Interview with Badru

What started you out on the path toward games development?

I had a few early triggers. I was raised by a programmer and an architect, and my mom (the programmer) helped me make a text-based game for a school assignment. My close friends growing up bonded over games. It always seemed like something I could do, and something that would be exciting to do.

Could you tell me about your process as a game developer? Where do you get your ideas and your inspirations? How do you strive to improve?

Every game is different, but for this project (Tenderfoot Tactics) I work full-time, with the part-time support of four good friends and former collaborators, who have a major hand in almost everything except for 3D, code, and in-engine work.

My collaborators and their contributions:

  • Michael Bell: Music, Sound Design
  • Isa Hutchinson: Systems Design, Writing
  • Taylor Thomas: UX Design
  • Zoe Vartanian: Graphic Design, Voice

The first few years of this project was largely myself (then part-time) and Michael, with Isa coming on midway through. It’s in an established genre, a tactical RPG, so we understood early what our strategy for developing it would be: first code infrastructure and broad design planning, then mocking up and testing combat, then classes and skill progression, and finally our overworld and narrative framework, all the while writing and rewriting. We’re finally in our last stint now, what games people call “production,” with the designs and engine having both iterated each other into a near-stable, near-final resting place, and with a solid plan developed for the full scope of the game, it’s time for us to finish actually building out all of the remaining bits.

I find inspiration in novels (recently finished and was deeply inspired by The Earthsea Cycle, currently reading and moderately enjoying The Pale King) and paintings (Tenderfoot‘s world’s color script and shape language are largely stolen from the work of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven).

Tenderfoot Tactics is of course heavily inspired by other works in its genre. Especially Final Fantasy Tactics, which I believe is the best yet made, but I also try to play as many modern TRPGs as possible to understand what’s being done in the genre, what the audience is coming from.

Tenderfoot, as well as a previous work, Fire Place (sic), are very much inspired by science and mathematics as well, especially in the realm of chaos and complexity theory. Or maybe it’s better to just say they’re inspired by the beauty of the natural world, which if I put it that way makes it true of all of my work.

I work hard to improve in the various craft aspects of game development, of which there are many, and in all of which I have plenty of room to grow. This learning is almost passive, as craftwork is how I spend my days, and it’s learned by doing.

I also journal irregularly to try to develop a more robust and realistic self-understanding: what are my goals, who is my audience, why am I making what I’m making, who am I working with and under what conditions, etc.

Could you tell me about your previous games? What challenges did you face making them? What was unique about them? What did you enjoy most about making these games?

I’ll just talk about the big ones if that’s okay.

Eidolon‘s biggest challenge, for me, was probably learning how to coordinate a ten-person, two-year project, although it was also the first time I touched 3D. Eidolon is probably not unique in any major way, anymore, but at the time it felt very special in its vast, lonely expanses, and in the breadth and density of its writing. I don’t think I enjoyed making Eidolon.

Viridi was in many ways remarkably unproblematic to make. But it was in a new engine (for us), and was a struggle to maintain after launch, when we were flooded with players with corrupted save data or minor purchase problems. Also, building for iPhone is a tremendous pain. Three of us on the Viridi team (Zoe, Isa, and I) were working unemployed for a summer in our living room in Eastlake (Seattle) and we would walk the dog every day as a sort of midday meeting. That’s easily my favorite memory of the process.

What are the greatest challenges you face, and what advice would you give to those who are interested in getting started in your field?

My greatest challenge is self-imposed: working for extended periods of time without financing.

To people interested in game development: just start making things. The best tools are largely free, if you have a computer at hand. Especially if you want to work as an independent like I do, there are literally no more gatekeepers. We ran them all off. Or someone else did, anyway.

Read and stay curious. Find your peers. Reach out and ask for help. But mostly, just start building stuff.

What’s in your future? Where do you see yourself going next?

I’m planning on becoming an extravagantly successful artist, and using that success to develop our label Ice Water Games into a sustaining life force for my medium. I’m thinking I’ll outlive capitalism by at least fifty years and die having just completed my most-recent magnum opus at the age of one hundred.

I want to collaborate with more people. I want to find a mentor and a mentee, help maintain a better chain of knowledge in games.

I’ll probably make another strategy game next. Or maybe an action RPG would be cool.


Badru is a Seattle-based artist who works collaboratively with small teams on self-published videogames. They're best known for their first major release, Eidolon, a writing-heavy hiking sim taking place in a distantly post-human Western Washington, and for the succulent nurturer Viridi, which has been played by millions and been covered by the New York Times, National Geographic, and more. They're currently working on Tenderfoot Tactics, a TRPG about witchy goblins defending their island communities from an all-consuming fog (to be released for desktop in mid 2020). Badru is an active member of the artist-owned, democratically operated label Ice Water Games.