What inspired you to start making games?
Playing games is what initially got me interested in their production. I clearly remember playing a Star Trek arcade machine in a bowling alley when I was about 13. The game was so amazing, I was mesmerized by it. I didn’t know what it took to make a game or that it was even an actual career, but I thought, “I have to figure out a way to do this.”
At what age did you create your first game and what was it?
That depends on how you define games. One of my first designs was based on Mattel Auto Race. One of the first hand held LED games released in 1976. I got bored with it pretty quick so I created a mod of the game.
I just used the scoring from the game to progress through my own paper based space story. I didn’t get into the game industry until I was 31. I worked on a lot of online web games, prototypes and canceled projects before I released my first retail game, NHL Rivals, on the original Xbox. It took 18 months to develop and a team of 60 people. It was one of the hardest things I ever did, but also the most rewarding.
What formal training (if any) do you have that has helped you?
When I went to college there wasn’t any formal training available. I started college as an Art Major because I wanted to be a book illustrator. My Freshman advisor told me I needed a “blow off class” and suggested a Communications class. I ended up really liking my communication courses and switched my Major to Organizational Communication and Minor to Art. Little did I know this would help me get into the computer industry and eventually the games industry. I found out that I had a knack for communicating technical concepts and started to develop prototypes for Apple doing the art and basic scripting using HyperCard and Director. I eventually got into 3d modeling, which lead me to being hired by Microsoft as a Game Producer because I could communicate with both the Developers and the Art team. I basically talked my way into the game industry.
What are some of your favorite tools or resources?
I use different tools depending on what task I’m doing. When I was a producer I spent a lot of time in spreadsheets tracking progress and asset creations. When I actually get to work on games I use a great tool called GameSalad. It allows me to build a game very quickly and release it on multiple mobile platforms. I like to use my iPad as a sketch pad so I use Paper by 53. I also like to create pixel art right on my iPad, I use an app called Sprite Something and it saves right to Dropbox, so it makes it easy to create, save, and get into the game.
How many people does your studio employ? What positions do they occupy?
FrostBit is a virtual studio. It’s more like a jam band that gets together to play. People join in depending on what work we need at the time or if they are interested in the project. Currently I’m doing the game design, development and minor art work. Ryan Pedersen also known as 8bitfire is our Graphic Designer. He is responsible for the UI/UX design and art asset creation. Randy Ryan owns Hamsterball Studios in Austin, TX. Randy is doing Audio design, audio development and the original score. Hulls Charles Jr. runs PYP Publishing located in New York City. PYP Publishing is Interactive Game Testing & Project Management Service. Hulls is handing all the Quality Assurance and testing of the game. Like music we all work together to make a great sound. We all have different strengths that make us stronger as team.
What game(s) have you published, and where? On what platforms are they available?
I have published over a 100 games in my career on nearly every single platform, but they have all been for other publishers. After 20 years in the game industry I will be releasing the first game that I designed and built with a team for mobile and tablet devices. That is going to be a great feeling. It’s called Lander8b 100 missions and soon we’ll be having an open beta and we will need testers to help improve the game.
What is the most challenging thing about being a game developer in the Twin Cities?
I will answer this question two different ways. When I worked for Activision Minneapolis it was difficult to find experienced people locally or those willing to relocate to Minnesota. Not everyone enjoys the cold as much as I do. Also because there isn’t a large gaming presence here they were hesitant to leave the West Coast.
What is the most rewarding?
Seeing people play your game and having fun. That is the best feeling in the world. I also really enjoy speaking about the game industry, game design/development and helping new teams form and ship their own games.
What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?
It’s a great time to get into the industry. The barriers that once were in place are now gone. There are so many new tools, most of them free. There is nothing stopping you from creating a game for fun or publishing one on your own. That is important. If you want to get into the industry, you need to show people what you can do. If you have a demo, prototype, artwork, etc. it will go a long way in a job interview.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
The Minnesota gaming scene is growing. It’s a great time to get involved if you’re interested in the industry. You can learn a lot online and by going to local meetups such as IGDATC and GLITCH events.
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