By Beth Korth,
What inspired you to start making games?
I think it differs for all of us, just as our backgrounds and many of the games we’re interested in differ. I have personally wanted to do this since I was in high school “way back” in the 90’s. I think for a couple of us, the idea of actually making games was merely an extension to how much we loved this industry and medium.
At what age did you create your first game? What was it like?
I have vague memories of making board games when I was a kid, but that’s about it. As a team, our first actual game didn’t come until 2012, which was also the year we formed the team. On the other hand, two of our programmers, Paul and Robert, have spent years testing their programming skills making numerous small games and ideas, ever since they were teenagers.
What formal training (if any) do you have that has helped you?
There are six of us as partners in the team, and five of us all went to the same school—the Minnesota School of Business—for game design, but a few of us have more education beyond that. As such, there’s a mix of Bachelor’s and Associate’s degrees in game design, programming, and computer art, graphic design, and animation.
What are some of your favorite tools or resources?
Our primary tool is the Unity game engine, with Photoshop and 3D Studio Max for where we craft our art assets. We all graduated at largely different intervals, however while most of us were still at MSB, the Unity engine was breaking out as the big “new thing” so to speak, for game engines. It was when Unity started branching out beyond PC games to mobile and consoles. Our programming team loves it for the options and usability—for instance, we essentially made a robust 2D game in it before Unity had 2D assets built in.
Unity is mostly for 3D gaming, like the Unreal Engine, and like Unreal, it can be tweaked and modified to perform a variety of other concepts. Unity, however, is far cheaper and easier to access for indie developers, while Unreal is essentially intended for major AAA studios.
How many people does your studio employ? What positions do they occupy?
We have six, Bob Andreae, Sean Carlson, Robert Diaz, Adam Dyson, Paul Metcalf, and myself (Nick Behrens). We’re currently organized as two teams—Robert, Sean, and Paul make up the programming and coding team. Bob, Adam, and I make up the design and art side. I’m the only one actually filling the “artist” role. We started as six students who wanted to form a team. Two of the original six have since left, and after some searching, Adam and Robert were recruited.
What games(s) have you published and where? On what platforms are they available?
Our first game was intended to be a “simple” match-three puzzle game for Android called GravBlocks, which was released to Google Play in two forms (phone and tablet) October 1st, 2012. Changing the gravity of the play field was the core mechanic, and it took us 8 months to build. We’re pleased with the overall outcome as we did not take the lazy route—we didn’t just clone someone else’s ideas. We built our own unique vision, and it works. We kept our focus on a “small, simple game” in order to better our odds at successful completion and to use the experience, in a sense, as a learning tool—get some real-life understanding that you don’t get in a classroom. In that we were successful.
Part way through development of our second title, we applied to become an indie dev for Nintendo after I found an interview online with Dan Adelman, Nintendo’s former “indie guy.” We received our approval in May, 2013. We then made the difficult choice to temporarily cease work on the next game to upgrade GravBlocks to GravBlocks+ for Nintendo’s new Wii U™ console. This upgrade took longer than expected but was released February 26th, 2015! It is an exclusive to the Wii U eShop.
We are finally back to developing the game we set aside with renewed energy, focus, and insight. The first major public reveal of that title is a teaser trailer hidden in GravBlocks+. This one is a strategy game called Tactics Forge—and that’s about all we’re ready to discuss on it currently! Our goal for that is to get it out on Wii U, Playstation 4, Steam, and the Xbox One in 2016.
What is the most challenging thing about being a game developer in the Twin Cities?
There aren’t a lot of major studios here. Activision has a testing branch, but not a development studio. The biggest companies—Sony, Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, etc. have no real presence here or studios. Nintendo has a branch with Monster Games in Northfield. Essentially, the options for game development jobs are extremely limited. The biggest indie studio here is Big John Games who have been quite well established for a long time and serve as some inspiration for us.
Some of us may not have the ability to move away to where most game studios are located (the West coast, and chunks of the North-East), or may simply enjoy Minnesota for what it is so it can be difficult to find work in these fields in this way.
What is the most rewarding?
I think the most rewarding is the strong community. IGDA (International Game Developers Association, the local branch is IGDA-TC) stands out, perhaps obviously, as they’ve been extremely helpful in a variety of ways—helping us to spread the word, getting advice, meeting the right people at the right time. So much of success in life is in who you know, and IGDA has the people we (as indie devs) want to know! I think there’s a strong indie drive and indie vibe in the Twin Cities, and it seems like IGDA meetings get bigger every month. But this vibe isn’t just in gaming, it seems like it’s in everything—various arts and works, things of that nature. As if we have an attitude of “well, if the big guys aren’t going to be here, we’ll do it ourselves.”
I might be a little biased, though, my girlfriend also runs an extremely successful indie yarn business called The Cyborg’s Craftroom on Etsy out of our house, while indie game development is done in the basement, and another friend of ours is an indie musician with a band called Oak Pantheon—and he supplied the music for GravBlocks+. If you’re creative and driven, this is a great place to be indie.
What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?
I suppose, practice and work, and expect to use a lot of free time bettering yourself—but most importantly, look for the local groups and meets—something like IGDA if you’re a developer, for instance. There are times when I’m exhausted or don’t feel like going to an IGDA meeting, but force myself to do it and then remember why it’s important to go once I get there as there always seems to be something relevant or new or exciting to discuss or learn about or do. You could be the best developer in the world, but at some point, you’d still need to take your project to that community to get some constructive criticism.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Well, I suppose I have a cheap plug to throw out there: Our game, GravBlocks+ is on the Wii U eShop.