Ask An Indie: Lane Davis, Escape Industries


Ask An IndieWelcome to Ask An Indie where we interview local independent game developers to learn how they make, do and create.

The Indie: Lane Davis, Game Designer/Programmer, Escape Industries

What inspired you to start making games?

Munchkin. You know, the board game. If that hack Steve Jackson can make millions with half-rate dreck, anyone can do it.

Seriously though, it’s something that goes back to the very start. My parents saved the earliest papers I wrote for first grade, and they all read like I’m describing new dungeons in A Link to the Past, complete with diagrams and drawings of enemies.

It’s an obsession. It’s something I can’t NOT do. It’s cut into classes as long as I was in school and into work forever after. It’s like a (very fun) mental disorder.

At what age did you create your first game? What was it like?

ICY CONFLICT eviscerated the competition at my school’s fifth grade “Make a Game” event. It was a Stratego rip-off with a Christmas theme. There were Polar Bears, Elves who pushed booby-trapped Presents, and Reindeer who could fly over obstacles. To win, you had to “sleigh” (i.e. kill with a bobsled) the enemy Santa.

Needless to say, it was great.

What formal training do you have that has helped you?

My degrees aren’t exactly sexy in the game-making world. Would you want to play a game made by a Psychology major? Blech. Probably stuffed with Skinner-box manipulation. One made by a Psych/Neuroscience double major? Even worse.

I’m probably about as far as you can get from a properly min-maxed character IRL: I haven’t used my formal training once since graduation. I did go back for a Computer Science Associate degree, but all the best game-making training comes on-the-job.

What are some of your favorite tools or resources?

Can an independent game developer NOT mention Unity at this point? The documentation, the community, and the product itself are all godsends for beginners and pros alike. I do a lot of my work using the Adobe Creative Suite, but I hardly need to sell that.

As boring as it sounds, I read a lot of rulebooks. Making games is sometimes about cramming as much information into as little space as possible, all while making it easy to follow. Rulebook writers do this for a living, and you can learn a lot from the way they condense instructions. The Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Rulebook is a masterpiece in this regard. Its premise is absurdly ambitious: get a person up and playing the world’s most complicated game as fast as possible. Somehow, it succeeds, and manages to entertain as it does so. Read it.

How many people does your studio employ and in what capacity?

Escape Industries is a trio. Charles McGregor does our art, music, and user interface. Stephen McGregor splits design and coding with me.

What game(s) have you published and on what platforms are they available?

The Fingeance demo is up right now on and beyond that, my portfolio is stuffed with mods. I spent an unreasonable amount of time designing in the Warcraft 3 and Starcraft 2 modding scenes. If you ever played Darwin’s Religion Wars in Warcraft 3… that was my fault.

What is the most challenging thing about being a game developer in the Twin Cities?

Tough question. I haven’t developed games outside the Twin Cities, so I can’t speak with authority. There’s a great deal of concern about the lack of a well-recognized game development industry in the area. This means up-and-coming developers can feel disconnected from community, mentorship, and recognition. This is a great opportunity to plug the Twin Cities Chapter of IGDA, Glitch Gaming, and TECHdotMN for working on these problems, respectively.

Really, though, the toughest part about making games is the same here as it is anywhere: making a great game is hard work, and other great developers keep raising the bar.

What is the most rewarding?

The community. It’s no secret that people here are kind to one another, but it goes deeper than that.

Let’s say, for a moment, that it’s true that highly-skilled game creators have a hard time taking off in Minnesota. That sounds awful, but think about it. It means that there are gaggles of smart, skilled, big-hearted people, and they’re all within easy reach. If you’re just starting out, you couldn’t ask for a better community. Personally, I’ve found no shortage of mentors and allies to help me on my way.

What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?

Two bits. First, there’s the old standard career advice: find the thing you like doing that the least number of other people like doing. There are multitudes of new developers flooding in thanks to programs like Unity, so this advice is more important than ever. If you find you enjoy something that other people consider drudgery (multiplayer networking, maybe?), go for it and never look back.

Second, know yourself. I spent far too long thinking I was one of those guys who could hack it on his own. I was wrong. The motivation was never there. It was only after I teamed up with a mentor (Charles McGregor) and a fellow newcomer (Stephen McGregor) that I started to really push myself. Accountability and (friendly) competition are wonderful things.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I’m not kidding about that Steve Jackson thing.