The rise of digital distribution platforms and the accessibility of tools for developers is paving the way for indie game developers to contest the giants in the global games market. Whilst game development may be a futile endeavour for some, the games that come to fruition are proving to be wholesome sources of new content for the every day video game player.
Kona, an Early Access (currently in development but still playable) title on Steam, is a survivalist approach to the indie genre. In development by a six person team in Quebec, Canada, Kona enacts the player as a detective who must use his skills and environment to solve a mystery.
For over two years, the game has transformed from idea to realisation, with the first part released in March this year. We spoke with CEO of Parabole Alexandre Fiset, who said Kona did not immediately come to fruition on the first go.
“For Kona, it took about three years and two failed projects to get to know ourselves and our limits, to find a concept that was ambitious enough to motivate us as a team and simple enough to be handled by only three developers (which over time grew to six, fortunately),” he said.
“It is no surprise that we are making a game with survival elements; we had to find creative ways to survive our first three years as a company.”
Originally the team started doing contract work to fund a game that ultimately failed. However, they tried again, and slowly built Kona with more contract work, crowdfunding and the Canadian Media Funds which allowed them to accumulate a $600,000 budget in two and a half year’s of development.
The initial idea of Kona came from a small prototype the team’s programmer made which was a simple snowmobile simulator. From there Parabole’s art director made a vintage 1960’s Skidoo to make the simulator more exciting.
“Several brainstorming sessions later, we had a writer and a band on board to make a surreal adventure game set in the 1970’s Northern Canada,” he said.
“We always wanted to explore our own territory, so we kept everything from the writing to the music a local affair.”
Parabole originally planned for four short games, with the first game made by a team of three people which would involve approximately an hour of content. However, the game slowly evolved into a four to eight hour first ‘act’ and is now at its current point in Early Access for community feedback.
Fiset also said that Kona is five times bigger than the team originally planned, which has been both a blessing and a challenge. In regards to other challenges faced by the team, Fiset said that money has been the biggest of them all.
Due to the nature of indie game development – independent of major publishers such as Ubisoft and EA – all aspects of funding, game design, development, marketing and distribution need to be managed by the developers themselves. Like any independent startup, this comes with many problems that indie developers need to overcome.
“Publishers and investors are prudent when it comes to studios that are making their first game,” he said.
“Bankers don’t invest in ideas that can’t be sold if it fails along the way, and game companies don’t hire other game companies with no track record in shipping or porting games on the market.”
Building Kona may have been a challenge for Fiset and the rest of the team at Parabole, but together, Fiset said they are “building a company, a brand and a reputation.”
“For sure there are times we think about other, more lucrative and less stressful opportunities, but it doesn’t take long to realize how lucky we are to do what we do: our own game.”
To the solve their problem of funds, the team resorted to selling their expertise to advertising agencies, with Fiset explaining that most agencies have crazy ideas to sell to their clients but have no way of executing the ideas.
“We did these for survival, but ended up liking it as they expose us to different realities and challenges.”
Working on a large project for an extended period of time can be mentally challenging, but the team at Parabole are “increasingly proud” of their creation. Some indie games are in development for a sustained period of time and some often never reach the completion stage.
“The thing is, every month, the game increases in quality so much that we are increasingly proud of our creation,” he said.
“We know that for every single thing we fix or improve, the game will do better once it’s out in the wild.”
The most important part for Parabole has been the way their ideas have turned into results. Working on a project and having to sift through an overwhelming amount of ideas is something that creators must deal with; but Fiset said the team managed it well and talking as a group helped fix a lot of problems.
“We often talk among ourselves and, out of nowhere, someone says something that fixes so many problems that it becomes a no-brainer and that we should do it,” he said.
“This is not something you can see in big firms and that is the most enjoyable and satisfying part of being an indie studio.”
In terms of designing and building the game, the developers wanted to not stick to a particular genre or workflow. Consequently, Kona is a result of brainstorming with the writer, programmers, animator, musicians and artists.
“In the end, we want to build a game that feels like it should,” he said.
“…that is what makes the game unique.”
Kona is scheduled to be released around August/September, with the team currently focused on adding languages, improving performance and AI. For more information about the game or if you’d like to check it out for yourself, head on over to the Steam Store.
*Editor’s note – the author of this article did not receive products, monetary items or gifts from the game developers or anyone associated with the game for the publication of this article.