For some background on one of my latest games, D.U.C.K., I’ll have to tell a personal story. And it’s going to sound a bit like bragging, but bear with me.
THE JOB OFFER
Last November, a “dream job” caught my attention. A new (only 1 published game) casual game company in California was looking for someone to rapidly prototype quick gameplay mechanics – hopefully a new one per day, on average – and just keep cranking them out. Basically do a game-jam every day, with just grey-boxes and no presentation or polish necessary.
It was the company’s intention to get a nice catalogue of gameplay mechanics, pick out the best ones, and hand them to another team to brush up and insert as mini-games into their larger casual titles (for both launch and game updates down the road).
Wow. For a guy like me, that was perfect. I dislike working with content-reliant games; I tend to focus on pure mechanics and quick 5-minute gameplay experiences. I think of polish and art as necessary chores for success; and none of that was required here. I think one of my greatest strengths is my rapid delivery style; the drawbacks for such (unusable code, for example) don’t count against a job posting like this (where the mechanic will just be rewritten anyway).
Imagine that: Spend a few hours hammering out a quick silly fun game… and hang up your hat, call it a day, and move on. I could make a game a day for an entire year (minus weekends and holidays) and not have to worry about paying rent?! Fantastic!
I seriously considered giving everything up for this job. Moving to California, halting Radial Games, cancelling any outstanding projects… It was very promising. I was flown in on two occasions for interviews, and the salary offered was triple any amount I’ve ever made before (not that indie development is a rockstar job). They even picked me up from the airport in a limo. A limo with free wi-fi on board.
Part of the interview process was a test. You know, one designed to show off your chops, both for game design fundamentals, technical proficiency, source code legibility, and speed of development. To make things [arguably] a bit easier, they provided a theme of “classic video game with a new spin,” and a time limit of 1 day of development (and up to 6 days of preparation). The game being fun, marketable, or casual were not requirements at all; just the ability to execute.
I hung up the phone at 5PM, with an expectation to deliver the game the same time next week.
Sounds like a challenge.
I started off with Duck Hunt as a theme, and thought back to those old typing-tutor games I used to like so much. Why not smash the two together? The idea flew off the top of my head pretty danged quickly.
I figured if I was working at this company, I’d need to execute on ideas in a day. I know the standard of “8 hour shifts” include copious amounts of goofing off and cat videos, but I know personally that I can get three or four solid, uninterrupted work hours in a day. So I set that as my personal goal: finish this game in 3 hours. I started a log file.
5:50PM: Began setting up environment, generating API keys for stat tracking, etc.
6:00PM: Began Art Asset generation, OFFICIAL START TIME
6:25PM: Finished all intended art. Begin Code!
6:40PM: Basic mechanic implemented (not fun yet)
7:11PM: First fun playable build (#47). Taking a break to fix weird preloader error in the IE8 + Flash 10.0
7:48PM: That particular combination doesn’t like classic programatic debug-mode detection. Developed workaround.
8:10PM: Caught edge cases, changed scoring and added score threats. Not just fun, but a challenge now. (#61)
8:17PM: Added countdown timer.
8:25PM: Added end state and fixed keyboard focus issues.
8:32PM: High scores implemented; sending game out for playtesting (#73)
9:09PM: Added some basic bird animations and waving grass.
9:20PM: Build 108 final build created, incorporates minor fixes and edge cases.
9:30PM: Official Deadline (not counting 30 minute preloader error)
Blammo. I had created D.U.C.K. You can play it by clicking here. Shoot each wave of ducks down by typing the letter card they are holding. Bonus points for juggling a single duck multiple times; big penalties for mis-typing! Perfection is the only way to win!
It’s a basic idea of a mechanic that can be fleshed out into it’s own full-blown game, if there were any interest in that. It’s fun-enough and polished-enough to the point where it’s easy to see where it can possibly go, and where it’s potential failings are. This game is worth a whole lot more than a design document for a similar game, and was probably executed faster than that design doc could have been written.
But it’s not just a grey-boxed mechanic. Take a look at that development log again. It includes asset creation, play-testing (yay twitter!), bug fixing and multi-browser compliancy tests, in-game metric linkages (highscores are recorded on the back-end; not publicly displayed yet), and even some bonus parallax grass waving in the foreground, just for some visual flair. And all of this in just 3 hours work.
THE GREATEST RESUME
People often ask me how to “break into” the games industry. My standard response is to make your games your resume. Not many companies actually care about your education (I have no academic degrees!) or your years of experience; the most important thing is what you’ve created so far.
In this situation, I had created a game that said I could do exactly what the job required of me, and then some. I could go above and beyond. And better yet, I have a history of a dozen games under my belt that do the same – all those jam games are not worthless.
WHAT ABOUT THE JOB?
I had taken a long hard look at the situation. I really wanted the money, and really didn’t want to move. I wanted to be released of my indie responsibilities, but not have a boss. I was very much flip-flopping on the whole job offer, and had to go renegotiate a few times for more concessions in my favour. But still, this was a casual game company. Their primary focus was a style of games I didn’t agree with or enjoy. I wasn’t sure I was willing to sell my soul for any price.
In the end, I decided not to take the job, and continue on my own special indie career. All the same, the company was snatched up by Zynga a few months later, and I would have lost all my potential indie cred then.
I AM NOT SPECIAL
I know this has sounded a whole lot like bragging so far, but here’s the thing: I’m not very good at this ultra-fast-game-dev-thing. I’m just one of the few that tries. Everybody else I know that takes my 5-minute game challenge makes better, more interesting games – faster than I can imagine possible. I’ve seen 48-hour game jam games that absolutely blow me away, being made at my own local game jams, by people I’ve never met before.
I’ll bet that nearly all the game designers/engineers out there reading this blog could do better than friggin’ D.U.C.K. if they set aside just 3 hours of time tonight. So why not give it a try? It might land you that dream job… or it might set you off on an indie development career. Go to game jams. Take the Ludum Dare challenges. MAKE SOME GAMES.