In November 2016, Polish teen game developer Jakub Cislo, by then migrated to Germany, created a kickstarter project for a retro first person dungeon crawler game called Exitium. It is a game dedicated to old skool FPS shooters like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom.
From idea to vision
Why is that so spectacular? Because Jakub is born in 1998, and never lived in the era of nineties shooters. Because Jakub should be studying math and geology in high school instead of fiddling with the Unity engine.
His dad introduced him into the wonderful world of shotguns (Doom) and spellcasters (Hexen). Compared to the lacking level design of modern shooters, it felt like a breath of fresh air. Certainly inspiring enough to start learning how to create your own game - entirely from scratch - with YouTube how-to videos as his only help.
The kickstarter movie of Exitium is still online. Cislo received
€205 from 15 backers - double the amount he had hoped to scrape together to get the serious work started.
A few years later, Exitium evolved into Cataclysm 3D, a revision he tried to show off to an early crowd using the Steam Greenlight platform. Sadly, he got a lot of hate because of the graphics. Mind you, this was a one-man show, and created by a stubborn teenager that was not about to give up that easily. A Kotaku interview revealed how he felt about being rejected by anonymous people:
At first, he couldn’t help but feel discouraged. All I wanted to do was just make a fun game.
He was determined to show everyone he won’t back down that easily. In an effort to bend the bad rep into positive criticism, he hired an artist, level and sound designer, and got to work - again.
A Steam Greenlight movie of Cataclysm 3D is still online. It was expected to release mid 2017. A shareware version did get released - the good old fashioned way! However, fans had to wait 2 more years to actually play the polished product: Project Warlock.
The revamped game of the revamped game got a publisher’s attention who helped him market the game at GOG.com. But how do you combine your school work with creating a game and having the life of a typical teenager: parties, friends, and such? The answer is you don’t:
Once I come home, I just go straight to my PC and start working on the game. I sleep a lot less.
His social life took a big hit. Interviews with Eric Barone, the guy (another one-man show) behind Stardew Valley, showcase the same effect. He had to work long hours on his game while trying to maintain his day-job because well, things still have to be paid.
After more UI polishing, the final version of the game could finally be released upon the public. And they love how it turned out. It is a true homage to classic FPS shooters, an amazing feat considering Cislo’s background and age. Even the original Doom level designer reached out to Jakub:
I woke up one morning, and I saw that there was a new comment on my Facebook fan page from John Romero himself!
What an amazing achievement this must be: getting recognition; getting positive reviews; especially after being gunned down a couple of years before.
A persistent mind is a great mind
The development story of Project Warlock grabs me by the throat because of a few things. First, it confirms what I found out about creativity: it literally is the brew of different inputs, the games Jakub played with his dad and that inspired him. Next, only people with high levels of persistence will get that far. Others would have given up after the negative feedback, simply reverted to playing basketball on a Friday night. Lastly, Buckshot Software, Cislo’s development company, is the anti-team compared to 10 million production studios dishing out Call of Duty iterations yearly.
Prof. Pieter J. van Strien wrote in his book The Creative Genius about the hard labors of love of Faraday, Einstein, Darwin, and Newton. Not a single one of those would have made it without perseverance and a lot of failures. You have to be able to convert failures into learning moments, and eventually success. However, that success might come within a few years, or within ten years, as was the case for German philosopher Kant. Jakub Cislo is cut from the same cloth:
I have too many ideas to take a break, and I want to improve upon myself. I really want to get the best out of me.
To me, Project Warlock is a touching example of perseverance. I hope I can live up to it when thinking about my own projects. When I sometimes lose interest, ambition, motivation, or everything at once: I just have to pick up the controller and replay Project Warlock.
The next day, I’ll get back to work.