回到五月份，许多当地开发者在旧金山举办的Indie Press Day上炫耀着自己开发中的游戏。那是一个下着雨的夜晚，Indie Press Day共汇聚了16个独立开发者。那里没有闪光灯 或其它让人分心的事物，有的只是游戏和友善的开发者。尽管会上呈现的每一款游戏都具有其自身的魅力和独创性，但是真正让我印象深刻的还是这些开发者在展开独立开发业务 前大多都致力于知名的大型公司。
在长达10年的游戏产业职业生涯中，Ethan Levy曾为Pandemic Studios和艺电等公司工作过，并且他也扮演过各种角色：实习生，首席测试者，程序员，游戏设计师，制作人以及 咨询者。而对于Quarter Spiral的最直接影响还是来自Levy在BioWare Soial的工作经历，在那里他曾致力于浏览器游戏《龙腾世纪传奇》，《龙腾世纪旅程》以及《龙腾世纪传奇 ：外传01》的创造。
Levy说道：“BioWare Social所吸引我的便是其创业家精神。它就像是艺电中的一家初创企业。在此我拥有许多发展空间，能够尝试许多新内容。我也因此遇到了Quarter Spiral 的其中一个联合创始人，Alex。”
Kohlhofer和Levy是差不多时间离开BioWare。很快地，他们又拉拢了Thorben Schrdde作为后端开发人员而组建了Quarter Spiral。
Quarter Spiral的第一款游戏《Enhanced Wars》
《Enhanced Wars》受到了任天堂的《Advanced Wars》（一系列专注于回合制策略战斗的掌上游戏）很大的影响。但是比起基于《Advanced Wars》开发一款单人玩家游戏，Levy表 示他们希望传达的是“一款基于回合制的多人策略游戏，即克服了《Advanced Wars》类游戏所具有的设计缺点。”
为了避免最后一部分，Quarter Spiral计划为《Enhanced Wars》的玩家添加许多“情绪波动”，从而创造出“快速且具有侵略性的”战斗。但是他们却还未真正完成游戏的创造— —呈现在Indie Press Day上的版本还只有1个月大。在今年秋天，该公司计划在Kickstarter为《Enhanced Wars》开展集资活动。而其当前的目标平台分别是PC，Mac和Linux。
《Indie Press Day》上的《Enhanced Wars》还缺少声音或动画。但是其基本回合制机制已经呈现出来了。
“再跟你们分享下我的生活吧：我刚刚订婚。我和未婚妻正计划着搬到北卡罗来州，但是她想要出去工作，但是我们却做不了长期的计划，因为我不清楚3个月或6个月后，我是否 会开始寻找自己的下一份工作。不管Quarter Spiral是否能够实现自营，我们都有可能搬到北卡罗来州。”
Levy表示：“我认为在下一个主机时代里，独立开发者将扮演着越来越重要的角色。而市场动态便是主要原因。当《古墓丽影》获得巨大的投资，而上百万销量却只能带来少量利 益时，这些大型发行商的业务模式便面临着一种情况，即基于巨大的团队和大型游戏，他们很难谋取利益。如此便导致许多公司的停业以及裁员趋势的加剧。不管是关闭还是裁员 都不能推动着人们像过去那样加入更多全新工作室中。反而会刺激着他们开始创建自己的工作室。”
“我认为对于那些选择离开游戏开发公司，或者被迫离开的人来说，走向独立开发便是最大的吸引力。就像《The Banner Saga》的开发者便通过华丽的图像，优秀的团队成员以及 充满远见的决策中赚取了巨大的利益。现在他们也在开发着自己喜欢的游戏，而不是坐在会议室开着漫长又无聊的会议，或者只是传递着上头分配的开发任务的相关文件。”
Pete Angstadt在Maxis工作室（艺电旗下）的游戏开发中遭受了很大的打击。在那里，他是作为《孢子》的扩展包的程序员——在这款游戏中玩家将创造并培育自己的外星生命。 尽管该项目已经完成了，但是却未真正问世。
他说道：“在开发项目的同时，我也会利用业余时间制作游戏，并带着这些游戏参加各种比赛。其中便包括2011年动视所举办的第一届独立游戏竞赛。但是之后我便忘了这回事了 。直到几个月后，他们给我写信说道，‘嘿，你获得了一等奖，我们将奖励你17.5万美元。并且不带任何附加条件。’所以那时我就想，‘好吧，是时候放弃现在的工作而尝试自 己创造游戏了。’”
意识到自己需要一些图像上的帮助，他便邀请早前Maxis中的同事Theresa Duringer一起创建了Turtle Sandbox。
（Turtle Sandbox的第一款游戏《Cannon Brawl》）
当Angstadt最初提交游戏原型去参加竞赛时，《Cannon Brawl》仍只是一款面向PC的2D行动策略游戏。Angstadt将其描述为“炮兵类型的下一场改革”，即效仿着着像《百战天虫 》和《坦克宝贝》那样的游戏。当你创造了地雷，大炮和盾牌去保护并支持自己的基地（即城堡）同时还对敌人发动攻击时，便会爆发实时战斗。
甚至在我玩的早期版本中也具有许多乐趣。竞赛是让人兴奋的，特别是当你的武器能够破坏地图的某些部分，留给你一些宝贵的空间去创建更多宝塔和建筑。当《Cannon Brawl》 在今年夏天正式面向PC发行时将同时出现单人玩家比赛和多人玩家选择。
有将近10年时间里，Ian Stocker一直作为自由音乐者而负责一些游戏的承包工作：编写原声带，声音设计，为客户做音频指导等等。除了接受过钢琴课程，他从未接受过专业的音 乐训练—-他是从青少年时期便开始使用计算机制作音乐。
即使在早期他便创造过许多独立项目（都未发行），但是只有一款游戏真正带给他的事业巨大的帮助。他为Game Boy Color的角色扮演游戏《Mythri》创造了30多首歌，但是这款 游戏却在完成前遭遇了崩塌。之后这款游戏的程序员转向了Amaze Entertainment，并将Mythri（带有Stocker的音乐）收录在自己的游戏组合中。而那时候Amaze刚好在寻找擅长掌 机开发的人，所以其制作总监便向Stocker伸出了橄榄枝，从此Stocker结束了承包工作而开启了自己一人的公司——Ian Stocker Soundesign。
他说道：“我本应该启动的一些项目都被取消了。所以我才拥有几个月的时间可以做这些事，而我也还有许多需要掌握的内容。所以我便到咖啡店去学习XNA，并开始致力于一个全 新的游戏项目。5个月后，我完成了自己的第一款游戏，并将其发行在Xbox Live Indie Games。这便是我的行动RPG《Soulcaster》。”
Stocker决定致力于《山羊逃脱》的续集部分原因是源于最初《山羊逃脱》的早派风格，它就像是来自Nintendo Entertainment System那个时代的游戏。Stocker认为游戏的外观对 于某些玩家来说可能太过时了，而他也不能通过Greenlight社区编程将其带到Steam平台上，所以他才决定参与《山羊逃脱2》的制作。
Casey Carlin准备离开了。离开前的最后两年，他为一家日本开发公司做UI，但他知道如果留下来，他将一直做UI。是时候改变了。所以，他收拾好行李搬回家住，但他并不清楚 日后要做什么。
他的故事并不独特。越来越多人离开全职工作，成为独立开发者。比如，在旧金山的第一次Indie Press Day活动上，有16名开发者展示了自己的游戏的初期版本。在第一轮采访中 ，我与曾经供职于BioWare和Maxis的人才们谈话。这一次，我们将首先追踪太平洋另一端的Carlin的职业生涯，然后返回来看看Kent Hudson从制作一流射击游戏转变到设计关于事业与家庭矛盾的游戏的过程。
Casey Carlin, Whole Hog Games
邮件得到回复了。Arc System Works（游戏邦注：以制作硬核2D格斗游戏闻名，代表作有《罪恶装备》和《苍翼默示录》等）是少数回应的公司之一。“那时才开始有一点‘全球化’的苗头，我想应该这么说吧。他们把我当成试水的机会。”Carlin解释道。
他在Arc System Works做了6个月的实习生，并且在2009年毕业时顺利从实习生变为全职员工。在那时，他参与制作《Hard Corps: Uprising》等游戏的UI，有时候也帮助翻译。
Carlin笑道：“我的朋友和家人都非常生气，一直叫我回家。单这个因素我想我可以忽略，但当你在大公司工作时，非常容易发生的一种情况就是，你成为困死在特定领域的‘那 个家伙’。我的态度基本上是积极的——我读到贴在墙上的通知时，我意识到只要我还在Arc System Works公司做事，我就将一辈子做UI。那未必是件坏事。我确实很喜欢做UI， 但我不想总是局限于这个领域。”
到Carlin回来的时候，他“基本上”决定和两个朋友，Finn Beazlie（插画家）和Jake Federico（程序员）一起做新游戏。他们一起创立了Whole Hog Games工作室。Whole Hog Games的第一款游戏：《Full Bore》
“毫无疑问，那正是我们对《Full Bore》的关注所在，因为那在《超级银河战士》中非常管用：只要相信如果你给玩家机会，他们就能够解开谜题。那就是为什么谜题的关键就是 视觉化。当玩家被强制做某事一次或几次时，他就会注意到某事发生的时间。但如果玩家肯做，那么游戏所有区域的大门就打开了。”
我必须花近半小时的时间琢磨DEMO，以发现Carlin所说的东西和一些秘密，如带有通向特定地点的传送门的隐藏区域（有点像快速旅行系统）。《Full Bore》呈现魔幻现实主义的 色彩，在皮克斯或迪士尼的电影中不会让人觉得别扭。甚至Fredrick的动画——特别是当你猛拍他，使他的头砸到地上的方式，非常有意思。我是从Carlin在Mike Krahulik写的一篇文章中找到的这些“愚蠢的主意”的灵感。
“我穷疯了。在过去一年，除了做《Full Bore》，我什么活也没干。我在日本工作挣的钱已经花光了。Kickstarter融来的钱又不够。那确实是很大的困难：不给人打工，意味着 非常难保持时间计划。《幻想战记》的制作费时5年，我可不想花那么长的时间。”
“只由三个人制作的游戏，必须三人合作。所以如果我只顾前进，做一些没有Finn和Jake参与的东西，那么我会认为这款游戏就是‘我的’游戏，否则就是不诚实的。有他们作伴 ，我当然幸免于孤单，但同时，三人合作也使进度更快一点。我想我没有其他办法能做出这款游戏。冲锋枪来说，确保所有人都参与制作游戏是很有趣，很新鲜的事。我认为，有 没用心是很难评估的，但对游戏来说很重要。”
“我认为日本可能也会发生那样的现象——也许更快，因为他们的游戏行业处境确实不佳。现在看起来唯一做得好的公司大概就是Arc System Works：够灵活，能赢利，并且规模 够小，乐意尝试新东西。”
Kent Hudson, Orthogonal Games
作为《骇客任务》的超级粉丝，Kent Hudson在游戏行业的第一份工作是在Ion Storm Austin（游戏邦注：由《骇客任务》开发者Warren Spector建立的分公司）担任关卡设计师。 在那里工作期间，Hudson参与制作《骇客任务：隐形战争》及其PlayStation 2移植版（他最喜欢的游戏的续作）和《盗贼：致命阴影》。后来，他成为《盗贼4》的首席设计师。 在那段时间，他把注意力转向系统设计，“很快爱上它，并且此后一直做它”。
Hudson转战Midway工作室，成为创意总监（Ion Storm于2005年关闭该工作室）。虽然他移之为“一个不可多得的学习机会”，该工作室取消了他的项目——一款开放世界抢劫游戏 。为了削减成本，Midway最终于2008年底关闭了它的奥斯汀总部。但与Ion Storm一样，该工作室于2009年遵申请破产。
“那之后，我去了2K Marin，作为高级设计师参与制作《生化奇兵2》，主要是设计AI；尽管我确实做了一些关卡脚本和各种运作得不错的系统——再然后，我转到《XCOM》项目（ 《The Bureau: XCOM Declassified》）。我在那个项目做了若干不同的领导职位。之后我退出去了LucasArts，在那里，我参与工作室的革新管理工作。我与一支小团队，也就是 我的朋友Clint Hocking 和Matthias Worch合作，开发游戏的新概念。但当我明确这个项目将永远无法走出概念阶段时（因为缺少员工），我辞掉工作，成独立开发者。”
当《小说家》于5月发布第一部预告片时，游戏有了一些反响。在游戏中，玩家扮演一个住在Dan Kaplan及其家人的度假屋的幽灵。但玩家的目标不是吓走住户，而是必须帮助他们 。Kaplan是游戏的主角——他是一名作家，正在为创作新书和多花时间陪家人的矛盾而烦恼。玩家也要帮助他的妻子和儿子。玩家可以感应他们的思想，看到他们留在屋子里的任 何笔记或图画，甚至潜入他们的记忆去寻找解决问题的线索。
“所以，我开始思考我要怎么用这些无需解释、确定的关系类型来创造情境。最终，我意识到小家庭的设定更靠谱：所有人都知道父母、配偶、子女是什么。进一步说，所有人都 知道为什么某种行为会破坏或改善婚姻、使孩子快乐或生气。突然之间，我不再需要解释任何关系的背景了，这意味着我可以更加深入地挖掘那些关系的运作方式，赋予那些神奇 的数字以意义，因为所有游戏都可以归结为数字，如果你挖掘得够深入的话。
“一旦我设定好家庭，我就只需要冲突点了——产生紧张感的东西。我知道，许多人都为应该专注于个人成就、追求梦想还是专注于家庭、增进亲情这个问题而感到困扰。那些都 是值得追求的目标和真正让我感到苦恼的问题，因为我自己也不知道答案。所以在我切中这个中心问题后，我觉得我可以围绕这些关系做一款游戏，包括人与工作的关系，利用所 有人都熟悉的普遍概念。”
“另一件让我焦虑的东西是，一个人工作产生的孤独感。我很确定一个人工作不同于在小工作室或小团队中工作，我是一个人在自己的公寓里独自做这款游戏——除了3D美术方面 由我的朋友Serg的美术外包公司CGBot代劳。现在已经一年半了，确实很难保持每天工作的动力。在我作为独立开发者的日子里，我也做些咨询工作，还开始每周三天去旧金山做些 合作工作，但大部分时间里，我是一个人工作。确实比我想象中的来得困难；直到再也不能与其他能人一起工作，我才意识到那种机会有多么棒。”
“我把独立游戏当作一个让人们冒险和拓展游戏的空间。尽管我认为不会有太多独立游戏被挑中做成AAA游戏；很难想象一家上市发行公司会拿出大预算制作3D版《Cart Life》。 但同时，能够让优秀的独立游戏接触到广大受众的平台太多了，所以我认为独立游戏行业可以靠自己繁荣起来。”
“我确实看到许多同事都选择成为独立开发者。我的朋友们建立了The Fullbright公司，正在制作《Gone Home》；还有几个朋友退出2K Marin，也开始做独立项目了。我们每周都 会在聊天室里聊天和视频，我们经常为彼此的游戏或创意提意见，这对我来说帮助很大——在此我终于有机会向他们表达他们为《小说家》提供的帮助了！我想，只要大公司仍然 为新游戏的大预算、高品质要求挣扎，转而继续开发保险的旧作而不是新创意，那么将有越来越多人离开AAA选择独立的。但我不认为AAA行业会崩溃被撼动。
Going indie: Why 5 devs left their day jobs for creative independence (part one)
By Giancarlo Valdes
Independent development is a scary thing. You don’t have the financial cushion of a large company to fall back on. Sometimes, you don’t even know when your game is coming out, and, assuming if anyone buys it, you’re not getting paid until it does. Yet despite all the uncertainty, many people still choose to goindie full-time … so I decided to find out why.
Back in May, a few local developers showed off their work-in-progress games at the first Indie Press Day in San Francisco. Held during a rainy evening, Indie Press Day organized 16 indies and as many plastic tables into a narrow row at a small coworking space. Nothing flashy or distracting was there, just the games and their very approachable developers. While each title on display had its own charm and ingenuity, what impressed me the most was just how many ofthe folks there used to work at large, well-known companies before taking the indie-game plunge.
The individuals I spoke with all had their own reasons for leaving their day jobs, but one common thread among them is that they all left voluntarily, an interesting (and fortunate) circumstance given the amount of layoffs that hit the industry seemingly every week. I also asked them a bit about their upcoming games, any unexpected challenges they’re facing from switching to indie development, and what they think about the thriving sector of indie games and thepeople behind them.
Ethan Levy, Quarter Spiral
Why he left
In his decade-long career in the games industry at companies like Pandemic Studios and Electronic Arts, Ethan Levy has occupied a variety of roles: intern, lead tester, programmer, game designer, producer, and consultant. But the most direct influence for Quarter Spiral came from Levy’s time at BioWare Social where he worked on the browser-based games Dragon Age Legends, Dragon Age Journeys, and Dragon Age Legends: Remix 01.
“What appealed to me about [BioWare Social] was that it was very entrepreneurial,” Levy said. “It was sort of like being in a startup within EA. I had a lot of room for growth and to try new things — to do experimental things. That’s how I met Alex [Kohlhofer], one of my two co-founders at Quarter Spiral.”
After key members of the team left BioWare to co-found their own startups — leaving Levy, Kohlhofer, and another employee in charge — Levy began to lose interest.
“Over the course of six to nine months, I started to feel a lot less like I was an entrepreneur,” Levy said. “I started to feel a lot more like I worked at the EA that people imagine EA is like. It just felt like it was time for a change, I guess. I wanted the freedom and exhilaration and all the challenges that were part of the early days of BioWare Social and not to feel like I was endlessly going to meetings and politicking and managing. … I just wanted to feel like I was making games again.”
Both Kohlhofer and Levy left BioWare around the same time. Shortly after that, they picked up Thorben Schrdde as a back-end developer and formed Quarter Spiral.
Quarter Spiral’s first game: Enhanced Wars
Enhanced Wars owes a lot to Nintendo’s Advanced Wars, a series of handheld games that focuses on turn-based tactical combat. But instead of trying to develop a robust single-player campaign in the vein of Advance Wars, Levy says they want to deliver a “a multiplayer focused, turn-based strategy game that really overcomes some of the design foibles of your Advance Wars-style games.”
“A lot of turn-based strategy games and even real-time strategy games — if you have the reflexes to play them, which I don’t — are about kind of getting a small resource advantage over your opponent and then overwhelming them slowly with forces,” Levy said. “It’s really fun for both players for a short build-up phase. But then relatively quickly, one player gains an advantage that can’t be overcome. And then there’s kind of a long, boring mop-up phase.”In order to avoid that last part, Quarter Spiral plans to design Enhanced Wars for “fast and aggressive” battles with a lot of “emotionalvolatility” forplayers. But it’s still far from being complete — the version shown at Indie Press Day was only a month old. Later this fall, the company will launch a crowdfunding campaign for Enhanced Wars on Kickstarter. For now, the target platforms are PC, Mac, and Linux.
At Indie Press Day, Enhanced Wars lacked any sort of sound or animation. But the basic turn-based mechanics were there.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to pay my rent [laughs],” Levy said. “At EA, your project might get canceled, but you’d still get your paycheck. Whereas here, there’s a very real possibility that our company will go bankrupt and then we’ll have to get real jobs. Dealing with that level of uncertainty is really hard.
“Just to give you some perspective on where my life is: I just got engaged. My fiancé and I are thinking of moving to North Carolina, but she wants to stay out here for work, and trying to do long-term planning is impossible for us right now because I literally have no idea whether three months from now [or] six months from now I’ll be at GDC [editor's note: Game Developer's Conference] trying to hunt down that next job. Or whether Quarter Spiral will be self-
supporting, and we’ll be able to move to North Carolina whenever we want to.”
On the rise of indie developers
“I think indie games will play a bigger role in the next generation of consoles,” Levy said. “And the reason I think that is almost purely market dynamics. Like when a huge investment in Tomb Raider and millions of sales are only barely making a profit, the business models of those large publishers are— it’s really tough for them to make a profit with these giant teams and these giant games. That leads to studio closures and layoffs. Studio closures and layoffs don’t turn into people joining as many new studios as it used to. It turns to people founding their own studios … .
“I think that [for] a lot of people who are either choosing to leave corporate game development, like I did, or being forced to leave, going indie is a huge draw. Just look at how much money the guys making The Banner Saga raised with beautiful art, great team pedigree, and great vision. And now they’re developing the game they want to make instead of sitting in meetings or being handed design documents about the game they have to make.”
Why he left
Pete Angstadt became discouraged from game development after his last studio job at the Electronic Arts-owned Maxis. While he was there, he worked as a programmer on an expansion pack to Spore, a game where players create and raise their own alien lifeforms. Though the project was complete, it never saw the light of day.
“[I] was just like, ‘My time is not being used very well here,’” Angstadt said. “As a person who wants to make games, you also want to have people play the games. If you spend a year and a half on something and nobody ever plays it, it’s kind of stinky.”
After the cancellation, Angstadt wasn’t even sure he wanted to make games anymore. So he took up a job at Havok, the company behind the titular physics engine widely used by game developers.
“While I was doing that, I was also making games on the side and entering them into as many contests as possible,” he said. “And one of those contests was Activision’s first independent games competition back in 2011. I entered that and forgot about it. Then months and months later, they wrote back to me and said, ‘Hey, you won first prize and you get $175,000, no strings attached.’ So I was like, ‘Alright, it’s time to quit and try and make this game.”
Realizing that he needed some help with the art, he joined up with his old Maxis coworker Theresa Duringer to form Turtle Sandbox.
Turtle Sandbox’s first game: Cannon Brawl
Known as Dstroyd back when Angstadt first submitted his prototype for the competition, Cannon Brawl is a 2D action strategy game for the PC. Angstadt describes it as the “next evolution of the artillery genre” that follows in the footsteps of games like Worms and Gunbound. Battles take place in real-time as you build mines, cannons, and shields to protect and fund your base (the castles) while attacking the enemy’s compound.
Even in the early version I played, it’s a lot of fun. Matches are hectic, especially as your weapons destroy portions of the map, leaving you with precious little room to build more towers and buildings. Cannon Brawl will have a single-player campaign as well as multiplayer options (online and local) when it launches some time this summer for PC.
“On one hand, when you’re at a big company and someone says, ‘Do this thing!’ You think, ‘Oh, that’s a terrible idea, why would I do that?’” Angstadt said. “But you have to do it anyway because it’s your job. And then at the end of the day, when maybe it didn’t work out, you kind of have like a way to protect your ego, like, ‘Oh I knew that was a bad decision. If I was in charge, I would have never done that.’
“And one of the scary parts of being indie is now I am in charge. And if my decisions are terrible, then it’s only me I have to blame.”
On the rise of indie developers
“I feel like the audience for games is getting a little bit tired of your standard triple-A game,” Angstadt said. “They also don’t want to pay $60 for another sports simulator or shooting simulator. Maybe they want to try five new interesting games for the same price. And at the same time, you have these triple-A companies with a lot of talent that they’re maybe not utilizing as well as they could. Those talented people are going to try and strike off on their own, basically.”
Why he left
For nearly a decade, Ian Stocker was a self-employed musician doing contract work for games: composing soundtracks, sound design, and audio direction for his clients. Aside from taking a few piano lessons, he doesn’t have any formal music training — he just started making music with computers when he was a teenager.
Though he contributed to a bunch of indie projects early on (none of which came out), one game in particular helped get his career off the ground. He made 30 songs for a Game Boy Color role-playing game called Mythri, which was close to being done before development fell apart. A programmer on that game went on to work for Amaze Entertainment, and he used Mythri (complete with Stocker’s music) as his portfolio. Amaze was looking for someone who specialized in handheld console development, so an executive producer reached out to Stocker, and that kicked off his contract work and the start of his one-man company, Ian Stocker Soundesign.
While he loved what he did, Stocker just couldn’t pass up the chance to make his own games when the opportunity arose in 2009.
“A couple of projects I was supposed to get started on actually got canceled,” he said. “So I had set aside several months to work on these, and suddenly I had a vacuum that I needed to fill. So I just went to the coffee shop and started to learn XNA and started a new game project. Five months later, I finished my first game and launched it on Xbox Live Indie Games. That was [the action RPG] Soulcaster.”
Now working under the name MagicalTimeBean, Stocker made two more games: Soulcaster 2 and Escape Goat (a puzzle platformer).
“I think I learned a lot doing the contracting thing,” Stocker said. “That’s part of why I set out to make my own games: I started to develop opinions on game production, watching a bunch of games being made from start to finish, seeing what stuff worked and what stuff didn’t work in my opinion. That kind of gave me a jumping off point for how to develop games on my own. So I definitely think it was a huge advantage for me to have witnessed these 30 or 40 game projects as an outsider and then go in and try my hand at it.”
MagicalTimeBean’s newest game: Escape Goat 2
Stocker’s decision to work on an Escape Goat sequel was partly due to the old-school appeal of the first Escape Goat, which looks like it came from the Nintendo Entertainment System era. Stocker brings up the game’s aesthetic as proof that maybe it was too old-fashioned for some players, as he still hasn’t been able to get it on Steam (Valve’s popular digital platform on PC) via the Greenlight community program. So instead, he set out to make Escape Goat 2.
“What if I took the same game concept, made a new game, had HD graphics for it, and try it again?” Stocker said. “Because Escape Goat had a really good critical and fan reception, and I felt like there was a little bit momentum I could spring off of from the first game, rather than let that die out over a year or something and try and resurrect it later.”
In Escape Goat 2, you have to solve a series of clever puzzle rooms (100 in all) by using the goat’s abilities and the powers of his magical rodent companion. Navigating the mechanical platforms, fire balls, and the other challenges the game throws at you takes some time getting used to, but you’ll feel that much smarter once you figure out Escape Goat 2′s internal logic.
It’s set for release on PC this summer.
You have to collect the keys before you can enter the next room.
In addition to the abrupt change in the frequency and size of his paychecks — Stocker hopes to reach “a similar amount” to what he was making as a contractor in the next couple of years — he found it challenging to promote and market his games, something that he never had to do before.
“I didn’t realize how much work you need to put into promotion of your stuff,” Stocker said. “Like making a quality game is an important part of the equation, but it’s one of like five things. Just the amount of time spent on the website, Twitter, media stuff, interviews like this one — it all helps tremendously. I didn’t know that going in because I was used to just dealing with customers who came to me through word-of-mouth. I didn’t have to do a ton of sales-pitch-type stuff. So that was a huge learning curve.”
On the rise of indie developers
“That seems to be happening all the time — a lot of people are leaving their triple-A jobs either of their own volition or, in less fortunate cases, not — and starting their indie company or trying to get a new team,” Stocker said. “Because the cost to distribute is so low and there’s so many different ways to distribute your game now, you don’t necessarily need a publishing contract. You don’t need an expensive dev kit in some cases; even console [manufacturers] are willing to work with you a bit more.”
Going indie: Why 5 devs left their day jobs for creative independence (part two)
by Giancarlo Valdes
Casey Carlin was ready to quit. He spent the last two years working on user interfaces for a Japanese developer, but he knew that if he stayed, he’d be stuck doing UI over and over. It was time for a change. So he packed his bags and moved back home, unsure of what he wanted to do next.
It took about a month and a half before Carlin came up with an answer. Inspired by the release of the critically acclaimed Braid and Super Meat Boy, he found that he could no longer resist “the siren song of indie development.” He gathered a few friends and they immediately began work on their first game.
His story isn’t unique. More and more people are leaving their day jobs to work as indie developers full-time. Some of them were present at the first Indie Press Day in San Francisco, where 16 developers showed off early versions of their games. In part one of the interview series, I talked to talented folks who previously worked at studios like BioWare and Maxis. This time around, we’ll travel across the Pacific to trace Carlin’s career, and then bounce back to the States to see how Kent Hudson went from designing blockbuster shooters to a beautifully subdued game about a struggling writer and his family.
Whole Hog Games
From left to right: Casey Carlin, Jake Federico, and Finn Beazlie
Casey Carlin, Whole Hog Games
Why he left
Carlin began his career through a more unusual route: Japan. At first, he tried applying for a Japanese internship via a special co-op program at his college, the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. But the school rejected his pplication, and he got the same answer when he applied for it the second time around. So Carlin decided to send out cold emails to as many Japanese developers as he could, saying he was “desperate” because he “really wanted to work in Japan” for his internship.
The emails paid off. Arc System Works (known for hardcore 2D fighting games like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue) was one of the few companies that responded.
“[It] had just recently started a push for being a little bit more … ‘global,’ I guess would be the right way to put it,” said Carlin. “They took my email as an opportunity to test the waters.”
He spent six months as an intern at Arc System Works in Japan, eventually transitioning to a full-time position after he graduated from college in 2009. During his time there, he worked on the user interface (UI) for games like Hard Corps: Uprising and would sometimes help out with translation duties as well.
Whole Hog Games
The press demo began with Fredrick waking up above ground.
“My friends and family were all really annoying and kept telling me to come home,” Carlin joked. “And that alone I think I could ignore, but part of it was — one thing that’s really easy to happen when you’re working at a big company is that it’s really easy to become ‘that guy’ for a particular field.
And I was almost positive — I read the writing on the wall that I was going to get pigeonholed into working on UI for the entire time that I was at Arc System Works. That wasn’t bad necessarily. I definitely enjoyed what I was doing. But I don’t like getting stuck in a particular position.”
Once he realized that he was “never going to escape that” and that he could never aspire for “legitimate seniority” at Arc because his communication ability “would always keep [him] away from being able to do a good job,” he decided to leave the company after two years. But mother nature also contributed to his move back to the United States.
“The  earthquake was definitely also a factor,” he said. “I already had my exit interview, and I think that the earthquake hastened my time table because the cries from my friends and family were significantly louder after that. They were convinced that Tokyo was next and that I had to get out of there. I’d like to say I could’ve ignored them, but their concern was so genuine that it kind of reminded me that I was really isolated there.”
By the time Carlin got back, he had “mostly” made up his mind to work on a new game with two friends, Finn Beazlie (an illustrator) and Jake Federico (a programmer). Together, they founded Whole Hog Games.
Whole Hog’s first game: Full Bore
Whole Hog’s first project stars — as a nod to its name — a boar. In the press demo, the boar (named Fredrick) woke up in an idyllic pasture before stumbling into the gritty world of vast, underground mines where other boars work. He quickly finds himself working with them, and from there, Full Bore opens up. Similar to games like Super Metroid, you can explore the levels at your leisure to find secrets or to piece together fragments of the story. Some areas are inaccessible until you learn a specific ability; Fredrick can already do everything, but it’s up to you to find out what those abilities are.
It was Super Metroid’s innovative visual language that led Whole Hog to adopt this approach.
“That’s undeniably a thing about Full Bore that we focused on because of how well that works in Super Metroid: just trusting that the player will be able to put stuff together if you give them the opportunity to,” Carlin said. “That’s why just about everything important about the puzzles is taught visually.
You’re forced into doing something once or a few times. You’ve got to be paying attention when that happens. But if you do, then it opens up all kinds of doors all over the game.”
I must have spent close to a half-hour just wandering around the demo, finding things Carlin talked about as well as a few secrets, like a hidden area with portals that transported me to specific locations (kind of like a fast-travel system). Full Bore embraces the magical realism genre with its blue-collar atmosphere, talking animals, and little hints of the supernatural. It’s a world that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a Pixar or Disney film. Even Fredrick’s animations — particularly the way his head melts into the ground when you slam it — are charming. Carlin cited a Penny Arcade post by Mike Krahulik as a source of inspiration for these “stupid ideas.”
The team is aiming for a late summer release for Full Bore on PC and Linux, with a possible Mac version to follow if they make enough money to buy a Mac.
“That’s the bummer about being an indie dev: can’t afford that $2,000 computer,” Carlin added. “Gotta eat first [laughs].”
“I am devastatingly poor,” Carlin said with a laugh. “I haven’t worked on anything other than Full Bore for the past year. And the savings I brought back from Japan are gone. And the Kickstarter money is pretty much out as well. That’s actually one of the things that’s been rough: not working for The Man means that it’s really hard to keep a schedule. Fez took five years. I don’t want to take five years.”
He also noted the challenges that arise with working in a small team since both Finn and Jake have other jobs and family obligations to take care of first.
“Having multiple people working on the game kind of hurts our ability to go fast because I’m the only person who works full-time,” he said. “Finn is taking care of his two toddlers, so he’s part-time stay at home dad, part-time artist. And Jake is still working full-time as an engineer. He’s basically able to be the company sugar daddy. He pays the rent for his house so that we can use one of his rooms as the office and stuff like that.
“With a game that’s only being worked on by three people, it has to have something from all of us in it. So I can’t just forge ahead and work on stuff without Finn and Jake being involved because then I think the game would just become ‘my’ game or it would become dishonest. They certainly kept me from being lonely, but at the same time, it’s also kept us from being a bit fast. I don’t think I’d have it any other way, though. It’s interesting and new for me to have to deal with making sure that everybody is contributing to the game. I think that heart is something that’s hard to quantify but so important to a game [like this].”
Whole Hog Games
The underground levels are huge and contain a lot of alternative paths.
On the rise of indie developers
“I do think you’re gonna see people leaving the industry and going on and making their own stuff,” Carlin said. “And I don’t think it’s just gonna be the people who’ve been really successful and who have gone on to run their own studio because they want to do things their own way, which has certainly happened. I don’t think that there’s much room in the middle in the games industry anymore. So you will see a lot of indie stuff like that.
“I think that’s actually going to happen maybe in Japan — and maybe sooner because their games industry is in a really bad place. The only companies that seem to be doing well for themselves right now [over there] are companies that are about the size of Arc System Works: agile enough to pivot and keep themselves profitable but also small enough to be willing to try new things.”
Kent Hudson, Orthogonal Games
Why he left
A huge Deus Ex fan, Kent Hudson’s first job in the industry was at Ion Storm Austin (a branch established by Deus Ex creator Warren Spector) as a level designer. While he was there, Hudson worked on Deus Ex: Invisible War and its PlayStation 2 port (the sequel to his favorite game) and Thief: Deadly Shadows.
He later became a lead designer “on a short-lived pitch” for Thief 4. During this time, he switched his focus to system design, which he “immediately fell in love with and has been doing ever since.”
Hudson moved on to Midway Studios Austin where he became a creative director (Ion Storm closed its doors for good in 2005). While he called it “an incredible learning opportunity,” the studio cancelled his project, which was an unannounced open-world heist game. Midway eventually closed its Austin headquarters in late 2008 to cut costs. But like Ion Storm before it, the company would later fold following its filing for bankruptcy in 2009.
Orthogonal Games’s sole employee: Kent Hudson
“From there I moved to 2K Marin, where I shipped BioShock 2 as a senior designer, focusing mainly on A.I.; although, I did some level scripting and miscellaneous systems work as well — after which I moved on to XCOM, now known as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified,” Hudson said. “I worked in a few different design lead roles on that project before quitting and moving on to LucasArts, where I was part of an effort to turn the studio around under new management. I worked on a small team developing a new concept with my friends Clint Hocking and Matthias Worch, but when it became clear the project would never make it out of the concept phase due to staffing issues, I quit that job and took the indie leap.”
Orthogonal Games‘ first title: The Novelist
The Novelist generated some buzz when Hudson released the first trailer (above) back in May. You play as a ghost haunting the vacation home that Dan Kaplan and his family are staying in. But your goal isn’t to scare the occupants. You have to help them. While Kaplan is the subject of the game — he’s a writer torn between working on his latest book and spending more time with his family — you’ll have to help his wife and son, too. You can read their thoughts and
any notes or drawings they leave around the house and even dive into their memories to look for clues to solving their problems.
Technically, The Novelist isn’t Hudson’s first project as an indie developer. After he left LucasArts, he wasn’t sure what to work on. He eventually came up with a puzzle game for iOS devices, but aside from a few ideas he liked in the “fairly aimless” puzzler, he wasn’t satisfied with the direction it was heading in.
“I hated not working on something I was truly passionate about,” he said.
Something finally struck a chord when he dug through his game design notebook, where he found an old idea “about a ghost who haunts an ancient mansion that ’s inhabited by a group of people who have just come from a funeral.”
One way to influence the family’s relationship is to “implant” thoughts into their heads.
“There were six people in a house, and you had the ability to modify friendships and romances between any of the characters,” Hudson explained. “I had big ideas about reuniting an estranged couple or reigniting old flames or causing disagreements between lifelong friends, but the problem I kept running into was that the relationships were so varied that it was impossible to convey any emotional resonance without a massive content burden. I ended up with a prototype where relationships were boiled down to numbers, and I had no real way to translate those numbers into compelling emotional content.
“So I started thinking of ways that I could create a scenario with such well-defined relationship types that no explanation was needed, and I eventually realized that a small family made a lot of sense: everyone knows what a parent, spouse, or child is. By extension, everyone knows why a given action would be good or bad for a marriage, or make a child happy or angry with their parent. Suddenly, I didn’t have to explain anything about the context of the relationships, meaning I could dive much more deeply into how those relationships work and make those magical numbers mean something because all games boil
down to numbers if you drill down far enough.
“Once I’d established the family, I just needed a counterpoint — something to provide tension. I realized that many people struggle with the question of whether they should focus on personal accomplishments and chase their dreams or whether they should focus on having a strong family. Those are both worthy goals, and that question really weighs on me because I don’t know the answer myself. So once I hit upon that central question, I realized I could make a game about relationships, including a person’s relationship to their work, and take advantage of universal concepts that everyone could relate to.”
Hudson is planning to release The Novelist toward the end of the summer for Mac and Windows, with a Linux version to follow.
“The flip side [of going indie] is that I have a fraction of a percent of the resources available at a large company, so I have to be extremely careful about what I pursue and what the scope of my game is,” Hudson said. “But I believe in liberating constraints, and the lack of triple-A resources has led to some features I really love that I never would have found if I hadn’t had to think — well, I suppose that thinking inside the box would be the appropriate phrase here.
“Another thing that really hit me was the sense of isolation that comes from working alone. I’m sure it’s different for people who are working as part of startups or small teams, but I’ve been building this game by myself in my apartment — with the notable exception of the 3D art, which was created by my friend Serg’s art outsourcing company CGBot — for a year and a half now, and it’s been really tough to keep motivated every day. I’ve done some consulting during my indie phase, and I’ve also started going to a coworking space in San Francisco three days a week, but for the most part, I’m going it alone. That’s been harder than I expected; I didn’t appreciate how great it was to work with creative people every day until that opportunity was gone.”
Dan and his family can see you if you’re in their line of sight, so you’ll have to move around carefully.
On the rise of indie developers
“I see [indie games] as a place where people are taking creative risks and expanding what games are capable of,” Hudson said. “Although, I don’t expect to see a ton of the success stories filtering back up to triple-A games; it’s hard to imagine one of the publicly traded mega-publishers doing a big-budget 3D version of Cart Life. But at the same time, there are so many platforms that enable great indie games to reach large audiences that I think the indie game industry can really thrive on its own.
“And I’ve definitely seen a big trend among my colleagues toward going indie. I’m friends with the gang over at The Fullbright Company, who are making Gone Home, and a few of my friends from the 2K Marin days have quit their jobs to work on solo projects as well. We keep up to date with chat rooms and video chats during the week, and we frequently give each other feedback on our games or brainstorm new ideas, which has been a huge help for me — the special
thanks section of the credits for The Novelist is getting long! I think we’ll continue to see more people leaving triple-A for the indie space as long as large companies continue to struggle with massive budgets, the higher fidelity requirements of the new consoles, and the continued risk aversion that leads to retreads and sequels instead of new ideas, but I don’t think the triple-A industry will collapse or anything dramatic like that.
“My hope is that the entire industry, triple-A and indie alike, will stabilize in a way that gives every developer a chance to work on the things they’re passionate about and gives every gamer the kind of experience they’re looking for.”