Herculean Undertakings: Coke and Code

2023-12-05 by Callum Andrews

Been doing it for a while

In this month's installment of Herculean Undertakings, we'll get to know Kevin Glass, the one-man show behind Coke and Code who has been developing games for nearly 40 years. Yes, you read that right, 40 YEARS! One could ask oneself how someone could keep doing something for that long. And the only reason I can come up with is the love of it.

The love of creating basically. Very few of us are lucky enough to find something in terms of hobbies or anything else for that matter which will keep us going for almost forty years. If you however think you have found something you might enjoy for a really long while, then stick with it and don't give up because you just might regret it later on.

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?
Hey SOG, I'm Kevin Glass, a developer from the UK going under the name Coke and Code. I've been building games since I was around 10, so nearly 40 years. I started back on the ZX81 copying code from magazines. I honestly can't remember a time when I didn't write games, going from the ZX81, Nascom, Spectrum, C64, Atari ST, Amiga, PC and then finally to mobile devices when J2ME came along. Over the years I've written a few reasonably popular games like Gravity Battle, Tiltilation, Legends of Yore and more recently my current title Tales of Yore. I love Lofi pixel art games and that's what I tend to produce these days, although I have written 3D, VR and even some physical games over the years. More personally, before I'm a game developer, I'm also a husband and father of three. I have a day job too, so game development has to fit around a hectic schedule.

How many games have you published so far and what was your first game that you developed?
Over the years I've put out more than 100 games of different sizes and successes. I've never found that "one" game that takes me past doing this in my spare time but I've come to love the freedom of expression that comes from not having to worry about where the next payment is coming from :)

The first game I developed and published was called "Dwavern King" back on the 8086 PC. It was a dungeon master-style game with some extremely poor but cool for the time graphics. I put it out on shareware disks and across the BBS systems of the time. As bad as the game was, I'll never forget the excitement of having other people play my creation. I now see the same thing in new game developers today. I think it's what keeps us all going.

Creating something out of nothing

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?
Game ideas are rarely the first inspiration point in my experience. Dwavern King was originally a platformer, I went backwards and forwards for months before deciding on the format. The key part of the idea was the story rather than the delivery format. I think that's the case with most games, you have a core nugget of idea that you want to maintain, it's the bit that made you want to write *that* game - but everything around it changes as you try things out and hear feedback.

So after coming up with the concept for your game what were the first steps you took into making it?
I spend a lot of time drawing pictures on A3 paper, then cutting out sections and playing with them. Knowing what I want the final thing to be like is the key for me. Next for me is code, I ignore art until much later. However, when it comes to games I'm a terrible software engineer, I don't design anything. I go straight to code and start hacking things out, refactoring and refining the best I can along the way. I normally get to a working prototype pretty quickly (a couple of days) before trying the game out for a bit. I'm able to visualise what the game will be like with better art, so I can at least check if the core loop is fun before going any further. At this stage I wouldn't let anyone else see or play with it, the lack of art can distract people pretty quickly.

At this stage, I'll either do my own art if the aesthetic is pretty simple or contract someone to produce some art, get it in the game and then immediately give it to some players to start the iterative cycle of build, test and feedback.

What has been the hardest part of your game development journey and why?
Certainly, for me it's been mental health. No one tells you what it's like when you build something that's 100% you, that's your creation, your baby - and then you put it out to the world of game players. Sometimes it is the most wonderful thing in the world but it's often harsh critical feedback from the community of players out there. Players love games, so they have really strong opinions and really passionate feedback. One of the hardest things I had to work out was how to cope with that feedback and get something useful out of it.

Now you'll hear new game developers saying they're fine with it, and they just take what they can, if that's true that's awesome. I think for a lot of people though it slowly wears you down until you have to face the damage taking it all too seriously is doing to you. Be careful folks, look after each other.

Did you possess any skills before you started developing games that applied to your game development journey?
I was very young, so not really. However, my day job career has had me building software for a living (I'm the CTO of an enterprise software company now) for 25 years. That means I've learnt and kept up with a lot of the new developments in software development that are generally ignored by game developers until years later. My game development runs like my day job, I use CI/CD, I use modern web technologies and I don't have all the baggage that goes along with using some of the more legacy approaches to game development out there.

When did you decide to publish your game and how long did it take to reach that point from the development phase?
My recent game, Tales of Yore, has been in development for 2 years. It's an MMORPG so 2 years is really short but of that time it's been playable by the public for 2 years (it was available 2 weeks after I started dev), and in early access on Steam for a year. I took it to full release in August 2023. The game is still in active build and development phase since it's an ever-growing game.

Software engineering to make games

How much of it went according to plan?
Absolutely nothing has gone to plan so far, mostly because I didn't really have a plan. Technology choices (Typescript + NodeJS) seem to have worked out pretty well, I'm able to work on one code based across Web, Steam, Desktop, Apple and Android without any penalty. I'm also able to release multiple updates to the game a day (more on CI/CD).

The game itself is following the planned content pretty closely, I'm about a 1/5 through the original content plan so far. The game has however turned out to be much much bigger than expected with players having logged 1000s of hours of playtime now.

Has this journey had any influence on you as an individual and has it led to any personal growth or lessons learned?
Tales of Yore actually started life as a project I wanted to do while I had to take a break from my day job for mental health reasons. In the two years of development, I've learnt an awful lot about what's important to me (end users and their excitement and happiness) and what's not important to me (financial success or kudos from some imaginary body of experts). I've also learnt there's a lot more of games development life and approach that ripples into my day job than vice versa. I've learnt, to my surprise, that I'm actually a very people-focused person. Technology and code is great but it's all meaningless without an end user whose life is made easier or more fun due to your work. I could write the best piece of code in the world but if it's not helping anyone - what's the point?

So what's next for you and can we expect any new game(s) soon?
I'm writing mini-games as side projects all the time (for instance, Unearthed https://unearthedgame.net/) but there won't be a new big game from me for a while. I'm still actively working on Tales both through code/art and through interacting with the community every single day.

Would you like to tell us anything else, that we haven't asked but that could be relevant to future game developers?
I've probably ranted enough. I think the key thing to always keep in mind is it's all about the players/users. The technology, the art and everything else that goes into game development is just a means to an end. That end is providing joy to other people.

Thanks for the opportunity to answer the questions