[UPDATED] An Interview with Independent Game Designer Semir Saleh – Creator of Dodo Master, An Excellent Platforming Game Coming to Android

“Alone in a dungeon sat a Dodo in a cage. She was overwhelmed by sadness, her eggs had been taken away.” So begins your journey with a brilliantly conceived, and challenging platforming game, called Dodo Master. The game was released earlier this year on iOS, with a preponderance of high praise. Android gamers will have the opportunity very shortly, to experience what many iOS users have enjoyed. It is an old school platformer that rewards you for your skills, and punishes you for the lack thereof. Semir Saleh, the independent game designer of Dodo Master, was kind enough to speak with me, to talk about his game, his origins and why he is willing to do it all over again.  I introduce to you, the Dodo Master himself, Semir Saleh.

[UPDATE] 11/16/2014 2:30 PM PST – Dodo Master is now available to download in the Play Store and the Amazon App Store. There are two versions for the game. One is a free version that has 15% of the game for you to try out, and the full version, that will cost you $1.00. You can find the links to download the game at the end of the interview.

Jaymes Carter: Semir, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for all of the great readers who visit Droid Gamers on a regular basis. I first came across Dodo Master a few months back, when it was released on iOS. I was immediately intrigued, and was hopeful that it would makes its way to Android devices. Fortunately, we were able to connect, and you responded with what I always like to hear about great games that appear on iOS first. “Yes, we are working on an Android version of the game.” In this case it is a bit more interesting because you are an independent game designer, and you created pretty much everything in the game yourself. Is that correct?

Semir Saleh: I did almost everything myself. The music was from some royalty free music sites where I paid a small fee for it. It took me days and days to find the right music. I did everything else, with the exception of the main logo art, story paintings and some of the promotional art, which my girlfriend did because she is much better at painting than I am.

JC: I personally enjoy playing platformer games, though some can be quite challenging. Why did you choose to do a platforming game, and how did you conceptually start the process?

SS: It was the only style of game that appealed to me. I came up with some ideas of characters and environments, and it seemed like the best way to show it and make it feel atmospheric with the small amount of computing  power that mobile devices have, when compared to PC or consoles. The story revolves around a Dodo that has been trapped in a cage in a dungeon. You are tasked with going through multiple rooms in the dungeon to retrieve your eggs. The journey is fraught with peril because of the inhabitants of the dungeon, which include spiders, and other creatures in the midst of traps, spikes, rotating blades, and pretty much any thing you could imagine finding in a dungeon.

I had been thinking of this character for over a year, which is normal for me. I like to sit and think and figure things out, long before I actually begin any work. I did this in my spare time. then I started doing some simple sketches and imagined how it would all fit together. I began thinking about what I liked and disliked about platformers and also how I could do something that looked fairly new and had a look and feel of its own, and then it all just fell into place.

JC: You mentioned doing this in your spare time. What is your background, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up being an independent game designer.

SS: I am from Great Britain. Born in Oxford, but I grew up in Bedfordshire and later Hertfordshire. I was born in 1987, which means I grew up in the 90’s. I currently live in a small town in Switzerland that is about 30 minutes away from Zurich by train. 

When I was small, I loved dinosaurs. One day we went to see Jurassic Park in  the cinema and it was life-changing. I knew that the close-up shots were done with puppets and robots, but I had no idea how the wide shots were done, where you could see the dinosaurs actually walking and touching the ground. I asked my dad what the trick was, and he said, “I don’t know… computers.” I think I just sat around intensely thinking what the hell that even meant, but I knew that is what I wanted to do. I was 6 years old.

JC: That is pretty impressive. I am glad you chose a Dodo as the main character in your game as opposed to a dinosaur! We will get back to the use of the Dodo. Tell me a bit more about your educational background.

SS: I have a degree in ‘Digital Animation’ from the University of Hertfordshire. Originally, I wanted to be in the visual effects industry working on feature films like Jurassic Park. I am mostly self taught. I began in late 2003, when I finally was able to get my hands on some 3D programs. By early 2004 I was unstoppable. Every spare bit of time I had was dedicated to learning. I did not do much socializing until the end of my university course, which was about 5 years later.

After university was finished, I was ready to go out to London and find a job at one of the huge visual effect studios like Framestore, MPC, Double Negative, etc., but it was late 2008. I was preparing my CV and website for sending to potential employers, while watching the Dow Jones Industrial average drop almost 700 points in one day. I knew I was not getting a job any time soon. It was time for plan b, which meant I decided to move to Switzerland with my father, until some of the financial mess got sorted out. I found there were job opportunities there for people such as myself, and I got a job after only about 5 months. I spent most of that time creating animations and things to impress employers. It paid off and I got a job working as a 3D artist for commercials.

JC: It sounds like things were going well for you in the industry. What changed?

SS: Five years later, the cold, hard reality of life, working as a 3D artist for commercials set in. It was too much for me to stomach anymore. Everyone wants the best work for the lowest price, in the shortest time. You stay up all night working on it to get it as perfect as possible, and the feedback is always, “Make it more real,’ and ‘Make our logo bigger.” So I quit doing that job in the middle of 2013 and began planning Dodo Master.

JC: So in between all of the hard work being a 3D artist, you were working in your limited spare time on a dream. It sounds like quite a familiar story. The good thing about this story, is that it seems to have a pretty good ending… though we are far from that part yet. Tell us about your game, and why you chose to use a Dodo, and not a Dinosaur as your main character.

SS: I liked the idea of creating a hero out of the last thing you would expect to be heroic. Especially considering the history of the Dodo. One comes to understand that it was a harmless, possibly gentle creature that was entirely removed from existence because it could not fight or get away from humans. in a way, it is similar to how people are bullied at school. Weaker children get picked on because it is not in their nature to fight, and if they don’t have a friend to protect them, then they are doomed. In a funny kind of way with this game, my Dodo character is the bullied child, who finally stands up for herself and realizes her strength.

JC: That is a pretty interesting concept for a main character. I like knowing the back story, because it definitely will have an impact, I believe, on people that will be playing this game soon. Especially since children being bullied is so prevalent in the news and social media today. You actually sense that transformation of the Dodo in the first few frames of the story in your game.  Understanding your thoughts behind it, it really makes sense now, because your Dodo has some serious platforming/stomping skills. What are some of your favorite games?

SS: I love the recent Rayman games, and the new Donkey Kong Country games, but I have never played them. I have not played many games in the past year. I mostly watch other people play them on YouTube. Recently, I have played a bit of Kerbal Space Program on PC. It is very geeky, frustrating and funny. I love the Soul Reaver games. They are a good mix of fantasy, story and design that doesn’t go over the top. They felt quite new when I first played them.

JC: It sounds like you have a great passion for gaming. What are your first memories of gaming, and how did that affect you?

SS: We had a computer which was very large, ugly and ran on DOS. My father was a computer programmer, so he knew how it worked, and he showed me that to get to the games menu, all I needed to do was press F7.

The first game I remember playing was Star Wars: X-Wing, which was fantastic and so exciting. It had all the sounds and music of the films. It was great. I also played Alone in the Dark a lot. The music was atmospheric and gripping. Players really had to think about how to solve puzzles.

The first platforming games I ever played were Prince of Persia (of course), Duke Nukem 2 and Zool. All were fantastic and fun, but I have never gotten past the first level of any of them. I just find them hard and unforgiving.

We had a Super Nintendo when it first came out. It was a fantastic little machine. I had two brothers who were younger than me. We used to play Street Fighter 2-Turbo a lot, and Donkey Kong Country, which is probably the most influential game that I ever played. It was great because it was two player, so I could play with my brothers, and we would not have to argue about who gets to play on the computer. I think it really is fantastic, especially when seen form the perspective of a 7 year old, who had never played anything like that before. It was just so stimulating and creative. The music was brilliant and the animations were smooth and funny.

Most passions come from early life experiences. I certainly grew up around computers and computer games. i think it was really inevitable that I ended up in a position where I am actually designing and creating games.

JC: I know how you feel. I can remember my brothers and I playing the Atari 2600 for the first time. That was way before your time, but it was a great little game console. You speak highly of Donkey Kong Country, but I remember playing Donkey Kong when it first came out! A lot has changed over time, but it is good to know people are still having wonderful gaming experiences that impact their future in different ways.

There is a lot of hard work that goes into creating a game. Can you tell our readers about that process? How long did it take you to create Dodo Master?

SS: I think the official start was around the 9th of October, 2013. I finished the first version on August 5th, 2014 which is my birthday. That is around 9 1/2 months of working every day for around 12-16 hours a day. That includes most weekends too! Now, with the updates included for the iOS version, and the soon to be released Android version, it is just over a years worth of work.

JC: That is certainly a great deal of commitment. Especially when you are self-funding a project. What is it that you like about being an independent game designer?

SS: The creative freedom is the best aspect of it. I love being able to work on my own ideas, and produce something that actually has meaning to myself, and hopefully the people who play it.

It is also less stressful than working for someone else, either as a 3D artist for commercials or games. There are times in my previous jobs, where i would be working until 3 AM, at some office in the city, and suddenly something goes wrong with a rendering scene. Or, there is a massive problem, which requires 4 more hours to fix, and it just made me question, what I am doing in my life.

If I had problems at 3 AM while making Dodo Master, e.g., if there is suddenly a bug in how the touch controls work, then I just laugh and fix it.

I also love the simplicity of how the money works. If lots of people like it, then I can get a fairly good income from it. If they don’t like it, and nobody buys it, then I have problems. It seems a very fair and honest way to make a living. It also keeps me aware that I should really try to make things interesting and fun. The game should have a unique feeling to it, otherwise, people will feel like they have played it before and might ignore it.

JC: Do you feel like the process has been worthwhile, and are you ready to do it again?

SS: This is definitely the hardest and longest single thing that I have ever worked on. I learned so much, and it was so much fun, that I cannot wait to start working on the next part. I have already gotten a lot of feedback from people who like it and people who don’t like it. That is great because I know what I got right, what I got wrong, and what needs improvement.

I still have to make a version for desktop computers that should be ready in early December, or sooner if possible. Then I will assess the money situation. Hopefully, I can make enough money, so I can have the budget to continue.

JC: I have had the privilege of playing Dodo Master. I think it is a great game, and I play a lot of games. It is definitely challenging, but in a good way. I think it is important for gamers to peer behind the magic curtain a bit, to learn about the development process. When I hear you speak of budgets and making enough money, I imagine that would resonate with most people. Especially when there are lots of complaints about the prices of games. When I hear about you spending a whole year on a project, knowing that Dodo Master is only going to cost me $.99, it really puts things into perspective. The good thing about it is that you are offering two versions right?

SS: Yes, there will be two versions. The full version will be named Dodo Master and it will cost $.99. The free version will be named Dodo Master Free. It will not have limitations on features, but only contain 15% of the full version’s levels and bonus items.

Also since the release of the iOS version, I have added some new features/changes that include:

  • Support for gamepad controllers
  • Grand total of 10 languages supported: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
  • Ability for players to change the positioning of the touch controls.
  • Numerous small bug fixes and performance optimizations.

JC: Semir, we really appreciate you sharing your story with us. One last question for our readers. What would you say is your biggest challenge as an independent game designer?

SS: The immediate challenges are ones we are all familiar with… money. I basically survived off my savings. Keeping a close eye on the budget is important because a serious delay can compromise everything because the money runs out.

But, I see that as a positive thing, because, then I focus on trying to make something that really gets people excited, and makes them feel that it was worth experiencing. With that comes success, and more importantly, the ability to continue making more games.

Really, the biggest challenge is earning my way into the games community and having my game become known for being something that is worth playing.

Dodo Master Features:

  • In Dodo Master you will help an imprisoned Dodo escape from her mysterious captors and reclaim her stolen eggs. Journey through the deepest caves and the most terrifying dungeons while vanquishing rats, giant spiders and the most cunning of Dodo-trapping devices.
  • Master 80 uniquely crafted levels hidden behind 20 mysterious doors promising hours of challenging and enjoyable game play
  • Simple controls will enhance your ability to react to danger and move with precision.
  • Collecting eggs has it’s rewards. There are 20 unique hats and helmets to unlock to customize our hero with as your journey progresses.
  • No In-App purchases. Pay once, play forever!

JC: Well Semir, it is our hope that your game is extremely well received in the Android community. It definitely is uncommon in its story and presentation. I love the art and the game play. I am learning to love the difficulty of it and the skill required. I plan on playing it until the end.  We wish you much success with Dodo Master, and look forward to other projects that you may create in the future for all Droid Gamers!

Dodo Master should be arriving in the Google Play Store and the Amazon App Store any day now. It is a platforming game that stars an endearing creature, tasked with escaping her dungeon. A lot of hard work has gone into the development of the game and it shows. It is extremely well implemented. The touch controls are pretty much flawless, and the levels are well designed. You would be hard pressed to find another platforming game this great for $.99. When Dodo Master arrives in the Play Store, and the Amazon App Store, we will let you know. 

Official Website: Dodo Master

Google Play: Dodo Master: DoDo Master

Google Play: Dodo Master Free: DoDo Master Free

Amazon App Store: Dodo Master: Dodo Master

Amazon App Store: Dodo Master Free: DoDo Master Free

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