The Indie Game The Righteousness: SanGuo Co-Created With My Father

Author: liangwandi1
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Editor's note

This article tells the story of a "special" indie game development team, a father and son from China.


Hello there! I'm 黄金阿鲁卡多 (Golden Alucard), the developer behind The Righteousness: SanGuo(三国仁义传), a hand-drawn metroidvania game set in the SanGuo (Three Kingdoms) period. The game is now available on Steam, and there is a free demo for everyone to give it a spin.

I aim to share some of experiences and insights I've gained from the development process. My intention is to assist those who have not yet started their journey, guiding them toward a more efficient path. Furthermore, I hope to provide encouragement to individuals who, much like myself, persistently pursue their goals with determination.

Genesis: A Dream of Making Games

From a young age, I had a deep affection for video games. I started with the Xiaobawang Console (an NES pirate clone) and Mega Drive (Sega Genesis), then delved into the worlds of Sega Saturn, PlayStation, and ultimately, the realm of computer gaming. I’m sure many can relate to the joy of growing up with games as your companions, which naturally ignited the dream of creating my own games.

Some might ask, “Did your parents ever complain about how much time you spent playing games?” Well, that’s the beauty of it — my father was, in fact, a gaming enthusiast himself (according to my mother, he used to inviting her over to play Super Mario when they were dating, XD)! Gaming was a shared passion within my family, and sometimes, even my family members joined in on the fun.

Unsurprisingly, my family was the initial group to rally behind my game development journey.

Exploring: The Adventure of Game Development

Ever had a dream and wondered, “How on earth do I chase this?” That was me with game development.

When I first dipped my toes into this world, I naively thought, “Hey, just buy some asset packs, some code, piece them together, and voilà, my game is done!” But reality proved more challenging. Quitting my job without a backup plan, I grew anxious about my depleting savings. I was too foolish! But hey, when life throws lemons, you make lemonade. I kept finding another job and spent every free minute on development - this was the beginning of the story.

I believe many people are like me, dreaming of going to a game company after graduation to hone their skills, rising to the top, and then leading their own projects, reaching the peak of life. But it’s not that straightforward!

Despite my passion, my resume didn't sparkle. Limited experience and no killer portfolio meant that game companies overlooked me. So, I took an alternative path, first working in other positions related to games, and then sharpened my skills every chance I got as the preparation of developing my own game.

However, reality has its own timeline. My day job kept me swamped. When I got home I just wanted to play some games, or boast online about my “gaming dream”.

Those around me understood and were supportive, but I knew I couldn’t just keep playing games - I had to change. So then I got the idea of being a gaming content creator and submitted articles to game news sites. Fortunately this lifestyle lasted for a while, and many friends I have today are those I met during that phase.

Later, I joined a prominent company at the Building 5 on Danling Street. My colleagues there were all outstanding, and I gradually developed the desire to learn from them. That’s where I knew about the Cuphead project the company was supporting.

Cuphead’s developers were two brothers. Their story, struggles, and triumph, deeply compelled and inspired me to resign again and pursue my dream.

Upon sharing my aspirations with my colleagues, I was overwhelming by the love and cheers. I’m still brought to tears thinking of their support now. And so I embarked on my journey chasing dreams, with my colleagues jokingly saying there were just there for the drama. Bless them!

Thankful for these incredible souls — they’re the wind beneath my wings as I chase my dream.

Time to get started: Creation, Production, and Challenges

As an independent developer, most of the development work rests on my shoulders, therefore, choosing the right tools became paramount.

When I envisioned a 2D, hand-drawn side-scrolling game, many people recommended Unity, but I ended up choosing UE4. Given that my technical skills weren’t great (and, honestly, they've improved but still not great...), UE4’s Blueprint system offered a more intuitive approach, facilitating rapid iterations — it is very important for an indie developer like myself who's ever mindful of time constraints.

Next, I was deep-diving into all things UE, starting from the foundational nodes and experimenting with desired functionalities. Feeling a growing confidence, I started my journey with a simple cube as the main character.

When you have a glance at my ID, you’ll likely think, “Hmm, metroidvania vibes?” Bingo! But creating such polished and engaging designs is quite the challenge for a rookie. All I can say is that I gave it my all in designing maps that I personally found intriguing. My hope is that the final product will earn everyone's enthusiastic approval!

After starting development and design, an issue emerged — what to do about the art?

l have some drawing skills, but it had been years since I last put them to use. Developing a distinctive style isn’t an overnight work. That’s when I thought of him — my father. So, we teamed up.

You might wonder: how could my father work with me, and what role did he play? In fact, he’s just an ordinary laid-off worker from Northeast China. But he loves games, and even at 60, he’s energetic and still plays various games daily. Lucky for me, he possesses some artistic talents — a hobby he has nurtured over the years.

When I was little, I remember him often sketching scenes from City Hunter by Tsukasa Hojo. As time went on, he started self-learning blade painting (刀画, a special oil painting technique from Jilin province). He even wrote novel himself in his younger days (kept in notebooks undiscovered until I found them)! Teaming up with him seemed like destiny; not only could we bring his creative dreams to life, but I also harbored dreams of a game development.

Following that, we quickly dove into research. Initially, we thought of the ink painting style, just like many others. But we questioned wether it was truly unique enough.

So we wanted a more special style that is labor-intensive yet visually captivating — we ultimately settled on Chinese comic strips. My dad, with his affinity for the rugged drawing style of vintage Japanese comics, also had a fondness for Chinese comic strips. We had a collection of comic strips at home, including my favorite Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Drawing inspiration from these, we began designing our characters.

This marked the beginning of a three-year artistic odyssey for us.

Perseverance, Game Development, and My Painful Metamorphosis

Perseverance is always easier said than done.

I often joke with myself, saying if I’d displayed this level of perseverance during my college entrance exams, I might have made it into a top-tier university. But life doesn’t offer a replay button. If you veer off track, simply make adjustment and find your way back. After all, it’s your unique journey.

So, with determination, I pressed ahead.

When I’d reached about 10 % of my development, I chanced upon a tech salon for the Unreal Engine in Shanghai. Without hesitation, I signed up, eager to learn from the best. There, I witnessed their incredible projects and met numerous talented professionals. The encouragement I received from some of the organizers was invaluable. Upon hearing of my humble beginnings, they didn’t ridicule but uplifted me instead.

That’s when I encountered my third source of inspiration — expert developers.

I voraciously absorbed every morsel of wisdom they offered. While they moved forward, I stood, as if perched on the shoulders of giants, soaking in their technical prowess. From that point, I believe I truly immersed myself in the world of game development.

Now, over three years later, my dedication hasn’t waned. The game’s development is more than halfway complete, with most features in place.

With such overwhelming support, how could I not be driven? So, I sacrificed most holidays, diving deep into development. Throughout my work, my partner (my father) produced countless sketches. On my end, I relentlessly sought better mechanic, optimized engine efficiency, and enhanced the visual aesthetics. This gave birth to our distinctive development process:

I assign plans to my father — He creates the initial sketches — I refine them — Rigging — Then we implement the design into the engine.

Germination: Unveiling the Game to All

Our game is currently at this very phase.

Last April, the playable demo of The Righteousness: SanGuo was completed and released to the public. Those who had been supportive of me all along sent their heartfelt congratulations, and I was deeply moved (omitting 10,000 words here — yes, I cried then). In addition, I got acquainted with a broader circle of supporters, including industry peers and online friends that I never met.

Having talked so much about what happened outside of development, you might be wondering about the actual progress of The Righteousness: SanGuo. Here’s where we stand now:

  • The entire game’s scene setup is nearly finalized, with some details still requiring adjustment that will be improved gradually.
  • Regarding the game system, we’ve incorporated optimizations and revisions based on feedback from our earlier playtesters.
  • Essential systems like the chest (or special items), leveling up, and inventory are all nearly finalized.
  • As for the art assets, it’s a meticulous task since every piece is hand-drawn. We’ve completed over 40 enemies, with the count expected to rise to more than 70.
  • In terms of performance optimization, it’s a bit technical, but here’s a simplified version: We’ve substituted the old, redundant mechanic with a more streamlined and efficient approach. This has certainly boosted running efficiency. As a result, areas that previously experienced lag on a 1070 GPU now runs smoothly on a laptop with a 1050ti(✌)~

Expectations: What Can a Father-Son Game Duo Achieve?

There are two purposes for writing this long article.

Firstly, let’s be honest: a part of this is about promoting The Righteousness: SanGuo. Denying that would simply be disingenuous (obviously)! Secondly, in a world that can often feel depressive, I wish to share some beautiful stories and moments. After all, the game is titled “The Righteousness” signifying my aspiration to spread positive vibes. In my view, this is a small act of righteousness that I wholeheartedly offer.

Enough of sentimentality. Continual pessimism isn’t the answer either. I’ve always believe that one needs convictions and passion to infuse life with meaning. For me, that commitment is centered around “creation”, the core value of my life! I hope you, too, can hold onto or find your dreams and passionately pursue them.

A heartfelt thank you to my close friends and family. Their unwavering support in my game-making journey has been my primary inspiration from the beginning.

As you've journeyed through this article, I've gained another friend who's now acquainted with The Righteousness: SanGuo. Would you be willing to extend your support as well? Your encouragement holds immeasurable value for me, and I offer a heartfelt thank you to each one of you!

My journey in game development will continue. The Righteousness: SanGuo is already on its way. This is merely the beginning rather than the end.

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