By: Isael Vega
Big budget games can have as many as 1000 people on their development team. Indie games may have as few as 30. Then there are development teams with only one person such as Veyeral Games. Angel Polanco, 27, is a solo developer who, “makes weird games about angels, eyeballs, and hearts.” Angel is currently working on his newest game, The Void Rains Upon Her Heart, a bullet-hell boss rush game in early access on Steam. “Everything in this game is being made by a single developer who is incredibly motivated by feedback from players. Early access is the best way to ensure that people can give that feedback while I continue to work on this game.”
Angel played games throughout his childhood and wanted to make his own game. He started by working on flash games and taught himself through tutorial websites. Eventually he came across GameMaker as it was the first search result. “I looked up how to make video games on Google and found GameMaker.” He has worked on a variety of 2D video games on GameMaker since he was 11. Angel is well versed with the tool and prefers it over 3D engines. “I don’t have any desire to go 3D. Learning to do 3D takes a lot of time.” Angel also prefers GameMakers because it, “Easily lets you export your game to any of the major consoles as long as your’e an approved developer on the console.”
A lot of his influences come from his favorite video games such as Kirby’s Dreamland, a major inspiration. “All my games are going to be Kirby in one way or another. There’s no getting around that,” Angel said as he dug out his GameBoy cartridge of Kirby’s Dreamland from a drawer. The Kirby influences are seen throughout his games in the designs of characters. Angel knew he wanted to make a game when he completed his favorite game. Kirby games are usually joyful but the final boss takes a dark turn. Angel loved this final boss fight so much he wanted to make an entire game based on it.
The Void Rains Upon Her Heart
Angel began development on The Void Rains Upon Her Heart after he was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. His anxiety gave him difficulties in school, at times he couldn’t breathe. “During lunch break, I played Touhou games. As I looked at the screen, I got concentrated and the anxiety went away.” Touhou is a Japanese series of bullet-hell shooter video games. This genre of video games often feature relentless waves of oncoming projectiles for the player to avoid. “Other people watching would think it’s an anxious experience to dodge everything, but when you’re the one playing, it’s almost like a zen-like experience.”
Angel wanted to make his own bullet-hell game based on his experience dealing with anxiety. There are themes of darkness and submitting to the void. The player controls the heart of an alien girl and defeats bosses by showing them love. Influences from the anxiety are seen in the boss designs based on fears and power-ups based on coping mechanisms. Subtle details like rain in the background represent ongoing depression. The soundtrack is inspired by the themes of classic boss battles and heavy metal with references to psychology. Angel cited songs such as Through the Fire and Flames by DragonForce as the inspiration for one of the boss themes, Absolute Zero.
Angel originally planned on having the game finished within a year but didn’t anticipate the amount of work the game would require. Although his initial scope for the game is complete, there are minor features he would like to add. For example, one major feature already implemented is the player’s avatar changed from a static heart to a pulsing heart that reacts to beat of the game’s soundtrack. Angel consistently updates the game on a monthly basis. Player feedback is taken into account to tweak and balance the game.
Feedback goes beyond just gameplay tweaks. “This is a game that talks about some very heavy topics such as anxiety, depression, and suicide. I want to be absolutely sure that these are treated in a respectful way. That means that if someone has an issue with the way I handle a topic in the story, I want to know about it! I will take every suggestion here very seriously.”
One Man Band
Angel prefers to work alone. This allows for complete creative control over any project he chooses. He gets to work on his game whenever he wants. There is no waiting on other people to finish assets. Angel decides which part of the game he wants to focus on. Angel splits the development time between making to content to fill the game, tweaking the bosses, and adding new music to the game’s soundtrack.
Angel initially updated The Void Rains Upon Her Heart every two weeks but eventually, the amount of work started to pile up. Updates changed to a monthly basis to allow for more time to work on new content and ideas. On one occasion, Angel made it a goal to update the game every day in the month of October. He worked on little details such as changing or improving backgrounds to maintain a steady progression rate. Updating the game can lead to its own issues. Angel still gets nervous when he puts out a new update because of the potential bugs and crashes. These aren’t too much of a problem as he can quickly spot the error in the code.
Angel’s own perfectionism can also be problematic with a limited development time. Angel has spent entire days working on minor details such as changing the backgrounds or adjusting menus. These minuscule details distract him from working on the major portions. There are also the issues of releasing and promoting the game. Anyone can release a game on Steam but there are too many games. The amount of games released on Steam increases every year with over 6000 in 2018. Angel commented self-promotion is one of the hardest things to do as a solo developer. Steam’s algorithm features select games on the storefront which can boost a game’s sales but indie games have a harder time getting picked up.
Angel’s current goal is to finish The Void Rains Upon Her Heart by 2020. “I hope to have it completed by Valentine’s Day but will release it earlier if possible,” he hinted. Angel is planning on releasing the game onto other platforms as well. He shared this game is actually a prequel to his main project, Eye Attack. The Void Rains Upon Her Heart has distracted him from working on Eye Attack but will continue as soon as he finishes the current project. Angel completed the majority of his vision for The Void Rains Upon Her Heart. A few more bosses, playable characters, and additional power-ups are in the works. He emphasized that as a solo developer, “you have to set goals and stick to them, otherwise the game will become too ambitious.”
Angel is dreading his first negative review as The Void Rains Upon Her Hearts nears 100 reviews on Steam, however, he doesn’t see it as a bad thing. He’s actually excited to receive his first negative review as it may be a sign of popularity. “People will always dislike what’s popular,” he added. The majority of reviews so far have been positive and he responds to the feedback. The eventual goal is to release the game onto multiple platforms. Value’s 30 percent cut of games sold on Steam can take a significant portion of indie developer’s revenue. Despite the issues solo developers and indie games face on Steam, it remains as one of the top platforms for release.
Keep an eye out for The Void Rains Upon Her Heart by Veyeral Games