sekamelica is in the midst of game development, so this allows us to approach creation from another angle.

PnT: Hello Sekamelica, and thank you for taking the time to interview me today. Can you tell me about your first projects and your career path?

Sekamelica: My first projects date back to when I was 11 or 12, I think. I was using RPG Maker at the time. I was very influenced by the Game Boy Advance, in particular by games like Castlevania and the first Final Fantasy. When I discovered RPG Maker, I thought I could create my own Final Fantasy. I spent a lot of time on RPG Maker until I was 17, but I never really released any big games. There were a few small works, but nothing major. My first big project lasted a year before not being finished. I learned a lot during that period, especially about writing, although as a teenager my first attempts were pretty clumsy.

In high school, I started learning C#. Inspired by Hearthstone, I tried to create a card game using Windows Forms in C-#. However, it was difficult to create beautiful animations with this tool, but it helped me learn to code.

PnT: And after highschool?

Sekamelica : After the baccalaureate, I enrolled in a computer engineering school for three years. There, I greatly strengthened my programming skills. I joined a game creation association where I learned Unity and web development. I started creating small web games and Unity projects. However, I realized that this school wasn’t guiding me towards what I really wanted to do. When I was looking for internships, I focused solely on video game studios, but I didn’t get any replies. I felt I wasn’t doing the right thing, despite my good academic results. I couldn’t find satisfaction in general IT internships, because they lacked creativity.

Solo Dev Sekamelica

PnT: Is that when you joined ENJMIN?

Sekamelica: Yes, in 2017, I joined ENJMIN, France’s only free public school specializing in video games. I did a two-year master’s degree there. At ENJMIN, I met people with various specialties like sound, graphics, and project management, which allowed me to immerse myself in the video game field. During this period, I continued to work on personal projects. Before joining ENJMIN, I had started two major projects on Unity: a Metroidvania and a first-person view platformer called Fragments. These projects were very ambitious and each lasted a year without being completed, as I was still in the learning phase.

PnT: Tell me about Fragments. The game seemed very ambitious from what I saw on your site. How did it turn out?

Sekamelica: I wanted to do too many things. The game required a lot of 3D environments, which was difficult for me at the time. In addition, writing the game was a problem. I was trying to create a very intimate experience with psychological and autobiographical themes, but it turned out to be very complex and risky. Talking about oneself on unresolved subjects while learning how to develop an ambitious game was a huge and confusing challenge.

PnT: I also saw that you took part in several game jams. Was this part of your curriculum at ENJMIN?

Sekamelica: Yes, it was encouraged at ENJMIN. For example, there was a game jam for the integration of new students, which enabled them to meet others and immerse themselves in the school atmosphere. I had already done several game jams before ENJMIN, because I liked working on small projects to learn and enrich my portfolio.

Game jams are great for releasing games that people can try out, but they’re also very taxing and the games created are often a bit buggy. I’d like to concentrate on a bigger, more focused project that I can finish, because I’m sick of my computer being a graveyard of unfinished projects.

PnT: Can you tell us about your best game jam experience?

Sekamelica: My best experience wasn’t even a real game jam. It was just a weekend where I was inspired and spent three days creating a game. There was no game jam framework, no competition or constraints. During those three days, I decided to create a game in a fairly relaxed way. What’s more, I didn’t pull any all-nighters – I was pretty well organized. I didn’t even code, because I used Bitsy. Bitsy is a tool for creating little browser games where you can simply move around pixel grids and interact with characters. I drew elements in pixel art, added characters, made transitions between cards, and created a little game called Slug Life. It was one of my best creative experiences. It’s perhaps the simplest project I’ve done in terms of complexity, but I came away from it not tired, happy to have completed a project. I received a lot of positive feedback, which was really gratifying. For example, students at the EESI in Poitiers had organized an exhibition entitled Ceci n’est pas un jeu, and they exhibited my game without my knowledge. I discovered it when I took part in a game jam after the exhibition, and I was really thrilled. It made me so happy, even though it was probably my least complicated project.

PnT: That brings us slowly to Insurrection. How did you come to decide to create a more ambitious game, one that you want to sell, probably on Steam and even on Switch?

Sekamelica: After ENJMIN, I went to work and stopped taking part in game jams because it was exhausting as well as the work. I didn’t really like the format anymore. Whether game jams contribute to crunch culture is debatable. It can be seen from healthier angles, but I was having trouble. So I took a break. I still had longer projects, but combining them with work wasn’t easy. I still had this idea of wanting to make an ambitious game, finish it, be proud of it, and release it for real. I also wanted to become an independent developer and make a living from it. It’s now been a year and a half since I quit my salaried job to go freelance. I live between freelance assignments and the development of Insurrection, which I started a few months before quitting my job. Seeing the promise of the project, I took the plunge.

Pnt: Tell us about the game’s history and background. 

Sekamelica: Insurrection is a game set in an underground city while the surface is desolate following a catastrophe. We play as Vindica, a lumberjack who is regularly sent to the surface for her work, and who ends up falling ill as a result. As she seeks treatment, she realizes that she’s not really being treated, and that there’s a mystery surrounding blood in this universe. Little by little, she discovers that the blood of the entire population of the underground city is being exploited as a resource because of its special properties. As the story unfolds, she finds allies opposed to this exploitation. She also discovers that she can use the powers of her blood, and so can others. Little by little, she tries to sabotage the whole system, hence the name Insurrection, and thus to sabotage all the organs of this system that is literally stealing people’s lives. She also discovers the mysteries of this world: why we’ve arrived here, in an underground city, why this governance has been set up and what we can do better.

PnT: The game is a Metroidvania. Can you explain why you chose this genre, especially in relation to the game’s political message?

Sekamelica: Metroidvania is a genre I’ve always really enjoyed and wanted to explore. In fact, my first Unity project was a Metroidvania. The first one wasn’t great because I was learning, but now, after more than seven years of using Unity, I feel capable of doing it. One of my first ideas was to create a Metroidvania with really polished platforming mechanics, a bit like Celeste. I wanted to avoid door-key mechanics and have expressive movements. Secondly, I had a lot of subjects I wanted to talk about. As I worked on the first game mechanics and the writing, everything fell into place.

The guiding idea was to show how to rise from despair by becoming aware of one’s power to act, whether through the personal life of the heroine, Vindica, or the start of an insurrection. Another important aspect for me was to bring a queer perspective to a genre other than visual novels, which are often the only LGBT games available to independent creators. Vindica has a girlfriend and has to juggle her commitment to the insurgency with her life as a couple, which creates an interesting tension.

Solo Dev Sekamelica

I’m also betting a little on replayability thanks to this Metroidvania aspect. I’m also thinking a lot in terms of the depth of the game mechanics. There are some things that are reminiscent of Celeste in the sense that, when you’ve mastered the game, you don’t see it at all in the same way as someone who’s just starting out. So, in Insurrection, that’s kind of the idea too. Like a Metroid, you can do the zones in a different order. What’s ambitious is that doing the zones in a different order also changes the narrative and the dialogues with the protagonists.

PnT: Can you tell us about your choice of pixel art?

Sekamelica: I’d done a bit of pixel art before, as well as drawings on paper and digital painting, although I wasn’t very good at digital painting. Pixel art suited me better, especially for a project where I’m doing everything myself. What’s more, pixel art resonates well with the themes of the game, which takes place in an underground city following a catastrophe. Vindica, a lumberjack, discovers that the blood of the inhabitants is being exploited as a resource, and she sets out to sabotage this system. The choice of pixel art helps to illustrate this world and its mysteries.

PnT:  What tools did you use to develop Insurrection, in particular to manage the narrative and the various possible branches?

Sekamelica: I use Notion a lot for general project organization. I note down all my tasks, writing ideas, visual references and so on. For in-engine narration, I have my own dialog tools, but I don’t yet have a dedicated system for complex branching. I’ve heard of tools like Ink, but I don’t use them yet. For now, Notion lets me keep track of everything in a structured way. I started by creating categories on an empty page, then sub-pages, sub-sub-pages, lists, tables, tags, colors, emojis and so on. It turned out to be a pretty nice system, and one that suited my needs.

PnT: Insurrection will be released first on Steam, then on Switch. Why this choice and what are the challenges associated with a Switch port?

Sekamelica: I had tried to submit a project to Nintendo to obtain their SDK (editor’s note: software development kit), but you need to have a Steam page with a trailer to be taken seriously. Nintendo often requires proof of commercial success before accepting a project. So first I’m going to release the game on Steam and, if possible, a demo. Then I’ll port the game to Switch, which will take some time as I don’t yet have any experience of porting to this console.

PnT: And in terms of a contract with Nintendo, if you submit the file, I assume they take a percentage of sales, like Steam?

Sekamelica: Yes, it’s a multi-stage process. You submit a game project to become a Nintendo developer. They take a percentage of sales, like Steam. Then there’s the switch devkit, a modified switch console for developing and debugging the project submitted to Nintendo. No particular commitment, but a strict confidentiality agreement. We do our development, go through the TRC (editor’s note: technical requirements checklist), a list of prerequisites for the game to have the right to be on the Nintendo eShop, to ensure a minimum of quality and avoid damaging users’ consoles.

Pnt: Have you already made a prototype? Are you looking for a publisher or do you want to self-publish?

Sekamelica: I want to self-publish the game. I’m planning everything around that. I feel capable of doing it, and I want to control the whole creative process from start to finish. After that, I never do it alone, I always need resources and help. But I want to manage the idea from conception to release.

PnT: I imagine that playtesting and player feedback will be important to you. How do you approach this aspect, especially with tools like Discord for quick feedback and finding playtesters?

Sekamelica: Yes and no, no real playtests yet. I have a prototype or proof of concept for the platforming mechanics, but there’s only one zone and no real scenario yet. I’m still working on writing and evaluating the scope. The goal was to have a demo by the middle of next year, with a Steam page. In the meantime, I have a secret Steam page to send builds of the game to the Steam Deck. I show the game at events without a booth, letting people try it out to glean initial feedback. Otherwise, it’s my friends who test. I’d like to see a more extensive demo before doing any real playtesting. The mechanics are already pretty sound, according to tester feedback. I want more visual content, writing and combat before I do more complete playtests.

In general, for a playtest, we always have a few guesses and specific things to test. In events, I look for overall feedback and ask specific questions. My first two questions are: how well do people understand the mechanics, and how easy is it to get started? This will also depend on the game’s tutorials. And I want to test whether the narrative is clear, because you can do different things in different orders. But overall, I want to test how well the game plays and how well the information is conveyed.

PnT: How do you approach music and sound design? Is it something you train for? 

Sekamelica: I’m currently training in the field of music and sound design, although it’s something I’ve done very little of up to now. Initially, I had very little experience in these fields, especially compared to pixel art, which I had already explored a little. To fill this gap, I had to invest a lot of time and effort in acquiring skills. I started by learning FL Studio with the invaluable help of two friends, Ezuode and Scorch. Then I also learned Ableton, which spoke to me more about music composition. Although I initially did all the sound design for my game in FL Studio, I finally opted for Ableton because it better suited my musical needs. Recently, I even published my first electro track on Soundcloud.

However, composing for a video game is complex, as there are many constraints to take into account. It’s crucial to avoid discrepancies with the on-screen action; otherwise, interactive music has to be created. This involves finding the right sound balance over time, so that the music is adapted to the situation without being too intrusive or too generic. At the same time, I trained on a third software, Fmod, for my game. This enabled me to develop several audio systems to manage sound effects dynamically, with interactive elements such as the sound of footsteps changing according to the terrain. Fmod includes both software and an in-game audio engine, making it easy to manage complex sound effects and dynamic music with multiple effects.

Solo Dev Sekamelica

PnT: You’re also part of the Game Dolls Advance team. How did this project get started, and why did you choose the podcast as your medium?

Sekamelica: In fact, it all started as a joke with Lenophie. During one of her streams on her channel, she was reacting to a Jour de Play program on Arte, about the representation of sex in video games, a rather ambiguous topic about the amount of sexual content in video games. I remember it upset Lenophie a bit, and she didn’t agree with certain aspects of it. That’s where the idea of a reactive show came from, to present other perspectives. At first, it was just a joke during the stream, but eventually we said to ourselves: why not do a show about video games? Little by little, the idea took shape. Now there are six of us in the team. 

PnT: What’s next for you and Insurrection?

Sekamelica: I’m working on improving the graphic rendering of the game and I’ve redone the logo. I’m not going to reveal it right now, but the game has changed its name. It’s no longer an over-example, but I’ll reveal it later, maybe when I have a Steam page. At the moment, only two people know the new name. So a new logo is in the works, and I’m working on a lot of visual aspects to improve the quality of the game.

Solo Dev Sekamelica

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