This week I was in Copenhagen attending a Diversity in Games breakfast hosted by Playdead and organised by their amazing Associate Producer. We were 6 developers giving micro talks, and I wanted to share mine as the topic of my talk was how I took a personal hobby project and created a full release on the iOS AppStore.
I’m the sole developer of Trollskogen, which I describe as an interactive fairy tale inspired by Nordic folklore. I released Trollskogen last week on iOS, and it’s my first very own game. I am a self-taught game developer, and did all of the design, programming, art, animation and audio. For this project, I used Unity, Photoshop or Krita and GarageBand.
I sketched out a level nearly 5 years ago in my kitchen one evening, and today this very same sketch looks like this in the game:
At the time it was just a cool idea around a mechanic where you have to turn the phone upside down in order to move the reflection of the character so that she can ripple the trees in the water which would then fade away the trees on the ground that were blocking the path for the character. It’s the first level I ever designed for this game, and it remains the most difficult one to figure out for players. But the satisfaction when players solve it is priceless. I am still learning game design every day, so it’s no surprise that this level is the trickiest one to figure out.
I kept sketching these levels that each had a unique mechanic that was somehow making use of the mobile devices features. I wanted it to feel intuitive so that anyone could play it, from young children to adults who don’t normally play games. I worked on several of these ideas with a friend in the very start, where we took inspiration from physical interactive pop-up books. The thought behind the project was to tell a short story, where each level had a mini-game to solve in order to proceed and get the next piece of the story. Puzzle games are my favourite, and the ones that tell a great story through mechanics are mind-blowing to me. Some of my favourite games are Gorogoa, YearWalk and Monument Valley.
I then made a small prototype at a Global Game Jam in Malmö, using just line art to test out some of the mechanics in digital form. After that I made a tech demo consisting of two levels to show people at GDC, the reflection level being one of them. The reactions were super positive and people really encouraged me to create more levels, so that was such a nice response. Then I just worked on this whenever I had energy outside of my full-time job at Unity. Energy sources, however, are not infinite – I have diabetes type 1 which is a full-time job in itself. It’s easy to forget to put your health first.
After working on this as a hobby project during my free time, I made the decision to quit my job and dedicate myself to my health last year. It was not an easy year for me, but having this project gave me the motivation to get up in the mornings. I was not in a good place, but there were a few things this year that really helped me in the process. The first thing was being accepted into a 2-year mentorship program run by the IGDA Foundation called the Next Gen Leaders. Later, I was also accepted to the Stugan 2018 accelerator program, where you spend 2 months working on your project in a cabin in the woods in Sweden with 19 other developers from all across the world. This was life-changing for me.
I had zero funding for this project, and used all of my savings to take more than a year off being employed by a company in order to be completely indie. In fact, the Danish Film Institute rejected my funding application on the basis of not having enough competence to pull this project off. They advised me to acquire a team of people with the skills needed to create this project. Bullshit, I tell you.
A week after release, I have 1000 downloads, all of my ratings are 5’s, and the reviews so far are only positive, saying that my art is beautiful and the experience is truly calming. The response to this game from friends and strangers has been amazing, I’m truly blown away from everyones support and kindness. So if you ever get discouraged from either seeking funding or people in your surroundings not believing in you, don’t let that stop you. Follow your dreams, because only you can make it happen. There are tools out there, great learning resources and an incredible community of game developers that will help you through your journey.