We were a ragtag bunch of students that had a large interest in one nerdy pastime: games. We loved all kinds of gaming: board games, card games, online games, retro games, all the way to the nitty gritty behind making games, coding and designing them.
Early spring 2014 we heard that Unity had just recently released a version of their software that was free to use for hobbyists. We saw that as a golden opportunity to see if we had what it takes to make games. It couldn’t be that hard, right?
We assembled a small group of like-minded pioneers into the mysterious world of game development and decided to do things bit differently than similar groups tend to do. We took it upon ourselves to learn the tutorials for the Unity game engine, hold weekly workshops and teach each other the particular areas that we had taught ourselves.
Exploring the virtual frontier
During fall 2014 another opportunity rose as our university had a workshop for game development. The kicker was that finished games would have a chance to be on display at the local ”Vaasa Game Days” event. We were psyched. So, with a smaller team we challenged ourselves and decided to create a VR game for the newly released Oculus Rift DK1. We had no prior experience with the brand new hardware and with a deadline only a couple of months away, we dived in head first.
After familiarizing ourselves with the limitations of the VR technology in its early stages, we decided to work on a modernized version of Sentinel, a 3D puzzle game from the Commodore 64 era. It had simple graphics and the teleportation system worked very well with the immersion a VR headset provides.
After a couple of sleepless weeks we had finished a game called SYNTHOID.
SYNTHOID is a 3D puzzle game with you as the ”Hero”. Absorb tentacles for energy to create blocks and copies of yourself to teleport into while staying hidden from the Sentinel’s field of vision. The goal is to traverse to the top of a mountain and ambush the Sentinel from behind. Once there you absorb yourself into the Sentinel and materialize on the next level. Coolest thing was that the demo actually worked quite well on Oculus!
The dream summer job
After realizing that game development was something we all enjoyed and saw potential in, we gathered together the whole team and started to think about our next project.
Due to a large number of us being in the governing body of a local student subject organization, we saw fit to grant ourselves the right to use the otherwise empty student room as a base of operations for the summer 2015. In a small room with limited airflow and only four proper desks, our team of six had a very cramped but productive time in our makeshift office. During this time we worked part-time on our project while trying to organize a busy schedule alongside studies and work.
After a sweaty summer West Coast Startup came to our aid. They wanted to start offering free office space for up-and-coming startups. We were offered an old woodwork shop to work in and we turned it into a liveable space without wood dust. And we kept on developing.
Around this time Jussi Hamunen joined our team as the lead graphics designer. He spotted us from an article we did for a local newspaper where we literally said that we need a graphics guy. He took the initiative and we took him in with open arms.
At this point we had pretty much a full team with all the necessary roles to make a successful indie game. And we kept working.
Building a framework for the future
Spring 2016 came along and thoughts about going official had been on our minds for a long time. We were given the chance to be a part of a new game development hub called Vaasa Game Lab located in the local premises of Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle). Furthermore, we would actually be taking the pilot development team role in the project! So we moved yet again and lucky for us, into a much better work environment.
From that point on we’ve been situated in our modest office at Yle. And a lot has happened since we moved in! We’ve officially become a company, we have a bunch of us working full-time on the game and the rest part-time. We’ve even found ourselves an awesome publisher!
Overall, we wouldn’t be here at this point without the help of others. We’d still be coding in someone’s apartment and probably eons away from a working game. We have to thank West Coast Startup, Muova, Vaasa Game Days, Yle, Olli Raatikainen (for his direct support and lenghty efforts for developing the gaming industry scene in Vaasa) and especially our dear mentor Jussi Loukiainen. He’s been pushing us to keep going since the first game workshop and he’s been looking out for us and for that we couldn’t be more grateful.
Huge thanks (and Hi!) to our friends in various game studios and development teams in our area and in Finland. Sharing and learning together is what makes this industry so great!
Next up: our first release Street Heat! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more development blogs!