Welcome to Ask An Indie where we interview local independent game developers to learn how they make, do and create.
What inspired you to start making games?
That’s an interesting question, because honestly I don’t know how to answer.
It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do and have been doing it since middle school. So I’m going to reframe the question a bit and answer why I’m still doing it.
Game development is a unique industry that incorporates so many different realms of knowledge and combines them all to create a wonderful piece of art. Math, science, writing, psychology, sound, art…the list goes on. As somebody who likes to pursue knowledge and enjoys being a jack of all trades, it’s an endless learning experience that never gets old.
At what age did you create your first game? What was it like?
Although there were probably random ideas and “design” discussions with various friends throughout grade and middle school, the first “real” game I started working on was with my friend Jon in 8th grade called OverWhelmed. It was a 2.5D top-down space shooter, and way too ambitious. We worked on it throughout high school, but it eventually died and was never released for various reasons. A more concise version was released in 2006 as an Apple Widget for a game dev competition — it received 90,000 downloads!!
What formal training (if any) do you have that has helped you?
Although I never received formal training that focused on game development or coding, I would say that my college math and physics program was very valuable in that it helped grow my problem solving abilities. Game development is a fairly unique form of software development in that it often times presents unique problems that requires out-of-the-box thinking. I had one mathematics professor in particular that helped me develop problem solving abilities that I use every day at my job.
What are some of your favorite tools or resources?
The studio I co-founded, Graveck, is essentially built on our usage of Unity. We’re one of the first studios to ever adopt Unity and it’s been a great tool. I also very much love using the open-source 3D solution Blender, and need to find more excuses to use it!
How many people does your studio employ and in what capacity?
Our company currently has 2 full-time people: myself and Nickolas Miller. We also intermittently work with super talented folks locally — Jonathan Czeck, Howling Moon Software, and Glitch to name a few. Our largest project was a Disney iOS game where we had 6 full-time people working on it with a number of other folks with supporting roles.
What game(s) have you published and on what platforms are they available?
We’ve launched over a dozen titles on a mixture of platforms ranging from web games to various mobile platforms. We’ve historically done a mixture of independent and work-for-hire. My favorite work-for-hire game (that is no longer online) was a Daffy Duck / Marvin the Martian game titled Robot Rampage 2, which was a 3/4 view shooter fending off countless robots while upgrading with zany weapons. Other notable WFH projects include a two popular Phineas and Ferb 3D platformer web games, a physics puzzler for Fish Hooks, and a cart racing game feature many Disney Channel characters.
Independent titles include an officially branded Skee-Ball game and an over-the-top RC car racing game which are no longer available. More recently we released Arcade Ball and Strata, a stylized puzzle game. We have a couple new ones coming out soon!
What is the most challenging thing about being a game developer in the Twin Cities?
Much of the talent moves to Silicon Valley in search of work, so it has been hard to find local talent. However this has been changing recently and because of groups like IGDATC and Glitch, we’ve been seeing a lot more talent stick around and become more visible locally!
What is the most rewarding?
If we’re talking specifically about being a game dev in the Twin Cities area, there’s admittedly a certain amount of prestige being a game developer. It’s very hard work, but often times the image is that we just play games all day and make tons of money. This is the opposite of the truth, but I still enjoy playing up that image because there just aren’t many people doing development around here.
On a larger scale, it’s always extremely rewarding releasing a product and seeing user reaction. We put so much work into our games and it’s always great to see people who appreciate that hard work and enjoy the thing we’ve put countless hours into.
What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?
If you don’t have any sort of portfolio or working demo I likely won’t consider hiring you. Releasing anything is a huge task, and having a working game shows that you have the skill, passion, and ambition to succeed. Make sure that first game or two you work on has a small scope and reign in the feature creep. It’s easy to underestimate how long even a simple concept can take to develop. It’s better to have a small highly polished game than an unfinished ambitious project.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
We are really excited to have been able to work on The Ables: Freepoint High, available on Steam now. Please check it out!
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