Stellar Interface Post-Mortem

(Posted originally on our blog)

Today marks the third anniversary that Stellar Interface officially came out, and for the first time since launch we don't have an anniversary update, the reason is that we decided to stop content development on Stellar Interface and focus on future ventures, like our upcoming title Oirbo.

It wasn't an easy decision to make, but we think its time to move on and stop always having the game on our minds while we work on other projects.

Stellar Interface is and always will be the first game we ever made and published and that won't ever change, even today we still hope that sometime down the line we will be able to publish on the PS4, since it's the only goal that we still didn't meet with the game, but as of right now we will stop pursuing publishers for it as well as stop all content and new features development. We will still try to update the game with bug fixes reported to us and we will collect any suggestions or ideas for a possible sequel.

Introductions aside time to tackle the post-mortem topics.

What went wrong? 

Since Stellar Interface is the first game we failed on so many aspects that it won't be possible to cover them all, so we will just talk about the ones that we think that hurt the game the most.


This one is super common on first games, we never really stopped to think what should and not should be in the game, we developed such a versatile engine for it that we literally can add everything that we ever dreamt to it and most of the coolest ideas that the game has come from the usual "what if" questions. This versatility came with a cost though, we could add 2-3 new perks a day with completely different power, visual and difficulty dynamics that could or could not balance well with the rest of the system. And for months we did just that, add content randomly depending on the ideas we had. 

After 100+ perks we finally stopped to consider balancing, performance and game design aspects, and by then it was too late to have something congruent and that made sense, so we quickly set up a system that would rank each perk in order to try balance things out but at the end it still made a satisfying difficulty curve neither for us nor the players that played the game, but since the biggest issue was the early game we ignored it and moved on telling ourselves that it was just a tutorial phase of the game.

Today if you look at most of the Steam or press reviews, they all state that the game starts slow and then it ramps up to be challenging and fun, the latter part is ok, but we learned the hard way that a game should be always fun, since our data shows that 40% of the users stop playing before actually reaching the fun part.

Although we only referenced perks, the enemies and their formations have the exact same issue, our engine enabled us to make a bunch of them a day and so we did, balancing each enemy and corresponding formation as a unit instead of as an element inside a wave or inside a formation, making some waves a complete roller coaster regarding difficulty.

In sum, we did too much because it was fun to create and add content to the game, instead of thinking about the game as a whole, we made a game as a sum of its parts instead of a set of interconnected systems that should work together in order to deliver the best experience possible to our players. 

Until this day, we have the feeling that we didn't do the best job possible to deliver an enjoyable experience, even after reading dozens of reviews from players stating how much fun the game is and how much fresh the gameplay is, we still feel like Stellar Interface could be like that not just to a portion of our player base but for all of our players, and the only reason for this is our lack of thought on the experience until it was too late.


Another common topic on first game post-mortems, Stellar Interface didn't really have any marketing plan, nor any marketing really. There are so many missed opportunities that we can't even enumerate them all. The first is the lack of early social and community building, even after so many warnings from fellow developers.

We started selling the game very late, only around the time we submitted the game to Steam greenlight, which by then was a working game, with some minor stuff to be added, meaning that the community couldn't really drive the development whatsoever nor at the time were we open for giving users the power to decide.

We ended up having a community but only 1 year after the actual game release, meaning that it didn't really drive any development or sales momentum.

By the end of the development, we only had a few devlogs, a few tweets, and a few references here and there on the media, mostly because we launched the game on early access and some of them picked the game up for an article. Most of them were purely organic with almost no input or work from our part.

Although not a masterpiece, until this day, we think that Stellar Interface never really took off due to our lack of work on the marketing department we only realized it too late, after we released the game and were already demotivated by the lack of sales, so by that time no one really wanted to drive more work and money into the project, especially on marketing.

Today, we are aware that we could have probably saved the game if we just pushed through, or at least we would not have this resentment.

The second miss that we had in the marketing department was the target audience, we at the time thought that our players would be mostly bullet hell and shmup fans, but we later found out that our game was actually a better fit for roguelike fans than for the traditional shmup fans. At the time we looked at our rogue elements more like a gimmick or a derivative to the shmup formula, and we lacked the know-how to understand that bullet hell fans are a very strict set of players that usually don't like derivative work.

The third miss we did on marketing was the lack of respect for it, we were arrogant enough to think that if we build it players will come, a feeling probably shared by any game dev at some point, but it's still important to point this out. Marketing is important, even if we didn't have any skill on it, we should've to respect it enough to study and see how could we sell the game before it's finished, small stuff like social posts, devlogs, a site, a press kit, are staples on the business and we should have worked on them, even if they don't actually build community or sell the game they do serve as breadcrumbs for future marketing efforts so they should always exist!

Team Dynamics 

Our team was composed of 4 people, a composer, a graphical designer (fresh out of college), a programmer (without any real experience in coding) and a junior/mid-level programmer. Besides the composer, no one else had any experience in developing games, this section will discuss the dynamic between the programmers and the designer since the composer had little input into the decision making of the project.

Problem #1 is expectations management, in 2015 when we started, expectations were high for us, we've seen people making hundreds of thousands of dollars on what look like simple and easy to do games, steamspy at the time still delivered actual sales numbers so we looked at our most direct competitors and saw between 50k and 100k owners, so it should be easy to make a $100k we would just need 10k sales, easy!! Everyone can see the issue here, we never really looked at the other games with 1-10k sales, we just looked at the ones that made it. But even on those we completely missed the 3-4 years in development, the publisher support, or the past experience that the devs had, we looked everything at face value and in the end this crazy expectation that we would just need 30 daily sales to have a decent salary was our goal crashed and burnt! 

When we released on early access the morale just plummeted (not that it was great then) and the team slowly move apart, and in 4 short months' time, just 1 month after the final release, the team completely split.

This was due to problem #2, no one knew how to make games and everybody was just working for a quick cash grab. One team member had previous experience in publishing as indies (on apps and sites) with relative success, but the other 2 didn't, and even the one that had experience thought that it would be an easy thing to accomplish. But reality hit hard and we soon found out that no one knew what they were doing, by mid-project everyone started to drift apart, and at the end, everyone was just pushing stuff around trying to get on with their lives.

The reality is that making games is hard, and success is far from easy, and as soon as we understood that the team imploded and never really recover.

After some time one of the team members tried to continue the project, releasing it to Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, but the damage was done, and although at the time the community was lively the project already took life from everybody. 

Today Stellar Interface has 1 team member left, the rest already moved on and continued with their lives, fortunately, the rest did find other things to do and left the indie scene behind, for more stable endeavors.

What went right

With the bad stuff behind time for the good stuff!

The engine

Not a real game engine, Stellar Interface runs on Unity, but the engine we made for supporting all the game features. At the time it was something that we really were proud off, it's a complete beast, everything is automated, with a couple of lines of code you can interact with anything that is happening on the screen, adding perks is just as easy as extending a class, enemies and weapons power is controlled by a few json files, etc etc. The engine """"understands"""" if the player is having a hard or easy time on a specific wave and generates a new one for resting or give more challenge on the fly. 

Until, this day, we have conversations on how awesome our engine was and how easy it is to add content with it. Of course, all this automation had its problems, especially performance-wise the engine was bad, really bad xDD, we used a lot of reflection to make all the magic traits of it, so on platforms like the Switch, it was a pain to get around it, but we did make a few improvements in order to make it work better.

Today I would estimate that Sudoku Zenkai is about 60% Stellar Interface, Super Bunny Laser Spikes is roughly 50% and Oirbo is 40%. We made so much stuff from scratch, but we did make them right, even when we didn't really know how to make games, we did know how to make reusable software, all our current and probably future games will always be a bit Stellar Interface on their core, stuff like Resource Management, Controller Support, Data Management, Runtime Controllers, Scene Manager, and Base utility classes that we use today are 100% from SI or started in there and were extended to what they are now. One module that we really are proud of is the Controller Support, we literally took 1 hour to add controller support on Oirbo, all by just drag and dropping Stellar Interface controller support code.

The console releases

This story started when Nintendo released their indie program, we immediately tried to obtain a dev kit in order to put Stellar Interface on the Switch but we failed, in the end, it took us 2 years to get a dev kit from Nintendo, it was very frustrating but there was no better feeling than receiving the email from the Nintendo reps saying that our game as approved and we could start working on porting the game.

But first, we released the game on the Xbox, at the time we didn't have the means to publish our game on any console, at least in the usual way, since age ratings can be expensive. Fortunately, Microsoft released its Xbox Live Creators Program and without the age rating requirement, we were able to publish our first game on a console. The overall development experience was a complete pain and we would only have an actual good build a year later when we also released on the Switch, but the sensation that we felt browsing a console store and seeing our game in there won't ever go away.

2 years after the actual release, the most awaited email came to our inbox, and Nintendo finally allowed us to publish Stellar Interface on the Nintendo Switch, by then we were tired and didn't really want to work on SI any more, but at the same time the community was alive and well and kept asking for a Switch port, and as an ode for those that stuck around for 2 years, we dropped everything that we were working back then and started a long 5 month process of porting SI to the Switch.

We missed the Christmas launch but on January 2019, the game finally went up and got released on the eShop, it was another huge milestone for us and another mark on Stellar Interface history.

The player community

As we said before, we never really made any real efforts to build a community while we were developing the game, still a few months after the game release we did start to see people coming in and start discussing, suggesting and reporting stuff back to us, we tried to nurture it as much as possible with frequent content updates and bug fixes, and finally learned that game dev is way more fun when the players are involved.

The first youtube video of Stellar Interface was also a major milestone, Tomtrocity (an actual patron xDD) will be a name that will always make us smile and think on the day that we celebrated our first Let's Play video. Just like the first video, the first press review, the first steam review, the first bug, the first crash are all precious memories that we have from the game.

The support and encouragement that we were given by the small community helped us release 2 DLCs, 2 new entirely game modes, late-late game content, etc. Players that enjoy what Stellar Interface is today, should thank those 10-20 players that kept asking and suggesting to us stuff and never really let us pull the plug on the game. Those users are the same that makes us try to guarantee that we will support the game for as long as we are able to (which is pretty much as long as we are alive and have an internet connection xD), even if we don't release new content we will try to fix bugs and improve performance. Those users are the reason that we are still here today making games, otherwise, the shock of the first flop would have been too much for us to handle, and for that we thank you!

GameDev World

As we said before, we aren't game devs we are developers, one thing that we like more than developing is learning new stuff. We started making games 4 years ago, and almost every week or a couple of weeks we discover yet another branch related to gamedev. Another piece of technology, another technique, another subdivision of game dev, right now for us it seems that game dev is just an endless pit of stuff to learn and master.

Funny enough, instead of feeling completely overwhelmed, we are motivated and eager to know more, we feel like there are endless possibilities of techniques and technologies that we can learn in order to make our next games better and better, and for knowledge junkies, this is simply an awesome universe to be in.

Since we started we have studied Game design, Level design, psychology, architecture, computer graphics, shaders, lighting, procedural generation, ETC (this is just topics from books I can see from my desk right now). It's a place where we can try and explore ideas from almost any field and actually build something with them. Computer science is an amazing field by itself, by letting us do pretty much anything with a laptop and an internet connection, game developing, for us right now, is like the perfect place to be for someone that likes to learn and build stuff.

What can we learn from the experience?

Once ãgain we will divide it into categories:


Managing expectations is super important, it's important as indies with $0 budgets that failure is probably the outcome! But, it's on you and your team, we believe that the team efforts are what makes or breaks the game, it doesn't really matter your budget if you work hard making your game, and selling your game you will prevail, maybe not with 1 million sales but enough to keep working on future indie games. The critical part here is that you should sell as much as you polish and add features to your game.


Knowing your audience is huge when you decide to make a commercial game, you need to understand what is your target audience, what they expect and make a game for them. If you fail do understand who your audience is it will be hard to have any success, you should really invest in marketing, and remember that the small stuff matter, the #indiedevhour the #screenshotsaturday, the daily tweet, the monthly devlog, etc, all of these will seem like wasting time, but you are building yourself to the future. Start talking about your game on day one, the worst it can happen, is you having a daily journal of your adventure of making a game.

Data-driven development

This one we took from our previous app experience, integrate analytics in your game early and add meaningful events to it in order to understand how players are playing your game, where they stop playing, where they get stuck, etc. In Stellar Interface case, we fixed dozens of bugs on our RNG system due to the in-game data we collect from the players, it also helped us balancing out the game in many ways, especially in the early days where players wouldn't give us much feedback.

Don't over-engineer stuff

On SI we spent months working on the game engine, we have a huge codebase with hundreds of features that are only used once or twice, but we made sure that everything was reusable and easy to change in the future. Looking back this was a complete waste of time, although we are proud of the engine we made, today we would do probably 1/10th of what we did for the same content. Build as you need, don't be afraid to have a big refactor job later, at least then you will know if adding feature X will be worthwhile, this is completely against my CS background, but I stick by it in games, because what matter isn't the code base but the experience.

Develop for Players, and with them

The most fun we had with Stellar Interface 4 years development, was when we had a small community with us, at some point we had daily builds for a group of people that would help us test out some ideas and concepts. As soon as your main mechanics are playable, try to get players involved and try to build the games with them.

Don't be afraid to fail

Failure is good, it's hard, especially on commercial games, but after the shock, you will understand why you failed and how can you do better next time. So try to fail as soon as possible, don't invest years of your life on your first game if you can divide it into smaller titles that you can release every year, try to build your dream game as a set of modules created by smaller ones ;)


Stellar Interface was a hard first-time experience in the game dev world, it wasn't a success but we are proud of what we've accomplished. Today we look at it as the perfect stepping stone to the game dev world, and as a learning experience that helped us understand what it takes to make games.

Going forward, as we said, we will still fix any bugs founded by our players, but for now, we will stop all content development. We will still try to publish the game on the PS4 and if we are able to do so, once again we will ask from the community what else you wish to see on the game and work with them in order to make it happen.

Stellar Interface sequel is also on the list! But we will need to be financially stable before we can tackle such project, our community already stated that they want a sequel and even got a name for it, Stellar Interface - Forgotten Galaxy, but development will only begin, once our company as a steady stream of income that can support the project development cycle.

A big thanks to our community, and to anyone that supported the game by playing it until today!

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