Indie Interviews

Indie Interviews: Soul Searching by Kayabros

Indie Interviews is Corecade’s series of interviews with independent developers. Birthed from the death of Steam’s Greenlight, Corecade listens to the innovative, lesser-heard voices.

Soul Searching is a 2D top down exploration game with a story and survival elements. You sail on your small primitive boats into a world of islands, dragons, and magic.  It touches on themes such as growing up, depression and leaving your parents to go on an adventure.

[Corecade] I have to ask this: “Soul Searching” sounds like a very personal journey, what inspired its name? Would you say it reflects your life as an independent game developer?

The main inspirations for the game were the Earthsea series (especially the first book) and the movie Life of Pi. Both had themes of soul searching and trying to find out who you are and where you belong in this world. So I thought it would be cool if I said “soul searching” is a village tradition which includes young adults sailing away into a sea on their own. It seemed to fit what I wanted to make. And Soul Searching as the title creates a certain curiosity, expectation and mood that I liked.

Making games on your own can definitely feel like “soul searching” sometimes, as you spend so much time alone and try to create something big under your limitations. You try and fail and try and fail until you are happy with what you make.

Steam’s upcoming replacement of Greenlight will put many independent developers in a tough place with its publishing fee. Given Soul Searching is your first game to be released on the platform, how do you feel about it? Do you know any developers that will be affected by it?

I don’t see Steam Direct as a problem, especially without knowing the fee first. I don’t think it will be 5000 dollars, that is too much. Anything above 1000 is too much really. But they say it will be paid back when game makes that money by selling copies on Steam. That sounds fair. I paid 100 dollars to put Soul Searching on Greenlight. That was the only cost I made to make Soul Searching and sell it on Steam. The rest is me working at nights and weekends to make the game by myself. So it would be annoying for me to put more money for a storefront to check my game. But I can’t really blame Steam for not caring too much about the small guy. We are so small that they don’t even feel like they are gaining any money from us. But most developers are not like this. Most developers have real budgets, and a few thousand dollars of a fee that will be paid back is not really a problem.

Were there any points during the development of the game where you felt overwhelmed by the challenges you faced? Three years of development on your own must take its toll.

Yeah, the thing most people don’t realize about Soul Searching is that, it was made in a time of my life when many rapid changes were going on. After graduating from university, I had my first job that paid well. Then I got married. Then I quit my job and moved to Spain. It was exciting but scary. And all the while I was making Soul Searching, but I was constantly changing as a person. So I needed to keep the idea fresh. I did this by changing the game’s narrative structure in a way that allowed my daily rants and feelings to find a place in the game. So on a random day I could feel whatever I was feeling, open the game, and put my ramblings in the game. The game took 2 years and 8 months to make. That’s a long time to not lose focus and vision, so I kept a lot of writings and plans for the game in a .txt file. I also kept my to-do list for the game in that file. As of now that file is 1239 lines long. It contains the whole history of development from the basic player movements to bugs, and story planning, etc.

Most of my developer friends are in Turkey and I was in my homeland Turkey for most of the development. And my homeland has a terror problem. So sometimes there are bombs exploding in the city you live in and that messes you up. I know my friends who are in a terrible state after a bomb kills innocent people. For weeks, it’s hard to get back to developing your game, because you need to be in a healthy state to be able to focus on making a game. The feeling of wanting to create fun for people clashes with “I might die and my loved ones might die”. I think it was kind of important for me to design the game to have a personal emotional importance. I thought of it as a statement I was trying to make. This is way too dramatic than it has the right to be, but I remember thinking “I hope I don’t die before finishing the game”. That was one of the reasons I and my older brother Tarık and our wives moved to Spain. Living abroad has its problems, but life is easier when you eat tapas and listen to flamenco.

I am someone who gets sad or depressed on a daily basis, so sometimes when I was feeling really bad I’d take days or weeks off. A lot of times I felt like I lost my direction, and gained my direction by either testing the game with people around me or just redoing things in game. I always knew I would finish this game but I had my days of “maybe I should just cancel the game and get on with my life”. Because it can feel like you are putting off a lot of things, like playing games, going on vacations, spending quality time with loved ones, only to finish making the game and find out you are so used to this type of life now, it’s hard to go back to being a lazy person. Making a game is an adventure for sure.

What’s next for Kayabros? Is there a particular gameplay genre or narrative you wish to face?

I’m trying to learn from the experience of making Soul Searching and people’s reactions to the game these days while planning a new project. One thing is that with Soul Searching I lost way too much time trying to fix bugs I created by writing careless code. Since I moved to Spain to work with Tarık who is a great coder, I learned a lot from him. So I either have to write proper code, or just work with my brother who always writes proper code. I would prefer working in a small team of very talented people, because that’s the way your lack of skills in a certain area is no more a hard limitation. I believe if you find people who are easy to work with and have a similar vision, you can make great things. So far my biggest takeaway is I should work with people who know what they are doing. Thanks to Soul Searching, I showed that I can finish a project in a good state, so people are more willing to work with me now. And I’ve grown as a person who can work in a team. Soul Searching was me doing things my way and showing that I can do things on my own. But now I want to make better games with better people. I’m less selfish.

These days I am trying to design a game with my brother, prototyping ideas. Then I will take that project to an artist to see if they like it and are a good fit for the project. From then on, we can continue making things the way we like it. I’m still not sick of the top down perspective, so I think we might go for that. For genre, I want to make something more action-y with gunplay. I’m trying to create a character who can give birth to a lot of ethical dilemmas and social commentary. Fun times ahead!


Soul Searching is available now on Steam. You can follow Kayabros on Twitter and keep up-to-date with their latest games and happenings via their site.