Blacksmith Tales: A Game Dev Saga #01
Welcome to the first Blacksmith Tales: A Game Dev Saga #01! Once a month, you will discover a new story with an indie game studio or game dev. For this very first Blacksmith Tales: A Game Dev Saga post, I had the opportunity to talk with Jérémie, co-founder of the French indie game studio, Polycorne. The Polycorne Team is working on Silicon City, an original city-builder that you will discover in this talk, but I’ll let you learn about it by reading the interview…
Romain: Hi Jérémie! Many thanks for accepting my invitation. How are you doing?
Jérémie: Very good, thank you!
Romain: I saw you participated with Polycorne at GameCamp*, how was it?
*GameCamp is a 2-day event based in Lille, France, which aims to bring together the different actors of the video game industry.
Jérémie: Absolutely. It was a month ago now, it was good, we went with the whole team, it’s a bit of a festive moment of the year. We already went last year, Aurélien (second founder of Polycorne) and I so we thought we would go with the whole team this year. We spent four days there, there were a lot of conferences, but we didn’t attend many, we were more focused on Business meetings. The rest of the team, Kylian, Jimmy and Juliette were able to attend a lot of conferences. It’s a great opportunity to see people we haven’t seen in over a year, to have a drink in the evening and have a chat. There’s a lot of informality, it’s a great event.
Romain: And above all, it helps people discover your game and the studio!
Jérémie: Yes, well, a little less than at B2C exhibitions because it is really centered around actors in the video game industry. It does allow you to get to know publishers, meet new people, expand your network and cultivate it for people you already know. It is a very well organized event, which makes it an important yearly event in the calendar.
Romain: Only positive news! I guess some people reading this might not know you. Could you please introduce yourself?
Jérémie: Of course! My name is Jérémie, we founded the Polycorne Studio in November 2020 with Aurélien, a long time friend. We created the studio because we had a first project to work on, Silicon City, which is a city-builder using SimCity’s codes and adding some new concepts and game-play like AI. Each character is completely simulated by the engine, has his own needs, his job, his characteristics and voting for the mayor. Basically, it’s like taking SimCity 4 and replacing the calculated people in the game with Sims. The company was created to bring that project to life and release a first video game and then move on to the production of other titles. Silicon City has been in Early Access since October 14, 2021 and we will finish our Early Access, if everything goes well, between the end of October and the beginning of November this year. That’s how it’s going for now and then we will certainly have other projects or other titles to present, but they are still in the writing stage.
Romain: How did you come up with the idea of doing a city-builder like Silicon City and a video game studio? Was it just for fun at first?
Jérémie: Originally, Aurélien came up with the idea. Aurélien is a developer and we’ve been talking for 15 years about making a road traffic simulation software. However, I had no time due to family or professional reasons to work on this project and Aurélien thought « I’m interested so I will do it on my side ». He tweaked two or three things and it gave a really interesting result using the Unity engine. One thing leading to another, once the road system was done, he thought « Well, I know how to code, I know Unity and I love SimCity, so I’ll make a city-builder ». At the beginning, it wasn’t especially for fun, but it was a personal project. As time went on, the thing grew and then we always wanted to work together. In 2020, the planets aligned. It was possible. The project was already well-developed, we had some discussions with people from the video game industry. Later on, we realized that the business model made sense, so we went for it. Initially a traffic system, the idea changed in 15 years into a city-builder because we are fans of the city-builder game genre. It’s something that we know and that we love.
Romain: Yes, and city-builders are related to road traffic! It's crazy to start from a traffic simulator and end up creating a video game!
Jérémie: Time does it! In 15 years, the concept has had enough time to mature!
Romain: Which city-builders were the most significant in your creative process?
Romain: It is important because I'm not a fan of this type of game, but what was offered with the Silizens and not only the pure city-building side, made me appreciate the game!
Jérémie: Thank you! Yes, that’s what we’re trying to bring. It’s not easy, but that’s our intention.
Romain: During the development, you called on Sparks Forge. How did you discover us and how did you choose to trust us to manage Silicon City's social media?
Jérémie: When we started the project, we really structured the entire development for the game, not just the code, but also marketing, sales, organization and so on. We knew from the start that we needed to be accompanied, especially during the Early Access period, to build up the hype. We started looking for someone to help us on the marketing part because we had budgeted it. I came across Yohann’s website, which was Indie Games Marketer. We got in touch with different people including Yohann and the feeling went well, what he proposed corresponded to us. We started by working on the social media part, then at the end of the collaboration, we focused on PR. When the budget was totally consumed following the release in Early Access, we had to start on a different way to operate. We are pretty satisfied especially on the PR part where we could reach major video gaming websites thanks to you and it was really efficient.
Romain: As the collaboration between Polycorne and Sparks Forge went well, would you be willing to work with us again in the future?
Jérémie: Of course! We’re thinking about it for the final release, to do a PR campaign again to start again in the same way because we don’t have access to the network of journalists that you have and we don’t know how it works. So yes, we’re thinking very hard about putting that in place two months before the release.
Romain: Is there anything important you'd like to talk about that we haven't covered?
Jérémie: A word about us being an indie studio, yes. Today, we are very small, five people including two associates, two interns and a trainee. It’s a tiny team and we’re essentially based on the technical side like most of the small indie studios, so marketing and business are not really our specialty. We’re looking to learn, it just takes a while to learn and then apply it on a daily basis. I think it’s very important for indie studios to find a partner on the marketing and/or communication side, to help them out and push them up. It’s true that it represents a budget, but it’s something that should not be neglected when starting a project and I think that the collaboration we had with you made us realize a lot of things. It’s still a punctual exchange, as it is not a permanent person, it’s certainly less efficient in terms of learning, experience and growth, but on the other hand it’s essential for the part we don’t master. Clearly, if we hadn’t set up this PR campaign with you for the Early Access release, we wouldn’t have had this surge of wishlists. Since then, we stopped the press releases and so we are now on a stagnant curve.
Romain: Then the trick is to plan all the development and support when you don't have the skills internally?
Jérémie: Exactly, that’s it. Well, that’s a cost, but I think you have to estimate it and ask yourself if it’s really worth it, if it’s worth putting a few thousand euros on the table for that part of the project rather than for another. What I mean by that is that you have to ask yourself the question well in advance then make your choice with full knowledge of the facts.
Romain: By chance, is there any important news you would like to reveal about Silicon City?
Jérémie: Apart from the Early Access release planned for October-November in the roadmap and that is already known, what we can announce is that we are finishing a version 0.36 and this one is going to be a major update after the one on the UI that we released at the beginning of the year and clearly, it’s going to change a lot of things in the game. It will bring a lot of extra depth, new buildings, new gameplays, a lot of things that are in line with our roadmap and I think it’s the last big milestone before we have to polish the game for release. I think we’re going to be releasing that for everyone in August.
Romain: So the update will bring a lot of content!
Jérémie: Yes, it is going to add a lot of content including visuals and improved game performance. Most importantly, it allows us to put a first brick on modding because today the mod is not open, well it’s not communicated and no one knows that we can do it, but you can already mod the game and we use it internally. It can be used by players to import buildings or modify the structure of the city.
Romain: So the goal would be to let players free to create mods and share them in the Steam workshop?
Jérémie: Yes, that’s the goal we want to reach, I don’t know if we’ll be able to get there before October, but yes, that’s really the objective we want to achieve.
Romain: Where can we follow the activities of Polycorne and Silicon City?
Jérémie: We are active on social networks and mainly on our Discord, if you want to follow the game, it is essentially on the Discord. On Steam, you have to add the game in your wishlists to get the news. We are also present on Itch.io where the demo of the game is exclusively available for free! We had put it on Steam during the Steam Next Fest and then removed it when it was over. We thought it was cool to make a demo, and with the new update, we’re making changes, but with the current game, in one hour you’ve already done a lot. So, you don’t necessarily realize how much there is left to do afterwards because we didn’t think about the demo very well and it gives you the impression that you’ve finished the game and that you’ve done everything.
Romain: Yes, this is the entire purpose of a demo to show a lot to the players, but to cut just before interesting elements to make them want to go further.
That concludes this first Blacksmith Tales: A Game Dev Saga episode! Thanks to Jérémie for taking the time to chat with us. You can find useful links about Silicon City and Polycorne by clicking icons above!
Keep in mind that each new month that begins means a new and fresh episode of Blacksmith Tales: A Game Dev Saga!