Posted on March 21st, 2009 1 comment
Billy, founder of Perfect Dork Studios, talks about starting his own game studio…
You can download the podcast here…
or listen to it here…
Teaser for Box Macabre…
Aim for the Brain Promo…
Hi. Welcome to the Indie Game Development Podcast show. How about you introduce yourself?
Billy: My name is Billy Garretsen, and I am the President and Founder of Perfect Dork Studios located out of Austin, Texas. Thank you for inviting me on the show today.
Action: How did you get into games?
Billy: My first experience, well, with games was when I was a kid. My parents had an Atari 2600. The first system that I owned was the NES, and I’ve just been a gamer ever since.
My first experience as a developer was when I was in college. I was attending the University of Texas here in Austin. I was 19 years old, and I got approached by a friend whose older brother was forming a game studio. It was a bunch of coders, and they needed someone to generate the creative content. They hired me on to just basically come up with a design document for a game that they thought would take three months.
What ended up happening was I got a chance to design my dream game, and it took 12 months. I learned a whole lot just kind of making mistakes and stumbling into it. That was a game for the pocket PC called Blade of Betrayal. It started off; we put it out and got really good press, really good reviews. Almost every review that we had for it was almost a perfect review. It got Action Game 2003, but it did not sell at all. We made zero money, so there were days that I thought I might have been done with it and that I was just going to be a game player, basically, be a watcher instead of a doer.
Billy: When you get down on yourself, it’s real easy to do that. But, I think right around the time I started getting into Guitar Hero, just my mind was exploding with different ideas for cool, simple rhythm games but with a twist.
Then, one day, I think this was in 2006 I had this concept, this concept for a game that I felt I had to do. I felt like I had to pursue this idea. The game was called Melody Strike, and it was a music rhythm game with a fighting game element to it. It’s not really at all like the battle modes in Guitar Hero.
If you’re familiar with the game, Puzzle Fighter, like the street fighter puzzle game where you are playing a puzzle game but down at the bottom of the screen the two little characters are fighting. Each character has got their set of special moves, depending on how you let the blocks fall.
Well, that was the main inspiration for this game called Melody Strike. You, basically, played a rhythm game that was like Guitar Hero, or like the interface actually looked more like Guitar Rhyman [sp]. On the bottom of the screen there were these little characters that were beating each other up based on your performance, and as you built up your special meter you had the ability to pull off super moves and stuff.
So the concept, the core concept behind it was: let’s play the game like a music game, but let’s think in our heads and strategize like we’re playing a fighting game because you don’t know. You don’t want to unleash your super move at the wrong time et cetera so you do have to strategize.
At that point I didn’t have any programs or anything. It was just me, just me and I hadn’t even formed Perfect Dork Studios yet, but I saw that as a great opportunity to form a company and hit the ground running with independent game development. In my mind I was like, you know what? I want this game… What platform do I want to be on? That’s one of the questions I always ask myself now after putting Blade of Betrayal on what I thought was the wrong platform at the time.
Now, I always think: what audience would like this, and what is the platform that makes the most sense? I was like, you know what, Xbox Live. I know that I’m probably not going to have a lot to put out of physical product, so let’s do a download game and what are the downloadable services?
Well, I knew that there were a few hoops you had to jump through to get a dev kit for the PlayStation network. At the time I didn’t even own a PlayStation 3, so I didn’t have a lot of interest but Xbox. I love my Xbox. I said, you know what, we’re going to make an Xbox Live Arcade title.
So, I went and did research on how to actually get that done. I got in contact with the Xbox Live Arcade team. My new directive was I’m going to build a prototype. I’m going to build a prototype. I’m going to submit it to the Xbox Live Arcade team. They are going to love it. We’re going to make the game and that was that, plain and simple.
OK, well, we got through making the prototype, and it’s a pretty polished prototype. We got a chance to show it at GDC in 2007 and, you know everyone who saw it, they thought it was kind of cool. I submitted it to Microsoft, and I didn’t hear anything back for about six weeks. At the time my whole future of my studio was kind of dependent on this game having funding and getting out there.
It’s funny because at the very last minute we added a feature again. Here’s me being a feature creeper, but we do learn from our mistakes. Anyhow, I was feature creeping. I was like, you know what? This is a music game, and people love Guitar Hero. Rock Band is about to come out. We have to have guitar support. We have to throw that in there.
Believe it or not, not very hard. Not very hard to actually implement the controller because the controller, all the buttons and everything, they are triggers based on what’s on the standard controller. So, implementing it wasn’t hard but this is what killed us because when we got our feedback, when they rejected it, the concept as far as moving forward with publishing it, the main reason was there were too many guitar games in their portfolio.
So, the fact that the game had guitar support actually killed it because they no longer saw it as just a music game or a hybrid music fighting game. They then only saw it as a guitar game, and then they focused on: well, there are not enough people with guitar peripherals so we can’t really market it as a guitar game.
I was really beating myself up because I said, if only they looked at it as what it was, which was a music game with a fighting element as opposed to a guitar game. We were not trying to cash in on the guitar craze. So, again a little bit of a disappointment because some real time and money went into this because I had to pay my programmer.
At the time it was just myself and my senior software engineer named Alan Uthoff, a brilliant guy. And then we brought on a couple more guys at the very end of that prototype to help finish it out. And so, my team grew from just myself to four guys in a span of six months just over this one prototype. Would you like me to continue?
Action: Well, I was going to ask, basically, is there any reason why you chose Xbox as compared to the Web as the platform or something that was, say, downloadable or even flash faced?
Billy: I believe the reason why I went with the console is because that’s just what I know. I haven’t really
developed internally in my own capacity or experienced a lot of Web games. And so, I felt more comfortable. My hands are, basically, tailored for a game pad so my designs are affected by that.
Designing a good Web game as far as how it controls and the optimization for it is not necessarily my strength so at the time I was just thinking, what do I know? You go with what you know, and what I know is console as far as from a game standpoint.
Also, at the time this was pretty early on into Xbox Live Arcade. There wasn’t a lot of content on there, and there was especially not any content like what I was going to create. So, that factored into it, too. I thought it was a good chance to get high visibility and also put on a platform that was a little in its infancy. At the time there might have been 40 games out, so it just seemed like there was room for a game like mine there.
Action: So, after that experience what was the next game, and what were you thinking in terms of strategy and where the studio was going to focus?
Billy: OK. So, this is where the big breakthrough happened as far as… This is where I made this big kind of change of direction. Being able to acknowledge your own limitations is a huge thing just for personal growth and also as a good designer. You first need to set goals that you can meet. That’s step one. I felt like I was kind of getting a little out of my league by seeking a publisher at that point because at the time I really didn’t have a lot of leverage, you know what I mean.
Why would they go with a little guy like me? I didn’t have a lot of proof under my belt that I could even put together the game. I understand from that perspective, so because of that I decided, you know what? I’m just a little tired of trying to convince people to believe in my product when I know it’s going to work, when I believe in the game, you know, and I know it’s going to do well.
I decided right then and there that I wasn’t going to seek a publisher anymore. From here on out, I’m going to try to do everything on my own. Sure, that means that you are going to have to go a lot smaller and not expect the big dollars but, at least, you have complete creative control. That’s one of the reasons why I formed my own studio as opposed to go out there and chase down bigger studios to hire me. I want to make the games I want to make and provide my particular point of view into the gaming space.
It was after Melody Strike was rejected by the Xbox Live Arcade publishing team that I put that project on hold. I said, you know, my heart doesn’t even like this project. This was just a project that I thought made a lot of good business sense. I obviously don’t regret going into that project because it’s what kick started the studio. It’s what got the ball rolling on where we are right now.
Instead, I took some time just by myself and did a little soul searching and just thought, what is the game I really want to make? What’s the game that I really want to put out there and share with everyone? And what are my particular points of view as far as an artist and a game designer?
That’s when the idea for our new XNA Creators Club game. It’s a game called Box Macabre. That’s b-o-x-m-a-c-a-b-r-e. So, macabre like, you know, morbid and stuff.
Billy: That’s where the idea for that came up. If I could just describe the game in a phrase, it’s imagine if Tim Burton made Metroid. That’s kind of what I tell people at first in order for them to put the game in a particular space.
It’s a high artistic vision mixed in with a lot of exploration and action. It’s a 3D game so it uses a 3D engine. It’s based off of the Torque X but it’s the new Torque X 3D engine from Garage Games. We’re using that to put this game together, but it plays like a 2D game. So, it’s 3D graphics, 2D game play. So, it’s a little retro but it’s a little new. That’s kind of…
My artistic visions always kind of go back to: let’s bring something familiar but let’s make it fresh. Let’s make it compelling to play these games that we feel like we’ve played a million times already. That brings in old fans of the retro gaming and also new fans who may not have experienced those games.
Anyhow, so the general idea behind this game as far as just from a design standpoint is I wanted to introduce, have a game where you started off very under powered and as you started getting more and more abilities that increased your movement ability and how you traverse the world that the game actually evolves.
So, you start off and the game is more of a platformer, like Mario, and then eventually you get a swing. You get an arm that you are able to extend out and grab surfaces and then swing similar to like a grapple beam or like Bionic Commando. Then, the game starts feeling a lot more like a Tarzan.
A little after that, you get the ability to shoot projectiles, like little fireballs. So, now the game feels a little bit more like Mega Man. As you are getting these new abilities, the general core of the game feels like it is evolving with it. So, you’re not just doing the same thing over and over and getting better stats when the game is actually changing ’til eventually in the game you get wings and you can fly and do everything else that you can already do.
Then, it feels more like a flying shooter. From beginning to end I’m trying to take the player on this kind of adventure where they feel really overwhelmed at first but by the end they are kind of like the masters of this world.
Action: Can you talk about, since you come from the art perspective, how you go about game design?
Action: And some of the challenges and whether or how you prototype because if a programmer is doing game design he may be able to program it or pick it up. What’s the strategy that you use?
Billy: OK. Well, first of all, I will go ahead and say that prototyping is one of the most important things anybody can do because it proves whether or not your concept can work without you have to get through months of development and lots of dollars to figure out that something is not going to work in the end.
Billy: How do we go about that? Well, let’s see, I will begin with a concept and then I will kind of start talking about it with the rest of the team and my lead designer, a guy named Brit Baker. He’s a great guy to bounce ideas off of, so a lot of times I’ll come up with a core idea that he will help refine. Then, I’ll take it to the programmer; so Alan Uthoff, as I said before and another guy named Charles Speer, who is my lead programmer, jack of all trades kind of guy.
This is another important thing. You have to have people that can wear multiple hats in a small outfit. Otherwise, things are going to be slow and you’re going to have a lot more trouble. So, definitely seek out people who have many talents. So, anyhow, it starts with me.
Then, it starts branching out to the other designer, and then it branches out to the programmers because we need to get their perspective on something. If I talk about a feature like the swing, for instance, to me I’ve used swing in some many games that I take for granted if it’s difficult or not to do, so I throw that idea out there and they kind of give me a reaction.
Based on the reaction, I know how much time I need to allot for them to try to prototype that because if they think it’s going to be hard, then I want to give them as much time as they can to work through it.
Once we establish the core game play of the game, like, for instance in Box Macabre you can walk around. You can jump. You can shoot things, and you can grapple things. So, once we establish those are our expectations for the game, well then we go into prototype mode where I’ll put together a really rough test, almost playground version of a level where it’s just basic primitives – blocks and platf
orms, nothing fancy, no textures or anything. You just put it together and then we start playing.
The programmers start programming in feature by feature, and then we’ll all sit down at these milestones. Usually, it’s every two weeks we have a milestone review, and we will look at the game and play it. Everyone has feedback and based on that feedback our next milestone is affected.
There is not this very defined road… There’s obviously a road map from beginning to end, but like the points along the way are not so clearly defined to where we can’t be flexible around things because things that you think are going to be easy end up being the hardest thing in the world. And things that really seem really complex on the surface are super easy. It’s really hard to account for all those things if you haven’t done them before.
Action: Is two weeks a long time for prototyping? I’ve read articles on how some people proposes either prototyping in a week or even a day or two days. How does two weeks work for you?
Billy: I think part of it in our particular case, there’s a couple of factors. One factor, it’s a big factor, is that we all do have day jobs so half of our development time is cut because we all have responsibilities elsewhere. I probably put in a full day at both jobs. I go to bed every night at four in the morning, but not all of us can do that. So, that slows down the process just a little bit.
Another factor is we’re using new technology to put this game together. Everything we’ve put together on this game is based off of the Beta of Torque X 3D, that, I think, Garage Games made available last summer. This is an engine that’s actually not even done. It’s not even fully released yet so there are certain technical hurdles. There’s certain things that are going to be included in the engine that aren’t yet, so my guys are having to do a lot of custom engine work to get the results that we want.
It is not just as easy as knowing what the task is and then just doing it. There’s concrete walls that we have to either break through or bypass almost every step of the way. I think the best thing to do there is just if you know it is going to happen, it won’t be a surprise. So, just always assume that there’s going to be speed bumps and things that are going to try to get in your way. You’ve got to be flexible, you know.
Action: Once you finished that game, what happened then?
Billy: Which one, Box Macabre?
Billy: Box Macabre is actually currently still in development. What we completed which was a huge accomplishment for my team, in particular, because none of us have made a game with a 3D engine before. We all have a 2D background. What we accomplished really was a game that felt like it belonged in the 2D era except we brought it to life in a way that…
Other games are using 3D graphics to mesh with 2D game play, but we actually incorporate the 3D. It’s almost like-do you know how in Paper Mario you can flip the world to a different axis on the fly? We have elements like that in this game, except you never leave your axis, but you are able to rotate the camera and explore the world around you and see things that initially weren’t visible just by moving the camera around and stuff. There’s other ambient things that we’re able to make the world feel more alive because it’s in 3D.
We put together this prototype. It’s a three level prototype of the game in about three months time, and our deadline was last GDC, so GDC 2008 in Austin, Texas. And our goal was to show it to Garage Games and try to get some feedback from them and support.
Well, what ended up happening, we finished this prototype, maybe, two days before GDC, and we show up on the day of the Expo where Garage Games was setting up and they let us load the game on one of their laptops. It was getting a lot of recognition. It was getting a lot of attention from just people walking by and just seeing it.
I really think that Garage Games, they noticed that we were using their technology to do something that it probably wasn’t intended to do because a lot of people use the Garage Games 3D engines, at least, to make FPSs and/or racing games.
Billy: We’re making a platform, a 2D platform with it, and so we’re doing the least obvious approach. Ever since GDC in 2008 when we got a chance to actually meet the Garage Games people in person and they got a chance to see the game, we have been in constant communication with them.
They have expressed that they are willing to let us show the current progress of Box Macabre, the full version not the prototype, at GDC in March coming up in San Francisco.
Just that alone, making that prototype, has created a relationship with a partner that can really help us out, and we help them out. We make their engine look good and help other people be encouraged to use their products. At the same time they are able to give us a whole bunch of free press and marketing, so it’s a win-win.
Action: How useful would you say being able to interact with another company at that level, at a closer level because I know you mentioned that you wanted to avoid publishers based upon experience in the past? How is this experience then?
Billy: Phenomenal, to say the least. It’s nice to know that you’ve got support, that’s for sure. Garage Games has never forced itself upon us, and they’ve never approached us to try to come in and swoop in and take our idea. They want to let us run the ship how we want to run it, and that’s their MO as well.
They want to give developers all the freedom that they need to make their vision, and so in general I think it’s really important to have friends in the industry because they are the ones that can give you the feedback and constructive criticism that I think can really help you improve your product as long as that mutual respect is there.
So, yeah, I’m not looking for a publisher or anything but what Garage Games is providing is they are providing tools and support to help us make the game we want to make. In return, we are giving them a great game that, basically, everywhere that you see the name, Box Macabre, aside from Perfect Dork Studios you see powered by Torque X and the Garage Game logo.
So, there’s just this whole joint marketing thing going on, and they just revamped their website, actually, garagegames.com. If you look under their engines and their console engines, and if you click the Torque X button we’re actually featured, our game. They have screenshots from the prototype, and they have our trailer that you can also see at boxmacabre.com.
That was really an unexpected twist that I embrace wholeheartedly because we just want to help each other out. If you can have friends like that, that you’re making in the industry that you’re just helping each other out, that’s totally priceless.
Action: Since you are using the Torque engine, can you convert it to a downloadable then or a Web enabled version, or how does that work?
Billy: That would be a better question for my technical staff.
Action: Is that something you guys have looked into, or are you going to?
Billy, Well, yeah, I talked to Brett Seyler over there. He’s the VP of, I believe, sales or product development. I forget the titles. But, at GDC he took a lot of time to talk to me about where to go from there, and that was totally great for him to do that.
He is really interested in getting more titles for the Instant Action platform that they’ve currently started up.
Billy: So, it’s Web browser games that all you do is you go. You sign up for it, and you download. It’s a plug-in for your browser, both PC and Mac compatible. You sit there and you play like popular titles, like Think Tanks and Marble Blast.
You could play for free, and apparently all you have to do to get your g
ame up there is there’s a certain tool that you get through Garage Games that can convert your project to that service. I’m sure there’s some other back end stuff in there like scoreboards and leader boards and networking because they have chat enabled and everything into that service. I’m sure you have to program it to your game.
He expressed, what about bringing Box Macabre to Instant Action? I knew deep down that it wasn’t right for that particular venue or forum.
Billy: Just because the game is a single player adventure action game. I really think that when you are online you can have plenty of fun by yourself, but I really think that online is largely a multi player, both competitive and cooperative forum. I just really didn’t think Box Macabre would do as well with that audience.
Now, that’s not to say that I am leaving out the PC audience completely because since we’re creating Box Macabre for the XNA Creators Club we are using XNA 3.0 as the framework, and that can also be deployed to PCs. So, when Box Macabre goes on sale for the Xbox, the XNA Creators Club this October, we are also going to simultaneously release the PC version on a number of downloadable channels.
And we’re looking into Steam and Greenhouse, and Brett even offered to put the game up on Garage Games own store. There’s no shortage of places where you will actually be able to find Box Macabre, both on console and on your computer.
Action: While you are working on this game, are you working on any other games, too or is it primarily…
Billy: Oh, absolutely. Box Macabre is the persistent game that I go back to all the time, but putting one game out a year is not part of my current business model, my current business strategy. Even if the game is a hit, I just don’t really think it is going to generate enough money for us to go full time with the studio. That really is the end goal here.
Billy: I imagine at any independent studio the end goal is to work on games full time, no longer working for an outside party for most of the day and doing this at night in your basement or something. The idea is to go full time. Part of my business strategy is to continue to put out releases throughout the year leading up to the big release, which our big release this year is Box Macabre.
In between there, there are two, for sure, titles coming out with a couple in the works. I am working with Aaron Murray from Tandem Games which I believe you interviewed him just before this interview. So, that’s a nice coincidence. Aaron’s a great guy and I met him at the Independent Game Conference last November here in Austin, Texas. We just kind of hit it off real quickly off the bat. Without really knowing it, I’d played some of his games before. I played an adver game that he made for VMC Labs, so I commented on how much I liked that.
Well, he brought me in on this new game that he is doing called Bumble Tales which I like to call – It’s like Bejeweled meets Sin City but for casual players that like strategy games.
Billy: So, it’s like you’re a playing Match Three game but at the same time you’re kind of building up resources to build a little city on the side. It’s awesome, I mean, I fell in love with the concept as soon as he started telling me about it. Just as quickly as that, the numbers made sense as far as when he wanted the game to come out, what platforms he wanted to come out on. Like, he’s doing it through Big Fish Games. He is going to release it through that portal on PC probably around May of this year.
Billy: I started doing iPhone development. I said to Aaron; I said, hey Aaron, what do you think about the iPhone? How about I license the title from you, and I publish the iPhone version of Bumble Tales through Perfect Dork Studios? It didn’t take any convincing at all. Immediately, as I said it, he was like, it’s a good idea.
Right now, we are simultaneously working on the PC version and the iPhone version of Bumble Tales. What’s great about it is that I’m creating all the art ads myself, so I know I basically don’t want to over think this and I’m going to take the art assets for the huge resolution game and make it more compact for the iPhone version.
That’s all happening simultaneously, so they don’t call them Tandem Games for nothing, right? We’re building both of these games in tandem.
Billy: Let’s see what else. I wanted to add there that the iPhone version is coming out at the same time as the PC, and here is where this really sweet trifecta comes together. The PC version of Bumble Tales is being created with the Torque game engine by Garage Games, and the iPhone version is getting created by using iTorque that Garage Games has recently put out.
Right now, we are almost an exclusively Torque driven studio. Nothing makes Garage Games happier than to hear that their products are making people’s dreams come true, right? Upon hearing all of these details that just showed our conviction to continue to support them and their continuing to support us. A lot of things just fall into place like that. You start looking back and saying, that makes good business sense, you know. I’m going to bring all these forces together to make sure that my product has the maximum success chances, right?
Action: Yeah. Can you talk about, if there a difference in the iTorque engine versus the normal Torque engine? Is it pretty easy to port between the two or how’s that, how does that work?
Billy: I’m pretty new to iTorque, but my programmer on iTorque, a new guy that I just brought in, a guy named Dylan Sanders; he is already able to deploy to the iPhone using stuff through the engine. My guess is that if you know what you’re doing, you can get your game running.
What I initially heard, though, was that it was a little tough to get that engine running on the device, but the reason why I went in that direction definitely was because I wanted to cross market with Garage Games on this title as well as Box Macabre.
Billy: Also, since Aaron had built a lot of things using Torque Script I believe those things carried over so a lot of the source code, I think, is going to be able to plug right in. Then I think and I’m sure someone is going to correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that what you do is like you’re programming using Torque Script but then it outputs to something that Xcode can understand.
Action: I see.
Actually, again, I’m not going to claim to be a programmer. I try to understand as much of it as I can, but to my understanding that is how it works. Theoretically, it should be a very easy port.
Action: You guys have also released an iPhone game already, right?
Billy: Yes, and my apologies for not mentioning it sooner. It’s a game that we did not develop internally, but we were hired as the creative outsource. It’s a game called Aim for the Brain, the zombie whacking game, and that was developed by Westttlake Interactive.
Billy: If you do your homework, Westlake actually has a long history of working on Mac products. He’s a co-founder and also he was the lead co-programmer on the project, Phil Sulak. It was supposed to be like he was going to be able to jump right in and make the game, but we came to find out that even people with a lot of experience on Macs can still have trouble with the iPhone platform. But, we learned a lot through that project.
Anyways, to tell you a little bit about the game, it is essentially like a souped up version of Whack-A-Mole so it’s super simple. Zombies pop up from behind things. There are a number of games out there that have this same general premise.
What I’ll tell you about this game is that, well, it’s better but I say that not because I was part of it. I say it because it’s the one that I actuall
y go back and play as a gamer because you get into a Zen like you do in Guitar Hero where you’re getting notes right and you keep going and you don’t want to break your streak. You keep getting multipliers. That’s how this game feels.
It’s very easy to write it off as a very dumb, simple Whack-A-Mole game, but the actual design behind it is pretty awesome. A real shot out to my friend, Tony Salvaggio, who did that. Believe it or not, he writes for Tokyo Pop.
Action: Was there any other challenges to getting this game out on the iPhone or any surprises?
Billy: Yes. One major surprise was just the enrollment process to become an iPhone developer.
Action: Yeah, it seems pretty strict.
Billy: It’s strange how it comes across as being very, very strict and exclusive, yet you’ve got a lot of shovelware coming out with a platform. When you have a fart sound machine in the top 25 to 50 apps constantly, you start to wonder where the content control and the quality control really lies.
The process was a little tedious because you would, basically, sign up. You would do a lot of online forms, send it in and you, basically, just wait until they get back to you. They make it seem like it takes a week or less but, you know, in our case I know that Westlake Interactive couldn’t even get enrolled for probably two months or more. There was a lot of mix up, and there was a little bit messy getting enrolled.
So, the game was done. The game was done in November some time, but we couldn’t even release it until December because Westlake wasn’t able to get enrolled. If you’re not enrolled, you have no access to the portal where you can actually upload the game itself.
Action: And were there any other challenges to releasing the game, or just…
Billy: And so, another benefit that you have for developing for iPhone is that there are only a few devices that exist in that product line so testing on it is very easy, right?
Billy: I remember it being very, very difficult to create the certificates of permissions to get my particular device to actually be able to debug the game. I think we spent the better part of a day just going through the certification process for my device, just trying to register my device and trying to get like the keychain working well with it. I think that it’s not as plug-and-play as a lot of people might expect is really the core of what I am saying.
Now, having to go through it a few times because I’ve hooked up some certificates on devices for my own internal development, that the documentation is all there. Apple is really good about documenting things, so I’m certainly not knocking them. But, I will say that they’re definitely putting themselves out there as very plug-and-play, but you still have to know a good deal about what you’re doing to actually create a game and get it to deploy to the device.
Action: There are stories of people making apps in a day or two and making 10 or 20,000 a day or something like that.
Action: Did that inspire you or motivate you to, maybe, just focus primarily on iPhone or how was it out there?
Billy: I’ll be honest that I have mixed feelings about those stories. I want nothing more than the little guy to have his day. That is for sure because I am currently a little guy trying to have my day, and I believe it’s coming some time soon. I try not to get too deep into it, but I do approach all the projects that I do as this is me spending my personal time creating something. And I want to create something that is very compelling and is not going to just be forgotten in a day.
When I hear about the success stories for certain products that… I really don’t want to name names, but I think everybody has an idea of the kinds of products I’m talking about that are just not games.
Action: It would allow you to go full time, so that’s the balance.
Billy: It’s true. It’s true. It’s true but then do I do that? Do I establish my studio as the company that made that game, and then when I make something compelling the serious people that I am trying to attract, are they going to pay attention to me or is that going to taint me forever?
Those are the kinds of thoughts I have because there’s a lot of things that I think, I can do a quick cash-in on this or I can do a super quick development and cash in on that. Or, basically, just try to do what I think has plagued a lot of other systems, too, is just throw tons of content out there and just hope something sticks.
All you are doing right there is you are perpetuating this cycle of saturation of the marketplace. I don’t think that’s going to create a healthy marketplace. It’s exactly what happened to the pocket PC which was a reason why our initial game, Blade of Betrayal, didn’t do so well. It was because there was thousands and thousands and thousands of games for the device. How do you get seen? How do you get visibility?
I believe that is where the iPhone is going right now. If it doesn’t get any kind of regulation soon, it’s definitely going in that direction. It’s going to be so saturated that even the greatest games are not going to sell as well as they should because people aren’t hearing about them People aren’t seeing them, and people just have way too much. The choice is great obviously, but I think you know what I’m getting at, anyhow. At one time I’m like, I’m very happy for those guys.
Billy: But on the flip side of the coin, I get really worried because when it’s my time to release my products that I put a lot of time and effort into making sure they are of top quality if anybody is even going to care or see those games.
Action: Can you talk about, because a lot of it sounds like the apps that you’re working on for the iPhone will take a little longer to release and the rush is now. How do you balance the fact that the opportunity is now with the need to take time to do it?
Billy: So, you say the rush is now and I would actually…
Action: Actually, the rush supposedly was before, but I guess it keeps on getting better. Supposedly, the rush was last summer.
Billy: Yeah, well anything that got out last year probably did well, even if it was bad just because you didn’t just have the competition. You didn’t have everyone trying to get in on the marketplace, and people were experimenting with a lot back then. And a lot of times it worked, you know. People were selling games for higher price points.
I think a game like Enigmo costing 99 cents now, that’s crazy to me because that’s a full game. Same thing, basically, with all Pangea software. Its titles, these are old Mac games that are full scope games. You can get them for a buck ninety-nine, 99 cents. It’s absurd to me. As a consumer I think it’s great because I get all these great games for super cheap. As a developer I think that people, if this game were coming out on a disk, people would be paying fifty bucks for this game. Yet, on the iPhone they expect it to cost five dollars or less.
That kind of factors into why I won’t go full time in iPhone development. It’s because I know that it’s necessary to move forward. I need to have some skews out there on the device, but I know it’s also good to branch out and diversify.
Action: Did you also explore different business models, you know, instead of just straight up selling it – using advertising or something else like that?
Billy: I’ve been approached about things like that, about doing cross promotion through the games and having advertising make the money for me and sell the game. Again, it’s one of those things where I’m not comfortable enough, like my experience in the development, in game development. I have a lot more experience in history in making games, and I’m just now this past year getting into the whole business side of things. And that’s just on
e model that I’m not familiar enough with to jump head first in, so perhaps in the future.
Aaron touched on a really good thing in the last podcast where it comes down to where I want to make games my way. I really don’t want to involve a third party that’s going to try to direct the game in any way that is contrary to my beliefs and my vision for it.
That’s not to say that it’s my way or the highway. Our games, Perfect Dork Studios games, are the culmination of everybody’s input. Because we’re so small, everyone’s voice is very loud. If we’re going to have a healthy team, we’re obviously not going to ignore someone’s criticism or comments on something. I’m definitely open to collaboration, but I think that when you start bringing in a third party who their number one goal is to make money and then make a good product second, that’s the opposite of where I am.
That might sound a little, I don’t know, naïve or whatever but that’s how I approach things. I go about making a good product first, and then I worry about how it’s going to make money because I think good products will sell, you know. You have to market the well, but you can market a bad product and have it sell great. But, if you market a great product and people fall in love with it, you’re building a relationship with your audience that can last a decade; you know what I’m saying.
Action: Sure. You mentioned that you have your full time job, and then you’re working on this kind of as almost another full time job.
Action: What convinced you to attend conferences? You know, some of the other part-time indies I know, they’re like, well I do this for fun or as a hobby. Investing in a conference, that’s still a decent investment.
Billy: Oh, yeah. Well, if you’re talking dollars, yeah it’s a big dollar investment because all those dollars for the passes and the dinners and all that stuff you could put towards developing your game. I just think that… I look back at it this way. Had I not gone to those conventions, I wouldn’t have met the contact at Microsoft that I was able to submit Xbox Live Arcade game to. I wasn’t able to meet the people at Garage Games face-to-face and have them know me and trust me with well representing their engine.
I wouldn’t have met Aaron Murray. I wouldn’t have… The composer on Box Macabre is a guy that I just ran into playing Pong on the show floor at GDC. A guy named Drew Sigler ends up being one of the most talented musicians ever, but I would never have met him or even known about him had I not attended these conferences.
I’m privy to knowing that this kind of serendipity can happen, but I think the main reason initially why I chose to go to these conferences is: well, in the long run I want to be part of this industry to whatever capacity I can be in. In order to be successful in that, you have to know people. It’s not like I was just going out there self-promoting, but I was going out there and trying to learn as much as I could about…
Through the seminars I was able to learn a little bit more about how to approach publishers, if that was the road I wanted to go to or learning about using a middle ware engine, or even learning about the different downloadable forms for your game.
These are things that you learn from experts that you would never learn anywhere else. It’s kind of like, you make that personal investment, both time and money investment to go out there and be full force to soak up everything you can as far as the education and then meet as many people and network out as much as you can. There’s nothing like meeting somebody face-to-face because when someone can put a face to your name – I’m almost sad that this isn’t a video podcast.
Billy: But, if somebody can put a face to your name and they can see the sincerity in your face and kind of the passion in the way you talk and everything, I think that’s what really creates these good collaborations. I think that in the independent forum you have a lot of people like you and myself. I started off trying to do everything on my own, but I’m seeing now that partnering up or doing collaborations or co-developments really, really helps out and is probably more likely to be successful.
Action: What conferences have you found worthwhile to attend?
Billy: GDC so far has been the number one that I’ve gotten the most benefit out of.
Action: The one in Austin or the one in San Francisco?
Billy: The one in Austin. This March is the first one in San Francisco I’ll be attending, and I’m taking my entire team with me. That’s part of their bonus. I’m going to fly them out to San Francisco, and they’re really excited about that. It’s a lot of motivation to get us in gear and try to get this thing put together in time to show a really good demo.
Yeah, I’m primarily speaking about the Austin GDC. It’s really convenient because I’m based out of Austin.
Billy: It’s just a drive down the street to the Convention Center. It’s not as big of a money investment because I don’t have to fly or pay for lodgings, but I invited my team as well for that.
Action: You mentioned Independent Game Conference. How was that?
Billy: That’s IGC. I believe, just like GDC, they have located in different places throughout the year.
Billy: I think the next one is in Boston, so from Austin to Boston. It’s very small. It’s not like GDC at all as far as the scope of it, but what you get is you get a much-I don’t know-a much more intimate atmosphere. So, it’s not so loud. It’s not so crowded. Their Expo room was of the size to where everybody that was showing off, whether it be hardware or software, that they got a lot of visibility because there just wasn’t a whole bunch of signage and a bunch of loud noises.
Basically, EA was in the middle of it trying to get everyone’s attention. So, it was a much more intimate forum. We’re talking about 200 people, all developers, and all the panels, again, were other developers. Basically, it’s developers teaching developers, and it’s not so much like people there trying to do publishing deals and stuff although I did meet the guy who is the head of the PlayStation network.
He actually informed me a little bit about what it would take to get a game out on a platform, so actually later on this year we are considering bringing Box Macabre to the PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation network. The biggest hurdle there is definitely deporting the code because XNA is a Windows based framework that will not run on PlayStation 3. They have their own proprietary thing.
Billy: If it’s a project that will take more than six months, it will be really hard to convince me to do it. I’d just rather make a brand new title, like a whole new IP and establish it on the PlayStation network or something versus working on the same game again for six months. Basically, I would feel like I would be losing momentum at that point.
Action: What are some of the other challenges of running a studio while you’re also doing a full time job?
Action: How do you balance that? There are some indies who are listening to this podcast and that’s what they are doing, too. How do you actually make a lot of progress? You have to have accountability at work.
Billy: Yes, I am not quite sure if this is a blessing or a curse, but so far I’ve been able to run off of very little sleep.
Billy: That’s one. Seriously, this week I think I went to bed at four o’clock in the morning. Last night I went to bed at five o’clock in the morning, and then I wake up at eight thirty and I go put in eight hours a day at my other job which is also doing art for casino gaming. I’m also a production illustrator at another game company, so I basically live, breathe and sleep game develo
I’ll say that if you are in a situation like this it makes you fast, like I’m basically practicing all day long for the job that I do all night long. And I feel like I can do things twice as fast as I used to than probably a lot of people, and that’s not a quality thing. There are a lot of artists that are a lot more talented than I am, but I know the process of creating game art so well now that I’ll bypass a lot of wasted time and second attempts and stuff.
First of all, you have to be able to sacrifice that kind of time and maybe a little bit of your health to put in the time. That’s the thing. If you want to make a good product, you have to put in the time. I don’t know if anyone else is partnering in another game studio and trying to do game development on the side, but I was able to get permission from the company I work for to pursue this on the side because it’s not a conflict of interest because I’m not going into the gambling space.
Billy: So, they saw that as being completely safe and so I don’t have to be sneaky, you know what I mean. If I have to write an email or something from my day job that pertains to Perfect Dork Studios, I don’t really think anyone is going to cry or cry foul.
Billy: But, it does make it hard to do stuff like meetings. Most of my meetings either have to happen late at night or on the weekends. Basically, all my weekends are like double the time to work. I don’t really have any time off ever, so that’s another thing that you have to understand. If you really want to make it work while having a day job, you definitely have to learn how to start sacrificing your time to make it happen.
There’s a lot of stamina required and you just have to put in the hours, right? It’s really hard to have daytime meetings. Obviously, I was going to say if a task has to be done and delivered to someone in the daytime that’s incredibly challenging because you don’t have those hours to do things. Coordination is a big challenge.
Action: Compared to previous years, you’re releasing a lot more games this year. What changed that in terms of how you manage your time or your development process so that you’re able to release a lot more games this year, say, compared to last year or the year before?
Billy: I think being able to help is what changed that.
Action: When you say help, are you talking about people helping your studio? Are there other people working at your studio?
Billy: Yeah, yeah. I’ll subcontract other artists now. I used to handle everything on my own. We’re talking everything from interface to 3D modeling to marketing materials like flyers and websites and stuff. Everything was handled by just myself on top of trying to manage the team and the scheduling. If I want to be a good boss, I have to be there for my team when they need me, when they have questions or when they have issues that pop up that they need your input in stat, you know what I’m saying?
Billy: So, I was able to manage that when I only had one game project that we were working on which was last year. Box Macabre was the only thing on our plate. And then starting with Aim for the Brain, that basically opened up a floodgate of new iPhone projects that we started up.
My time went from almost nothing to-I don’t even understand how I can pull it off. Hopefully, my team’s not listening and getting nervous. It’s a constant reminder that every minute counts, and there are certain things that I feel that I have to do in order for the product to be good, in order for myself to feel fulfilled. If there are tasks that I can delegate to another artist that I trust, then I do it and I’ve finally been able to come up with the means to do so as far as financially because I definitely like to pay the people that help me out.
Billy: If you can swing it, yeah, if you can afford it, bring on help because these are the people that are going to free you up to the job that you are actually supposed to be doing. I think I traded Photoshop in for Excel or something because I spent more time doing schedules and looking over our milestones than I’m actually doing the art. There’s still a lot of key art that I’m in charge of.
Action: And you made this transition then last year?
Billy: I made the transition over the holiday so this is real recent.
Billy: And so far, so good. I am anticipating a little more free time after March. After GDC is done we’ll have a little down time. Blade of Betrayal is actually releasing at the beginning of March so that development is at its tail end right now. It’s not like I’m going to have four concurrent projects on all the time. I am actually looking forward to having a little more free time to devote to the other projects.
Action: Last year, how big was your team then working on that one project?
Billy: OK, so Box Macabre initially was myself and three others; myself, my lead game designer who also has a lot of experience as a lead in QA. He’s actually able to QA the design before we even make stuff. So, before we even do things, he can say, you know what? You are going to have trouble with this so we might want to rethink that. It’s really nice to have someone who can troubleshoot before even making certain decisions. It was myself, the designer and two programmers back last fall.
Since then, I’ve hired a concept artist, a very talented artist named Helen Zhu, who I also just ran into at GDC. It’s amazing how you just run into people that are just perfect for your project.
Billy: Now, there’s a concept artist on board, as I said before. We have a composer on board which is really nice because traditionally in the past I’ve done all the music as well. The particular sound for Box Macabre is a style that I’m just not really good with. I do a lot of techno rock, and Box Macabre is a lot more classical. It’s orchestral and kind of Danny Elfman like, so it’s really just not up my alley.
Six people are part of Box Macabre right now, and then I just brought on the iPhone developer so now we’re looking at a total of seven people. It went from two at the beginning to four and now seven in a span of, I guess, since the beginning probably about two years now. I would say pretty rapid growth, considering our projects.
Action: Yeah, I was just going to mention that. You mentioned that you were working with other programmers. Did you find that accountability or the fact that you and the programmers were responsible to each other one of the reasons that you were able to do this in addition to your full time job?
Billy: Absolutely. You have to have people that are self-motivated and just as ambitious as you are. Otherwise, you are going to expect a lot out of them that they won’t deliver.
Action: How are you then balancing the fact that they also have other time commitments besides this and their job?
Billy: Well, I would say that a little goes a long way. I do everything that I can in my power to make my team happy. Sometimes, it’s through money but more often than not it’s not about money. It’s more about giving them the chance to contribute more than just what their title says.
Everyone deep down has an artistic vision, and so on our projects I allow them the chance to really be not only the master of their own craft but really contribute to what everyone else is doing. Any time they need anything, I’ll get them stuff whether it’s like books or resources, tools. I take them to conventions.
Basically, I do everything I can in my power to let them know that they’re not just hired guns to me, that they are a team and that we’re a team moving forward together. I think that when people feel that way it’s really easy for them to go above and beyond and be ambitious and be self-motivated because they know that if they l
et one of us down they let all of us down. Nobody wants to be that person.
Everyone cares about the project as if it were their own because it is. That’s how, I believe, I keep them motivated plus these are guys that this is the kind of game that none of us have ever done before. There’s a lot of breakthroughs that we’re all making as far as our experience and education that pushes us forward. There’s nothing like learning new things to help motivate you to learn more new things. Once you have a new toy to play with, you could be at it for weeks.
Action: Can you talk about the benefit of working with a programmer in person versus just contracting it out somewhere else?
Billy: You can get immediate results. For instance…
Action: Have you tried remote development, or are all these people pretty much local?
Billy: Yeah. Actually, the first company I worked with for Blade of Betrayal, at the time they were called HBT Interactive. They have since changed their name to Conjured Realms. They’re based out of Houston, and they’re still based out of Houston.
From day one I was an Austinite. I had to work off site almost that entire development. There would be times I would drive into Houston for long weekend sessions where we would be in the same room. I tell you what? We got more done in two days being in the same room together than we would have in the two weeks that we spent apart.
That’s because as soon as a change gets made we can all experience it. We don’t have to wait for someone to get around to write an email or uploading a build to the build server, or what if a build is available but I’m off doing an errand and I can’t even see it until three o’clock in the morning and that programmer is waiting on evac on me before moving forward. All that time he could have been working. Instead, he is waiting on me.
Instead of that, when you can be in the same space with somebody, you can give them immediate feedback. You can get almost instant results, and you can explain yourself in a way that sometimes is hard in writing. For instance, if I say I want the jump to feel more like this. If I write that out and then the programmer understands it in a way that I didn’t mean, I’m going to get results that I don’t want which is more time wasted.
Once you’re in synch with a programmer and you guys speak the same language, I think it’s a little easier to spread yourselves apart. That’s why I keep working with the same guys because we’re getting that. I can say one thing, and they can understand the full weight of it.
Action: Can you talk about the transition you encountered as you shifted from artist now to more of a producer?
Billy: Well, it felt pretty organic. It’s not like I went to business school or game producer college, but I feel that just being a lifelong gamer and also someone who is technically knowledgeable about how to make them, it felt like a natural progression. It’s almost like my father, for instance. He is a project manager at an engineering company, but he started off welding bolts on pipes.
Billy: Because he saw it from the ground level he was able to take that with him as he moved up, and his understanding of his craft is so absolute that no one can really question his authority on it. And so, that’s how I am starting to feel where because I know the actual production side of it as far as creating assets and implementing assets and things like that. I now know how to speak to others that are going to be creating those assets for me, if you follow.
Billy: The thing that I’ve had to learn more than anything is just really time management, and learning how to prioritize is a big thing. I can’t stress it enough how much you just have to be flexible because if you set an expectation that something has to be a certain way or else it can’t work, then it probably won’t work.
You have to leave yourself a little bit of room to move around problems, you know what I’m saying? A lot of times you can have a lot of happy accidents because one feature that you think could be a core feature, if it doesn’t work, it might lead to something that actually ends up being more fun.
Action: How do you keep up then with the industry and changes, upcoming games and stuff like that?
Billy: Oh, well, through podcasts.
Billy: I get a lot of news that way. I am a frequent visitor of sites like Takotu and Joystick. I’ve got an account through Game Press, so as official press release stuff comes out I get it all the time.
Billy: And I’m pretty up to speed with-I would say-the industry in general. Actually, oddly enough, I spend more time paying attention to the big guys and not as much as the indies.
Action: Oh, really.
Billy: I probably should spend more time because I’m an indie myself, but I get informed on a daily basis through a number of Web publications.
Action: What other podcasts do you listen to?
Billy: Well, unfortunately, Oneup, all of those guys got laid off but that was my favorite podcast, just one of FM and one of yours.
Billy: Because they brought the news but they also brought their personalities. I think that’s really important as a developer because we’re unique and we’re distinct among the AAA titles as far as we can do things that they can’t. Our personalities come out through our games.
Billy: And so, if people like our games chances are they like us. I think building that personal relationship as a developer is really important because the main thing that I really want to develop is that Perfect Dork Studios is a really versatile company, like we’re going to make all sorts of different types of games but that they are all going to be good. I want to deliver on that promise, and every single time someone sees that Perfect Dork Studios is attached to something, I want them to understand that means it’s going to be a good product.
Action: What do you see then in store for the future of your studio?
Billy: OK, well…
Action: So, you have these upcoming titles.
Billy: Yeah, on the docket right now the definite plans are we are releasing Blade of Betrayal on iPhone in March of this year followed by Bumble Tales on PC and iPhone in May. Then, if nothing else comes up we are releasing Box Macabre on both PC and XNA Creators Club in late October is our target. If we can squeeze it in there I am really, really trying to do a smaller side story, Box Macabre for iPhone, because anyone who wants to play that game I want to be able to give them an opportunity to do so.
It’s really less of a money generating project and more of I want people to be exposed to the game and to its world, and I want them to fall in love with the character. Hopefully, it inspires them to, if they have an Xbox, jump on and buy the full big daddy version or jump on the PC and buy it. Those are the definite things that are happening this year.
You see that there’s a nice stretch in the summertime where we don’t plan to have any releases. That’s because I want to give us as much time as we need to really make Box Macabre fulfill its potential because I really don’t think there’s a title like it on the platform on XNA Creators Club.
Billy: I really think that it’s going to be a game that players are going to want to play, especially fans of 2D adventure games, such as Super Metroid and the Castlevania Symphony of the Night, so basically like Metrovania type games.
It kind of goes similarly in that formula, but it’s a new IP and it’s a different world in those games. We do things differently, and so I think it is going to be familiar as far as your particular objectives, but the overall experience, I think, is going to be fresh.
fans of those types of games are just really going to love it because I’m a fan of those types of games and I love Box Macabre. It’s not even because I’m making it. I’m making the game that I love because it’s the kind of game I want to play.
Action: What is the goal then of your studio long term? I know you mentioned that, I mean, is there any specific type of games that you want to make? Is it mainly about the games that you want to make?
Billy: My team is not quiet at all about doing a follow up game to Box Macabre as an action RPG. They want nothing more than to do a RPG. In fact, they’ve already started thinking about the story, and they are already putting it together in the back of their minds. I love the fact that they are already looking to the future. They are invested into the studio so much. How am I not going to do it, you know what I mean?
Billy: The games are as good as the developers. If the developers have their hearts in them, then the games are going to be fantastic. I believe that the next thing on the plate to follow probably-it’s going to be definitely 2010. I really doubt we’ll be able to put out an RPG before 2009 is up, but that’s where it’s looking like we are headed.
I have invested in my iPhone developers well, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we have roughly three to four iPhone games coming out every single year and probably more as we grow.
I’m still an art outsource company. If a really good opportunity comes up to collaborate with another studio that needs a content creator, then I’ll probably do that as well. It’s about just the timing being the right time and all the business making sense.
But, the ultimate goal is to have enough revenue coming in from our product to be able to do it full time. I can’t even imagine how much more we will be able to accomplish if we’re all doing this full time. We’ve got the taste in our mouths right now. It’s going to be really hard to sway us from this goal. It’s likely to happen in 2010, so I would keep an eye out on us, right?
Action: Are there any other things that you are doing to promote Box Macabre right now?
Billy: I actually just hired – a buddy of mine owns a marketing company, Zocore Marketing who is helping me. He is helping me get the name out there. He’s got a lot of experience. He did stuff for Right Guard and RGX campaign. I don’t know if you remember that, the body spray or not, but that was his.
Anyways, I want this thing to succeed so bad. I know a lot of this is beyond my capability because there are only enough hours in the day. If I had to project manage and create art assets and get out there and try to do PR, I couldn’t. There are just not enough hours in the day plus I have a family, too, you know what I am saying? And they’re just as important as my business ambitions.
So, I hired my friend and he’s already started to get the ball rolling on our marketing strategy. He’s really good about focus groups and target audiences. We’re not going to spend a whole lot of time marketing Blade of Betrayal which is a hard core TV sites action game in the vein of NinjaGate and Castlevania. We’re not going to spend a lot of time marketing that game on a casual portal that really caters to young children and/or older adults that just want a more casual experience, like a puzzle game or a non-combative game.
We’re going to put marketing for Blade of Betrayal out on hard core gaming sites and gaming sites that are more tailored to our target audience, which are 10 to 30 year old males. I say 10 year old males because it stars a young man but it’s all action. It’s all fighting.
Billy: There are all sorts of creatures in it. And then, I say up to the 30 year olds because the game is a throwback to the 8-bit and 16-bit era of platformers and action platformers. So, that would be a vast market. But, yeah, those are the people that we’re going to target.
How are we going to do it? Well, we’re going to do it through Web advertising, so Web advertising space and, of course, it’s going to be the URL. Bladeofbetrayal.com, that’s going to have even more info and how do we direct people there. Well, we throw up, maybe, YouTube videos or other embedded online videos of the game in action where people can click on it and it takes them back to the website.
The Web is a really viable place, especially for a game that is going to be downloaded. This is your market, people who are comfortable with using the Internet. People that are comfortable with making purchases over a digital copy of something. They never get a physical product. These are the people that are going to buy your game, and so that’s the approach.
There’s a lot of Web stuff though. At conventions I have done print in packages. I paid the sponsorship money to have flyers for Perfect Dork Studios packed into people’s goody bags and stuff.
Action: What would you say are the top three learning lessons you’ve had since starting your studio, things that you wish you had known that would have accelerated your progress?
Billy: I would say of the things that I wish I had known that would have accelerated the process? OK, I wish I had more confidence earlier on in myself and the team’s abilities to do something on our own as opposed to spending a lot of time really trying to put a lot of faith in somebody else to make it happen for us and, I mean, like a publisher.
Billy: Just kind of praying for that golden goose to come down and give you the absolute freedom.
I think that in the past I wish I had seen those times that I felt so down on myself about those “failures”. I wish I would have seen those as blessings in disguise because I really go back and I think about what if Melody Strike actually got picked up, and the next eight to nine months of my time even up to a year, were spent developing that game.
Looking back, I don’t know that I could have made it the game that it has the potential to be. So, I think that would have been upsetting to take it to the end and have it not do well. But, what it did lead me to do was what I am doing now which is far more opportunity than I had before.
I’m trying to think of something technical that I’ve learned. It can’t all be this kind of pseudo artsy emotional stuff.
Action: Well, you talked about hiring other people, and that’s seems to have been a huge breakthrough, right?
Billy: For a very long time I have been very proud that I can do a lot of different tasks and I think that’s a necessity. Like I said before, everyone needs to be a multi-tasker and have multiple talents so that your time can be used very efficiently.
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you’re the best person for that particular job and I learned that. It took some time because a lot of time you’re like, why would I bring someone else on if it’s something that I can do myself?
The answer to that question is, well, a) because you have more important business to attend to. And also, that person, even though you may be able to do the job, they may be better at it or faster, or they may know things that are more relevant to the project. As far as, I don’t have a lot of experience with real-time 3D engines and creating animation for that, for instance.
I’m decent with modeling and texturing, but when it came to the animation I was like, you know what? I’ve got so much other stuff to do and I know that my buddy, Tony, who was the designer on Aim for the Brain, he’s awesome at animation. He’s helped me out there.
Being able to accept that and not take it as a knock against your own pride, it’s the only way you can keep your momentum going. That’s definitely a big learning point, accepting help, knowing to let go, you know what I mean?
I think, if you’ll let me add one more, knowing when to make cuts. That’s a hu
ge thing that I’ve learned is that a good game doesn’t necessarily mean a game that has every single little idea that you thought of for it. This is something you will hear other people say all the time, but I don’t think it carries the kind of weight that it has to until you experience it firsthand.
It’s definitely quality over quantity. I can’t stress that enough. You can spend all of your time throwing in tons of content but if all it is half baked, if all of it is two, three star material when you’re looking for a five star material game, you’re just not going to get it because you’re too focused on the amount of content versus the quality of the content. I think that people are going to walk away feeling better about their purchase and better about their experience if they feel like they walked away from a high quality game.
Action: OK, great. Any last words then for other indie game developers out there?
Billy: I would say I encourage anyone who is interested in making games to just do it. You can read up all day long on the processes. You can buy books. You can listen to other people like me talk about it all day, but for real the only way you are going to just do it and learn how to do it is by doing it.
That’s how I learned and I think my understanding of it is far deeper than if I was formally taught. And those being formally taught at trade schools and stuff, just go for it. You guys have an edge, actually. You guys are going to be able to bypass a lot of the hurdles that the guys without any experience are going to be stumbling upon. I think it might benefit you to find enthusiastic people that you can coach along the way, so your knowledge is very valuable.
It takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of stamina, and there’s a lot of times when you may feel like it would be easier to quit, and I would tell you not to. Just keep it up. If anybody needs a pep talk, just send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org and I will talk you up all day long. I’ll make you feel good about yourself, and you’re going to be ready to make some games.
You have to have a lot of love for it. If you don’t love games and if you don’t want to be part of that industry and if you don’t want to be part of that world because it’s just not in you, then you’re going to have a harder time. I’m not saying it’s impossible to create stuff because I’ve known plenty of people whose hearts weren’t in it that actually got through things, but it was very difficult. There was always the struggle. Every step of the way they were asking themselves: is this worth it? Is it worth it? Those are the people that don’t go after it again.
I’m on my sixth or seventh independent game now and each time has gotten better. Each time has gotten more efficient, and believe it or not, each time has gotten more and more exciting. We’re learning and growing at the same time.
If I have a chance to just give my contact information again…
Billy: It’s email@example.com. That’s p-e-r-f-e-c-t-d-o-r-k-s-t-u-d-i-o-s .com. If you go to the website, perfectdorkstudios.com, you’ll be able to find links to all the games that I talked about, including Aim for the Brain and Box Macabre.
I’m really grateful for the time. Thank you for allowing me to talk about the studio and our games. I really hope that anyone listening right now, just keep an eye out for our games. I hope you play them. I hope you love them, and I’m just going to keep making them.
Action: Great. We’re talking with Billy from Perfect Dork Studios. Thanks again for your time.
Billy: Thank you. Alright.
Action: Take care.