One teacher’s battle to make a game

Last year, Oxford-based physics teacher Nicholas Spargo quit his job to work full time on JRPG passion project, Melancholy Republic.

He isn’t your typical indie developer. In fact, he had no experience of games development and even less of coding.

I haven’t done a course in it or anything,” says Spargo.

I couldn’t just leave my job to start working on a game, so I started developing a prototype and the script in my free time.

That’s no easy task – as a teacher you have to mark hundreds of books a week and have loads of other tasks to do in your free time.

Eventually I became really happy with how the game was coming along. It really showed me what we were capable of doing.

After that, I left teaching to work on the game full time. I started Cloud Runner Studios as a result. At the moment there’s only a few people involved – myself, another writer and a couple of composers in Manchester. Most of the team is actually freelance.”

Spargo is upfront about his lack of coding skills. But thanks to free development software RPG Maker, he has been able to make his game.

With my lack of experience I wasn’t going to dive on in and make a StarCraft II rival. I wanted to stick to what I know – writing and stories,” Spargo says. Another passion for me was RPG Maker. There’s been a few good indie games that have seen quite a lot of success using that software. It’s something
I’ve always messed around with for years making little games and experimenting.

Part of the process when I was prototyping was wanting to have a bit of understanding as to how to manipulate the engine. I spent a few months teaching myself [coding language] Ruby to that end. It was tough at the start, but I stuck to things I was comfortable with and didn’t go into things that were unnecessary, like making my own engine or using super advanced development tech, which weren’t needed for the scope of our game.”

Rather than pitching his game to a publisher, Spargo launched a Kickstarter to make Melancholy Republic.

There are lots of small indie games publishers, but I really want to prove myself,” he says.

That’s one reason I want to do this myself because I haven’t had much experience. Publishers might have been turned off by that. For me this game was a lot of proving myself as an individual and as a developer. I’ve never known much about indie publishers. If one contacted me further down the line and were happy with the standard of the game, then it’s something I’d look at.

Kickstarter was a way to get people enthused about a game and also ensure that the quality of the game is the same as our vision. I could make the game for free, but it would take much longer and wouldn’t be of as high a quality, so Kickstarter was an opportunity for us to make an excellent game the way I envisioned it, and in a timely fashion. The amount of feedback and fans talking to us about the game, giving us ideas and wanting to get involved, is incredible.”

In fact, the firm’s current Kickstarter is its second. When it became clear that the first wasn’t going to make its 15,000 goal, Spargo started another, investing 7,500 of his own money and launching with a lower goal.

We launched the first Kickstarter and didn’t have a community, any fans or a social media presence,” Spargo says. It was naive. The people who did see it were blown away and left really good feedback. We just struggled to get exposure for the game. I decided to invest half of the 15,000 that we had budgeted to complete the game myself, and we asked for a lower goal.”

And if this Kickstarter fails, Spargo is going to continue trying until his game is made.

If we cannot secure funding I would focus on finding unpaid, hobbyist artists and level designers to help complete the game, or possibly find equal share partners to complete development, albeit in a reduced form and scope than what we are aiming for right now.”

He concludes: This is obviously not a desirable route as it would increase the development time hugely. We won’t try again at an even lower target as it would not do the game or backers justice to deliver a much reduced final product to them.”

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