Show Notes (thanks to Grace): Interview with Ryan , on sound effects, gaming, and animation.
Interview was held at the Austin Game Developer’s Conference.
Ryan was part of team of 9 developing a platform, puzzle, interactive environment concept game called “Death by Design”. The team consisted of 3 designers, 2 programmers, 1 sound person, and 2 artists. [yes we’re missing somebody]
The game started as a class project with a deadline of 20 weeks. The team started with a couple of different ideas. One idea was an incredible machine type game, the other was something called “Death Quest” where the idea was to get your avatar killed in the most extreme way.
They did rapid proto typing using paper and a magnet board. They used this method along with design documents and had their idea pretty well done before beginning programming or artwork. Once they had their idea down they then let their imaginations go wild, taking the concept as far as they wanted without limitations of reality (programming concerns for example). If they hadn’t done this then they would have self-sensored and it wouldn’t have been as good. They ended with a fully realized concept.
Most people who create platform games follow a standard formula: Run right, keep the character alive for as long as possible, pick up a few objects, and then move onto the next level. They chose a static world, still picked up a few objects, but then completed some crazy objectives, and then something really silly and stupid would happen to the avatar. It was a lot of fun.
The team would have something called game jams every week at coffee houses. Here they would take 24 hours to work out concepts and levels to the point where they were complete.
Initially they came up with 12 levels but in the end the game was completed with only 2 levels. They were working on it up until 3 hours to deadline. They felt successful that they had actually completed the game. During the whole process there was never a slow period where they felt like they were just finishing up. The whole time they were like “Oh my God! There are problems!! There are problems!!”. Once the game was done though, it was the best feeling.
There were issues. One issue is that everyone wants to be a designer, so if you are on the design team you should roll with it and listen to all suggestions, take it in, because everyone has something to contribute. If these people are working in games, then their gamers, and they know what gamers like. All their input is useful. If you then get a chance to use testers outside of the team, listen to all of their suggestions too.
As part of the design team you need to keep your team moving, but you also don’t want to beat them into the ground. Top 3 things Ryan learned: 1) No matter what you think it’s going to look like in the beginning, it won’t look like that in the end – and that’s not a bad thing! It probably means you learned something. Also be open to outside input, it’s very valuable. 2) Don’t take ALL the outside input! You can lose the integrity of your personal touch. 3) Working with people is challenging, but rewarding in the end.
Advice to wanna be indy game developers – Come to Austin Game Developer’s Conference!
Show Notes (thanks to Grace): Interview with Monjoni, gaming student, and part of the production team of Chromatica. http://www.chromaticagame.com/index2.html
Interview was held at the Austin Game Developer’s Conference.
16 students in Ohio University’s brand new game development program, were asked by their professor, John Bowditch, to come up with a game during their first week of class. They all sat in a room and thought about what they were good at, and what they were capable of, and came up with a series of game designs. At the end of the week they picked one which turned into Chromatica.
Students as a rule are hard to manage. There are personality conflicts, and especially with a team of 16. There were a couple of incidents which Monjoni speaks of. In one, a stressed member of the design team created a big scene when a meeting was scheduled at a time when she couldn’t attend. In another example, a couple of people on the tech team were fighting over who was doing more work. Monjoni says that there were some huge fights which required mediation and a desire on the part of everyone to come together and work harder on the game. Drama won’t get the game done – sitting down and working, will.
Two people who’d never done code before in their lives were put on the tech team. The game was started in Torque game builder. They went through what few tutorials there were. They were overwhelmed! They put their noses to the grindstone and for the first solid month spent all their time learning code, even weekends. The made mistakes, but worked through, figuring out their mistakes and fixing them. After three months an experienced coder came into the project and analyzed their code and helped them with their mistakes. It was a learning experience for everyone. Sometimes that happens, you get thrown into a situation you’re not comfortable with. You’re a student, you’re supposed to make mistakes. What’s important is that you learn from your mistakes and move forward.
Problems for management are more about motivation than size. Every team no matter how big has a naysayer or two who aren’t excited or even interested in the game they are helping create. The hardest thing as a producer is getting these people excited and interested in the game. Some people just aren’t excited by certain genre’s of games. Professionalism is doing the job well even when it’s not exactly, or even close to the kind of game you might have wanted to do. If you feel like “I don’t want to do this – this doesn’t matter” – punch yourself in the face, because you’re wrong!! Everything you do as a student developer, matters. If you forget that, you’re screwing your own future.
The design doc for Chromatica was done during first month of development. Mockup, story, and levels were being developed during the same period. It took them too long to find the fun. Weekly QA tests helped them find the fun. He regrets not doing QA earlier. His advice is to get your prototype out there early and have QA early. Also, if it’s not fun then go back and fix it. The game has to be fun - #1 rule!
They worked on the game up until the last minute before shipping. Only three days before did they feel that the game would be successful. If you’re a student and it’s early in development, don’t be disheartened, it won’t look like a game, or much of anything, for awhile. Once you get other people outside of the team in to play it, then you’ll start to see what you really have.
Top 3 Lessons: 1) Game development is a whole lot of Hell – but once your game gets out there, there’s no better feeling! 2) Players are the most important thing! Get feed back from people outside of the team. They will affirm everything you thought was wrong and right about your game. 3) Student development is a wonderful opportunity. Even if you’re not a student, get out there, get a team, and make a game. It’ll be the best experience of your life!!
Show Notes (Thanks to our new intern, Grace, for the great notes)... Interview with Gene Endrody of Maid Marion Entertainment
Interview was held at the Austin Game Developer’s Conference. Gene Endrody is the creator of Sherwood Dungeon, a 3D Massive Multiplayer game. http://www.maidmarian.com/
Sherwood Dungeon started as a beta test of Shockwave when they released 3D.
He was working in the console game industry at Radical Entertainment during the day, when he began creating avatar based chat rooms in the evenings for fun. He put a Google ad at the bottom of the page to create revenue and it grew to the point where he could quit his day job after 2 years.
He developed a loyal community because they were there from the beginning and were allowed to be a part of the evolution.
He wanted to have the browser window scalable from the beginning. This way he was able to have it imbedded in small game sites along with his Google ad.
Last year he released Club Marion on his site. It was inspired by Club Med.
When not working on Sherwood Dungeon he likes to do martial arts and kick box.
His job IS as great as it looks. He always wanted a lifestyle business.
He may need to hire people soon, but is reluctant.
He says that since his game is free the expectations of customer service are very low. Also players help each other a lot.
There may be the ability for players to create their own rooms and islands in the future.
Show Notes: Interview with Zach, the archivist from the UT video game archive.
Interview was conducted at the Austin Game Developers Conference
Their purpose is to preserve and document game history, through preserving games as well as documents and materials that are produced in the process of game development.
They preserve games themselves as well as design documents, correspondence between different teams working on a game, conceptual art, audio files, and occasionally some actual code. Since they are trying to build their collection now, it’s a little restrictive when the get stuff. They plan that once their collection gets a little bit more established they will open it entirely to the public. The public will be able to browse through the inventory lists and request items. There is a website you can visit now to get abreast of what’s going on or to submit things: http://www.cah.utexas.edu/projects/videogamearchive/
Recently the archive was sent a dvd from tangent games. On it was all the code to one of their games, along with design notes, artwork, different versions of the game, assets, and tools.
The design documents and hand written notes are what Zach considers the most interesting items to look at. The hand written notes let you see how the person thinks. The correspondence between different teams is also very interesting.
Warren Spector from Ion Storm sent a submission. Zach enjoyed looking at the design notes and seeing how much feedback he had gotten and seeing how Warren managed to synthesize it into one working design document.
www.utvideogamearchive.org (both links take you to the same page)
Show Notes: You are listening to the Indie Game development Podcast show, visit www.indiegamepod.com for more podcasts. This interview is inspired by a quake meet up between the Austin Game Developers conference.
I’m here at Austin GDC, and with me is today’s special guest, how about you introduce yourself?
I’m Ryan Madison, the lead designer on Mushroom Men from Red Fly studio
And, what’s the game about and what platform is it on
Well the game is on Nintendo Wii and Mushroom and the Spore Wars, and its about a young mushroom name Axe who doesn’t really know where he is in the world or who he is or where he came from. He’s sort of exploring his identity and then he finds himself in the middle of the Spore Wars which is a war between edible mushrooms and poisonous mushrooms.
And what inspired the game?
Uh, the game was developed over a course of a couple of years by the founders of Red Fly studio Dan Warthik, Christ Taylor. They were really interested in doing a game that harkins back to the old platformers from the days past of Mario even up to the odd World Series. I’m just doing something that was a little but more quirky, a little bit more weird than usual and trying to create specially these interesting characters in a large human environment
Now, since you’re doing design, umm, I guess, what did you have to keep in mind as you were developing and designing for the Wii
One of the things we were trying to do is kind of hold to the core values we had for the game which was making really really cool environments in a combination of the human world and the mushroom world. And really pushing the players to explore the environment and to umm you know, not only explore the environment but the systems as well… have fun in the combat … and have fun trying to collect things through out the world. So, constantly thinking about those aspects and trying to make sure that the game was always focusing on one of those particular things was definitely something we kept in mind through out the development process.
What were some of the challenges you encountered as you designed levels for the game?
Well one of the biggest things we were trying to do is to diversify the environment a little bit, showing the large human world, the small mushroom environments as well as a combination of the two. Um, so trying to develop the scale at first was really difficult, but once we achieved that it was a matter of implementing the game play inside of that scale. One of the levels that is most fun for me is this large shed that you get to use your sticky hand tool in and that’s a great tool to use especially fun in that particular level is because it allows players to be so creative with what they do throughout the game or throughout the navigation in that particular area. So they get to move around, grapple a tight tool, and they get to move around the way they want to and sort of accomplish the objectives the way they want to. And, I think for me that was actually one of the fun aspects of development where were just constantly seeing the creativity out of the developers that were working in the game in that particular level.
As a designer what are the challenges that you usually encounter as you design levels?
And whats the best way to overcome them?
There’s a lot of challenges, they differ from project to project. For us it was again harking back into those core values I mentioned earlier. You know really trying to make sure we were constantly achieving the sort of visual style of the game, allowing players to push through in a creative way. You know balancing combat vs puzzle vs navigation (platforming navigation) because something we’re trying to do is create a hybrid action platform of the game, so we’re trying to create a good balance between those aspects. And ways to solve it, I think one of the best things people can do is to test the game, blind test it to bring people in that haven’t played it before. For them to actually sit down and be able to, sort of tell you whether or not you’re achieving your goals, because we get so wrapped up in the development as it gets close to the game that often we forget, you know, what it is we’re looking at in what particular area. So just having someone say ‘Oh I’ve been doing a lot of combat for the past 5 minutes I really would’ve expected this to be (illegible) some navigation or some platforming in between maybe a puzzle here or something else. Just trying to make sure that we’ve got a really good balance of those things, I think that one of the biggest challenges and the best solution is just getting people to play it.
And so what’s next in store for the game, is it on shelves yet, is it (illegible) released?
Game’s coming out at the end of November there’s a PS version as well which is really exciting. It is going to be released a little bit before the Wii version. They’re completely separate games, from there the sky’s the limit, we’ve got a lot of ideas for ways to push the franchise, it’s a really interesting thing, there’re just a lot of opportunities. So we’re really excited about where we can push it next.
And what would the top three learning experiences or learning lessons which you got from developing this game?
Well, just to kind of outline it at a really high level, I think that the top three would be like I mentioned earlier would be blind testing, its huge, getting people into play your game, and making sure that they sort of get it, is really really big. Another one is, just learning how to work really well with the artists and the programmers, as a designer. And if you’re one of those other disciplines learning how to work well with designers, artists and programmers. And I think the last would be learning the limits of your team and of your platform and seeing how far you can push those.
And is there a website already up, where they can visit?
Show Notes: You are listening to the Indie Game Development Podcast Show, visit www.indiegamepod.com for more podcasts. This interview is inspired by a quake meet up at the Austin Game Developers conference.
I’m here at the Austin GDC and with me is a special guest, how about you introduce yourself?
Hello, my name is Kayne Shin, I’m the lead programmer for Mushroom Men on the Nintendo Wii
And what inspired you to develop something for the DS Wii?
Um, honestly we saw a huge gaping void in the market on the Wii in terms of platformers that actually combine combat like a true combat platformer hybrid, so we wanted to see if we could set out to do something interesting and make use of the really talented artists at Red Fly Art. Red Fly is an art dominant studio, it was started by two very established artists and they wanted to kind of use that strength to develop on the Wii and kinda make use of that so Mushroom Men at its very heart and soul is a game about enjoying the art um, but nothing else to the back seat like there was design involved and a lot of the coding practices too but most people don’t see that they see the art. The first thing that they’ll see about the game is you know screen shots and stuff and I think we’ve done a decent job with that. We also put a lot of work in to the design of the game and the various aspects.
And, um, were there any different challenges for developing for the Wii compared to another platform?
Yes, um, the controller on the Wii is very unique. It has less buttons than the X Box 360 or the Play Station 3 and it has a whole gesture system. Originally the design for the combat system in Mushroom Men involved doing one to one accurate gestures so if you did an overhead smash or a character would over head smash if you did a thrust, a character would thrust or sideway smash, a character would do that. It didn’t quite work out the way that we wanted it to because of technological limitations in how sensitive Wiimote can sense the like the, uh forces of acceleration in the x y z direction of the Wiimote. So, because of that we ended up having to simplify the control scheme and we still have the concept of overhead sideways and thrust but we kind of moved that out into the choice of weapon that you select so there’s still some sort of, some sense of agency in how you attack but its preselected by the weapon that you choose to attack with as opposed to how you attack with your arm.
Now, was there ever a consideration for developing for the PC or the web instead of the Wii or was console definitely what you guys were going to do?
I would say that we were pretty set on doing the console, the design of Mushroom Men had the motion controller in mind from the very start and the way that we’ve implemented a lot of the features and a lot of the things that a player does in the game can only be done with the Wii and its unique type of controller. You know if something else came up with a similar controller I’m sure that would map too but dual analog stick or mouse and keyboard would not quite accomplish the same sort of feel that you would get with the Wii controller.
And, what were the top three design challenges that you faced as you were designing this game um, some of the other game play mechanics issues that you ran into or something else.
Um, I would say that the number one design challenge for me personally was making combat interesting. Ah the problem with a lot of platform combat is, its kind of anemic in nature you just walk through the characters that you’re trying to hit and you do your thing until that character dies over and over and over again and that gets kind of boring, so for us the number one challenge is combat and we try to make it really spread out in terms of the kinds of things that you do. The motions involved in combat include swinging your Wiimote, which is the standard thing but also pointing, but also pointing and dragging and picking something up and then throwing it so you’re looking at the environment, you’re constantly on the watch for things that you can use to make fights go faster. If you don’t use any of those features then you’ll probably die a lot and combat would last a long time so you’re encouraged to use those features. Um, so that was one thing, I guess the other challenge was just basically getting the player direction together in time to get everything working. And clear direction was, it’s a big part of the game, and a lot of the levels tend to have so much complexity involved in how you move and what you can do to them and how you’re supposed to move forward and how to do things. So that was really hard, it required a lot of stepping back and going ‘Okay, what would I do if I had never seen this before’ and so clear direction was definitely a strong component of our design. And I guess the third thing was the Boss fights. Surprisingly enough the Boss fights were different from the rest. We didn’t just want the boss to be a regular guy with ten times more hit points we wanted them to feel special and unique without taking you too far out of the game so they had to compliment their combat abilities that you already had and that you learned and kind of use them in new unique ways that you don’t get to use in the rest of the game. So, like each boss is different and coming up with a way to fight each boss with the way that the camera supported the fight and all of that was um, it was a pretty tough challenge for us. But I think we pulled it off.
And, what would you say the top three challenges in designing for the Wii itself?
Understand the hardware, the controller might not be what you think it is and even if it is what you think it is, human beings are inaccurate creatures by nature so you kind of have to support that. They’re not perfect at aiming, they’re not perfect at doing the same hand gesture every single time, so design it around the human interface with the hardware. I guess the other challenge with the Wii is, if you’re used to the technology limits that are set by the 360 or Play Station 3, you’re going to be in for a disappointment. The Wii doesn’t have shadow programming so you have to do water differently, you don’t have pixel over text shaders, you have a fixed function pipeline. So that’s something that, you know you basically fallback to is, you fall back to X Box 1 style or Play Station 2 style of development where it was made during the fixed function pipeline days. So things like bloom and stuff you can get on the Wii but you have to do them very differently and its very special how that’s done.
Is there any motivation to develop for the Wii compared to say PS 3 or X Box 360?
Um, yeah the Wii, definitely has the type of controller upon which you can make games that are unique to the Wii and if you do it right, then you’ll definitely fill in a void that needs to be filled on the Wii I think. Um, also it has, I don’t know how to say this, but there’s a lot of room for improvement on the Wii. I’ll just say that flat out, there’s a lot of room for improvement on the games that are out on the Wii, a niche to be carved, and I think that there’s a lot of folks that are trying to move in on that and carve that niche within the space of the Wii. As far as developing goes, its cheaper, that’s one thing and that’s the reason a lot of people go into it unfortunately they go into that with getting your moneys worth from that cost which is too bad.
And in terms of development process, did you do anything different when you had to develop for the Wii, or did you just follow the traditional, the model of first prototyping and then iterating or was there anything different that you had to do?
There was a lot of iteration involved, we pro typing iteration especially with the control scheme. It was um, really really important that the controls felt right. There’s not any established standard on the Wii just yet with the way that you move around in 3 D platformers and especially with the camera control in a 3 D world with the Wiimote having as few buttons as it does. You kind of have to work some things out like for example, we initially experimented with not having a whack old combat interface and just having a button combat interface but then you couldn’t do other things because that button was taking up space and so we decided to you know, allow you to like block and roll on separate buttons instead of the same button and that way we would do the waggle and most people don’t mind the waggle, well because it’s a very strategic style play, its not like mash until they die kind of game play.
So, when you do your next game for the Wii what are the three things you’re going to change to make the process go smoother, or better or differently?
Well, everyone always says communication as clique as it is, that is one thing I would say that that is definitely one thing that we can improve on, we can always improve on. Its never going to be good enough, its always going to be a work in progress, communicating between the artists, the programmers, the designers, getting them all in on the same page and getting them to buy in to the same vision, that’s really important. And, I guess other things that we would do differently is a lot more iteration. We were sort of short staffed on the development of Mushroom Men and so we didn’t really have time to take a look back and focus on what we had because we were constantly implementing features and stuff and if we could do it again, we would probably have more of the ‘step back, take a look, evaluate’ and just stronger iteration cycles than we had before. We were doing iteration but I think we could do more of that.
And where can people find this if they want to play it?
In your house, no, um, this is going to be on store shelves in November of this year hopefully so you’ll be able to find it at your local store.
And was that just getting it into retail shops, was that just a whole project in it by itself or was it, is it easy still to do that?
Um, it was intended for the retail shops from the start so before the project started that was the goal so early in development I believed that our publisher and the studio CEO kind of took care of that for us so we didn’t have to worry about it, we just knew that it was gonna happen, that it was gonna end up on retail shops.
And, is there a website people can visit to check it out?
Mushroommen.com, there’s also redflystudio.com if you want to check out the studio.
Show Notes (thanks to Grace for the great show notes): Interview with Brian of Pangea Software
Interview was conducted at the Austin Game Developers Conference
Pangea produced Enigmo for the I phone and I pod Touch.
Inspiration came because Apple always does good work, and they wanted to do a portable system. Also it seemed to be the easiest and most profitable way to go.
The biggest challenge was learning objective C, which Brian said was the most complicated programming language he ever used by a factor of 20! Yet it only took him 5 days to learn it! He says that games don’t need a lot of it since they are not UI intensive, they’re open GL intensive.
Most of the games the put on Ipod phone/touch were older games that they just ported over. It took them about 2 weeks to port a game over – dealing mostly with performance and memory issues. There’s not a lot of memory on these devices. They have excellent developer’s tools, and API’s. It’s a breeze to develop for.
There’s a simulator you can run on the Mac, so that you don’t have to test your games on the actual Iphone. This speeds things up a lot, because downloading each time you want to test can take around a minute. Everything about working on the Iphone is like working on a Mac. The debugger and the compiler are the same. Mac developers won’t even notice the difference.
Testing is difficult because there’s no way to distribute copies effectively. They just let some people in house test it. Then mostly they relied on the feedback from customers and sent out updates.
You can submit directly on the website, it’s automated and an easy process. It takes 3-12 days to get approved, and then it’s just out there.
Their stuff was featured at Steve Jobs’ keynote. Pangea was one of the first to get out there and their stuff was available to people when the iphone/ipod touch shipped. This was the best time to make the most money because the people who bought those devices were not concerned about price, they just bought what they wanted. First 1-2 weeks were amazing for sales, after that it leveled off to a little less than amazing.
3,000 to 4,000 apps with no competition. Only 820 games last he looked. 99% of the games out there are total garbage, with only a handful of games being very good. The good games all float to the top 10 list. So you’re only competing with a handful of good games. You can compete with price too. Large companies have to charge $10 a game, but smaller companies can charge a lot less.
There’s a cheater method out there for rising up in rank. If someone gives away a game for free and then starts charging money they will move up the list rapidly. There is a separate list for paid games and free games, but the popularity counter doesn’t change. Free games tend to get downloaded 10x more often, so if someone goes from free to 99 cents, they will change to the paid list but keep the popularity they gained from the free list. This is considered cheating and is frowned upon. People will leave these game developers scathing reviews. However, some of these people can make a fast 10k this way and don’t care.
Some designers like to use the excelerometer to death. They may require you to move the screen too much and then you can’t see all of the screen. Pangea tries to use it more subtly. They do use it often in their games though, because it is expected now.
The three issues with Iphone/touch are excelerometer, touch screen, and network ability. Network ability isn’t very common right now. The whole technology is still very new. Pangea just submitted an adventure game recently and it’s the first full 3-D adventure game out there. The controls were a challenge. They ended up using a combination of the touch screen and excelerometer. There’s a learning curve for users too. He’s interested in seeing what other designers come up with for solutions to these challenges.
From a game development stand point, if you want to make money you have to do something unique. If you are going to create a game that’s not so unique then it needs to be one of the best ones out there.
He’s been doing Mac games exclusively for the past 10 years but right now he’s staying with the iphone/touch because it’s fun, he’s making lots of money, and it’s easy to develop for!
In the beginning he hired a PR company but it ended up being a waste, because the best advertising is the app store itself. Top 10 list or “what’s new” list are the way most people find games 99% of the time. If you’re not in the Top 100, then no one will ever find you. Two tips: Make a great game and Apple will help you by putting your icon into “what’s new” or on their “what we’re playing” section. Also you can compete by putting a lower price on your higher quality game. These two things will help you shoot up the list.
If you are on: Top 100 – safe for a while, but you’ll probably fall off Top 50 – very safe place to be, people will see you on top 50 list on iphone Top 25 – You’ll be on the first page of Iphone – so then you’re in Gold! Top 10 – Main page, premiere! Big bucks roll in!
Exponentially increase in revenue. Examples: Their #2 spot game is selling 45x the copies of their #72 spot game Their #10 spot game is selling at only 1/3 of what the #2 spot game is selling. At spot #100 you’re only selling maybe 50-200 copies a day.
It’s so easy to make money he’s not planning to do promo ware. Although they do offer a free photo app and they advertise their games on that. They say it helps a little bit.
Advice: Get in and get in quick! Preferably in the next few months!