Hello everyone, Christophe Galati here. I'm a 22-year-old independent developer from France and the creator of Tasukete Tako-San. I'm writing today to tell you all about how, thanks to the community of French gamers and developers, I was lucky enough to take Tako to Japan for the 2016 Tokyo Game Show. Read on for my account of this professional trip.
1. Profile of a young creator
I'll keep this short: I started making video games with RPG Maker when I was 12, then I studied at a college specialising in video games, where I learned programming. For the past two years, I've been working on Tako-San in my free time, evenings and weekends, whilst working for a studio on another game to pay off my student loan and keep on creating and learning. I grew up in the south of France, surrounded by my big brother's retro games collection and raised with Japanese games, which I wanted to pay tribute to with Tako-San.
2. Tasukete Tako-San, an homage and an achievement
Tako-San is a platformer RPG which I began in 2014 to celebrate the Game Boy's 25th anniversary. There are two of us working on it: Marc-Antoine Archer does the sound design, and I do all the other things. At the time, it was a runner, but since then, I've worked to build it up into a full game with a real storyline and a whole lot more content. In the game, you play an octopus who can shoot ink at enemies to turn them into platforms. There's a powers system (50 different hats), villages, cut-scenes and side quests... all with a Game Boy feel. The story takes place in a world where octopuses and humans are at war. After the first battle, when our hero saves a human who has fallen into the sea, a fairy offers him the power to breathe on land... in exchange for the promise that he'll never hate the humans...
3. From my bedroom to the Tokyo Game Show: the crowdfunder
So let's cut to the chase. Over the course of the project, I'd attended several indie events in France, including Stunfest and the EIGDs, which got me a bit of media coverage. Unfortunately, I couldn't afford to go to any events abroad. It felt like a shot in the dark, but in April this year I filled in an application online for the Tokyo Game Show. If my game was nominated, I would be given a free booth there. I submitted the form not thinking I would hear back - and that even if, by some miracle, I was selected, I wouldn't be able to go - and promptly forgot all about it. Then, one fine morning in July, knock knock, you've got mail!
I reread the email I don't know how many times, and sure enough, I'd been chosen! I was filled with two emotions: first, excitement, and then, when reality suddenly set in, worry. Since I was still paying off my student loan, I didn't have any income or savings to count on; besides, I'd never left Europe so I didn't have a passport (nor had I ever flown in a plane). All the same, I got in touch with Laura, a friend who had been living in Tokyo for two years, and she agreed I could stay with her. That was a huge weight off my shoulders already. Now I could start planning. That's when I had an idea: trying to raise the funds online. I asked a few French independent developers about it, and they all agreed it was an excellent idea and gave me advice on how to make my page look good. I didn't have any rewards to offer in exchange for donations, but after thinking about it for a week, I went for it. For the occasion, Valentin Seiche did an artwork for me.
It was at this point that the French indie community and the fans of the game came into their own en masse on Twitter and Facebook. Specialist sites spread the word, and some even posted a banner with a link to my crowdfunder. Forty-eight hours later, my campaign was funded! My story had become the perfect example of mutual assistance between French independent creators. My journey was really going to happen! I went to the police station to apply for a passport, worried that it wouldn't arrive in time.
The issue of translating the game into Japanese came up too. I was in contact with a Japanese translator who worked for Unity Japan, whom I asked for advice on what I could get without any money. He created a request for proposals, mentioning my time constraints, and soon afterwards introduced me to Akihiko Mukkii Mukaiyama, who used to work for Sega and who wanted to help indie developers out, even though he wasn't a professional translator. He translated the start of Tako in record time.
Two weeks before my flight, my passport arrived, followed by my passes for the Tokyo Game Show and the plane tickets I bought with the money from the crowdfunding. I also had Tako badges and stickers made. Next, I got in touch with all the Japanese people and other people living in Japan I knew but had never been able to meet, and signed up for all the indie events going on in Tokyo during my ten-day stay. Everything was ready; the dream was about to become reality. The whole thing had happened in a flash, and before I knew it, it was 9 September 2016 and I was on my way to Japan.
4. Next stop, Tokyo: an initiatory journey
I arrived at Haneda Airport in the early afternoon on 10 September. Laura (who I just can't thank enough) came to meet me. Of my ten days in Japan, the last four would be spent at the Tokyo Game Show, so I decided to make the most of my free time to visit the city, make as many memories as possible and take a tour of all the places connected to my influences (i.e. lots of retro game shops, traditional restaurants, and a little quest for merchandise too).
I was quite keen to share experiences, meet people and spread the word about the game. To make that happen, I gave stickers and badges to all the takoyaki restaurants and retro games shops I found. Who knows - maybe one day the little tokens I left them will end up bringing back nice memories.
I also interspersed these days of "tourism" with personal and professional meet-ups. At that time of year, lots of people involved in video games are in Tokyo, which meant I was able to meet with lots of foreign developers, journalists and other contacts with some connection to the industry. I especially enjoyed meeting the Japanese translator of Tako, who brought along some friends who had worked at various legendary games companies... I left with stars in my eyes! I also got to know quite a few French people who live and work in Tokyo, laying the groundwork in case I ever go and try out life in Japan too, once Tako has been released.
5. PicoPico Cafe, the indie hub
The week passed by quite quickly, and soon it was time for the independent events. The first was the Picotachi#36 evening at PicoPicoCafé, one of the hubs of Tokyo's indie scene, run by Joseph, the creator of Pico8. I realized just how important this place is when I saw Anne Ferrero's documentary "Branching Paths" (which you should all watch) a comprehensive report created over the course of several years that recounts the rise of the Japanese indie scene by following various developers' stories. I signed up before leaving France; I couldn't wait to discover the other games, and I wasn't disappointed: there was a wide variety of games on show (a Korean game for Wii U, Line Wobbler, RPG Maker, etc.). I was up first, and shared my slides, not realizing I could have just played the game. That was a shame, since all the others did so after me, and I even had the game with me. If ever you need to present your games somewhere, play them: it's the best way to show what they can do. I had some good feedback nonetheless, and quite a few of the people at the event came to try the game at the Tokyo Game Show afterwards. It was a great experience in a lively, welcoming atmosphere, which I'd recommend to all creators who visit Japan.
6. Tokyo Game Show: a dream come true
The long-awaited moment had arrived: the Tokyo Game Show. The convention was four days long, with two days reserved for professionals and two for the general public, from 10 till 5 each day. The venue was outside Tokyo itself at Makuhari Messe, just over an hour away from where I was staying by public transport. The first two days, I went with Laura and Bastien, friends who helped me set up the stand. When I arrived, it felt a bit like the day exam results are posted: looking for my name on the list, then finding the stand. Since I don't have a company yet, the stand was just in my name.
The area reserved for independent developers was in a separate hall, along with the VR games, which were a big thing this year. Since I was alone on my stand, unfortunately I didn't get the chance to visit the rest of the fair. The organisers had also set up a meeting system to help professionals plan their meetings, but for the same reason, I didn't get to use it. All the same, I tested some independent games on show around my stand. My mission for the two pro days was to get as many professionals as possible to test the game and collect as many business cards as I could. Each visitor had a badge with their company's name written on it (journalists had badges too, but a different colour). That meant I got to see employees from big companies like Sega, Pokemon Company, Bandai Namco and Square Enix passing... And I was filmed for French TV (hi Game One!) and the Japanese media.
After two pro days meeting lots of people, the international TGS evening arrived - another chance to network, even though fatigue was already starting to set in by that point. It was a good thing each day finished at 5pm! Next came the public days, which were much, much busier than the other two! I got the chance to watch Japanese players trying the game: men, women and children of all ages stopped at my stand, which I was pleased about. Hira, a Japanese streamer who made a video about Tako two years ago, also turned up at this point, as did Game Explain, who made an off-screen video of the game.
The convention ended on a high note when Tako was nominated as one of the top ten best indie games on show by Dengeki Online, and a fan brought me a plastic octopus. The four days were packed with encounters, and might just open a few doors for Tako in the months to come. In any case, they changed the game's future, as well as my own.
7. Indie Stream Award 2016: a meet-up with the Japanese indie scene
The last indie event I'd signed up for, on Anne Ferrero's advice, was the Indie Stream Awards. Tako was one of the 15 games selected, which I was delighted about. The event was taking place in a venue quite close to the TGS, so we went straight there after a day at the show, with some Japanese independent creators. It turned out it was the event with the fewest Gaïjin (foreigners) that I'd been to, and the Japanese indie scene had gathered there with great fanfare. The speeches were given in Japanese. I didn't win a prize, but I was really happy to be there and to have caught these creators' attention. Anne introduced me to lots of people, including Moppin, the creator of Downwell. It was also a chance to pick up a few more business cards and toast an excellent stay in Japan which was drawing to its close.
8. Random anecdotes :
9. A bold step towards the future
And that's the end of my journey! I hope that reading this let you live the dream with me a little bit. At the time of writing, I'm busy finishing off the second act of the game, of the three I have planned. If everything goes well, it should be released next year on Steam and, I hope, on Nintendo consoles. At 22 years old, I feel honoured that I've been able to bring a project that was born out of evenings and weekends in my room so far, to the very land that inspired me to create it. My trip to Tokyo allowed me to meet Japanese players in person, and to start establishing real hype around the game. I hope this is only the beginning of its success, and that you'll like it. Once again, thank you to everyone who made this adventure possible. I'll be in touch very soon with news on the project!
A text by Christophe Galati, english translation by Sophie Reid.