Fishing Cactus is getting serious about games. The studio, based in Belgium, has been creating games since 2008. In that time, they have gone from a small team located in a basement, to a sprawling 30-person team with their own two-floor building. The studio has released 50+ games.
The entire team, bosses and employees, works in an open space – making it easier for everyone to communicate and feel like more than a number in a company. They also do their own internal game jam every year to foster new ideas and inspiration.
Along with many other games, Fishing Cactus has been living up to their promise to make “real serious games” for seven years now. But in some ways, they’re just starting to get down to the serious business of making games. While the company has long been in the business of making mobile free-to-play (F2P) games for others, they are also currently creating their very own game: Epistory.
Unlike their previous work, Epistory is a PC game that bucks the popular F2P trend and goes with a much more traditional monetization method. “We used the F2P model for a long time before it turned evil,” says Fishing Cactus PR manager Sophie Schiaratura. “F2P was hype at this moment and so, we developed mainly F2P games for other companies/publisher. It paid the team but when you are developing for others you are not completely free to do whatever you want on the project. Once we had enough money to develop our own game we chose to develop it on PC – and use the classic ‘Buy and Download.’”
An Epic Story
The team at Fishing Cactus had wanted to do a typing game for a long time and, with some money saved, they finally felt the timing was right to take the plunge and work on their dream. The timing was doubly fortuitous because they had fallen in love with an art style they had created for another game but couldn’t use to its full potential.
Flat, scrapbook-style characters and paperlike interfaces could only be taken so far in the World War I game they were working on, but Sophie says the same art style happened to be perfect for Epistory. “A muse lost in a writer’s mind, creating the world as he imagines the story and fighting against the fear of a blank page? Hell yeah! We immediately saw that we could continue with the paper style, but push it a lot further into a full 3D game!”
In tackling Epistory, Fishing Cactus didn’t just go with a new monetization model and platform, they went with a whole new way of doing things. While in previous games they had a clearly designated project manager, for the development of Epistory everyone acted as a project manager – with different people tackling different decisions as the need arose.
They also opted not to have a game design document (GDD) for the project so they could work more freely. Sophie scoffs at the notion that not having a GDD or designated project manager would lead to anarchy, saying that they had a strong idea of the game design and its graphical identity.
They also upended their testing process as well. Normally, a new game would be tested by a QA person, then sent to a committee for review. After that, volunteers from the studio would test the game and provide feedback before the game was finally released.
For Epistory though, there was no strict testing procedure. An alpha version was coded and tested by an intern and then displayed at a game showcase where feedback was collected from players. After that, the first portion of the game was put on Steam Early Access. “Now we are taking into account feedback from (Early Access) players,” says Sophie. “It’s really helpful. It feels like a constant playtest. It’s nice to work with our community of players and try to make them the game they’d love to play.”
Into the World
With ongoing feedback from players, Epistory continues to get more and more refined. The game was a recent winner at Indie Play Paris – which also assured it a spot in the Indie Prize Showcase at Casual Connect Europe in Amsterdam, Netherlands, this coming February. The game is certain to receive more exposure and player feedback there as well.
“We want to bring the gaming community something new that they have never played before,” Sophie says. “We think we are on a good path toward that.”
Casey Rock is a staff writer for Gamesauce. Casey loves rock climbing, hiking and singing in indie rock band Open Door Policy. He also streams games under the moniker The Clumsy Gamer. You can catch him on twitter @caserocko and @realclumsygamer.