Reaching for the stars - weeks 27 to 34 of making a video game

Recasting pearls

Some eight months ago I started something new. First fueled by frustration, this project was soon powered by passion.

Back at the beginning of 2017, I was frustrated with still having a job that had little to do with my interests or studies. The financially gainful employment I had always imagined to be temporary, had turned into a five-year-plus career. In the meanwhile, job interviews relating to my interests still went the same way: a field crowded with competition and few jobs left little chance for those with no formal training in the subject.

That's me, jobbing at Work work

So by June, I thought I'd try something else, something which seemed like it was a little crazy. I would finally try to realize a long-cherished, never-truly-pursued dream: make a video game. What's more, I would try to do so all by myself, even though I hadn't coded anything in over ten years. And, the result would have to be a game with enough polish that I could release it to the general public.

Why a game about birds, though?

In preparation for actually starting the project, I had some brainstorming sessions where I thought back on some tips of game designer guru Shigeru Miyamoto. You might remember him from little-known indie titles like all the Mario and Zelda games. This man has changed the industry a few times. I once saw or read an interview with him, where he was asked how he went about making games. Miyamoto sensei explained that most of his ideas came to him while he was working around the house, doing little chores as his mind drifted into fantasy. Think of Mario the plumber, and of Pikmin hiding in flower beds.

So as I was brainstorming with the missus, we let our minds drift toward simple observations in or around our house, and very soon we were both focused on the small, cute birds hopping around in the winter cold outside, looking for food. We would often observe the way they charmingly bounced about the garden, with their characteristic tail pointed skyward. We had found our subjects.

Originally, we were planning for Brood to be a puzzle game, but I had difficulty getting the idea fleshed out. I stranded at a whack-a-mole-like concept, but that didn't feel right, so I tried another approach: Brood as a side-scroller action game.

Are we there yet?

Where frustration had launched the project, passion soon took over. We're now thirty-four weeks into development, give or take a few days. That time was spent on a lot of things. Teaching myself how to code again, do animation, tackle different screen sizes and aspect ratios of mobile devices. Trying to get to grip with the Android environment and the particular demands of the Google Play Store. Jumping through all the hoops Belgium has set up for getting tax stuff in order for working as an independent.*

And then there's distribution. Google has automatic (value added/sales/consumption/...) tax handling set for certain countries (include for the entire EU), but for other countries, determining what your obligations are can be more difficult. Just figuring out whether or not it was feasible to do distribution in the US required quite some research.**

A nicely animated cat, thanks to Monika Zagrobelna's drawing tutorials

During the project, I got a few lucky breaks. The first one was time. I was lucky enough to be able to take two months off to get the project started. When I got back to work afterward, I could work part-time, and since January 1, 2018, I'm even jobbing half-time, devoting the other half to Saffron Streams.

So yeah, if I have any say in it, this story doesn't stop with Brood, it's where the adventure begins!

The second break was finding free assets*** for what I couldn't manage myself: music and sound effects. Depending on progress, a future second game might feature my own sounds too. It seems ambitious, learning to do that in such a short amount of time while doing all those other things. Then again, it's what I'm trying to do right now, with advertisement and PR.


Speaking of PR, I don't know if you've had the chance to catch our live-action trailer yet? Self-made, together with the missus. Feel your heart melting yet?

Yaki the chicken is curious about the game, how about you?

But enough rambling, let's get you what you came for. Starting February 28, you can download the game right here, on the Google Play Store.****

Available on the Play Store starting February 28!

Brood, the game

If you need a reminder of what the game is about, here's the pitch: Brood is a free-to-play mobile action game where you need to feed a family of newly hatched winter wren chicks.

- Hunt and be hunted: an action mechanic at the core of the game
- Feeding and raising a family of chicks: overarching story through gameplay
- Endless mode to set and challenge your high score
- Hand-drawn animations
- Playable on smartphones and tablets (Full HD native resolution)
- Android 4.1 and up (lower-end devices might still not run Brood)
- Free-to-play
- Music by Kevin MacLeod (Creative Commons)

May this screen soon bring comfort and happiness to all

Special thanks

- Kevin MacLeod (royalty-free music)
- Monika Zagrobelna (superb drawing tutorials)
- Google (the search engine),, android dev pages
- Extra Credits, GDC and Mark Brown for their insightful YouTube videos
- for crowdsourced free sound samples
- Penny Arcade for providing us with lots of freely available entertainment

* Once I made the decision to pay for an accountant, a lot of those problems were taken care of for me. Well spent money. What I still had to work out myself was how the different VAT systems worked around the world for Play Store purchases.
** So far, I've looked up the details of tax handling in the US (exempt from sales tax as I don't have nexus in any of its states), Canada (exempt as I don't "carry on business" in Canada (they have diagrams to help you figure this out)), Japan (exempt as long as I gross less than 10 million Yen per year in Japan (they look two years back for actual reference)), Brazil (no ICMS, but instead a 25% cut of your actual profits for the country). The Chinese market seems to have its own problems. You can't sell anything, so with no revenue from InAppPurchases, you only have your ads to fall back on. And for those ads, there are quite a few problems being reported, where developers see large numbers of app downloads, but nearly no ad activity (possibly explained by download bots on the one hand and different kind of content blockers on the other). So investigating which markets to distribute to requires a quite large amount of research.
*** I'm still thinking about how I can send some love back into the community. I've gained some insights into making a framework for working with different screen sizes and aspect ratios. If you're a developer who's struggling with just that, be sure to let me know (for instance on Saffron Streams' Facebook page or on Twitter). It might also be that no other developer decides to deal with that him or herself, and just uses a development platform like Unity to worry about that for him/her. In the meantime, I found out Kevin MacLeod, who made all the royalty-free tracks I use in the game, has a Patreon-page, so I joined in with a humble contribution
**** If you got here on the 27th: please wait one more day. Or you can bookmark our Play Store developer page, where the game will appear once it's out.