Archives April 2019

MY JOURNEY WITH SUPER ICON

A Turbulent Beginning…

Super Icon began after my previous studio, Icon Games, failed. I’d never really been happy with many of the games we created at Icon, where I tried to develop more casual games or emulate other games. We were also hampered by using our own engine – which was a massive task to maintain and take over to other platforms. After the demise of Icon, I started experimenting with Unity, which we have used ever since.

Super Icon was a new approach – the focus from the beginning was to try and make the games I really wanted to make, games that I loved, passion projects as it were. It was a tough transition, but I definitely believe it was the right one from a creative POV.

  The Years from Hell!

I would describe myself as a creative person, and like many creatively minded people, I have suffered with mental health problems – self-esteem, depression, social problems – and although I have never been officially diagnosed, I think there is a strong chance I have Asperger’s Syndrome.

I’ve only ever made video-games, it was my first full-time job, and I have been doing it ever since – which is about 27 years now.

After Icon, we were financially in a very bad place. At the time we lived in Richmond, which is a borough of London. Rental costs were crazy high, and constantly increased while we were there.

I am married and have 3 children, back then they varied from late toddler age (my youngest, Spencer) through to final year of junior school (my daughter Holly).

We had struggled for money for a long time, our games didn’t sell very well so we saw a lot of income spikes – long periods of little income while developing new titles, which we were self-publishing. It was very hard, and incredibly stressful for a number of years, but we got by.

The biggest kicker was when we got evicted for the first time for being late with rent. The landlord had insurance to cover his rental risks, and these insurers were rock hard. We were a few days late, and we got evicted – because that was the was the policy worked. You then have a couple of months to find new housing, which in a place like Richmond is tough, expensive and near impossible when you are out of money.

The long and short of it was, I broke. My mind fell apart, I began self-harming, drinking, crying randomly. I felt so guilty, letting my family down, and such a failure for getting us into this position. I also felt hurt, deeply hurt really – we had done nothing wrong, yet were treated so very badly.

Later I also discovered I had a brain tumour at this time, a benign one, but one that caused some quite profound changes to hormone levels. Essentially it was a tumour on the pituitary gland, and what it did was stop testosterone production. As well as the more obvious physical effects, mentally it kind of fucks you up – and extenuates the effects of depression, stress and so-on.

This situation continued for quite a while, with a steady deterioration of my mental health and the stability of my family. We continued to have major money problems – and the very worst of times came when we had to move again because we couldn’t afford the rent.

We had a dog called Dexter, a beautiful Vizsla, and when we had to move again we couldn’t find anywhere to rent we could afford that took pets. We had to re-home Dex, fortunately to a lovely new family where he gamed a sister, another Vizsla – and I know he has had a wonderful time with his new family. This was the lowest point – the day before they came to pick him up, it was my daughter’s birthday. I remember in the evening, sitting on the kitchen floor, arms pouring with blood, hugging Dexter and sobbing, with my daughter and wife there. Just the lowest point, I felt shame, despair, god it was so bad. For my beautiful daughter to have to go through that. For my wife, for the boys, just the worst of times.

During all of this, I made a game – and the game was Life of Pixel. It didn’t perform very well, but it was the first game I had made for a very long time I felt pleased with, a game I felt was worth people’s time and money to play. I followed that with Vektor Wars, my tribute to 80s wireframe sci-fi visuals and Battlezone. That one sold really badly!

I tried hard to build up a community, but it just didn’t work – I think perhaps because as someone with the social skills of a plank of wood, building a community is pretty much the hardest thing to do. Plus trying to do it when your life and head is falling apart is not great. I just can’t think how to phrase tweets, messages, all that sort of stuff – it is a bit like trying to speak a foreign language! I dislike putting myself out there, on so many levels… I am sure many other indies feel the same, trying to promote a game and your studio, when every aspect of your personality screams against it.

We also for the third and final time got evicted again for falling behind with rent. This time we had to make a heart-breaking decision to move away from the area, as it was just too expensive.

And it was heart-breaking because of the children – perhaps most of all for my middle son, Lucas. He has Asperger’s and struggled at times with school life – but the school he was in, they were like a family to him, they were kind, supportive, understanding – they were wonderful. Lucas loved them and we had to take him away. All three of the children were doing so well in their schools, we were so proud of them. What a wrench that was – but we had no choice, so we relocated. It was fucked up though, and neither my wife or I have ever really got over it – the wrench, the guilt for what we had to do to the kids.

  Rebirth of Super Icon

After the move, I started a new game about Lucas and me – Best Buds vs Bad Guys. We call each other Best Buds (well, we did at the time, he is a little old for that now!).

I also started getting treatment for the tumour – testosterone supplements – so mentally I was starting to really pick up. We ran a small Kickstarter for Best Buds, and as mentioned in the previous post, that was successful, and we met the guys from White Moon.

If you haven’t read the previous post, it is here, and covers what happened after Best Buds and the current position we are in.

The reason I wrote this follow-up post was to try and explain WHY the current situation has hit so hard. It explains the journey up until now, and perhaps highlights why indie development has taken its toll.

The thing is, I love creating video-games, and to most people they would probably think, what are you doing? Just get a fucking job. BUT once I do that, I think that will be it – no more games, so it is such a major step, to turn away from all you have known professionally. Weirdly also when you go through so much doing something, the thought of walking away seems even harder. Also I am scared, scared that in the job marketplace I am worthless, a 46 year old washed out indie bloke – who the fuck would want to employ someone like that!?

But on the other hand, I know I can’t ever go through an experience like Richmond again, for my family, it just can’t happen again.

Hence the cry for help, one last try; and I have to try, and I still have hope – hope that I can turn things around once and for all. But it is certainly the last chance saloon now!

If you are still reading after this rather shameful example of shitty indie development, any chance you can help me build up a community? Consider this post my nuclear option ‘call-to-action’ – it was tough to write, and I feel so embarrassed to write it, to admit to this all. I’ll probably delete it before you read it!

Richard Hill-Whittall, March 30

  Links

You can follow us in the following ways:

Website:                             https://www.supericon.co.uk/

Blog:                                    https://supericonblog.tumblr.com/

Twitter:                               https://twitter.com/SuperIconLtd

Discord:                              https://discord.gg/vPBTFtf

Instagram:                         https://www.instagram.com/supericonltd/

Facebook:                          https://www.facebook.com/SuperIconLtd/

Youtube:                            https://www.youtube.com/user/SuperIconLtd

SUPER ICON NEEDS YOUR HELP

Our History So Far…

I began developing games back in the late nineties – Xtreme Racing on Amiga was my first game, and ever since then I have only ever worked at my own development studios.

Starting with Graphic State, which initially was a sub-contract artwork studio, later moving into handheld game development on the Gameboy systems. This then evolved into Icon Games, focusing on small-ish console games on Playstation and Wii.

I then founded Super Icon in 2012, with a focus on creating the games that I wanted to make, rather than trying to ride the coat-tails of current popular games or casual games. The focus was always trying to make great games, as good as we possibly can – games that people enjoy playing. Like many other small indie developers, we’ve had ups and downs, but I think the games we’ve made are the best of my career so far. Our first proper release was Life of Pixel on Playstation Mobile.

Back in 2016, after the release of Life of Pixel on Steam and our Battlezone type shooter Vektor Wars, we decided that it would probably be best to partner with a publisher going forward. Our sales numbers were low, and we failed quite badly at building any sort of interest in the games. They didn’t completely tank, but the numbers were bad, and not enough to sustain a business.

At the time we had just finished a Kickstarter for another game, Best Buds vs Bad Guys, and managed to get a little income in to complete the development. During the Kickstarter I started chatting to a great bunch of guys at a studio called Whitemoon Dreams, in particular its CEO Jay.

The upshot was I explained we were not having much success at selling/promoting our games, and they agreed to act as a publisher on Life of Pixel and Best Buds going forward, to take them over onto Playstation and Switch.

We worked together with them, releasing Super Life of Pixel onto Playstation 4 and Vita in December 2018. Also, during the development phase, we pitched another title we were making, called Platform Maker. After a fair few rejections, we finally found a publisher, pQube. We renamed the game to PLATAGO, and it was released onto Steam Early Access in 2018.

Fast forward to 2019…

  The Current State of Play

So, here we are. Unfortunately, despite most players seeming to enjoy Super Life of Pixel, the sales on Playstation have been DIRE. So bad, in fact, that Whitemoon have decided they are unable to continue publishing for the time-being. As such, in the first quarter of 2019, we have seen our income pretty much completely grind to a halt.

Our income wasn’t much before, and we have had several very tough times since the later Icon Games period onwards, where we’ve had little or no income for months at a time. This time though, it is all a little different, I’m kind of burnt out. I’m also getting on a bit, I’m 46 this year, with a family, including three great kids who are now that much older, and it is tough for them.

I think being a penniless indie develop is a younger person’s game! Certainly not conducive to maintaining a stable family life and keeping the wolves from the door.

  A Tough Decision

So, I have come to the decision that, unless this year things improve and we break this cycle, I don’t think I am able to continue making games.

I love making games, but there comes a time when you think if no-one wants to play your games, and you can’t support your family – perhaps it is time to re-evaluate.

Another thing I have done over the last couple of years is develop and pitch other games – the first a horror game called The Tower, the other an Action RPG called They Came from Beyond. The plan was to make sure we continued to maintain revenue once we completed the on-going projects.

I pitched both to various publishers, and they were both rejected. I stopped work on The Tower, as without funding it was just too ambitious. There is a blog for it (updated until I stopped working on the project):

I continued with They Came from Beyond, for the following reasons:

  • I love the game and believe in it
  • I have enjoyed every second of developing it
  • Although larger in scope than our other titles, it was still a realistic scope
  • It is my last chance, perhaps, to continue making games

You can download the in-development build for free from itch.io:

Alas, I can’t get any interest in it at all, which kind of breaks my heart. I’ve also been working on it now for 15 months, completely un-funded, so there is a big personal commitment there.

So, there we are, but I do have a request…

  If You Like Our Games, Support Us

We need your help!!

If you like any of our games – Life of Pixel, Vektor Wars, PLATAGO or like the look of They Came from Beyond – can you help us spread the word?

Without more support and a much larger community of followers, it will be impossible for us to continue making games. We just can’t continue without income – and I’ll be honest, it is a constant gut punch to try and continue developing when everything you do fails.

So, if you can – spread the word – help get us a little more known. Join our community on Discord or elsewhere, tell other gamers, sites or anywhere you think might be interested in our games. Without more followers, and more people buying our games, we’re done.

This was a tough post to write, and I hope it doesn’t come across in the wrong way – I just don’t know where else to turn. If anyone out there plays and enjoys our games, and wants us to continue making games – well, we can’t do it without you now.

Richard Hill-Whittall, March 26

  Links

You can follow us in the following ways:

Website:                             https://www.supericon.co.uk/

Blog:                                    https://supericonblog.tumblr.com/

Twitter:                               https://twitter.com/SuperIconLtd

Discord:                              https://discord.gg/vPBTFtf

Instagram:                         https://www.instagram.com/supericonltd/

Facebook:                          https://www.facebook.com/SuperIconLtd/

Youtube:                            https://www.youtube.com/user/SuperIconLtd