Interview with Francis Courchinoux from ICA GamesMay 23, 2017 | 1 Votes
In our trip to Casual Connect Asia in Singapore, we are honored to have a sit down with indie developer and owner of ICA Games, Francis Courchinoux, to talk about his upcoming puzzle adventure/survival game, UAYEB, and to explore his life and struggles as an indie developer.
Stunning graphics and a huge open world aside, UAYEB is a solo story-driven game with a rich Mayan theme where players get to set off on a puzzle-filled adventure as they try to make sense of the world around them by collecting Mayan artifacts with the aid of a friendly archaeologist, Joanna. You'll need to collect resources from the wild or the abandoned, creep-covered cities to craft useful items to survive the harsh post-apocalyptic environment. You may even need to defend yourself from the hostile people you've encountered as well.
The entirety of the game actually consists of 4 episodes and the game we’ll be reviewing is merely the first episode. Each episode with feature a different world and will be able to provide around 20 to 30 hours of gameplay.
If you’re interested to check out UAYEB, you can get the free demo on Steam now.
Hi Francis! Thanks for agreeing to speak with us about your game, UAYEB, and letting me have a go at it. However, I do have a few additional questions - first of which is how did you get the idea for this game? I’m pretty sure there isn’t many, if at all, a game quite like UAYEB.
Actually, UAYEB has been in my mind for around 20 years before I decided to start working on it.
I have always been fascinated by Mayan culture and I enjoy learning about all the archaeological stuff that comes with it. I have always wanted to make a game about that (Mayan culture and archaeology) but I didn’t have the time and the money, so the idea was left somewhere at the back of my mind for years.
I thought about the idea for quite a long time, and over the years, with the different games I’ve played, I fine-tuned the gameplay in my mind. Now, I’ve finally got the chance to make it because I have the time to do so.
How did you come up with such a unique infusion of features that UAYEB contains though?
Basically, all the different styles that I love in games – I try to put those into my game.
So, would you say some games have inspired you during or prior to the development of UAYEB?
Of course, of course!
What sort of games?
Uncharted, Indiana Jones and old games like Another World... It’s a pretty small (obscure) game that’s released 20 years ago.
Mainly, I like old-school games where you actually have to think. You don’t just follow the arrows; you have to look for it – It’s what I like and I try to put that into my game.
Well, I’m sure you are kind of expecting this question, but I’m very curious – the title of the game itself is incredibly unique. Why’s that? Why did you choose the name “UAYEB” for your game?
“Uayeb” refers to the last 5 days of the Mayan Calendar.
Ah yes, I’ve had to Google the name prior to the interview. It is the 5 “nameless” days in the 19th month in the Mayan calendar.
Yes, these days are also considered as extremely unlucky days. So, based on the game title itself, you can definitely expect some difficulty when you’re playing UAYEB.
And your character is Mayan so you are related to the Mayan civilization in a way. You can eventually discover this through the story.
I understand that you didn’t start off as a game developer?
Yes. I did a lot of jobs before developing UAYEB, but I’ve started working in the video games industry since around 20 years ago.
I first started in an indie development team – just 5 to 6 people trying to make a game – for 2 years. And we didn’t manage to make the game because we didn’t have the money, so basically, we worked 2 years just for the experience... although we couldn’t release the game, it was good experience anyway.
I then got a job at Vivendi Universal Games in Ireland and I’ve worked there for 7 years. Starting as a QA tester, I eventually move up to being Lead QA and as a Lead QA, I’ve got a lot of experience testing games. I’ve also worked on the Diablo 2 expansion, Warcraft 3, Scarface – that’s my biggest project – and some other mini-projects. I’ve worked with around 30 projects, overall.
However, my passion is to work as an environmental artist and to work on 3D environments, so I moved to France to a small studio where I worked for 4 years as a Lead Environmental Artist. The studio works on small casual game projects for Ubisoft, but eventually, the studio closed down.
Then, I did some work on Flashback. The game was released years ago... I don’t know if you know about the game but it was famous 20 years ago.
No I don’t, sorry.
Anyway, I did a remake of the game on Xbox 360 and PS3. This was in Paris and I worked there for 4 years, but the company was shut down once again.
I tried looking for another job but I realized that it’s time to maybe start on my own projects and well, 3 years later, here we are.
I’m sure making the jump from a salaried job to being an indie developer hadn’t been an easy decision – it must have been a huge leap for you. Is it scary for you since you no longer get the stability that comes with salaried jobs?
Yes, I literally started my project, UAYEB, with just the unemployment benefits, and I finished the game with no money at all. No salary; nothing.
Oh, have you tried searching for investors or find funds elsewhere?
I tried but you know, it’s difficult.
Yes, I understand that it can be quite competitive. What about the differences between having a job and deciding to venture out on your own to create your game?
Well, you may have less stress with a salaried job, but you never know... each time I worked in a studio, it eventually closed down. So, in some way, salaried jobs aren’t forever.
But as an indie developer doing your own thing, sometimes, you may lose sight of your goals and you don’t know where to go.
In some way, it feels both liberating and yet scary (being an indie developer) because you can do what you want and if it’s working, you can do more of what you love and you can do it better. But it all comes down to your passion, really... to express what you have inside you. Because when you work for someone and although you do put a bit of yourself in the games you helped to produce, you mainly need to follow what you are asked to do.
At the end of the day, the game doesn’t feel like something you’ve made, right?
Yes, so it’s good to be an indie developer but you never know whether it is going to work out.
From your wealth of experience working as an indie, what advice would you like to give to the other up-and-coming indie developers out there?
They should put all their passion into their projects and don’t be scared.
Because when I started, I didn’t even know I was able to do it because I was not a coder before, but I could do it now. So, just keep on learning. You can learn anything if you just go for it.
Well, I guess that’s about it from our end. Before we wrap this up, do you have anything you would like to add?
I just want to ask the readers to check out the (UAYEB) website and to get the game when it is released on June 30th if they want to. The game will cost $35.
The demo for UAYEB will be available on the 22nd of May. It will contain 2 to 4 hours of the beginning of the game.
Again, thanks for speaking with us.