Pseudoregalia is a gorgeous retro 3D Metroidvania about a goat-bunny-girl paladin, and it's quietly become one of the biggest success stories of the summer. After a game jam win with an Itch.io prototype, this $6 instant classic dropped on Steam a month ago, where it's since racked up 2,655 overwhelmingly positive reviews.
As I chat with its lead developer, who goes by Rittz online and who handled almost the entire game himself, he says that it only took him a few months to make the whole thing even including its game jam build. With disbelief still shaking his voice, he tells me its runaway success has now "totally changed the trajectory" of his life by ensuring he can comfortably focus on game development.
"I couldn't be happier"
Sybil is ready to escape the bad dream. #Pseudoregalia pic.twitter.com/jdEHhVXuuTAugust 7, 2023
For a bit of context, Pseudoregalia had sold over 28,000 copies as of a few weeks ago, and that was when the game had around 1,700 reviews, meaning that number has only gone up. "I'm still reeling over this," Rittz says. "I thought we'd be lucky to break the 200 or 300 review barrier, and I would have been happy if this game sold 10,000 or even 5,000 copies, frankly. But it's done way better than I ever imagined it would. It's not going into completely insane-o indie numbers, but it's still doing excellent.
"I've seen so many extremely good indie games fail to permeate into a broader social context, even just within people who play indie games in that kind of sphere. You know, do more than 100 reviews or break the 5k sales number. Somehow we just kind of did it. The numbers came out and they just kept going up, and I'm like, what is happening? It's absolutely incredible. Extremely validating, of course, for one, for my own mentality, but also in terms of my literal life trajectory. Like, I can do this now.
"For a long time, I've been kind of fiddling around after high school, and only in the past few years did I even take this up as a direction. I wasn't really sure if it would work out or I'd be struggling to make small releases to keep myself afloat or something, or have to get a job for another development studio. But no, I can just keep making, at least for the foreseeable future, basically whatever I want to make. And it's very weird. It still hasn't really hit me yet, I think especially because I still haven't gotten [the money] yet. That just takes a little bit from Steam. But it's just totally changed the trajectory of my life now. I couldn't be happier about it. My parents are also very stoked that I wasn't just piddling away at my computer for nothing."
"I almost feel like I cheated or something"
I drew Sybil from #pseudoregalia!I cordially want people to play this game if they're a fan of retro 3d platformers, it definitely peaked as one of my favorite games this year! pic.twitter.com/pAIoDyZYrgAugust 13, 2023
Pseudoregalia was made by Rittz, his main partner Matt (who helped with level design and made the textures for the game), and some contributing composers who helped bring the game's ethereal world to life. From start to finish, it took four to five months to make – one month for the game jam build, then three or four months of expansion and polish afterward, with about a month of downtime in-between.
"I'd been thinking a little bit before I started this about how doable a 3D Metroidvania would be for me," Rittz says. "It's something I've been considering for a little bit now. I spent a good bit of the earliest parts of this year playing a lot of literal Metroid and Castlevania. I finally beat Symphony of the Night this year. Good game! Very cold take, there. And I'm a [huge fan of] game jams. I enjoy them a lot. I just saw the Metroidvania 19 Jam, and I'm like, maybe I'm crazy for this, but I think we could probably knock something small out, even in 3D, which is a notoriously difficult-sounding thing to do. There's very few 3D Metroidvanias that are distinctly trying to be that.
"I'm really glad we did. From there, one of my goals was to just make a game that was about two hours long and put that on Steam. Sell it for, you know, a small, modest price and see how that goes. And before I knew it, I just kind of stepped back when the jam was done and I'm like, oh, wait, we did that. So I talked to Matt and I was like, 'Hey, I think we could just clean this up and put it out.' And so we did that.
"So much of it was me desperately trying to be like, okay, I keep hearing about how you need to appeal to Steam. You gotta get on that 'Popular Upcoming.' And then try to get onto 'New and trending.' And if that could happen, then maybe you'll have a chance to actually do well for yourself. And I think we just barely broke that threshold. But once we did it, it just kept going. I think we'd been on the front page for basically the entire first two weeks the game was out and it's yo-yoing between the bottom of the trending tab and the middle of it.
"I thought it would be crazy if we got to like 300 or 400 reviews... I almost feel like I cheated or something. But I'm very, very happy that we got lucky in this regard. I mean, obviously the game has resonated with people because it's also sitting at 98% positive. But still, that's not always enough."
A third of a year of work for $168,000+ in base sales (which of course gets divided up between Valve and Rittz's partners) is stunning stuff, especially for a first Steam release. Rittz has been poking at game development for a while – his Itch.io profile is a fascinating collection of platformers – but Pseudoregalia was his first real stab at a commercial product, and his story, while crucially an outlier, is a fascinating example of how people can get into game development and make a living off it.
"I'm pretty much just self-taught," he explains. "Most of the stuff I do I've just slowly accumulated. Things that are game-specific, more on the programming side of things, are from the past few years. I've been picking up art skills since high school, between drawing, concept art, modeling and animation. And that was definitely a huge boon. Getting started, I felt like I already had a foot in the door. So it's like, if I can just learn how to program that's basically a whole game, right? And I still had a lot of other skills I needed to, and still need to, learn, but it definitely helped.
"Unreal Engine 5, for me, was definitely a very big boon in getting started there. I had tried learning game dev in various brief stints since I was a young teenager. You know, I tried GameMaker and RPG Maker. Who hasn't at some point, right? I kind of just ended up bouncing off most of those after a couple of weeks. I didn't really get it. But [Unreal's] visual scripting blueprint system helped hammer in how programming works into my brain. I'm still not an expert programmer by any means, but I get the basics now. I've messed with non-visual scripting stuff now, and there's an adjustment period, but I can definitely do it now. It's changed my brain chemistry."
"Maybe I'm insane"
Sybil fanart from #Pseudoregalia !Really love the parkour in the game. Haven't had so much fun moving around in a game for while. I recommend checking the game out! pic.twitter.com/6JfJJZPhoZAugust 3, 2023
It's cheesy, but I love asking new game developers what they'd tell their past selves based on what they know now, what they've learned throughout development. Rittz reckons he should communicate with partners more promptly, and above all, in the immortal words of Shia LaBeouf, "just do it." Given Pseudoregalia's short development cycle and explosive success, I found myself even more interested in what's next for Rittz now that he has this wind in his sails.
Rittz's next game, a roguelike platformer called Electrokinetic, is already listed on Steam. It's got a similar underlying art style to Pseudoregalia, but it's noticeably brighter and it will play fairly differently given the jump in genre. He says he's likely to stick with stylized graphics, not just because lower-res stuff is easier to work with, but because he likes the "chunky and colorful" look, with Nintendo 64 platformers (and, for the main character, '90s anime) being a key reference for Pseudoregalia.
Electrokinetic is also separate from a more ambitious Metroidvania Rittz has planned, and he's not quite done with Pseudoregalia either. He does want to add a few things to it before moving onto new projects. A New Game+ mode, for starters, and a highly requested map. (He was slightly alarmed by how long the game took some people, in no small part because they got a little lost.) Maybe some costumes for the main character Sybil, now the star of countless loving (and occasionally NSFW) fan illustrations, and some challenges to unlock them. But Rittz is very much facing forward.
"Maybe I'm insane, but my original plans did not involve any huge content updates or sequels for Pseudo," he reasons. "And that's still the case ... Pseudo started as a proof of concept for if I could do a 3D Metroidvania, and I think the answer is a resounding yes. So I will be making the game that this was a proof of concept for relatively soon. The playtime might end up being roughly comparable for at least some people – seven to eight hours – but I think it will be a tighter experience with a little bit less time spent just running in circles, more time just doing new things and going new places and finding new things to see. It will definitely share a lot of DNA with this game, obviously, but I think it will be much more fleshed out.
"Never say never, right? Maybe at some point during development for that, I'll be like, 'You know, I really just want to just make a little content update for Pseudo.' I just really get a hankering to put out a small map. I don't know, right? But that's the plan right now. I want to make all types of games that are loosely either some kind of platformer or action game, and then probably branch out from there once I get my fill of those. So we'll definitely see where things go for me. And I still want to keep making shorter games like this too. I don't want to just keep scaling up forever for every release. I like making short games, and I think they're neat. I think they're cool and valuable."