Story #1: The life of a nomadic indie (console) game developer

TL;DR I left a well-paid job in Toronto to roam the world while making an ambitious console game: Soul Reaper. It’s dumb but I would not have it any other way.

On June 1st (2017), I left my well-paid software engineering job in Toronto to focus on two of my biggest passions: traveling and building video games. “Dumb move” some might say and they would mostly be right.

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I don’t consider myself to be a good employee. It’s not that I don’t work well, it’s just that when you’re an entrepreneur at heart, you have the desire to create something bigger than yourself for a group of people you care about, and when you work for someone else, it’s hard to make that happen. For me, creating a super ambitious game for gamers like me who miss the way games were made back in the SNES and Playstation days is what I care about, and it’s definitely bigger than myself!

Now, I did say it was a dumb move. After all, until I release a game, I’m not getting paid. And I even pay people to do art for the game. Thankfully I was awarded a grant by the Ontario Media Development Corporation to work on Soul Reaper. But that money is not nearly enough and doesn’t pay for myself. Dumb indeed!

Traveling to save money

                                                                Good Nomad Cities

                                                               Good Nomad Cities

Now, that’s where traveling comes in play. For a lot of people, traveling is considered an expensive hobby. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Traveling is expensive when you’re moving a lot, pay for visas and expect comfort. The key is to find cheap visa-free countries that are comfortable enough and have great wifi. I traveled around the world from June 2015 to May 2016 and experienced amazing places to work from. Thailand (Chiang Mai and Bangkok) is very high on the list of great places. Cambodia (Siem Reap), Croatia (Zagreb) and Spain are also places I’m strongly considering in the near future. I’m sure other digital nomads have found other great spots as well. In Chiang Mai, I can live for $406 CAD / month with everything included including great wifi. And I’m sure there’s cheaper places. And there’s an awesome community of digital nomads there and is very comfortable. In Toronto, my rent was $1850 CAD, not counting utilities like electricity and internet. Oh, and I can eat for $2 CAD for an incredible dinner (it would be over $15 CAD in Canada)! So money-wise, being a nomad is pretty much the only way I can imagine being able to pull it off with limited budget.

Building for consoles while on the go

Soul Reaper is aimed to be released on consoles during Q4 2018. How do I heck am I building a console game with limited luggage space? It also doesn’t help that I’m an hobbyist photographer with camera equipment!

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Nintendo to the rescue!

In October 2016, Nintendo unveiled their next generation of consoles and they called it the Nintendo Switch. It was released on March 3rd, 2017. It changed everything… for the most part! As you may know, the Nintendo Switch is a hybrid console/portable gaming system. You can hook it to a HDTV or play on the go like you would with a Nintendo 3DS or PS Vita. And it works incredibly well! It’s as if it was built for me; as a gamer and developer. Plus they support the engine Soul Reaper is built on: Unity3D. Needless to say, I purchased a Switch and carry it with me everywhere. I’m currently carrying the dock and play on TV when my Airbnbs has one, but otherwise I play in my hands. And for those who haven’t held or seen one, it’s really thin and light! It takes up about 20% of one compartment of my bag. It would take less than 10% if I didn’t carry the dock and cables.

PS4 development

Soul Reaper was first designed to be released on a Playstation console (PS4). I don’t want to change that. I’m carrying with me my PS4 controller and only playtest the game using it. Carrying a PS4 is obviously out of the question since it’s too heavy and would take pretty much 100% of my luggage space! But it’s easy enough to test the game at 1080p from the computer or by hooking a monitor up. I just can’t test the PS-only features, of which there are none yet. We’ll see what I’ll do then.

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First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/story-1-the-life-of-a-nomadic-indie-console-game-developer-5ffd373f68a8