I had the great opportunity to help run the #CTRLDEV game development Q&A session with the letmakegames crew yesterday and On the panel were international and local industry professionals:
Clint Hocking - Far Cry2, Splinter Cell: Chaps Theory
Jill Murray - Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Dan Pinchbeck - Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Steve Gaynor - Gone Home, Bioshock Infinite
And Guy Gadney - The Suspect
Here’s some pearls of wisdom that I noted down:
With respect to running an indie studio:
1. You are your people. If 1 of 4 people sucks, that’s 25% of your productivity vs 1 out of 100.
2. You still have people you have to answer to, whether that’s the bank, the rent or if anything your players
3. You don’t have to convince your boss’s boss that the players might like it. You can just go directly to the players and do the real test
4. Don’t bring politics in your small company. Cultural fit is extremely important (see 1.)
5. You have to assume that your game won’t sell, and then, what’s your next plan
6. The mythical starving artist is bullshit. Don’t be that guy. Running an indie studio is running a business.
When dealing with publishers as an indie:
7. Get the game out in the form that allows you to get it out to your core audience and then you can use your track record to approach publishers to broaden your audience
8. You will always have to compromise but always ask yourself what you are willing to give away to keep your vision
When talking about studios in general:
9. Junior staff are your wildcards. You make plans assuming that they’ll scale slowly but if they pick up faster than expected, you’re left with some extra capacity that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
10. Being creative in game design is not about what you like. What you like in some other game isn’t necessarily good for the current game. Being creative is to find things that work well for the current game and support the other existing mechanisms
11. When applying for jobs, look for companies that want to interview you out rather than interview you in. i.e. if they hire you straight away without any sort of proper due diligence then something’s wrong. Strong talent usually seeks strong talent and will go to great lengths to screen out the best. That’s where you want to be.
All in all it was a very constructive event and a sobering but very true perspective on game development and the things you would probably want to be told before joining the industry.
Global Game Jam 2014
I was participating at Perth’s Global Game Jam over the weekend and it was my first time using Unity and Blender on a project. If you don’t know anything about gamejams, basically you have to create a game in 48hrs and if you add learning a new engine and 3d software on top of that, you’re in for a good challenge. Our project was called Alpha, a multiplayer game with emergent behaviours where players can change how the world behaves by performing actions. You can see our game page over at http://globalgamejam.org/2014/games/alpha.
While we didn’t get as far as we wanted (always happens at gamejams) I was pretty happy of the progress we made during the event and below is some examples of stuff that I created during the weekend.
First up was my first NPC character created only from cubes within unity. This was partly because I hadn’t figured out yet how to use blender and we really needed some assets fast. So I made cubes and fully animated them in unity. 4 animations: Walking, Idle, Attack and Death.
Second up was our monster here. Roughly a sort of bison-looking creature which was also mistaken twice for a cow/truck. Fine by me as a cow mated with a truck sound scary enough. This one was quite fun and quick to do. I had to create the back of it in Blender as Unity does not allow it’s basic shapes to be moved/carved easily. After a few attempts, it looked pretty aggressive. You can see it’s 4 animations: idle, attack, walking, death.
Last of the animated ones, we needed another creature, so I made a bird looking thing. As you can see, this was slightly more complex than the previous two and was quite fun to animate and create.
We also had to create some standard assets such as a base for the NPCs and some trees which you can see above.
All in all it was a pretty fun project and I learnt lots about how to use Unity’s animation engine as well as Blender’s basic modelling tools. Special thanks to Let’s Make Games for organising the event as well as our other major sponsors, Edith Cowan University and CASSA.
We’re thinking of continuing to develop this project a little further so if this sounds like your cup of tea and you’d love to see it come to light, sign up to receive some updates over at http://projectalpha.launchrock.co/
5 Reasons I Think You Should Share Your Ideas
So, last week was Let’s Make Games 2012 edition of What’s Up Pitches?! over at Spacecubed. WUP is an evening of lightning talks where members of the community have 3 minutes to pitch their game-related ideas to their peers. The event is fully free to attend and to participate and we also had a live stream of the presenters broadcast over the internet.
I was personally on the organising committee and in the buildup to the event, we received quite a few questions from people afraid that their ideas might be stolen if they decided to pitch. After all, if you’ve watched the movie The Social Network, the threat of stolen ideas and millions of dollars of potential loss is probably enough to make most people cringe at the idea of willingly and freely sharing their ideas with members of the public without a single Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in sight.
Now, before I go any further, I would like to state that this post reflects my opinion only and not that of Let’s Make Games as an organisation. I am also no lawyer, nor am I a serial entrepreneur with dozens of startups behind me or am I swimming in money from my ideas. I only have my own experience and that which has been shared with me but I hope to share it with you so that we both may know a little more about the topic. I have however been a graphic designer for 4 years now, worked at a games company for 2, launched my own iOS game with some friends and partners, been involved with quite a number of other creative projects and frequently read a lot of articles on game design, creativity, inspiration and productivity.
So now that I have my disclaimer out of the way, here’s a few reasons why I think you should be sharing your ideas a lot more freely than you might originally think:
1. Some ideas benefit more from being out in the open than staying in your mind. This is true for ideas that may require a critical mass to happen. That can be anything from getting people excited about a starting a new game, a games appreciation club or organising large-scale events. Some of these ideas may only live in the right ecosystem and letting people in on the idea may be the only way to start that ecosystem. I do think though that you should develop your idea a bit before throwing it out to the lions. An idea shared too early might end up with just confused looks while one shared at the right time should end up giving you a lot clearer perception of what people actually want or would be willing to do, thereby possibly saving you lots of time and energy.
2. Copyright does not protect your idea. You can only ever copyright the form of an idea, not the idea itself. What it really comes down to is the implementation of that idea. Facebook, Google+, mySpace, etc.. are all social networks, but they are also quite distinct in their own ways, possessing slightly different appeals and features. It’s more about the details and the philosophy behind the supporting ideas that surround your core one. You don’t have to give away all your implementation of your ideas in your pitches, you just need to give enough away that you might gauge people’s interest about specific parts. An interesting read semi-related to the idea of success being in the details can be found from iOS pictionary game Depict’s Post-Mortem where they also mention Charadium (another pictionary-style game) and keeping in mind the millions of dollars offered to OMGPop for Draw Something.
3. Creative development is 1% inspiration and 99% hard work! While you may think that this one idea you have is worth millions of dollars, it is worth nothing until you act on it. If you don’t have the drive to see your idea through then it does not really matter. Tim Colwill mentioned recently at our Indie Games Marketing Course that you will usually reap way more benefits in terms of exposure and feedback by letting people contribute in the early stages of development. You just have to be confident that it was your idea to start with and that you possess the vision to drive it to success better than someone else who might attempt to copy your idea. What you do with that 99% is really what will shape your idea to success, not the original 1%.
4. If you keep all your ideas to yourself, you’re slowly draining your stash of ideas. We all have a certain amount of ideas in our heads and sometimes we need to find some new inspiration from somewhere. If you don’t share your ideas and thoughts with other people, you are missing out on other people sharing their stash of ideas with you. You’ll be surprised at how many people will in fact be very happy to help you achieve your vision. Jay Wilson (Director of Diablo 3) had an interesting article recently describing how he viewed the designer’s role with respect to the team’s contribution.
5. Sharing ideas makes you accountable for them. As described in this article in the 99%, sharing your ideas may force you to take responsibility for them. To own them and refine them when people will inevitably find the flaws and drawbacks.
To close off this post, I will add that as with all philosophies, there is a reverse side of the coin. Not every idea should be shared with everyone. If your idea is very simple and easily replicated, you should get a headstart before pitching your idea to people. If you already have a strong internal team bouncing ideas around, you may not need outside opinions until your product is a bit more developed. Each project may be worth pitching at different stages of development, it’s up to your wisdom and experience to know when is a good time for a particular project.
Feel free to leave some comments if you agree or disagree :)