Jordan Mochi is the solo developer behind the upcoming World War I survival horror game, Conscript.
During our interview, we asked Jordan about his interest in history, experience with game conferences, and a possible idea for a sequel.
How did you become a game developer?
It all started in 2017. I had no game development experience before Conscript. At the time, I was doing my history degree and realised I’d always wanted to make games.
I decided to start learning, downloaded GameMaker and, somehow, I’m here now.
Why did you choose history as your degree?
To be honest, it was a case of not really knowing exactly what I wanted to do in life. I had a fascination with history, so I thought, “I’ll get a history degree, and then get an arts degree.”
Arts degrees are great, but they’re not the most employable degrees these days, unfortunately. I realised that in my second year and decided to pivot to making games.
Deep down, I always knew that I wanted to make games, but I never thought it was possible.
Now I know anything’s possible, especially with programmes like GameMaker. You can learn everything online, and you don't need a degree in game design to start making games.
Did you make any games before Conscript?
No, this is my first ever project.
A lot of people say that you should start out small before moving onto larger games, but I decided to go straight into the big one.
While it has changed a lot, Conscript has been the exact same project file that I started all those years ago.
Discover the personal stakes for soldiers of the First World War
What is your main inspiration for Conscript?
A lot of games are set during historical conflicts, but few games really try to tell a meaningful story about the war. World War II is usually the most popular subject for games, and for some reason World War I often gets overlooked.
That irritated me a bit because there’s so much interesting conflict to explore in the First World War.
I wanted to fuse survival horror and history. I felt like no-one had really done it before. It made perfect sense; the conditions in WWI were just so horrific, and it lends itself really well to survival horror, which is one of my favourite genres.
Why do you think World War I tends to be overlooked, compared to World War II?
It’s probably because World War II was more like a Hollywood movie. You had the good guys versus the bad guys. Everyone hated the Nazis. It’s simplified, but roughly speaking, that’s kind of how we look back at it.
In the First World War, there were no real antagonists. There was a more distinct moral grey area - young boys being sent to die for their governments.
What kind of research did you do for your game?
Everything in the game is inspired by journals, photos, letters, and other accounts of the First World War. I don’t have to make up the details, because it’s all available - you just have to research it.
In a way, I’m constrained by that, because I want to make sure I’m being respectful of the source material, but I don’t mind.
After Gamescom 2022, I went to France and visited Verdun, where the game takes place. I explored all the battlefields, forts, and trenches that were there, many of which appear in Conscript.
It was a little freaky, because I’d be walking along and come across structures that were in my game. It was weird, but it was also a cool feeling.
I took many photos, even of walls for textures. Other tourists probably saw me do that and were thinking “What is this guy doing, just taking pictures of a wall?”. It really helped and inspired me though.
If you’re making a historical game, I recommend going to the places that you’re telling your story about.
Conscript's textures were painstakingly modelled on real-world trenches
How is the horror in Conscript portrayed?
I’m trying to illustrate the true horrors of the First World War. The way I’m going about it is pretty mundane. I’m not making up any supernatural elements in this game, which is something many survival horror games feature.
I’m aiming for Conscript to be pretty historically accurate; everything that happens in the game happened to soldiers in 1916.
What do you find the most challenging about being a solo game developer?
I don’t like coding, but I have to do it.
I love the creative side of game development. I’ve always been more of a creative person, and that’s the part of this whole project that I really enjoy doing. I was never much of a maths or science-y person, so the coding has definitely been harder for me to grasp along the way.
GameMaker makes that pretty easy. I had no coding experience before this project, but I knew that it would be an easier point to jump in, as opposed to some more complicated languages and engines.
Explore the horrors of war, and savour its rare moments of peace
The marketing - putting yourself out there, going to conventions - has been very challenging as well. Most game developers are introverted and we don’t really like that kind of stuff.
I found that marketing is really important, because you don’t want to work on a game for five years and have no-one know about it. The marketing has definitely been a learning experience, but I finally feel like I’ve hit my stride with that.
For up-and-coming game developers, I would say that you need to treat the marketing as equal to the development of the game. I see it as 50/50. In my opinion, it’s just as important as making the game if you want to make money.
What makes games a good storytelling medium?
It’s the element of interactivity that you don’t find anywhere else. As you play, you empathise more with the player character. You understand their story.
When you’re actually in the environments exploring the trenches of the First World War, for example, you’re going to get a way better idea of what it was actually like.
I feel they’re better as educational tools as well, especially when you’re looking at history. My fascination with history really started by playing historical games, like the first Call of Duty, which was set in the Second World War. Those games really started my interest in history.
See the First World War through a soldier's eyes
You mentioned Gamescom 2022. Do you attend game conferences often?
GamesCom was my first ever physical trade show, and then a few weeks later I attended PAX Australia, which was more of a casual setting.
At GamesCom, I was exhibiting the business area, whereas at PAX Australia it was the consumer side. They’ve both been amazing, and it’s just cool to see people in person enjoying your game. It’s really rewarding.
What are the benefits of attending such shows for indie developers?
If you do go to a show like this, you’re going to get a lot of interest from publishers, and seeing people play your game is invaluable.
It’s motivating when you actually watch someone enjoying your game in real time.
Why did you choose to work with GameMaker?
Because it was the most approachable. When I started, I tried all three of the main engines, GameMaker, Unity and Unreal, but the other two were too complicated. I had zero experience, so I didn’t really know what I was doing.
I think GameMaker Language ends itself best to people who don’t have an extensive background in coding. I didn’t even know what coding was before I started working on Conscript. I wanted to find a jumping-in point that was relatively simple, and GameMaker was the one that I chose.
My game is also 2D, even though it looks 3D, which is obviously more suited to GameMaker.
A trench in Verdun that'll you'll explore in-game
What are your plans for the future?
Conscript is my number one mission at the moment. I need to finish this, and I’m hoping to have it out sometime this year.
If this first game does well enough, I’m definitely going to make a second and hopefully a third one, but I don’t want to look too far in the future because I’ve still got so much work to do on the first one.
Will the future Conscript games be also set during World War I?
I know I said it’s overdone, but I think the sequel will take place during World War II. It seems like the obvious thing to do.
The third game could be anything - Vietnam War, maybe?