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