GDC / VRDC 2017 Recap

I gave a 7 (-ish) minute presentation tonight at our local VR & HCI meeting. I was one of three folks invited to share their GDC / VRDC experiences. Here are the slides:

Additionally, I was contacted today by a student looking for more information about my experiences in the local game industry. If you are interested in that sort of thing, I’ve posted the transcript below.

> What things interested you about Game Design that lead you into pursuing a career in the field?

Like most folks in the games industry, I’ve always loved playing games, and creating them was a natural extension of that passion. I believe that “play” (or “fun”, take your pick) is one of the basic human desires, and it’s not one that gets the attention it deserves. Games are a way of formalizing play, or giving it structure. I love logic puzzles and games that make your brain think in ways you wouldn’t otherwise have imagined. I strive to make games in that do that, and I try to make games that I want to play.

> What part of the industry were you most interested it? I.E Level Design, Scripting, Modeling, etc.

I was a programmer for about 6 years before I realized that I probably had the ability to learn to make a video game. I found a tutorial online, and started from that. So I was never really interested in “the industry”. I came to game development from the indie scene that I discovered online. Specifically during the time when flash games started to really take off, around 2004-2006. At the same time, I was playing a lot of board games, and also very interested in the mechanics of game design.

> What were some important things were you looking for while choosing a college to study Game Design? While in college did any of your classes stand out to you? Did any of those classes possibly change your mind on what you were interested in the most about the industry jobs?

I did not go to college for game design. I was actually an English major in college, but I began making webpages for various student groups, and eventually departments. I never finished my degree, because I knew I could get a job doing what I’d already been doing, making websites. There were less programs for game design back when I was in college (1995-2000), but it honestly never occurred to me to even look into them. I did think a lot about switching to a computer science degree, but as I mentioned, I pretty much knew I could get a job without the degree.

> Was your first job in a large or small studio? Have you worked in both? Differences?

I’ve never worked in a studio. I’ve worked in various companies (not game dev related) sized from 5 to 100 (or so) people. And I’ve contracted at much larger companies (I worked on the Best Buy app, & once did a project for Thompson Reuters), but again, my game development experience has been as an indie. I made my own games and released them first on the web and then on the iOS app store. In 2012 I quit my “day job” and took a freelance contract making an iOS port of a physical board game. I’ve done at least one or two game projects per year since then, and in 2016 about 95% of my contract work was game development.

> Is there constant work, or is there lulls depending on the project?

Working as an independent, I make most of my money doing contract work. Part of that means finding the contracts, which is a not insignificant amount of time and effort. In 2016, I mentioned I did mostly game development. But I also had a 3-month stretch where I didn’t have any work. This was the first time since I went freelance that I didn’t have the funds to “pay myself” out of my work bank account. Fortunately, there was only one month of that, and I was able to make it up in subsequent months. So yes, there are “lulls” between projects.

I was also much better about splitting my time between contract work and my own game development when I first started as an independent. Now I tend to work for a few months on a contract project, then a month or two on my own projects, and keep alternating between.

> What is your most proud/favorite moment in the industry?

I am probably most proud of my first iOS game, ActionChess, because it really launched my career in game development. I’d never made anything on any of apple’s platforms before, never worked in Xcode (or any IDE for that matter), and never worked in a compiled language. I went from that to a game you could purchase in 3 months working nights and weekends. It was very early in the app store (2009), and the app really served as a calling card for me for many years.

But I had the best reception to my last iOS game, Catchup. We had a 4.5 star review on Touch Arcade, and several other really great reviews on other sites. I was very proud of (finally) having a board game in the app store with asynchronous multiplayer. It was a lot of work, but continues to sell copies.