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?
At age 6, my cousin introduced me to D&D. I barely understood what was going on, but I was hooked for life. Simultaneously, the NES craze had just started up. Add to this the fact that my family was into board games, and I was at the center of this perfect little maelstrom. As I learned reading, writing, and math at school, games were just a natural extension of the process.
I remember, circa third or fourth grade, that students were tasked with bringing in material to read for class. Other kids were bringing in Goosbumps and Highlights magazines. I was bringing in the Axis & Allies rulebook, Nintendo Power, and Mentzer D&D manuals (the red box!)
At what age did you create your first game?
I’m not sure how young I was, but I know that I had not quite perfected the ability to write legibly. It must have been a weekend, because my dad was home. I came into the room with a pencil, pad of paper, and a deck of playing cards and said, “let’s make a game.” He sat down and indulged me. I would spout things off, he would ask questions to make sure he understood, and then he would write it down. I still remember the rules to that game. They aren’t great, but it is technically playable.
What formal training do you have that has helped you?
I went to Full Sail University and graduated with a bachelor’s in Computer Science with a focus on game design. It was an amazing experience. The whole process was constructed to teach you exactly what you need. Instead of taking generic literature courses, we were learning the heroic myth and its application to storytelling. Instead of technical writing, we were learning how to compose game pitches and documentation. Our programming classes involved making games. Every single class was taught by someone that was active in the industry. (Dave Arneson taught me game theory! Richard Wright taught me OpenGL!)
What are some of your favorite tools or resources?
Paper and scissors. Everything that I do is paper prototyped as much as it can be. It is so much faster to draw things and cut them out than it is to code. When designing systems, a Google doc and some polyhedra dice are king.
Photoshop is what I use to kludge out anything that needs to look pretty. Unity is my game engine of choice.
How many people does your studio employ and in what capacity?
Graveck Interactive is presently just two people: Matt Gravelle and myself. We are multi-purpose by necessity, but Matt specializes in the UI and visual aspects while I specialize in the code and technical systems.
What game(s) have you published and on what platforms are they available?
A lot of the games I have worked on are dead and gone. Does that make me an old man? Our two most recent IP are Strata and Arcade Ball. You can download those on IOS. Also check out The Ables: Freepoint High on Steam and IOS. My full ludography is:
Zodiapp (Secondverse 2017) – Lead Programmer, Unity3D (IOS)
The Ables: Freepoint High (Qiwi Games 2015) – Lead Programmer, Unity3D (IOS, Mac, PC, Steam)
Strata (Graveck Interactive 2013) – Lead Programmer, Unity3D (IOS, Android, Mac, PC, Steam, Windows Phone)
Arcade Ball (DeNA 2013) – Lead Programmer, Unity3D (IOS and Android)
Fish Hooks (Disney Interactive 2013) – Lead Programmer, Unity3D (IOS)
Disney Super Speedway (Disney Interactive 2012) – Lead Programmer, Unity3D (IOS and web)
Safari Challenge (Desert River Games 2012) – Lead Programmer, Adobe Flash and Unity3D (web)
Band Hero (Activision 2009) – Lead Programmer, PS2
Our House: Party! (Majesco 2009) – Prototype Programmer, Wii
Guitar Hero 5 (Activision 2009) – Senior Programmer, PS2
Guitar Hero: Metallica (Activision 2009) – Lead Programmer, Wii and PS2
Guitar Hero: World Tour (Activision 2008) – Programmer, PS2
Guitar Hero: Aerosmith (Activision 2008) – Programmer, PS2
Guitar Hero 3 (Activision 2007) – Programmer, PS2
Medal of Honor: Vanguard (EA 2007) – Programmer, Wii
Arena Football: Road to Glory (EA 2007) – Programmer, PS2
Nacho Libre (Majesco 2006) – Programmer, Nintendo DS
What is the most challenging thing about being a game developer in the Twin Cities?
Finding client work. Releasing indie games doesn’t always pay the bills. You have to find people with money that want to create something, and then convince them that you are simultaneously the best and most cost-effective way to do that. It seems the trend is starting to turn away from third party shops and move towards everyone having their own in-house shop.
What is the most rewarding?
I spend my free time thinking about and designing games. It is my hobby and my passion. The fact that I get to do it full-time, and somehow get paid, is amazing. On top of that, my work makes people happy. I like to think that counts for something.
What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?
Know how badly you want it. Know what you are willing to give up. For me, it was moving away from home, accruing $80,000 of student debt, and working miserable hours to build a reputation.
Get a degree, practice your craft, and learn as much as you can. Apply to absolutely every job you are even remotely qualified for, and be willing to relocate your life to wherever your career might take you.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Our next title is Optica. We are aiming for a release early next year. It is an original IP and a sister game to Strata. The game is a beautiful, relaxing, but challenging strategy game that plays with perception and your point-of-view. Check out @graveck on Twitter or Facebook to find out more.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about Leder Game’s new board game Root. It is kickstarting October 24th. It is a very interesting asymmetric strategy game about woodland creatures vying for control of a forest. The artwork is both charming and gorgeous. (I’m a Leder Games volunteer and playtester, so maybe I’m a touch biased!) Head to http://ledergames.com/root/ for more info.
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