Profile – Tony Sundell (FIN)

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Hunker down, the Bunker trailer is here! First a little context. Bunker: The Underground Game is the brain child of solo Finnish developer, Tony Sundell and is a point and click adventure filled with plot twists, mini games, puzzles and humor, pixel art cutscenes and genetically engineered lab animals trying to take over the world. But who exactly is this games developer. I put a few questions to the one man development studio. This is his profile!

Chart your entry into the industry and how found yourself down the solo development route?
At the age of 3, I started playing video games. A few years later I got a gaming console of my own. At the age of 9, I got my own computer and began producing pictures, first with Paint, before progressing to Paintshop Pro and eventually Photoshop. Over the years, producing digital art and making websites, together with playing video games became my main hobbies. I can’t exactly remember when, but later on I joined some modding teams for games like Unreal Tournament, made some graphics with the team that practically reprogrammed the (Origin)al Ultima Online and helped with graphics on various other projects.

I later decided that if I ever wanted to finish something I’d have to do it either as a team lead or alone. I then embarked on a massive 4 year RPG Maker XP project that had 10 hours gameplay and eventually just decided the game was far too ambitious, and required a lot more work than I could handle (20% done).

The project partially overlapped with my time at university where my art teacher told me about this thriving game development community at the same city. I couldn’t believe my ears, other developers, here? That little “club” of game developers eventually morphed into an IGDA hub. I started getting involved with game projects with teams that actually finished their games, game jams, university and even got an industry job as a graphic lead artist at one of the biggest new startups in the city. On top of that I had slowly begun developing Bunker as a side project.

I soon found myself in a situation where I was leading a graphics team at an indie company, developing Bunker as well as trying to graduate from university. It was an immensely stressful time.

However, I’m delighted to say I graduated with a M. Ed. eventually had to quit my position at the company for financial reasons and now focus all my efforts into my favorite child: Bunker: The Underground Game.

What inspired Bunker?
In the 90’s I bought an adventure game that left a lasting impression. Day of the tentacle became my favorite game and inspired most of Bunker’s graphical side. Naturally, I took what I liked about DoTT and brought my own flavor to the project. Game mechanics and puzzle design-wise Bunker is inspired by Nintendo games such as Mario and Zelda and their masterful use of pacing. I really wanted to have the same kind of awe and joy you get from these games as they introduce a new novelty after another. Game play rarely gets repetitive or boring and there’s always something new to see.

Story actually was influenced by real life events! Well not really by real life events, but something that my busy imagination saw happening to one of my online friends who had started dating a girl online. It’s such a long time ago that I can’t quite remember all the details, but I do remember her suggesting a meet up at a desolate location without either bringing any kind of company and in Russia of the places. I also thought that it wouldn’t be that funny a concept if a hipster with an appreciation for old items like old records and cameras would be forced to travel to a location that is in fact filled with all these kind of kitsch things. How would he react if what he once viewed as an anomaly of items was suddenly a part of a local mainstream?

What are the challenges of being a one person development?
Biggest challenge as the only developer for the project is naturally filling all the roles yourself. You can’t just dive into sweet sweet solace of your own area of strength, but have to go beyond your comfort zone and keep improving. Once writing the dialog, drawing backgrounds & characters, animating moving parts, scripting and constructing puzzles, playtesting (then fixing bugs) is over you still have a lot work to do on public relations, marketing, preparing trailers, contacting people and pretending that you actually have any idea what you are doing! Only thing I am outsourcing with this project is music and sounds. With the music I’ll have to give a shout out to extremely talented Skittlegirl.

One of the more challenging roles beyond ones already mentioned above, is being a critic to yourself. When working on something for such a long time, the tendency to become blind to your own work is very real. This makes my awesome game testers even more important as they are able to take a look at things with a fresh pair of eyes and let me know what’s amiss. Many of my testers are talented developers themselves and that gives certain extra flavor to test sessions (plus I keep bribing them with sugar and coffee).

Got a release date?
Exact date is still unknown, but I guess the famous Blizzard (huge fanboy here) policy “when it’s done” applies here too. I don’t want to put out anything half baked. Test players have the final say and nothing is shipped until they are satisfied with the game.

What Nordic developers do you look to for inspiration?
I don’t know if I look for inspiration from Nordic developers, but I do have admiration for many. Indie company Quadro Delta made us all proud when they reached the top selling charts on Steam with their game Pixel Piracy. It was amazing to think that something like that could come from the same city we live in.

I almost admire Almost Human who made the Legend of Grimrock, Facepalm with their The Swapper and Remedy with almost everything they have ever done. I also respect Markus Persson both as a developer and person, even if I have never met or spoken with him. I pretty much admire any team that puts out a good game for us all to enjoy.

From the business point of view I also have utmost respect to any company or individual, who can financially sustain their development company with their creations. I know this isn’t the easiest industry and anyone who can do that deserves to be respected, even when they are not producing the kind of games you would play.

What word of advice would you give to any aspiring developers who wish to go at it alone?
Well I would need to start with stating that you should note that some advice apply better to some genres over some others. Always carefully consider the advice you’re given and if it applies to your particular case, that advice applies for every part of life actually. (Now ponder if above is true in your case. Done? Good, lets carry on!)

Pick a small project. Cut it in half and you now have 25% of what you can handle. Do a small game that’s fun without any bells and whistles and once you are done, make it an expansion without changing the core. Doing the small game first also gives you insight into whether the game idea has potential or not.

Make game development an official hobby with it’s schedule. If you use calendar mark up time for the game making, make it a habit. Regularity is far more important than huge bursts. That’s something that turns development into a long lasting habit and gets your game done some day. Give yourself deadlines, real or imagined. Meeting deadlines on schedule actually feels like a reward or achievement and is essential for keeping morale up. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy like an actual game development event or anything, for instance deciding to finish up with the character animation by end of the week might suffice.

Start play testing the game early, gather feedback and keep fixing it before play testing it again.

Talk about your game, spread the word, be open and transparent. Also remember that there will always be people who don’t like or get your game and that’s fine. Once you find the group that admires what you are doing embrace those people and pay extra careful attention to what they are saying. That’s the type of feedback that actually takes your game forward. You can’t develop a game that pleases everyone, you just can’t.

When you start marketing your game remember that your game is a cult and you are the high priest of the cult. Preach like you have never preached before. Ensure the marketing material itself has some entertainment value, something even the people who might not like your game would appreciate spending time with.

Bunker: The Underground Game is set for release on Steam and GOG with plans in the works to follow suit on Linux, Mac, Android & iOS later.

Bunker: The Underground Game website
Follow Tony on Twitter

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