Dimitris Locke started making games in 2004. Nearly 20 years and dozens of projects later, his game Windmills is released on Steam, having already proven a hit with GX.games users.
Dimitris discusses the inspirations behind Windmills, being discovered by GX.games, and how not wanting to annoy his parents lead him to making his own games.
How did you become a game developer?
It started out as a hobby and developed into a gig. I've been making games with GameMaker since 2004, and it's what got me into programming.
I don’t have a degree in game design - all I know I’ve learned on my own.
What inspired you to start making games?
It’s a funny story. 2004 was a very different year. Not everyone had access to the Internet back then, and even if they did, the connection was pretty bad. You could get scratch cards with codes you could use to buy time on the Internet through the telephone line.
My parents were annoyed that I had to turn off the phone all the time to go on the Internet to download and play games. I realised that if I make my own games, I wouldn't have to take up the phone as much, so I started searching about how you can create your own game.
GameMaker came up during that search and that's how I started - out of necessity.
Was it hard to make games back then?
Thankfully GameMaker has the GameMaker Visual language, so you don’t have to know code to make games. For the first year I only used drag-and-drop, because I had no idea how to make games any other way.
Once I wanted to do something more than moving the player around, I started getting into the code. It was hard because back then we didn't have the resources that we have today. Nowadays you have some excellent YouTubers, like FriendlyCosmonaut or DragoniteSpam.
It was hard, but I was too stubborn to let it go.
The lush world of Windmills
What kind of games did you use to make?
The only other surviving game I’ve made is Unbeliever, which is a free game available on Steam.
It was a bad game and I'm ashamed of it, but most of the games I used to make were for my friends to play around. I’d share them through floppy discs and CDs.
My games were mostly humorous; one of them was called the Tomato Avenger, where you were the ghost of a person who died from tomato poisoning and wants revenge.
What inspired you to create Windmills?
Windmills was inspired by two things: my inability to tell stories effectively, and Conan the Barbarian.
I used to be bothered by not being able to tell stories exactly how they happened - something my girlfriend would often call me out on. My versions of events always had more ‘sauce’ in them, and somehow I’d convince myself that's how things went.
One day an idea came to me: what if I made a game where the main story has already happened and the hero has to recount it to the listener, but he remembers things differently to how they went in reality, forcing the game’s narrator to correct him?
During one of the first encounters in-game, the player meets a half-person half-pig boss. After the fight, the narrator chimes in saying that the hero met a ‘big one’, not a 'Pigman', prompting the game to change and show how it really went.
Twisting the linear pacing of the story, so the player doesn't know what to expect because you don't know if the hero remembers this story correctly, is very fun.
How long have you been working on Windmills?
I've started working on it in May or June of 2021. If I stopped for a moment to think how difficult or how long it would be, I would’ve played some games on PlayStation instead.
I purchased a template on Itch.io and started working on it, making my own models and tinkering with the design. Three or four months later, I had my first functioning build with 30 minutes of gameplay, which was discovered by the GX.games crew in 2022 on Twitter. It was bare-bones, but I wanted the fighting mechanics to be as perfect as possible.
I finished Windmills on September 22nd, so it took me a year and four months of working 12 hours a day, every day.
Enemy encounter in Windmills
What was the most challenging part of creating Windmills?
Funnily enough, it wasn't coding, and not because I’m an expert at it, but because GameMaker resources and the community had all the answers to my questions.
The hard part was trying to find the motivation to keep going. I never aimed for the commercial release of Windmills. I wanted to make a game that people would enjoy playing and express my creativity, but it was difficult to develop it without any community, marketing or feedback.
Your game is one of the most played titles on GX.games. How do you feel about that?
I’m scared! When you make a game, you expose a part of yourself to the players, and it only gets more terrifying.
I'm happy that a lot of people play and enjoy my game, but it’s overwhelming to know that my game was played half a million times.
Have you benefited from publishing your game on GX.games?
The exposure Windmills got is great. GX.games is a great platform for getting it, because any other services don’t promote real indie games in the same way.
Usually the games that get promoted are the ones with the highest chance of success, so party or horror games, anything that can get traction on streams. With GX.games, you have a better shot at having your game seen and played.
What could be improved about GX.games?
It’s mostly technical stuff. Opera GX export has some issues with audio groups. If you have multiple loads of your audio, for some reason it doesn't really work on Opera GX export, so you need one default instead.
Right now I'm making a multiplayer game, and it could use some better documentation on the rollback code and better examples, though I know Gurpreet Matharoo is working on that.
An example of a boss fight in Windmills
What is the most difficult part of being a game developer?
The most difficult thing is getting started, and getting your game off the ground. There's a trend right now where everybody uploads motivational video games dev vlogs. They’re encouraging, but it’s easy to get sucked into watching them and not doing any actual work.
Creating a community is another difficulty. Having some friends who can tell you what’s wrong with your game can help you stay motivated.
What motivates you to keep making games?
I like money!
That wasn’t my main motivator though - I already have a day job.
I never aimed for a hugely successful game; all I want is to make a game that will help me express myself. People don’t express themselves enough. At some point, you have to make your voice heard. I can’t write a book, a song, or direct a movie, so games are my medium for that.
What are your plans for the future, now that Windmills is officially released?
I'm creating an expansion for Windmills, which will be available first on GX.games and then on Steam. It’ll add new bosses and levels on windows, all for free.
I didn't feel like I had to include everything I wanted in the base game, so that's why I decided on making a DLC. Afterwards, I’ll be working on a multiplayer game for GX.games!
Do you have any advice you’d like to share with other game developers?
You should never never be too afraid to try. Everyone thinks there's lucky and unlucky people, but I don't believe in luck - only that there are those who give up and those who keep going.
I was developing Windmills for a year without any community or exposure, and still got discovered by GX.games, without any connections or previous experience. If I had never started making my game, this would never happen.
Giving up is always the worst scenario, and you should never do that. Don’t think you're unlucky - keep trying and the opportunity will present itself.