With a Kickstarter just around the corner, I felt it necessary to clear up just exactly what Soul Saga is, or rather, what it has become and how it got there.
I strive to be very transparent. I get feedback from some people that say I should tone the transparency down, especially in the times when the development is not doing so well. But I don't want to look at you as a customer. I want you to be my friend. For that reason I am bluntly honest in my updates. I trust you to believe that it's not about whether you make mistakes on the road to your dreams, or that stuff doesn't go exactly your way. It's about how hard you push yourself to reach your goals and the sacrifices you make to ensure your dreams become reality. I want to see that passion and drive in you, and I want you to see it in me.
The Guy Behind Soul Saga
So, hello friend! My name is Mike Gale. I grew up on a miniature horse farm in Michigan where my family owns over 100 ponies. The horses were cute, but had a Napoleon complex matched by no other species on the planet. Regardless of their emotional horse issues, they were fun to live with. I had a lot of great experiences like helping deliver baby horses, and watching them grow up to become beautiful, tiny ponies. Even though I loved it, miniature horses just aren't my passion.
Miniature Horses, the tyrant rulers of Michigan
In between delivering baby horses and cleaning poop out of their stalls, I played a lot of video games. My whole life I grew up entranced by the Japanese RPGs of the SNES, Playstation, and Playstation 2 eras. I still have a hundred games that have a bookshelf all to themselves right next to my monitor. Simply stealing a glance of them helps keep me motivated on the gargantuan task of creating a video game. I could never hope to be as amazing as they were, but I'm sure as hell gonna die trying to be.
Following the Call of Passion
Around 2008 I was sitting in my parent's house with some money I saved up and wondering how I could finally start to break into game development. I started to order artwork from different artists while teaching myself how to program. It felt great to finally be pushing forward. The experience allowed me to analyze what it would really take to make a game. I decided that slowly saving pennies working at my parent's farm was not going to allow me to make that reality happen. So, with misty eyes I said goodbye, threw all my stuff in my rusty 1995 Oldsmobile Royale, and drove across the country to the video game capital of the U.S. ... Seattle!
The most I had ever seen or known about Seattle was the space needle that appeared in google searches. The space needle looked strange and I didn't understand why the city was so proud of it, but I knew that there were a lot of game companies in the area so I decided to go live there. I didn't have a job lined up, any friends in Seattle, or enough money for more than a few months, but I went anyways with the plan to give it my all. I just knew inside of me that I'd be closer to my dream if I was there.
The drive sucked. Because I was on a budget I decided to sleep in my car and not eat at any restaurants. I basically only left my car to get gas and stock up on food at a grocery store (once). But when I saw the Rocky Mountain range it was like I had just reached the final hurdle to the holy land. It was an indescribable feeling mixed with both fear and hope. I couldn't wait to get over them and settle into my new home. I had no plans of looking back; I was going to make this work or die homeless. As soon as the 3 day cross-country journey was over I unloaded my stuff into my surprisingly tiny studio apartment.
An Unexpected Turn
I couldn't live for long without income, so I immediately started job hunting. I thought I might be able to find something at a grocery store or coffee shop while I kept badgering the game companies to give me some sort of "foot in the door". To my surprise, I got a job at Microsoft working on games within the first week! It was an amazing feeling to have landed something like that in such a short time. My family was very proud.
The experience I gained at Microsoft was great, but it didn't allow me time to work on Soul Saga, and the expensive living conditions in this area didn't allow me to save much money for Soul Saga either. It also didn't help morale that I and my co-workers were not allowed to put ANY creative input into any project we worked on. They simply didn't care to hear our opinions or thoughts. Sitting idly by while we watched what Fable 3 (and a few other titles) became was very painful, but it taught me a lot about humility, patience, and how to let go of something you care about.
I decided even though Microsoft had given me this great opportunity, it simply wasn't the type of position that I wanted for myself. I finished up my contract and then decided to spend the next 2 years teaching myself how to REALLY make Soul Saga happen.
For the next 2 years I lived off of scholarships and student loans while I pursued a Business Degree. I used my savings to slowly order Soul Saga art, and in my free time I vigorously taught myself how to program using online resources and occasionally questioning some friends I made at Microsoft. I graduated with my Business degree in March 2013. Now, with my savings dwindling, but with a whole lot of experience, art assets, knowledge, and passion backing me up, I have come to Kickstarter to ask fans to help make this game become a reality.
Soul Saga - A Lone Developer's Journey
Soul Saga has been my "play thing" when it comes to learning about development. I had an idea of the type of dream game I wanted to make, but I had to work my way up slowly to achieve that. To do this I made a modular plan that would allow me to change the game as I learned more about development, but keep the assets I have interesting enough for me to maintain motivation through the learning process.
2D - The Indie Developer's Weapon of Choice
As most sensible indie developers do, I chose to make a game in 2D. Unfortunately, it took a very long time to get very few assets done. This is because it was very hard to find 2D animators in the budget I had. I remember actually getting laughed at by some people for the amount of money I told them I was trying to do it in. But, I kept on going, and eventually found a talented upstart animator. Even though he was talented, it took him a very long time to get anything done because he was juggling so many projects. Regardless, I didn't have a choice. I had a standard I wanted to keep, and a tight budget to do it in.
When I finally got the final deliverables I realized that he had not made them to the specifications I requested. Trying to go through a revision process was extremely painful, with it starting to take nearly as long as the initial creation. I was so distraught with how unpolished the technical end of the animations ended up being that I needed a break for a little bit. I decided to take a look at 3D programming out of pure curiosity.
3D - It's a whole extra freaking dimension!
After spending some time with tutorials, I was simply blown away with how intuitive and designer friendly Unity had made 3D programming. In fact, it seemed actually EASIER to do 3D than 2D in Unity. I decided that I wanted to do some price checking and see what I could find. Around mid 2012 I ended up finding a studio to create a 3D model of Mithos, and my jaw dropped when I saw him. I absolutely loved how the character ended up. So much in fact that I was sold on the idea that I HAD to continue with the 3D. I didn't have enough money to buy environmental art, but with Unity's Asset store I could just buy stock environments and use those. The most important part was making sure the characters were original and well done. I continued to order the rest, and they all turned out great.
Making Decisions Based on a Piggy Bank Budget
So in early 2013 I started to wonder if the world would really accept my love letter to JRPG classics like Final Fantasy. It's not like there's REALLY a shortage of them, and they are constantly remaking them for their mobile consoles like Nintendo DS. I also realized that I would need a really good animator if I was going to make a "Final Fantasy 10" styled combat system. After having issues with not finding an animator in budget with a style to pull it off, I decided to move to a top down action adventure RPG instead.
The move was a fun refreshment at first, but it was an emotionally painful decision for me to make. I have had it set in my heart for most of my life that I wanted to make a game inspired by Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, Persona, and Suikoden. Regardless, I pushed forward the first few months in 2013 laying the code down for the development. I didn't really like where it was going. The models I had looked so gorgeous from the side, but not very good from the top. I found myself constantly taking screenshots from an angle the action adventure game would never see, just because of how much cooler it looked.
Kickstarter Will Allow Soul Saga To Follow It's True Vision
Now, with a Kickstarter launching in June, I no longer need to design based on a tiny budget. For this reason, I am pitching the original vision of the Final Fantasy inspired turn based JRPG that focuses on a great story. I am absolutely ecstatic at the idea of being able to do this with your help. Not only that, but I am excited to get you in on the closed beta to allow your creative thoughts and opinions to be heard to help make Soul Saga something we all love! And if you're interested in helping out now, then subscribing to the Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ pages will help Soul Saga out a lot more than you might think!
I hope this lengthy write up helps you get a better understanding of the journey I've gone through to get Soul Saga to where it's at. There's a lot more nitty gritty details I'd love to let aspiring developer's know about, so we'll save those for another time.
So thank you for reading and remember to always...