“The company only has one person, so you’re actually talking to the whole company”, Alexey Sedov from Astralax mentioned when he was asked about the size of his enterprise. Mr. Sedov from the Russian federal republic of Tatarstan has been programming for more than 20 years and is mostly known for developing Magic Particles, the special effects creation tool available both for game professionals and photo/video editors.
First project, bitter experience: the game that brought disappointment with publishers.
Alexey’s first project, a real-time strategy game named Onimod Land, was released in 2005 with his programming and friends’ artwork. Nevertheless, this product was commercially unsuccessful. Sedov recalls that, back in 1998 when they started the project, publishers in Russia were demanding highest quality products they couldn’t even sell – in fact they had nowhere to do it. People wouldn’t buy games for their real prices, and the great deal of the market was about pirate content. What is more – one could only work with publishers totally sticking to their demands. The common scheme was that the publisher pays $10,000 in advance for a fully developed game, and promises about 25% royalty, while the latter was not necessarily paid. “You cannot control sales. There will be sold as many as they tell you. Without any doubt they all do accounting fraud”, Sedov explains. He says that the decision to work with a publisher in Moscow driven by being young and hopeful ended up in disappointment – the developer and his team understood the deal is initially an unfair one, and split up very soon. Alexey Sedov decided to finish everything himself and distribute the game for free. “And just as I started giving the game away, all those publishers appeared offering me to sell the product through them. I actually said no to all of those, since I found all their offers humiliating”.
Because of just one person working on all, the game took ages to complete and, according to Alexey, is unlikely to impress people now due to drastic changes in both hardware and game graphics. “I came up with understanding that you either make games fast or don’t make them at all”, he concludes. And adds that if one day he becomes so rich that wouldn’t know what to do with money, he would consider re-making the game, but as of now it’s a dead project. The product is available through Astralax.com and various freeware sites by the “Onimod Land” search query.
No start-up capital? Better to work on your own
When he tried working with a small team of friends, Alexey Sedov understood that developing projects with no start-up capital might be too harsh for someone who is not as dedicated as he is, especially when they’re working on someone else’s idea. As a result, he decided to do everything on his own.
“These are current rules the world plays to – pretty much anything depends on whether a person has money or not. I hope it will come to an end sooner or later. But for now, you either have everything or work for someone”, says Sedov.
Sedov has chosen the riskiest path of any game professional: only doing what he likes. He already was able to make some money with the creation of Magic Particles, but a few years had to pass before the product caught on enough to sustain him. Sedov credits his own dedication and interest to have kept him going on all this time.
Though Alexey Sedov is known for the software he made from scratch, he doesn’t have a university degree in programming. “I graduated from University, but I’m no programmer, I’m a chemist”, – he reveals. In his senior year at college he was able to get a job that can now be called “network engineer” to serve hardware in healthcare industry.
Sedov’s very first encounter with a computer happened at the age of 12. “It was a BK-0010, it had 4 colors and a tape machine – there were no disc drives then. It had a crazy price of 650 rubles – while the average monthly salary of an engineer was 120. No wonder nobody had those computers at home. There were gaming salons where you could play for a ruble per hour”, he recalls.
Programming ended up eating most of Sedov’s time even during college studies. “I was only using Assembler, basically a machine code, but quite understandable for a human. I spent almost all spare time on learning programming as chemistry was gradually disappearing from my life.”
Programming enthusiasts in Russia didn’t have a big choice of information sources, they mostly got coding instructions from rare articles in technical magazines. Sedov would find pages with those tables full of directions on how to program and learn how to use Assembler. He still keeps the cutouts at his place.
Sedov left his first job in 1998 because of the crisis when the Russian ruble drastically collapsed. “I pulled my savings out of the bank on the last day – on the following one they didn’t give money back. And these were the funds I used for my first project of the game. Simply speaking, I was guzzling it away”.
The developer’s first notable project has been the Onimod Land game, but it was Magic Particles that came later and made him known.
“In my case, it is one person who makes and sells it, and technical support is also on me. Magic Particles is completely my own personal creation.”
Things are difficult before they are easy
Curiosity has been the initial reason to start Magic Particles – Sedov just wanted to experience how special effects are created. He says that in the beginning had no idea about how it’s done. “I decided to try just for myself and create a small special effects editor and a library for it. Later I thought I won’t manage it, the editor had too many capabilities and the library was unlikely to be used for real-time calculations in games.”
Thanks to internet mates’ encouragement, he didn’t stop on that. First users came rather soon, though it took up to two years to gain the first paying client.
“I started developing a graphic editor without a library. Then it happened so, that I showed it at the gamedev.ru website, and everyone started telling me to make a library. And I was like – guys, the calculations are too complicated, it won’t work fast enough. They said – no it will, just make it. And in 4 month I split the thing and made both – an editor and a library”.
Since then things went up for Astralax. Sedov explains that nobody wants to be the first one to use some software in a serious project since everyone is interested in experience of the others. It always takes some time before people start paying for software.
The technology was eventually picked up by game developers, and several known titles have been made with it. Among those are Dark Strokes: Sins of the Fathers and Treasures of Montezuma 3 by Alawar, Jewel Legends: Tree of Life by Cerasus Media, Garden Rescue from RainbowGames and Vampire Saga: Break Out from Go!Games.
According to Sedov, success has no recipe and is a truly individual thing. However, he did have some advice to share. “If I ever become a millionaire, and people will ask me about how to make money, I’ll say – guys, don’t act like me. It’s for sure, no one should do like me, hardly anyone would be able to stay without a salary for half a year while life keeps dictating its conditions”.
Sedov is currently working on the next version of Magic Particles, and as usual it takes him quite a lot of time to make it just the way he sees it. “My aim is to get to the modern 3D games market. Special effects for those are made in a way different from casual ones, for which I think I have everything”, – he shares. These new features will not only bring him to a new level of the 3D market, but are also likely to enhance the existing 2D features.