Herculean Undertakings: Tsasakos Games

2023-11-02 by Callum Andrews

First steps

As you've already figured out by now, being an indie solo developer is no mean feat and today we get to take part in Stathis Tsasakos the man behind Tsasakos Games developer journey.

Hi and thanks for participating in our Indiedev series. Could you please give a short presentation of yourself and tell us about how you got started with game development.
My name is Stathis Tsasakos, and I'm 21 years old. I'm a student in the Information and Communication Science Department (ICSD) of the University of Aegean, in Greece, and my part-time job is being an Indie Game Developer or sometimes working as a 2D Animator on other projects.

How many games have you published so far and what was your first game that you developed?
My FIRST original game release was "The Sweet Treats Man!" and it was published back in late September 2022. Before that, I had been mostly experimenting with concepts, game ideas and mechanics. Mostly in the 2D Field, since I was about 13-14 years old. I remember my first public "game thing" that grew sort of a cult following, was an RPG Maker fantasy game. That is no longer available to the public, due to a personal decision.

Putting in the work is half the battle

How did you come up with the idea for that game and was that the first idea that you came up with or was it more of a reiterative process?
I had the idea of "The Sweet Treats Man!" long before its production. In fact, it was circa 2017-2018 when I was having thoughts of a horror-themed game that would be a twist on the childhood game of "Hide and Seek". The first idea I ever came up with for the game was that the player had to solve puzzles through square 2D rooms to escape a huge maze. They need to hurry because after a while of staying in the same room a red humanoid entity, would slowly appear and if it managed to fully materialize, it would jumpscare the player. All of that takes place in a supposedly haunted lost ATARI game. Pretty much like popular Creepypastas back then. So as you can see, the whole idea of playing stealth to achieve a goal and avoiding an evil monster was always the general idea of the game.

So after coming up with the concept for your game what were the first steps you took into making it?
Due to my lack of experience in actual coding and programming back then, my work on the "Red-Man Maze" game was only limited to some draft pixel art animations and environment assets. It wasn't until 4 years later, in 2022 when I heard about Itch.io's GBJAM 10. Where we had to develop a game within a short amount of time while simulating the GameBoy era in it (4 Colors, and 160x144 Resolution). It was then that I remembered my game idea and I started producing it.

What has been the hardest part of your game development journey why?
During my first year as a university engineering student, I started working on my first original game project. However, when I talked about it, people often responded with comments like "Big deal, I can make that too". Despite my newfound experience, it was disheartening to hear such dismissive remarks. In other words, you will hear a lot of people(especially young) bragging about making "that one" or "this one". The point is that the distance between saying "I'll make it..." and saying "I've made it!" is a really LONG journey. If you don't actually love what you are working on, either personally or with a team. If you are not putting in your heart, your uniqueness and soul. You won't make it. On the other hand, a huge struggle for us, Indie Game Developers is often marketing our games. I mean, who wouldn't love to reach a significantly wider audience to show their work to and see their reactions to your creation.?

Did you possess any skills before you started developing games that were applicable to your game development journey?
From what I remember I started with learning the basics of coding and game programming - the logic behind it - how it would make my ideas pop into life? The first tool that helped me with that was Scratch, which was used in our school back when I was 14 and hopefully, they still use it. The second tool that helped me get more into the basics was RPG Maker VX Ace. That's where I made my first standalone "games". I always felt like 3D was more technologically advanced while 2D was a perfect way for me to tell a story, express a feeling etc. So, when I actually started learning coding around my 18s-19s, Game Maker Studio came to be my favourite engine for game projects. That's what I'm working with currently, along with other tools I've mastered for Visual Effects, 2D Animation and Audio Editing.

Never trust the first draft

When did you decide to publish your game and how long did it take to reach that point from the development phase?
When I learned about the Jam, I remember having only THREE DAYS to make a game entirely from scratch - you could say it was pretty short to develop graphics, animation, music, sounds, a proper script and core gameplay for a good game! I worked on "The Sweet Treats Man!" for 72 hours non-stop and without getting any sleep I remember publishing it almost 20 minutes before the deadline. Now, to set things straight. The original version of "The Sweet Treats Man!" didn't have much of a story and it was a simple hide-and-seek game with 3 stages where you had to reach the exit of each level's area without being spotted by the villain who would come out regularly. That's because the original period of the jam was TWO days before it was extended to three. That third day... was the day that changed it all at "the last minute".

How much of it went according to plan?
Pretty much everything went according to the plan, generally speaking... Like I said before, it was intended to be a simple Slasher Horror-themed Hide and Seek Game. On the third day, I got enough extra time to test more of the game and realised... that I HATED IT! The original version felt like so much potential was wasted... there wasn't no story, no significant goal or motive... Alright, you survived... why? What happens next? Who or what is this creepy tall thing stalking you? Then, I came up with the script for the final game. You are playing as the father (Dave) who lost his son in an unsolved murder case, years ago and you find this cartridge. What's odd with this weird GameBoy game is that it's been cursed with the souls of the culprit (The Sweet Treats Man!) and his child victims. Doomed to live the events of the case, over and over again for eternity, or until someone breaks the curse. The only way for the father to give his son's soul a final rest is to control him in the game. Find the rest of the souls and defeat the mysterious titular antagonist. Meanwhile, you are uncovering more and more information about the villain's identity and somehow, reveal a connection between him and you. All of this, despite the game's repetitiveness, was executed and turned out pretty well in the final product... Well, for a deadline of three days, at least... On the final day, most of the original content was redesigned, reimagined or remained unused.

Has this journey had any influence on you as an individual and has it led to any personal growth or lessons learned?
The production and reception of "The Sweet Treats Man!" taught me a lesson, both in game development and life. Sometimes, when you are not expecting it. Life can turn the tables on you and not always in a negative way. I wasn't expecting "The Sweet Treats Man!" to have any success at all from its first day. More specifically, when I submitted the game in the jam I almost fell asleep immediately because I was feeling exhausted from the work I had done. To my surprise, I woke up to a couple of messages and with the download number going over 200 in the first 12 hours! It made it to the "Popular" tag on Itch.io and the Isotopic store asked me to submit it there too, but most importantly, I received positive comments and feedback. Months later it received two awards - 1st Place in IGC 2022 and Audience Choice in Greek Game Of The Year 2022 HeGA Awards. So, never doubt about making something you're thinking about or fear failure - start creating it instead of wasting time thinking about it! Of course, no game is absolutely perfect and I have learned from several mistakes I made with "The Sweet Treats Man!". One lesson was that the gameplay was too repetitive for many players, and the lack of new elements to keep it engaging. I gained experience from these mistakes and I have improved my skills quite a lot since then.

So what's next for you and can we expect any new game(s) soon?
While "The Sweet Treats Man!" was my first game release, it is NOT the first original game I have been working on. The first one was named "Kolor-Blockz!" and I had been working on it since September 2021, when I made a prototype in class. After 8 months of developing its first demo, it made its first public appearance at The Big Indie Pitch 2022 in the United Kingdom. Which was my first public experience as a developer. That project went through a lot as I was constantly improving my skills, but now it is on the final route with a different name and concept while staying loyal to its original version. It has been reimagined as "Ball, Begone!", and I'm hoping to release its full version in late 2024 to early 2025.

Another thing I'm working on is a Five Nights at Freddy's Spin-Off, called "FNaF: Roaming" which is a pretty short fan game project, scheduled for a release in October 2023.

Make sure to check out Tsasakos Games other offerings over at their itch page or drop by over at their socials and say hi.