Interview with the makers, Pt. 2

Here we continue our conversation with the makers at Industrial Toys. They've punched the big red button to stop production just long enough to answer some questions. Part 2 of Interview with the makers:  

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Part 2

4) What’s the one horrible thing about the game industry you wish you knew when you got started?

Alex: One? Ha!

The game industry is actually pretty great. I think because most of the folks that choose to work at it do so because they love games - playing them and the craft. So for the most part people have their hearts in the right place. I was shocked though to learn how seedy the distribution side of the business is. Product distribution is about as far downstream from the creative end of the business as you can get. Back-room deals, shakedowns and hot boxxing was the norm back in the 90's. Thankfully most of the leverage that physical distribution wields has ebbed as the industry has been switching to digital distribution.

Brent: Only 1 in a bazillion games [it’s actually 1 in a quadzillion – ed] makes it into the public consciousness so when you tell a total stranger the awesome game that you invested many years of your life towards you will likely get an empty stare and a friendly "Ah" with a slight turn of the head. The journey has to be the reward to make it through a career in gaming. I have found it to be super rewarding to be able to solve a new and different challenge every time I come into work.

Jason: This probably comes as no surprise but my first 3 years of working in the industry, I crunched A LOT. I knew that going in, crunch was a thing you had to deal with in this industry but I didn't know to what extent. However, the thing I didn't expect was if you don't end up crunching on a project and that project doesn't turn out to be successful, you often end up asking yourself if you had worked longer and harder, would that have made the difference? Or maybe that's just me :slightly_smiling_face:

Steve: I'll say two things (that's what you meant by one, right?).

1. The possibly insanely long work hours is one thing that can be horrible. It's not at every studio on every project, but I've seen it get out of hand and have some very real repercussions on people.

2. The Layoff/Hire nature of the industry. It's a feast or famine industry and although as a whole it's growing and huge and healthy, it's way more volatile on a company basis than most industries. Mass layoffs occur often but luckily it's usually timed with another company's rapid growth/hiring plan. So most people I know that are hit with layoffs are able to land on their feet.

Timmy: I get a lot of people who think game development is a lot more “fun” than it actually is. I didn’t have this mindset by the time I joined the industry but I think it’s probably something I thought when I was a kid. Ultimately, while it’s rewarding to work on games, it’s still a job, and most of the time what you're doing is fairly far away from the actual experience of playing games.


5) What are you most proud of contributing to one of your games?

Alex: I made the first large open space multiplayer death match map in Marathon, thus becoming the father of the Arena style map. Small thing, but that was pretty cool. [Thunderdome? Everyone’s Mortal? - ed]

Brent: Actually just shipping our games. It takes a lot of behind the scenes work from many people to produce a top tier game. I am extremely proud of the work our team has produced.

Jason: I wrote the animation system for all of the Where's My games. The original system for Where's My Water was based on a really horrible skeletal "armature" system that was tacked onto Adobe Flash. It used the XFL format which is an undocumented XML file that I think Adobe created. I had to sort of reverse engineer that format to pull the data into our engine. Eventually our artists disliked animating using the Flash Armature system enough that we switched to Toon Boom. Toon Boom supported much more sophisticated controls for 2D skeletal animation. So I worked with one of their engineers to build an exporter to our format. Where's My Mickey had really rich and plentiful animation and that was the culmination of my work on that animation system.

Steve: I'm proudest of my work on Oni. It was the first game I ever worked on. There were only 11 of us developing a full game for Mac/PC and only one of us had ever previously shipped a title. We all had huge ownership over parts of the game and somehow managed to actually ship a product. [those fighting animations, still amazingly fluid - ed]

Timmy: The Renegade item generation system. There were things I would change about it if I did it again, but I love loot games and the idea of building your own weapons using randomized parts is still an idea I think is awesome. I’m glad I got to make it. [crafting weapons –> unique stats, unique looks, FTW]


6) What game would we be surprised to know you never played?

Alex: Well, here's a huge blind spot in my gameography - never finished Half Life. (Sorry Gabe - I do have Portal on my favs list so don't smite me!).

Brent: Halo. It's true, [gasp! - ed] I have never been a console fan and by the time it came out on PC I had moved on to other games. I hope I can trust you with this deep dark secret.

Jason: Mario 64. I never had a Nintendo 64, so I only played on my brother's friend's. When they let me play, it was only to play Goldeneye because they needed an extra player to hit 4.

Steve: People seem surprised that: I've never seen the movie Blade Runner. I've never smoked anything, ever. I've never played Zelda: Breath of the Wind. But it's never too late, right?

Timmy: I was born in Bermuda so we didn’t have any game consoles. I missed everything that predates the Nintendo 64 so there are a lot of gaps in my history from the NES/SNES era. I've done my best to fill in the gaps (until like two years ago this answer would've been A Link to the Past) but Mario RPG is a game people are always shocked to hear I've never played.

Interview with the makers, Pt. 1

We've hinted a few times recently that we're working on something new, and while it's not quite time to reveal that, it's not too early to get an update on the team.

Accordingly, a conversation with (part of) the dev team, who reluctantly put aside their codes and keyframes long enough to reveal a bit about themselves and their takes on the game industry.

I'm Doug Zartman, once the voice of BoB and the voice of Bungie, now helping out here at Industrial Toys. Here is Part 1 of our conversation:

 Team hard at work during a recent internal GameJam. Nobody got motion sick. Promise.

Team hard at work during a recent internal GameJam. Nobody got motion sick. Promise.

1) How did you get into the game industry?

Alex (founder, old guy, team lead): My senior year of college I decided I wanted to start a business. My only real marketable skill was programming. And my interest, having grown up on Atari games and Zork was... you guessed it, gaming! So I wrote a game in C on the Mac and started a company to sell it. That company was Bungie.
Brent (founder, old guy, programmer): While at Apple working on early 3D hardware systems I reverse-engineered the Marathon file format to convert its maps into 3D content for our demos. Luckily it caught the eye of Alex at Bungie before Apple Legal and he hired me. I started the Oni project at Bungie in 1997 which was published by Take Two in 2001.
Jason (lead tech, new father): During my grad degree at DePaul, I worked on a game called Devil's Tuning Fork where you explored a world and solved puzzles using sound. Using that game as part of my resume, I applied to the Experimental Game Lab at Disney. We prototyped some very cool mechanics there. When that internship ended, one of the mentors for that program started working full time at Disney Mobile and he hired me to help him port JellyCar to mobile devices. Hence began my career.
Steve (old guy, art director): I got my degree in architecture at UC Berkeley. During my last semester, the University invested in a bunch of Silicon Graphics machines and offered a class on 3D modeling and animation. I learned the basics of 3D asset creation and it was the most fun thing I had ever done. I got a job in an architecture firm right out of college, but in my spare time I'd learn 3DSmax at home. It took about a year of working nights and weekends to get a portfolio together complete with a trailer for a fake game I designed. About that time Bungie was hiring in San Jose for an environment modeler. So I applied with my architecture background, but during the interview asked if I could apply as an animator. They gave me an animation assignment to do over the weekend and I spent about 30 hours over that weekend putting together a movie of a guy drawing and shooting weapons - and got the job! It was one of the best days ever :)
Timmy (young gun, senior designer): I graduated from the USC Interactive Media Program. 

2) Top 3 games of all time (that you did not work on)

Alex: I play a lot of games, finish very few. My favorite three? In no particular order: Portal, Ico and Plants vs. Zombies. All very different - but all took a tried and true genre and did something really surprising with it.
Brent: Nihilumbra - A super fun and innovative puzzle game with a deep and fascinating story.http://www.nihilumbra.com/
World of Goo - Another innovative puzzle game with a soundtrack that really captures the mood of the levels -http://2dboy.com/games.php
Jelly Car! - One of the first mobile games published for the iPad that uses soft body physics and had awesome human vocal sound effects.
Jason: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Portal, Megaman II
Steve: Street Fighter 2, Ultima VII, Candy Crush [bold admission there Steve - ed]
Timmy: Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Metroid Prime, Left 4 Dead 2

3) Rank yourself at multiplayer vs your officemates, who dominates? Who has the best excuses?

Alex: With all honesty it really depends on the game. If it's our game I would say I'm in the above average category, slightly below elite. Timmy probably thinks he's the best - but in reality it's RobV - 3D art guru who may not slay you with verbosity, but it will be Game Over before you've even gotten situated in a map. Whenever I lose it's totally because of an input bug. 
Brent: I am revered as the dominant player in the office. Every day I enter the office to a High Five Tunnel as I sit down at my desk to dish about the daily lesson in ass-kickery awesomeness. Then I wake up to the crushing reality that I am total trash, hands down the worst player in the office.
Jason: I'm definitely top 3. Timmy and Rob V tend to dominate the most. Kearney has the worst excuses.
Steve: Hmmmm, I'm probably middle of the road. Jason and Rob V are really good and usually at the top of our office play sessions. And I have some pretty good excuses for losing which aren't really excuses because they're accurate assessments of the reasons I lost which are totally out of my control ;)

Timmy: I dominate in the games we make (except for Rob V, he can compete). Sean dominates at board games but he cheats. Alex’s excuses are usually pretty good.

Thanks to the team for their time and keep an eye out for Part 2!

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED ABOUT MAKING MOBILE SHOOTERS… SO FAR.

In 2012, we set out on a mission, easiest summarized as mobile to the core. We make games for core-gamers, built from the ground up for mobile platforms. We’ve had a year to reflect on our latest learnings and steer the development on our third major release.

Our aim is to take one of the most popular game genres – first person shooter (FPS) – and bring it to the mobile devices that are everyone’s constant companion, and for many, their primary gaming platform.

The challenges for this ambition are huge, but so are the opportunities.

The challenges:

  • The giant mobile gaming audience is quite diverse. It includes core gamers, but also a lot of other flavors of gamers. 
  • Game sessions on mobile have to reward short sessions, but also be rewarding to players who want to go deep down the rabbit hole. 
  • The number of inputs on a mobile touch screen is basically limited to the number of thumbs on a gamer. That’s a much smaller number than the buttons available on a console controller or keyboard. [Fig 1]
  • The mobile screen, while dense with pixels, is a lot smaller physically than your computer monitor or TV. 
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The opportunities:

  • Deliver core gameplay to a really, really giant and global audience.
  • Define the FPS standard on mobile. Yep seven years in and this is still not done.
  • Ship a best-in-class game with a team of dozens instead of hundreds.

What does ″building for mobile″ mean? It means using the interface native to the platform. In the case of shooters, doing something better than porting over the 16 input controller interface developed for consoles. Players should get a better experience with controls that use the touch screen they already know. And for mobile players new to shooters, deliver controls that are intuitive.

Simplifying shooter controls requires a fine balance. Complexity is not a bad thing when it is an enabler for skill-based play. But when it crosses the line and overloads a players’ ability to be successful it’s a turn-off. Dual sticks in shooters, whether that’s on a touch screen or with a controller, require the player to use their two thumbs to control both looking and moving, and then every action beyond those has to be an additional input. Those extra inputs on a touch screen are a real challenge for most players.

With the first game, Midnight Star, we started with simplifying movement. Let the player concentrate on choosing targets, aiming, and firing, and have the game move the player along a rail.

 Midnight Star prioritized shooting over movement, and not surprisingly, players wanted more control over movement.

Midnight Star prioritized shooting over movement, and not surprisingly, players wanted more control over movement.

Midnight Star prioritized shooting over movement, and not surprisingly, players wanted more control over movement.

The other key feedback was what players valued most, the top of the pyramid of skill, is the ability to aim effectively, and the feeling of mastery in quickly acquiring targets. Renegade’s scheme of pinching to lock on and choose the next target decreased the complexity of manually aiming, but introduced a mental complexity of figuring out which target the targeting system will select for you. By taking some direct control away from the player, we made it more difficult to predict what a specific action would do. Balancing the removal of control complexity with the ability to predict what certain actions will do is something that still needs work. Retaining the reward of skill based play while reducing control complexity is a major goal of ours.

Renegade has more movement control than Midnight Star. Aiming is simple – pinch to select a target – but learning how the system really worked took some time .

 Renegade has more movement control than Midnight Star. Aiming is simple – pinch to select a target – but learning how the system really worked took some time.

Renegade has more movement control than Midnight Star. Aiming is simple – pinch to select a target – but learning how the system really worked took some time.

The final ingredient in providing the mobile FPS mobile players are looking for is PvP. Shooters are most fun with other people, no matter how subtle your AI. 

So, what are we working on now? Version 3 of mobile to the core. Yes, a new game that reflects all we’ve learned. A game that we are already having so much fun playing. And a game that gets back to the basics of, “Kill your enemies, kill your friends’ enemies… kill your friends”!

Much remains to be done – to be continued…