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?
The game LA Noire convinced me to go to school to learn to make the art for games. When I played this game I was in love with the fact that every store you drove by had a fully realized store front with lots of little trinkets arranged in each. Each one was so lovingly made, but it wasn’t terribly likely that you’d ever actually stop and look at each one. I decided that I wanted to do that—be the person that designed beautiful sets that would make the
player feel like they stumbled upon a hidden world.
While I originally wanted to be a 3D prop artists, I actually ended up changing my focus to game development/programming. In school, I always ended up being the person on the team that had to do all of the programming (because I was the only one that could, it was an art degree, after all) and I found that I enjoyed that aspect more than the art. I enjoyed the challenge and reward that came along with figuring out how to program a specific aspect of a game.
At what age did you create your first game? What was it like?
I’m not sure how old I was, but I was in my 20s. I was trying to learn programming in Adobe Flash and decided to make a simple drag-and-drop dress up game. My friend Monica let me use a photo of her and I grabbed some images of ridiculous clothes from the internet. Technically it wasn’t a game, because it didn’t really have any goals, but it was the first fully interactive thing I had ever made. It wasn’t a terribly difficult game to make—I spent more time Photoshopping all the images that actually programming it, but it was really fun to share the completed project with my friends and have them dress my normally fashionable friend in ridiculous clothing.
What formal training (if any) do you have that has helped you?
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Game Art and Design, a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics, and a Master’s Degree in Mathematics. They have all helped me immensely in my pursuit to make games. The Game Art and Design degree made me proficient in 2D and 3D art and the Math degrees gave me the skills I needed to be a good programmer. So, I am well rounded enough to complete a full game on my own.
What are some of your favorite tools or resources?
I love Unity. I feel it has made game development significantly more available to the general public. Now you can make games without having to buy expensive software and there are so many resources out there to help you learn how to use it.
I prefer making 2D games and make all of my 2D art in Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. If I make 3D games, I use Autodesk 3ds Max, but I tend not to make 3D games.
How many people does your studio employ and in what capacity?
It’s mostly just me, but I do have one other person who will make 2D art for me on occasion. She used to live here in Minneapolis, but moved to San Francisco a few years ago. Once she moved, it made working together more difficult.
What game(s) have you published and on what platforms are they available?
I like to make mobile educational games. I’ve made quite a few, but my post recent have been:
Each one has an educational element to them. Fortune Cat Fractions (as the name suggests) teaches the concept of fractions, Prism Pets teaches basic color theory, and Mitrix is a Sudoku-like game.
What is the most challenging thing about being a game developer in the Twin Cities?
I don’t think the challenge is specific to the Twin Cities, but the most challenging aspect for me is finding others with whom to work. I teach game design full-time and have a small child, so my game development time is limited to late at night. That schedule doesn’t really allow for a lot of collaboration.
What is the most rewarding?
I think the Twin Cities are actually a pretty great place to make games independently. There are so many individuals out there that are doing the same thing and are available to offer advice and moral support. While it can be hard for me to find time to interact with those in “the scene”, when I do, it is always a positive experience.
What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?
I suggest making as many games on your own as possible. They don’t have to be groundbreaking or original. Just make games! Each game you make will teach you something new. Everyone has their magnum opus idea, but that should not be the first game you try to make. I see students try to make these huge games when they first start out and it never works out. They don’t yet have the resources or the skills to make the game. If they had waited until they had more experience, it would have been significantly more successful.
Don’t invest too much time and resources on something that just isn’t working out. Put your effort into something else. The best way to “break” into the industry is to have a portfolio of work behind you to show that you can make games. If you spend too much time on a single endeavor that never pans out, you’re not building a portfolio.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I have quite a few exciting things in development right now, but they aren’t games per-se. I actually haven’t had a lot of time to work on games for Mouse Potato Games, because I’ve been writing a doctoral dissertation and a textbook on Unity game development. Both of these required me to create a game, but they aren’t games I’m necessarily going to publish.
I just submitted the first draft of my dissertation, in which I created an educational game and used it to test the effects of aesthetics on students’ engagement, motivation, knowledge, and recall. I’m hoping to defend the dissertation next month and will then be able to call myself a doctor! If you’re interested in reading it, it will be published on ProQuest, eventually. But, it’s over 200 pages, so I don’t know why you would. :)
My textbook on creating games in Unity is coming out in November. It’s called Mastering Unity 2D Game Development, Second Edition. I’ve created 90% of the art that is going in to the game I discuss making in the text.