Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

A Game Dev’s Story, Part XII – Putting It All Together and Going Indie!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 14, 2012

While it’s tempting to end this series on the thirteenth installment, we’re really at the point where the story is “more of the same.” The story is far from over, but things really come to enough of a conclusion here to end things. So here goes.

As excited as I was to find work at Acclaim after the massive SingleTrac layoff, it didn’t end so well. The big “dot-com” recession – which impacted the entire high-tech industry sector, not just the “dot-coms” – was going to claim Acclaim soon. Sorry for the alliteration. Not that Acclaim was really just a victim of the recession – but IMO the economic conditions made it very difficult for it to weather the storm. I was assigned to doing the Dreamcast port of Acclaim’s latest wrestling game. I learned more about pro wrestling than I ever wanted to know. It marked the first time I found myself developing a game that I really couldn’t play.

In six months, Acclaim had two major rounds of layoffs. I wasn’t hit by either one, but the second one disgusted me. An entire team was lied to, told they’d been given an extra month to hit a milestone, everything was A-OK, and that management was pleased with their effort. This was all a lie, as the team was (mostly) laid off one by one as they came into work the next morning, their project canceled. Between that, and the “mandatory” sixty-hour work-weeks one team had been on for six months straight, I decided that this must be what the rest (non-SingleTrac) games industry must be like, and all those horror stories I’d been told about at GDC and so forth were really true.

I’d decided I’d had enough, and started looking for a new job – preferably outside the games industry. Making the switch to or from the games industry as a programmer isn’t easy (but I imagine it’s easier than it is for an artist or especially a game designer), but I found another opportunity – which was itself another victim of the “dot-com crash” a little over a year later.

My idea when I left was to maybe figure out a way to make my own studio or something to that effect. I really wanted to make my own games, instead of other people’s games. I wanted to make the kinds of games I wanted to play – especially the kind that the games industry wasn’t really making anymore. Like RPGs! I puttered around with a homemade game engine, first experimenting with a massively multiplayer RPG. Yes, in spite of years of experience, I was a newb when it came to scoping out my game.  It didn’t take long before I realized that I was in far over my head if I wanted to make a product that was in any way competitive in the market, and decided to backtrack and do something simple – REALLY simple. I went back to the idea I’d fiddled with during the Christmas holiday – a space combat game. I went all the way back to the original Space War game for my inspiration.  Throw in a little bit of Star Control (which was also based on Space War), some classic arcade game ideas, and the first-person cockpit perspective like the Wing Commander series I loved so much, and I was in business.  I had no plan other than to see how far I could go with this game concept. It just sounded like a fun game to make.

Mid-way through development, when I started realizing that yes, I was going to be able to finish this game, and no, I had no idea what to do next, I started doing some research into selling games online. About the only experience I’d had was the old shareware model from the mid-90’s, so I used that as a starting point when I did my research. Through that, I discovered “indie games” – what shareware games had kinda evolved into.  I discovered that there were a LOT of developers out there making games, and an unreal number of games out there that I’d never heard of. I was astonished, overwhelmed, and pretty excited about the possibilities. It was like this entire underground gaming business had been thriving in the years I’d been stuck in the mainstream industry.

Void War was the result. While never a big success, I have a great deal of pride in that game. Warts and all, it was entirely mine.  And it is a dang fun game.

Through Void War and my research into the indie games field – and some mutual friends – I became associated with three guys from Wahoo Studios. They had a game that was nearly done that they’d put a lot of time and effort into, and had been shopping it out to publishers without any success. Finally, in exasperation, they decided to release it on their own, but had no idea how to do it. I was able to act as an “indie consultant” with them, basically just giving them a brain dump of the things I’d learned. They created a new “indie” brand for their company – NinjaBee – and released Outpost Kaloki for the PC. It struggled on the PC, which did not feel like a resounding success for going indie. But with the upcoming XBox 360 and “Live Arcade,” there was another opportunity for an independent release of the game. The XBox version, Outpost Kaloki X, did quite well for NinjaBee, as have many of their later self-published titles.

I eventually ended up working with these guys for a while, which was a lot of fun. Later, having let the camel’s nose into the tent, I found myself working back in the “mainstream” games biz (kinda) working for a place called Sensory Sweep. The latter experience once again met too many of the stereotypes of working in the games biz, including the point where the entire studio melted down. I was lucky enough to catch the warning signs early and get out before I was owed a lot of money, unlike some of my coworkers. Fortunately, while working at both companies, I was given leave to continue working on indie games so long as I maintained separation between that my employment.

With Sensory Sweep’s meltdown, I once again exited the full-time games biz, and found another full-time job to finance my part-time game-making habit. And here we are.

My take-away from these experiences is something that I think many (most?) game developers will commonly express: I love making games. I hate the games industry.

That pretty much says, “Indie Rules!” to me.

With about ten years of experience as a game development employee for various studios, and several years of varying levels of activity as a part-time indie developer, and a decade before that of being a game fan who tinkered with making games since the early days, I also wonder when I’m actually going to get good at it. I wasn’t born as a John Carmack or a Wil Wright. I’ve been very lucky and learned a lot in my career and experiences, but magic doesn’t come out of my fingertips when I touch the keyboard. I’m a working-class game developer with big ideas but little time, who really just loves making (and playing) games. My reach often exceeds my grasp, but I don’t harbor many illusions about becoming the next indie darling.

But I’m still doing what I love.  And I guess that’s what really matters.

Filed Under: A Game Dev's Story - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Tormod Haugen said,


  • jwmeep said,

    I hope Rushton is still in jail/probation whatever. i was one of the idiots who wouldn’t give up the “dream job” and took way too long to wise up to the lies.

    Now to hope one day your indie story ends up with you going full time.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, I’ve had companies blow up owing me money, too, so I guess I learned the hard way to err on the side of caution. What I learned was just not to take it personally. Unless, of course, it really IS personal.

    Yeah, my hope is that when the story ends, I’m living the dream with a handful of close developer friends, looking at Minecraft-level steady revenues to keep us afloat for decades if need be. 🙂 I’m not counting on it, but hey, ya gotta have a dream, right?

  • Cuthalion said,

    I’m still harboring those illusions about becoming part of the next indie darling myself, but hopefully I’ll be able to make a modest living at it even if/when I don’t.

    Really appreciated hearing your story! I think I actually remember you posting about leaving Sensory Sweep and when you got a non-game job. Or maybe those were just talking about the past.

    Also, I loved Twisted Metal II, which was probably influenced in some way by your work on the first one. My dad was so confused when I talked about liking it. He thought I was getting into an especially angry genre of music until I started talking about missiles.