How We Lost the Story Behind Lost Soul Aside
For those who don’t keep up with games journalism, Lost Soul Aside is the Final Fantasy XV/Devil May Cry inspired creation of one developer: Seoul’s Yang Bing. At last count, there were 23,000,000 articles and reaction videos about the game and the trailer had 1,900,000 views.
The progress Bing has made on this game is impressive. The fact that he is making Lost Soul Aside all by himself has been the central focus of every single article that’s come out about it; not how he’s managed to make such a great looking game without a team of developers, ignoring both the technical and logistical aspects of making a game alone. This failure to address how the game is being made is harmful to other indie developers who are working alone or in small teams because it causes unrealistic expectations that are impossible for most solo developers to live up to.
On the Unreal Engine 4 message boards, Bing said that he’s used Blueprint coding and assets that he’s purchased or downloaded for free. Blueprint (or Unity’s Playmaker) is a visual scripting tool that allows coders of all levels to create game logic to control characters, animations, AI, etc. It’s so comprehensive that it’s possible to make a whole game without writing a single line of code. Marketplace (or Unity’s Asset Store) has downloadable tools, models, sounds, characters, and animations; everything needed to cobble together an entire game. Both of these are beneficial to game developers of all levels, especially those who have no experience writing code and creating art because they allow for the crowdsourcing of materials. They can be a great asset for the solo game developer with limited time and skill.
Currently Bing works on the game full time and does freelance work to pay the bills. This is definitely not feasible for many solo developers. Working this way leaves zero time for a personal life, and even after putting in 20-hour days it’s possible to still come up short. The nature of game development includes the possibility that all the time and money sunk into a project won’t be returned. Also, any money made from a game won’t be seen until the game is released so all those hours spent in development are hours that a paycheck is deferred. In fact, working like this is so difficult that, on his Facebook page, Bing said that he must work on the game in his free-time so he can find employment.
Bing’s game trailer is so impressive and the expectations for Lost Soul Aside are now so high that it’s possible he’ll fall victim to his own preliminary success. Game trailers show the best parts of a game (the best graphics, the best cutscenes, the coolest looking gameplay) because the whole point of a game trailer is to sell a project. People are definitely pumped about this project after seeing the trailer; however, Bing might have done too good a job selling Lost Soul Aside: a game that he says that after two years of full-time work on the game, it’s still only in the prototype stage, and even this may be overstating the game’s progress. In fact, little is shown in the trailer besides animations using characters that are placeholders, fight sequences with no enemy AI, and stock assets like backgrounds and settings that are functionless. Several game developers have made the mistake of prematurely releasing trailers for heavily hyped games only to have the projects fall through and disappoint fans. This hurts the developers who are reminded of their failed or unreleased projects every time they release something new.
Even with all the positive press and fan reactions, Bing seems to be having a difficult time dealing with the heightened expectations of what was essentially large scale fanfiction; attention that most solo indie developers never get. On both his Facebook and Twitter, he’s said that he’s worried about letting people down and that he won’t crowdfund the game because he’s not sure he can handle the responsibility of finishing the game, a project he says may take upwards of 10 years.
Not one of the articles about Lost Soul Aside focuses on how a single game developer managed to make a game that looks so impressive. By failing to examine the “how”, we ignore the unseen hands and environment that made a viral game trailer and the tremendous amount of work still required to turn it into a finished product. It sets an impossible standard for solo indie game developers which will ultimately hurt the indie game market because fans will be disappointed when a project looks less amazing. Games journalists will continue to expect more and more from a singular developer when indie game devs are already being perceived as not working hard enough, or, as @NaxeCode put it, they’re mistaking “harder work for hard work and hard work as laziness”.
Anna Rad loves animals, office supplies, and new book smell. Follow her on Twitter!