Meet the madmen crafting the code that makes our games go! They really love the camera…
Meet the madmen crafting the code that makes our games go! They really love the camera…
I’m also a life-long gamer. The first video game I played was Dungeons & Dragons on Colecovision which made sense since pen and paper D&D was my first exposure to role-playing. I played Tetris on the original Gameboy until I saw the shapes everywhere. I’m one of my group’s usual Game Masters too. I’ve created worlds (which, let’s be honest, were mostly ridiculous rip-offs of mediocre fiction), made more characters than I can count, and still seethe when I remember one of my friends killing my star NPC in one blow.
I don’t tend to play games to win. I play games ’cause I love ’em. I’m perfectly happy playing a game and losing. Just so long as I’m playing a game. I have a special fondness for co-op games (because I want you to win too!). I also have the attention span of a meth’d up gnat.
I’m married to an awesome wife who indulges my gaming (and startup!) hunger. I have a wee daughter who’s just starting to learn to love games. In about 9 years she’ll be horribly embarrassed by me and I’m OK with that.
Prior to founding an indie game studio I worked at a variety of web centered businesses. Most recently I was the product guy behind SideReel (www.sidereel.com). It was acquired in 2011 and I eventually stepped away to try my hand at making games professionally.
I like more than just games though. I find strange satisfaction in dragging heavy weights up hills and drinking bourbon in front of fires.
Currently playing: Mage Wars, Backgammon, Hold ’em, Shadowfist, King of Tokyo, and Roborally. When I get console time I’m slowly working my way through Mark of the Ninja.
Currently reading: The Vorkosigan Saga and A History of Future Cities.
Currently watching: Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and The West Wing.
On Twitter I’m @zachlarson and, if you follow me, I’ll send you a hug via the internet.
It echoed a lot of points that I’ve been experiencing as an experienced tech/product guy but a neophyte to the gaming industry. First, making games IS hard and it IS different from making a non-game consumer app. Primarily in the need to have a ‘fun’ Minimum Viable Product (i.e. the smallest fun thing that can be used for testing) before you can get market feedback. Games, however, are not film. They’re not TV. They’re not built on the back of the narrative that a writer develops, they’re built on the back of a technology that a team develops.
I can’t speak to the publisher angle much as we’re an indie shop and are publishing our own stuff. However, as a small shop we ride the fiscal razor’s edge. We HAVE to constantly make the best fiscal decision we can, or close down. Sometimes that means killing a project because it’s going to take too long, sometimes it means doubling down on something we find less shiny than our newest project, sometimes it means spending a few weeks making the code better so we can make later changes faster. All of those decisions MUST have input from all the disciplines involved in making a game. They can’t purely come from the business side. Nor can our designer decide solely what must be built.
If a dev team is put entirely at the behest of the business team (as it appears in the dev/publisher dichotomy in games) then there will be tension between the two. Unhealthy tension since their goals aren’t necessarily unified. Business folks have to remember that games must be fun to be successful, devs must remember that games have to address a market at the right time, and designers must remember that perfection can’t be achieved. Everyone is trying to achieve the same thing, make fun games that people want to play at a price they’re willing to pay. In short, everyone wants to make successful games.
Our team is small, just 6 in-house folks (and a smattering of part-time assistance), but we’re a balanced team. Devs, business, and design are all required to make our games exist. Without the important contributions of each, our games wouldn’t be successful. As an industry we have to move towards a more balanced team approach. Games need d4s as much they need d20s. We can’t point fingers and perpetuate “us vs. them” thinking. Good teams make better games. We’re all in this together.
Zach and Jamie talk about why Shifts is so hard, give some tips on winning, and talk about the types of games we love.
Watch it. Love it. Share it with friends.
Zach and Cliff talk about Threadbare’s past, present and future.
Who we are, what we’re working on, where we’re going, and how we look manly doing it.
Hey folks – Cliff “Devinoch” Hicks here. I’m a Producer over at Threadbare Games and I wanted to take a little bit of time today to talk about what it’s like to be in preproduction for a new title in the games industry. A lot of people think that video games spring fully formed from one person’s head, and that everything that a team needs to build a game is right there at the start. Oh, how we all wish it was so…
Preproduction is a nebulous, busy time during the game development cycle, when a lot of ideas are thrown out, and most of them are shot down. It’s the time in a project when everyone is encouraged to brainstorm and there are no bad ideas. This usually results in a lot of game ideas, themes, concepts, sketches, half-written pitches and various other snippets and seeds. During the earliest stages of preproduction, it’s entirely acceptable to be vague – you don’t know how every piece is going to work exactly, but you do need to start putting the groundwork down, otherwise ideas won’t be in a state where they can be fairly judged. So, say you were brainstorming chess as an idea, you wouldn’t need to know how each piece on the board moved, but you would need to know that you had a board, and that pieces would be moving on it, and that the board would be laid out in a grid. Key mechanics are fundamental – otherwise you may very well end up with something that won’t work, or isn’t fun to play.
As the designers and producers are working out some of the big picture items, artists are working to concept out ideas, thoughts, brainstorming based on some of the conversations they’ve been around in terms of game ideas. This tends to result in a lot of fun, unfocused art, which can, in turn, often inspire further tangents or game concepts. The key is to make sure you’re still being somewhat disciplined and narrowing down even as you widen out, because once you start working on prototypes, you need to whittle down even further, down to the very kernel of what’s fun about a particular idea.
Fun is the absolute most important thing in making a game.
If you don’t have fun in playing with your prototype, then you’ve gone astray and you need to figure out what went wrong. Once you start having fun, start showing the prototype to more people, and see if they have fun with it. Keep in mind, the term “prototype” is a pretty loose one at this point – in some cases, you might just be using pieces of paper or action figures on a table. I’ve even built rough prototypes at other studios entirely out of LEGO blocks and stickered up Magic: The Gathering cards. Doing so was a great proof-of-concept, because before a team starts work on a project, you need to make sure you have everyone on board as the process of building video games is not generally a short one. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so you want something that everyone is going to be excited about coming in day in, day out to work on.
Ideas that don’t get chosen for immediate production usually aren’t lost – they live in the heads of the designers, artists and programmers. Sometimes they fall out along the way, sometimes they stick around and get reconsidered later. And during that time, the person holding onto the idea is still working at least a little bit on it, in the back of their head, trying to figure out how to make it better, how to make it purer, how to get to the fun earlier. Game ideas come back to people at the oddest times, and sometimes you revisit those ideas, so it’s a good idea to never throw anything away.
There’s also a good amount of time spent examining other things – looking at games for interesting concepts, interesting mechanics, seeing where inspiration can be drawn from. It’s a fun but chaotic time, and requires a certain level of discipline, because it’s easy to just get lost in playing games and brainstorming, and not remember to focus on the important things, like how you can apply it to whatever you want to build. Like Walt Disney said, “keep moving forward” and be sure that you emerge from preproduction with a good plan, a clear idea of what you’re going to build and why you’re going to build it, and, most importantly, a sense of excitement about the project. Building games is a fun job, but it’s still a job!
Zach Larson, Founder & CEO of Threadbare Games talks about starting the company, our first game, and the principles of our studio.