Game development, especially in a small studio, is often described as a grueling, arduous undertaking, filled with exhaustion, money troubles and many frustrations.
That does not seem to be the case at all for Thomas Moon Kang and the game he is developing called One Step from Eden.
I first saw One Step from Eden at the Game Developers Conference in March, and I was blown away. As a pixel art, deck-building, rogue-like, real-time, grid-based action game, it’s easy to describe it in broad terms. However, once the action clicked, it sucked me in and all I wanted to do was keep playing it.
Moon Kang plans to release One Step From Eden for PC and Nintendo Switch in January 2020. Players can currently play the demo and wishlist it on Steam.
One Step from Eden takes place on a 4-by-8 grid, where you control characters fighting against enemies whose attacks are telegraphed but quick. You have a growing list of spells that take time to regenerate as you zip around the board, dodging attacks. Once you win a fight, you are given a new spell to add, in the vein of other deck-building games. And a “game over” will take you all the way back to the beginning of the run, where you’ll need to start over for a chance to beat it.
One Step from Eden demands a great deal from your brain, and I loved my time with it. So much so that after I played my demo and saw no one was in line behind me, I asked Moon Kang if I could play more.
Moon Kang, a 25-year-old Rutgers University graduate based in Pennsylvania, is developing One Step from Eden as a one-person studio. He is also terribly kind and seems to have an enormously positive attitude about his development experience and the community that has helped shape his game. In the weeks after the show, he talked to me about where the idea for his game originated, how he has managed its development and his experience doing it all on his own.
Moon Kang said he began working on One Step from Eden in his senior year of college at a game jam, which is a collaborative event where devs plan and create games within a short amount of time. “I had a really fun time working on it,” he said. “Eventually, it gained traction and a lot of awesome fans, which let me know I had something special.”
In an industry where large teams of hundreds of developers create the biggest games, a one-person studio is a rarity.
For One Step from Eden, Moon Kang said a big inspiration was the classic Game Boy Mega Man Battle Network series, released on the Game Boy Advance. It’s not hard to see why. Both games involve frenetic grid-based combat featuring recharging weapons. However, there hasn’t been a new Mega Man Battle Network game in at least a decade, so the core idea is due for a reimagining. One Step from Eden changes and modernizes the concept, fleshing out the deck-building aspects and turning the experience into a rogue-like one
“[Mega Man Battle Network] had a really unique real-time grid combat system and introduced me to ‘deck-building’ in a video game before I even realized what that was,” Moon Kang said. “I really missed that and had been waiting for someone to bring it back, but it just was not happening, so I decided to make it myself.”
Moon Kang’s history with game development began in his childhood, creating maps in real-time strategy games, before moving on to more advanced tools as he got older.
“My first experience with game design was the Map Editors of StarCraft Brood War and Age of Empires,” he said. “Eventually, I moved on to GameMaker in high school, and then Unity in college, making small games and prototypes as a hobby.”
He has since developed multiple games, including a minimalist couch co-op shooter called Astral Gun and an Android puzzler called minBlue. But One Step from Eden has marked his largest undertaking. And, according to him, it’s been a fruitful experience. Though he admitted he had to do an “entire restructuring” of the project at its beginning, he discussed the development to be one of growth and positivity.
Moon Kang had much the same attitude about being a solo developer. In an industry where large teams of hundreds of developers create the biggest games, a one-person studio is a rarity. And Moon Kang is just fine with his situation.
“I’ve always been a solo dev,” he said. “I hadn’t had too many chances to collaborate with others on development aside from a game jam or two. I feel that it is extremely difficult to find someone who will be as passionate and determined as you are to work on your long-term project. But I’m not phased by it; a lot of my favorite games are made by just one or two developers.”
He said that the independence allows him to have freedom from communication issues and puts the responsibility of completing the game squarely on him. He admitted that solo development can be lonely, but he celebrated the community of independent developers who have helped him along the way.
“I’ve met with so many other small dev teams, online and in person at events like PAX and GDC,” Moon Kang said. “Everyone is so passionate and driven. I don’t know where else you’d find people like that. Small dev teams supporting each other ranges from sharing insider knowledge, giving feedback and following development to sharing posts and just hanging out. It is so cool to see other teams’ games become a reality.”
Moon Kang said it was this community of supportive fans and developers that led him to Kickstarter as way to find additional funding for One Step from Eden.
“I’d say due to popular demand I went for a Kickstarter, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made,” he said. “I originally was not going to do crowdfunding, but people kept asking for ways to contribute to the game, and there were parts of the game I really wanted to get professionally done, like the soundtrack and illustrations.”
And the decision turned out to be the correct one. The original goal was completely funded in only two days. Of the $15,000 that he initially asked for, the game ended up raising $70,000 from more than 2,300 donors. The very successful crowdfunding effort not only raised enough money to cover Moon Kang’s stretch goals, it also broadened his community of support and deepened the involvement of those who were already interested.
“It’s a huge opportunity that can get you a lot of funding and publicity if done right,” he said. “Social media and an existing fan base can have a really big impact on whether or not your Kickstarter is successful. We were lucky enough to hit the 100% goal within the first two days, which let us get right into the stretch goals. I think that encouraged people to back even more, now that they’d get something extra when those were reached.”
Moon Kang said that he knows any kind of game development, especially solo development, can be extremely exhausting and it’s easy for people to burn out. “I think the most important thing is to just keep working on it bit by bit,” he said. “All that work adds up over time even though it might not feel like it on a day-to-day basis.”
In the end, Moon Kang’s positivity and inspirational grind shine through.
“Working on an indie game is so fulfilling,” he said. “There’s really nothing else I’d rather be doing.”