Aug 22, 2017 Last Updated 11:24 PM, Aug 21, 2017

An Interludo on Game Development, with Ludovic Servat Featured

Published in Straight from the Devs
Read 403 times
Rate this item
(0 votes)
Tagged under

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For a young man barely eighteen, it’s often considered foolhardy to quit traditional school in order to study by one’s self. Though it’s not unheard of today, dropping out seemed to carry a greater risk at the turn of the 21st century. However, in the summer of 2001, in Toulouse, France, a young Ludovic Servat decided to forge his own path outside of the school system. Rather than continuing his studies in university, Ludo instead began doing odd jobs, saving his earnings for his own computer.

He had always been a creative. Ludo had an enduring talent for art, which would later develop into graphic design and video game artwork. He was mesmerized with the video game industry since 1998 [EN: That’s also when this game came out, by the way], and he wanted to make his own mark on the scene. It was a difficult path to tread by one’s lonesome, as he had neither friends nor allies who knew what he had struck out to accomplish. Luckily, his decision came at a time when the internet was slowly becoming stocked with information he could use to his advantage. The keyword here is “slowly”; at the time, just 7% of internet users worldwide had broadband.

Ludo persisted. After creating a few video games which went unpublished, along with one that was published to a quiet reception, Ludo finally produced a title about which he was boundlessly happy and proud: Pharmakon. It was something on which he had spent years working. The first year of development, Ludo used a prototype concept he had created out of cardboard to better envision the future of his project. On the heels of the exciting release of Pharmakon on Steam, Ludo took the time to respond to a few questions about his past hardships, his growing success, and even his preferred junk food.

How big is your development team?

I am the only developer working on Pharmakon. However, Janek Roeben of U-GameZ made the music of the game, and Tasmin Thorpe translated the game from French to English. And, a bunch of people gave me useful advice and feedback during the development process, but (they) didn’t work directly on the game.

What are some of the tools you use, and why? What are the limitations or challenges of the software you chose, and how do you work past them?

I think the thing I did the most was filling notebooks and online documents with ideas: I used Google Docs, Workflowy, and Notability. During the development of Pharmakon, I used around ten different graph notebooks. One was just filled with things I was learning about programming. Another one had gameplay concepts or project-related thoughts. I constantly had a tiny graph notebook that I constantly carried with me at all times in case I had an idea. The software and the notebooks were useful to clarify blurry concepts, to share, and to get feedback — as well as not forget any ideas.

Being an art designer first and foremost, I have used Adobe Photoshop for more than fifteen years to make art for various game projects. It’s the software with which I feel the most comfortable. (However), Photoshop is not well equipped for easy animation purposes. It requires a lot of effort to make good animation without redrawing every frame of the animation. That’s why I used Spriter Pro. It’s simple but efficient, (and you can) create and rapidly edit the animations thanks to the ability to animate elements separately. It also provides easy ways to export animation the way you want for your game.

Even though I didn’t make the music, I did make the game’s sound effects, so I had to record and edit sounds. I used Audacity, which is a free, quality audio software. It was perfect to cut, change speed and tone, add effects, and much more.

(For the coding), I used Microsoft Visual Studio Community. It’s a robust and well-known software (which you can use) to write and execute code. When I started to work on Pharmakon, I wasn’t able to program anything. The year before the beginning of the project, a few people encouraged me to try learning Javascript with Unity3D because it was the most used and common choice to start with. Unfortunately, at this time Unity3D tutorials on the internet were mostly about drag-and-drop game creation — not real programming. Without any background in programming, I was very lost inside the architecture of Unity3D. Also, Javascript is a volatile programming language. That means you could program something that works now and see it broken hours later because it needed something more appropriate. Oblivious, I was constantly facing this issue.

So, in order to learn programming foundations correctly, as well as work on Pharmakon at the same time, I used the stricter C Sharp (C#) language and Monogame framework (XNA Microsoft descendant). It was perfect. However, when I started to use Monogame in 2015, it was poorly put together and lacked tutorials. So, I started to use the long-established but well-organized XNA and, at some point during the project, switched back to Monogame [EN: Nice configuration management, bro]. It was very stressful to switch from one to another because many functions were handled differently. This required huge parts of the game to be remade but, in the end, it was a really good choice. Thanks to this, I learned to program in two years — and am still learning!

Lastly, Discord has been very handy and easy with which to use to talk with other people. That’s the reason why I used Discord to establish my community. (I have everything) on a server where I share Pharmakon details, game development facts, and casual discussions. That helps to gather information about everything in one place and keep interested people close by.

Do you see your game reaching a broad and international audience?

Honestly, I don’t see it (laughs). Pharmakon is a very niche game. It’s the only title offering the kind of gaming experience that it does, and players are intrigued yet hesitant when looking at it. Today, with the amount of games on the market, being original can be a good thing. But being too original means there is a high risk of not matching with current playing trends and habits. Many players prefer to play within the same genre to decrease the chances of being disappointed. Sometimes, they don’t want to learn a new way to play a game because it requires effort to understand and learn. (This is why) I think Pharmakon needs to find curious and invested gamers looking for new challenges. I am pretty sure there is a public for it, but it’s not the general — and lazy — one.

What interesting challenges have you faced and overcome on your own during development?

Learning programming all by myself was a big challenge. Programming was like dark magic to me. Understanding how everything is structured, linked, and done in a whole new program was complicated to learn (solely) from the Internet. The most difficult thing about it was finding relevant explanations when I didn’t know what to call the information I was looking for because I had never used it before.

Another big challenge was not losing the direction I wanted to take with the Pharmakon concept. Many players and developers encouraged me to change the game in order to fit with gaming trends. But from my experience, I’d seen a lot of games becoming bland in order to match with everyone’s tastes — some to the point of being incoherent. Making a harmonious and sincere game was really important to me. That’s why I know: Pharmakon is Pharmakon.

But the biggest challenge was to moderate myself in order to keep good quality. Unfortunately, I can’t clone myself; I had to choose wisely about the aspects on which I would work in order to (ultimately) make my game.

Each aspect developed for Pharmakon had to answer these criteria:

Does it make sense in the game?

1. Do I know how to do it? Can I learn how to do it? If not, can I create my own solution to do it?

2. Can I do it without ruining the quality of the game?

3. How long would it take to do it?

4. Am I ready to endure it?

(I think this is) a good way to maintain a quality when you work alone and don’t want to become exhausted because of a project’s size. At the beginning, my list of objectives wasn’t very accurate. But with experience, it became very useful. It prevented me from drowning in tons of features I could have made.

How long have you been developing video games? When did you start, and how?

I think I have been working on video game projects for about nine years. However, 2001 is  the year I started learning how game artists work, and trying to do the same. Yes, I am an artist before a programmer — here is an outdated portfolio. But I first decided to work on games in 1998, after I played Metal Gear Solid on PlayStation for the first time. It was a mind-blowing game experience. And, hooked by its good story, meaningful mechanics, and perfect production, I was like “Okay, I need to make games now.”

I wanted to start creating video games as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford a computer until my 18th birthday in 2001. That was around the time my best friend chose to invest in me. He helped me buy my first computer and was the first person to truly believe in me. That same year, I left school and started getting random jobs. It was insanely risky. I was inexperienced and uneducated about the concept of video game creation. After work each day, I would spend nearly all my time digging up any information I could (on the internet) about making games. This is how it went for many long, chaotic years.

Finally, I joined a small slew of amateur game projects. I took on the roles of both artist and game designer. I also assisted in creating various levels within the games. But we overestimated ourselves. We neither had the necessary time or experience. Our far-reaching goals seemed unattainable. At the same time, I was still trying to find a suitable team with which to work. But the more I searched, the sooner I realized that it was essential to do all of this on my own. Otherwise, my chances of releasing a game would have been impossible. Thus, I became a multi-faceted game developer. Learning and working by myself was a necessary component of the project if I wanted everything to work.

Video game development can be long and arduous work. But, is there a certain facet of development that is your favorite?

Tough question! The first time I saw the pointer of the mouse moving in a Pharmakon prototype, I got chills. So, I guess seeing an idea become realized and interactive in a game is what keeps me working. But I think my favorite is to see someone else playing with the system I created. I enjoy seeing it make sense for them. In the end, let's just say that the aspect I love accomplishing the most is creating interactive harmony.

What have been the reactions of your friends and family to see your hard work coming to life?

It’s difficult to say. My family has been distant from computer stuff. They were also afraid of the instability of making games for a living. So, after years of work without financial success, my family was like “ Finally! I hope you didn’t waste your life for nothing.”

On the other side of things, my close friends have been very supportive. They are really happy for me. They know that I have been working hard for years in order to do this. I think they never told me it was a bad idea because they felt it was a profession which suited me perfectly.

What was the inspiration behind Pharmakon?

Faster Than Light for its strategy and random generation of events, XCOM and Darkest Dungeon for their positioning strategy. And all three of them for turn-based management.

People think Tetris was one of my inspirations, but I’ve barely played two hours of Tetris in my life —  and I disliked it! It’s a good game, but I am bad at it. Actually, pieces of the drone are shaped like tetrominoes only because balancing the game pushed me to make shapes that way. (It helped) give the right tools to equip the drone in any case.

In Pharmakon, you combat numerous elemental beasts. How did you come up with their design?

The world in which the player evolves is very formated. Everything is organized around fighting elemental beasts. The agents working for that purpose are educated in a very straightforward context. Therefore, in order to represent beasts as “beings at the wrong place,” it was a good choice to make them morphologically weird enough to make the player think “Damn, what is that?”

Aside from this, I had to shape beasts based on their elements. For instance, water beast have elephant- or dolphin-like skin and are a bit fat, to store liquids. Fire beasts have reptilian skin to soak up heat and they have holes to evacuate heat pressure. Ice beasts are covered with thick hair and they constantly produce ice. Earth beasts look like worms and are blind because it is useless to see under the ground. Electric ones have horns to get lightning charges. They also have feathers because… well, because birds hang out on electrical lines without any problems. What? It doesn't work that way? Oh, my bad!

How does this game compare to other games on which you have previously worked?

Before this game, I worked on a game called Lavapools and several other unpublished games. For most of these projects, I was a member of a team, so I wasn't alone like I was on Pharmakon.

Over the years, I have devised a list of my most obvious pros and cons about being in a team.


- Others motivate you

- When you see the good work of a teammate, you are inspired to do the best you can to match with their work

- The feedback from others can lead to better ideas — and you can learn from the work of others

- You can focus on one aspect of the game to make it shine almost as much as you like


- Some might not be as motivated as you are

- By extension, when you see the bad work of a teammate, you are let down once you see the difference between your own investment and the teammate’s investment

- Others have their ideas and they may not understand what you are aiming for, especially if you fail at explaining yourself or your vision

- If someone leaves the team and you can’t replace them, your project could disintegrate

- You dislike when others try to teach you your job the wrong way, and you could lose precious time and energy debating or explaining why a task should be done in a certain way

What were your goals for this game during its creation? Would you say that you achieved these goals?

My first goal was to satisfy the younger me with a game that brought the joy — and challenge —  of deep thinking. But regardless of age, the game fits perfectly with people who love to think, calculate, adapt, coordinate, optimize, combine, and anticipate.

The second goal was to not lose players in excessive content. A lot of developers add content to extend game length, but in the end the player’s choices lose their meaning. The third one was to maintain a strong harmony in which the players can experience the “that makes sense” feeling. Essentially, I created Pharmakon in order to bring a simple, coherent, and precise panel of possibilities to solve an evolving problem.

Last, but not least, I had a hidden fourth goal. (I wanted to) create a game with which I was happy. A game done the way I wanted, without regrets.

What was your favorite snack (read: comfort food) to eat while you were working?

Potato chips. Very healthy.

Laurrel Allison

Laurrel Allison is a writer and editor who hates avocados and can’t do yoga. From the States though she may be, she prefers giving in to wanderlust and is currently located in Taiwan. Laurrel is a content creator for various online publications. She is known to enjoy taking a cuppa, playing video games, as well as watching You’re the Worst. She can be followed on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Latest from Laurrel Allison

Related items

  • Hecho en México

    Enzo Scavone, senior journalist at OPNoobs, traveled to Mexico and met some of the leading figures of the wider professional videogame community in Mexico. Although his wallet was picked, his interest in the state of game development was also piqued, and he shares his thoughts here.

  • The Town of Light: Sales to Benefit Mental Health Awareness

    To kick off the start of their year-long campaign to help raise awareness and bring attention to the importance of mental health, 25% of the net receipts from every copy of The Town of Light sold between August 16 and September 6 will help to fund vital services offered by Take This, Inc.  To help maximize the impact of the campaign, multiple digital retailers will offer a 20% discount on the game during the same period.

  • Devolver's CODumentary Releases September 9

    Devolver Digital Films announces CODumentary, a documentary following a story centered about Call of Duty, releasing worldwide on VOD on Tuesday, September 19th at 10 AM PST.

  • Who's the hero in an MMORPG?

    Who's the hero in an MMORPG? How do you know when you accomplish a great feat? Can “winning” ever feel singular? When I raided with at least one crazy Canadian (you know who you are), a Discipline Priest who kept me alive over all the other DPSers (because dwarves gotta stick together), and a guildmaster who trolled us all by crafting arrows in the middle of boss fights, with this motley crew — like so many others — I “enjoyed” [1] experiences at once common to the player base, and unique to my team.

  • Capcom Vancouver Gets New CEO and Studio Director

    Capcom announced that Tim Bennison has joined Capcom Game Studio Vancouver as Chief Operating Officer and Studio Director. Bennison will head up Vancouver operations, reporting to Kiichiro Urata, CEO of Capcom U.S.A., Inc. and Capcom Game Studio Vancouver.

  • The Mind Behind Play NYC: Dan Butchko

    Despite a flourishing indie game development scene, New York does not have host a games convention. Many claim that the need is covered by PAX East, in Boston, or GDC, far away on the West Coast. Furthermore, the supposedly little interest that is suspected to exist locally would be covered by branches of New York ComicCon or the Tribeca Film Festival. The success of the video game components of the two events, however, shows that the interest is growing and might not be satisfied as it is.

  • BadLand Games Publishing Announced

    Spanish video game distributor and publisher BadLand Games, announces today the foundation of BadLand Games Publishing. With the opening of the new BadLand Games Research Poland office in Warsaw and a modern corporate identity, the company's publishing operations can officially expand on working in collaboration with more highly talented and innovative developer studios.

  • BIG Festival 2017 Reveals International Competition Winners

    The award ceremony of the 5th edition of BIG Festival, Latin America’s largest independent games event, took place on the night of June 29th, in the Adoniran Barbosa auditorium, in São Paulo Capital city, Brazil. General public, special guests and game developers crowded the audience, anticipating the final results that would announce the winners of the 13 categories in the competition, including Best Game, Best Brazilian Game and People’s Choice. And the cooperative cooking game Overcooked, by Phil Duncan’s Ghost Town Games, took home the most coveted trophy of the night: the Best Game of BIG Festival 2017.

  • Devolver Presents The Swords of Ditto Gameplay Video

    On the Island of Ditto, players will get to experience a “micro RPG” of sorts, with players exploring a delightful but dangerous overworld and braving menacing dungeons to overcome the evil that plagues of the island.

  • MAINGEAR Announces 1ofONE + X X299 Pre-Orders

    MAINGEAR introduces 1ofONE, the first program of its kind. This allows the customer direct access to MAINGEAR’s world class craftsmen to create a one of a kind PC. Previously available via invite only to select brands and influencers, MAINGEAR’s 1ofONE program has conceived some of the industry’s most unique and celebrated custom PC builds.

Latest Shows

MyWorld Early Ac…

MyWorld – THE Action RPG Maker! Unleash your imagination with MyWorld and create, share and play amazing 3D adventures with our growing community. Claim glory and treasure as you c...

The Search Inter…

Embark on a journey of discovery and inspiration in The Search - a story-driven puzzle-adventure set in a mysterious world where art comes to life! In an unknown world, you'll sear...

Out Soon

PC Gaming Incoming

The Inner World …

The flute nose dynasty has been watching over Asposia for centuries on end. In secret, they fill the...

Total War: WARHA…

Sequel to the award-winning Total War: WARHAMMER, Total War: WARHAMMER II introduces a breathtaking ...

The Long Dark Re…

The Long Dark is imperfect, but it could be one of the best experiences in the survival genre. For the impatient, single-player gamer, The Long Dark holds little promise. However, ...

Pyre Review

Gamers will talk about Pyre for a good while. Vivid visuals pair well with energizing audio, and both complement the subtle, mechanical gameplay; Pyre, a stunning package,provides ...

Strategy & T…

Strategy and Tactics: Dark Ages by Herosoft is the latest iteration of a risk-style board game that is enhanced by persistent upgrades to generals and leaders and a large variety o...

Total War: WARHA…

Yet another in an already long line of excellent pieces of DLC for what has shaped up to be a living classic in the realm of PC games. If you like the game, you'll almost definitel...