Gordon Midwood – Different Tuna

18 Nov

Gordon is Head of Everything for Different Cloth / Different Tuna, creators of Lilt Line and the forthcoming Derrick the Deathfin.

BACKGROUND
Working on other people’s ideas and secretly saving up any good ideas for myself to work on later.

WHY
I have this internal creative force which demands to be realised – I call her Miranda.

ROUTINE
Whenever I am not eating or excreting I am working.

REALITY
It is amazing and a lot of work, which is more or less what I expected.

TIPS
Work hard until you get better.

James Brown – Ancient Workshop

18 Nov

James is the founder of Ancient Workshop, creators of Ancient Frog, Ancient Pond and the forthcoming Blue Comb.

BACKGROUND
Been writing games since I was 10 and the family got a ZX81, did it as a fulltime job at various companies for 10 years (including Criterion, Lionhead), then moved to New Zealand for the lulz.

WHY
Totally burned out in AAA and needed to go and do something else. I had a hobby project (Ancient Frog) on the go for quite a while, but got a day job making digital interactives for museums. That was a lot of fun, but the work dried up, and my wife gave me the push I needed to go fulltime indie for 6 months and see if I could make a living at it. That was nearly 3 years ago, and it’s worked out well.

ROUTINE
Current routine leaves precious little time to work on Blue Comb (the origami game) – out of the house at 8 ish, drop off wife at work, kid at day care, cup of coffee, back to my desk for 9.30. Emails and admin, then a walk up the nearest hill for mandatory exercise. Suddenly half the day is gone and I’ve achieved nothing, so back to the desk for frantic hacking until a random number between 3 and 5 pm when I pick up the family again. I have a 4 day week, because 5 days at daycare seems a bit much for the offspring.
It would be awesome to have more time to devote to it, but I do regret the long hours I spent working in AAA, and I don’t want to make that mistake again.
I’m a one man team, which is great in terms of making precisely the thing I want, but does mean there are gaps in my abilities I have to creatively avoid. There’s also nobody to bounce ideas off or delegate tedious stuff to.

REALITY
I can’t imagine working for someone else or in a formal environment any more. I love the freedom and flexibility. Ancient Frog did well for me and still generates a bit of income, and I’ve had a couple of healthy awards & competitions so I don’t need to quickly create a smash hit just to survive. It’s great being able to take the time to explore just what the new game actually is. I get a fairly regular “this is going nowhere and I’m wasting my life” crisis, but I’m pretty sure that’s just part of the process.

TIPS
If you’re just starting, I think the best advice is to simplify and reduce. Whatever you’re planning, I can guarantee it’s too ambitious and won’t work. Try to create the absolute simplest thing you can imagine that’s still fun. I’ve been making games for 30 years, and I still always wildly underestimate how hard any given task will be to finish to an acceptable level of quality.

Alex May – Eufloria

9 Nov


Alex is the Technical Lead and Many-Hat-Wearer of Eufloria on PC, Mac, PSN and soon for iPad

BACKGROUND
I’m a professional drop-out. I was making games full time at Curve Studios and others for ten years before going rogue.

WHY
I wanted more creative control and to be more independent, to have made it on my own, that kind of thing.

ROUTINE
I’m still working on ports and patches for the game post-release. I work with my cat in my living room in a home office situation with a proper desktop and all that jazz.

REALITY
This is the real deal. Now all I need is more willpower to take control of my life – take breaks, start work at a sensible time, go out to see friends etc.

TIPS
Don’t let it take over – definitely maintain a good standard of living. Exercise, eat well, take breaks, talk to people on the phone or go see them. Don’t crunch unless you’ve got a deadline in a couple of weeks, otherwise you’re better off working normal hours. If you’re in a team make sure you have SUPER GREAT communication at all times. Get a cat.

Paul Taylor – Mode 7 games

9 Nov

Paul is co-founder of Mode 7 games, creators of Frozen Synapse and Determinance

BACKGROUND
I worked on our first title while doing an English degree; our Lead Designer Ian Hardingham had just finished his Computer Science course.

When I left university, I was looking for work and went for a few interviews, while still working unpaid and part-time on the game. I decided, after a few experiences, that I didn’t really want to work for someone else and that I might have an opportunity to seriously start a company with Ian.

Ian’s path was somewhat similar – he had done work experience at a big development studio and didn’t like a lot of things about it. He also had an idea for his own project and realised that the only way it could happen would be if he took the initiative himself.

WHY
Ian really wanted to see if it was possible to make his own game using really limited resources. He had done quite a bit of work with the Torque Game Engine at university and just spotted an opportunity to make use if it.

I wanted to get into game development simply because it was a career that would use all the different parts of my brain! I’ve always been interested in games, music and business, and I’d have to compromise at least one of those things in a more traditional role. Running an indie game dev studio just presents so many exciting and weird challenges – it keeps my life interesting!

ROUTINE
There are three of us in the company – Ian (who does all the design and most of the code), myself (biz dev, audio, writing, production, some art direction, some UI stuff) and Robin (level design, testing, support, admin assistant).

We also work with a group of freelancers: some local, some further afield.

Generally I work at home in Leamington, whereas Ian and Robin work together in our small office in Oxford. I travel down a couple of times a month.

My life is spent mostly emailing people and dealing with emails – at the moment I have to be quite reactive as we have a huge number of things going on. I basically sit down at my desk in the morning and do battle with my ever-expanding to-do list! My responsibilities shift according to what’s needed – I just spent two weeks on admin and accounting, for example, now I’m doing press stuff for our new project.

We try to have meetings whenever necessary – certain things have to be discussed in person.

REALITY
I certainly didn’t realise I would be doing this much “coordinating” of things, but I’m enjoying getting to grips with that.

My job has evolved from a lot of hands-on stuff early on during our first game (scripting, some level editing etc.) to a much more managerial situation, with Robin handling a lot of those tasks.

In terms of the creative things I do, I never would have expected some of the amazing things that have happened. Being asked to write the front page of Penny Arcade, hearing my music all over the place and getting so much attention for it, getting a 9/10 from Eurogamer and Edge…all of that stuff is way beyond things I could have imagined. The fact that I’m now good mates with developers and journalists I really looked up to years ago – that’s tremendously exciting.

I’m very driven by small experiences – shaking hands with Mike Morhaime from Blizzard or engaging in completely bizarre banter with John Romero – those are the things that I absolutely love. Working in games has given me so many of those little moments – it’s all gone way beyond my expectations to be honest.

TIPS
Number one thing anyone should do is read this: http://makegames.tumblr.com/post/1136623767/finishing-a-game That’s the best creative advice I’ve ever read.

I’d also say that you need to focus on one idea, and the idea needs to be totality of what you’re doing: don’t change it, don’t get swayed away from it and make sure that you finish it.

You need to either be competent across a range of disciplines, or you need to be so good at one thing that you attract other people to fill in the gaps.

Understand that you need gameplay first and assets second. If your game isn’t fun to play with art that you create yourself, it won’t be fun to play with flashy art. Don’t change the gameplay once you have the art – get the process right.

If you’re the kind of person who is motivated by competition, go and look at what’s out there and realise that the mark you have to hit is extremely high.

If not, then put the blinkers on and focus solely on your own creative drives.

I reckon that the time it will take to make any kind of money from a completely cold start in indie game dev is three years – if you’re banking on it taking less than that, you could be in serious trouble and you need to be careful. That’s just an opinion.

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