What inspired you to start making games?
This is the question every indie dev loves to answer! I’ve been into video games ever since I was a little kid. The SNES was my bread and butter, and I have very fond memories of playing Final Fantasy III and Mega Man 7. My all-time favorite game series is Mega Man, and it really impressed on me what a game should feel like when you play it. The responsiveness of the controls and the way the character moves… all of it comes together in the Mega Man games to create a fun, action-packed experience.
That’s something I’d like to capture in my future games.
At what age did you create your first game? What was it like?
I went to a pretty small elementary school, and our “computer class” didn’t really amount to much. So there was no help there. I started programming at age 12, when I learned that the fancy graphing calculator I needed for math class could do some basic stuff. I taught myself how to program (there was a LOT of time in my boring classes), and before long I had a simple “game” working. It was a menu-based text adventure, and the goal was to escape from a room. I always wanted to make games with more action, but it’s not really possible using the basic graphing calculator language, and I didn’t know of any other options at the time. I wish I had started sooner, and I wish I had been able to know what else was out there!
What formal training do you have, if any?
My only formal programming training was in college. I was a computer science major. It wasn’t particularly inspiring in terms of game development, but I learned quite a bit.
Before that, I had taken a course in Flash animation one summer as a teenager, and it got me hooked. I wasn’t big on animation, but I quickly learned that Flash had its own programming language, and for many years I made a lot of small games (mostly unfinished) using that. So I suppose you could say that course inspired me.
My very first Flash game starred a circle, and you had to jump up platforms as they descend from the sky while trying not to fall off. Amazing, I know!
What are some of your favorite tools or resources?
As a programmer and artist I use a lot of tools! Lately I’ve been using Pyxel Edit to create pixel art tilesets. It’s still in beta, but I’ve been using it to making some awesome art assets for other indie devs to use. I also use Photoshop, of course. Not Creative Cloud, but an older version. Who wants to pay monthly for that?
For programming I use Eclipse and PSPad. For the occasional sound editing, I use Audacity. For video recording and editing I use Open Broadcaster Software and VideoPad Video Editor. (All of these are free except VideoPad, which is only $50.)
You wear a lot of different hats as an indie developer. There’s lots of stuff to do, so you have to get good at a lot of different things!
– Stack Overflow
– Pixel Joint
I also recommend joining game development groups and pixel art / game art groups on Facebook, and sharing your creations both there and on Twitter. Feedback is important, no matter what level you’re at.
The most important resource you have is your friends. Ask them to try your game, and get their feedback!
How many people does your studio employ? What positions do they occupy?
unTied Games is a three-person team: me (Will Tice), Ethan Calabria, and Charlie McCarron. I’m the leader, programmer, and sometimes artist. Ethan is the main artist. He does the more realistic art stuff, and he’s quite good. Charlie is our awesome musician. He handles everything music-related, and loves to try new things.
All of us participate in game design and brainstorming.
What game(s) have you published, and where? On what platforms are they available?
Our first commercial game is Star Reaction / Star Reaction HD, a match-3 puzzle game involving quick thinking and strategy. Star Reaction is available free-to-play on Android, and Star Reaction HD is available for Windows/Mac/Linux on itch.io. (The previous link links to both.) It was released in November 2014.
Our second game is Colorado John and the Quest for the Forbidden Princess, a minigame that was made for a music workshop. Students were able to drop their own music and sound effects into the game and get their first taste of composing for video games! It’s available for free from the link.
Our third game will likely be Atmocopter, but anything could happen! A free demo of the prototype is available from the link.
What is the most challenging thing about being a game developer in the Twin Cities?
In terms of being in the Twin Cities, I think this is a great place to be an indie developer. There are a lot of other developers here, there are regular IGDATC meetings to go to, and with 2D Con and Gamer’s Rhapsody, there are more events than ever to show off our products! Summer Games Done Quick is also heading to St. Paul this summer for the first time, so maybe Minnesota is becoming the place to be for gamers.
In terms of simply being a game developer, the most challenging thing is marketing. Storefronts are oversaturated with apps and games competing for players. Why should people care about your game? How do you reach the people who are interested? It’s a puzzle that’s constantly changing, and with the release of Star Reaction I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of it. I can definitely confirm that Twitter has been the most positive reaction for us, in terms of marketing. It’s a way to build an audience, and it really works. Word of advice: Start marketing yesterday! Build that audience ASAP so when you release your game, people are listening.
What is the most rewarding?
The most rewarding thing about game development has absolutely been learning how to work together as a team. When you start out, you don’t know your teammates’ likes, dislikes, and limitations. We’ve been working together for a long time now, and I think we’re in the groove.
Also rewarding was the personal experience I gained from completing a project. Despite working on tons of little games through high school and college, I had never finished any of them. Taking Star Reaction from concept to finished product was really awesome.
What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?
1. Start a Twitter account, even if you’re not an avid Twitter user. Believe me, I wasn’t either, and I’m still not. It’s the most rewarding thing you can do. #indiedev
2. Get connected with other local indie developers! See if there are IGDA meetings near where you live. Attend a trade show like 2D Con or Gamer’s Rhapsody, and network. You never know who you might meet.
3. Start small. No matter how much you want to, you’re not going to make the next WoW by yourself. Choose a project you think you can complete.
4. Choose a project you’re passionate about. Nobody wants to work on something they don’t want to. If you’re not having fun making the game, the odds are your players won’t have fun playing it.
5. Start a blog! It’s easy.
6. Never give up.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
In the picture, we’re left to right: Ethan, Will, Charlie.
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