I've been a game developer for over 10 years now. I got my first gig in California as a character rigger working in online games. The first game I worked on was never announced - it was canceled and I lost my job along with ~100 other people. Thankfully I managed to get work right after that on a title that shipped: Marvel Heroes Online.
Next I moved to Boston to work as a sr tech animator on BioShock Infinite. I had a blast working on this game and the DLCs. I really loved it there! Unfortunately the studio was closed after we finished the DLC and I lost my job. My previous studio (The Marvel Heroes Online team) was also going through a rough patch and would eventually close.
So I quit AAA for a bit. I got together with a few other devs that were laid off and we founded a studio to make an indie game called "The Flame in The Flood." It took us about 2 years to complete that game. It didn't do well at first. We ran out of money and had to do contract work as a studio... and that is when I sort of hit a low point. I had a rough time getting excited about anything. I wasn’t happy, I considered leaving the industry but I didn't know what else I would do with my life... it was kind of bleak.
About 2 years ago I started working on a small indie game alone at home. It was a passion project, and it was the first thing I'd worked on in a long time that brought me joy. I became obsessed with it. Over the course of a year I slowly cut ties with my first indie studio and I focused full time on developing my indie puzzle game. I thought of it as my last hurrah before I went out and got a real job somewhere. Last year when Epic Games announced they were opening a store I contacted them to show them what I was working on. I asked if they would include Kine on their storefront and they said yes! They even took it further and said they would fund the game if I signed on with their store exclusively. The Epic Store hadn’t really launched yet and I had no idea how controversial that would be, so I didn’t even think twice. With money I could make a much bigger game. I could port Kine to consoles, translate it into other languages… This was huge! I said yes.
Later today I'm going to launch Kine. It is going to be on every console (PS4, Switch, Xbox) and on the Epic Store. It is hard to explain how surreal this feels. I've launched games before, but nothing like this. Kine truly feels 100% mine. I'm having a hard time finding the words to explain what this is like.
Anyways, my game launches in about 4 hours. Everything is automated and I have nothing to do until then except wait. So... AMA?
What is your opinion on current monetizing tactics in the dev world?
I.e, in game purchases, free to play models vs paid games, FreeLC vs paid DLC, etc.
Is there a difference in the quality of game that can be brought to the table when utilizing pay models that often are seen as "unnecessary" - mainly like loot boxes, etc.
An example i could give would be the EA controversy over Battlefront 2, where players could "pay to advance" rather than grind it out, or the loot box fiasco in general.
I'm not asking this question to shout out "EA BAD" like everyone else, but i generally want to know if these models actually go towards supporting a better game, or are just going to your bosses pockets / etc.
And as a developer, if there was one thing you could tell us players / consumers on how we could properly show support for the games we love, what would be your tip to all of us?
Also it's kind of cool to see that you worked on MHO.
It's a shame that game got shut down, as it really was a ton of fun to play.
I had to take time to think on this one. It is possible to ethically use any monetizing scheme, but things like randomized loot boxes are often crafted in a way to take advantage of people. I personally prefer to make a game and then sell it for a fixed price. As a gamer when I buy a game I like having the comfort of knowing that I have bought the entire game and I wont need to pay some other, unknowable amount of money in order to enjoy the full experience.
If you love a game reach out to the devs and ask how you can best support them. Sometimes it is buying their game off of a website rather than a storefront, or buying merch, or simply promoting their work with good reviews and sharing their work with your friends. Self promotion sucks and most devs are slow to promote their own work, but EVERY dev loves seeing fans promote their stuff. This is true in both indie and AAA. When BioShock Infinite launched we read what people were posting about the game on different subreddits. It means a lot to us when we see people saying kind things on the internet. It just feels good to hear that your hard work is appreciated :)
Making games requires a huge set of skills (modelling, texturing, sound effects, music, coding, etc etc)
How was the shift to indie development for you? Did you have to put in time learning all this, or were you able to bring on people to fill your weaker areas?
I was one of those rare generalists in AAA. I worked as a tech artist (focused on character rigging and technical animation) for most of my career. So I have a lot of training in scripting languages and I have a background in art, but that's still not enough to make certain types of games right?
I didn't have money so I designed a game I knew I could make. Kine is a single player puzzle game for a reason - I am not capable of coding a multiplayer game, or anything with AI. That is outside what I'm personally capable of. I don't have Visual Studio installed on my machine, I made a game that I could craft entirely in blueprint script. I leaned into what I could do and designed a game that didn't require skills I didn't have.
Hi Gwen, this is probably buried at this point, but in the off chance you are still reading, I'm curious of your opinion of the state of the gaming industry as a whole currently.
A few years ago it felt like we were getting some of the best games ever made, and now we're seeing AAA titles being made like mobile games. With the success of remakes, backlash to questionable mechanics and broken games, and excitement around games that appear to put art before investment, do you see the trajectory of game development changing?
I can understand why you feel this way but I strongly suspect AAA will have a resurgence next year. AAA games take many years to make, and everyone knew the next console generation would be in 2020. If you want to launch a massive new franchise then you want to do it on a fresh new console. Getting in early on a new console historically can seriously bootstrap new franchises. (Halo, Uncharted, and many major franchises were launch year titles) Also the exclusivity deals us tiny indies are making are NOTHING compared to the money being thrown at AAA for those new PS5 and XboxWhatever exclusives. AAA games take 35-100mil to make.
Q4 this year has been amazing for indie games. There are TOO MANY incredible indie games coming out right now... and very few AAA. There is a reason for that and I suspect we'll be hearing announcements about what is coming very soon :)
When you decide that you want to make a game because you really like the idea and you would like to play something like that (if that happened to you), do you actually end up playing the game that you made?
I'm asking this because I am a pianist and a lot of the times it takes a long time and a lot of work to learn a piece of music, and when I finish I get kinda burned out and the piece becomes boring to me because I played every part of it so many times. I'm guessing that the same thing happens with game development.
I mean, this is definitely true in a way. A puzzle game is fun because you are working out the solutions, but I know the solutions to every puzzle by heart so I can't experience that fun.
What are the last few days at a closing studio like?
The last few days are like every other day at the studio. Then they bring you into a room, tell you that the studio is going to close, and you get escorted out of the building within an hour.
At least that is my experience. They want to do it fast, like ripping off a band aid. And then they don't want you around the office breaking equipment or getting revenge on the company in some way afterwards. They want you to go home and cool off.
How long did it take for you to design, develop and create your new indie game?
Do you have any tips on gaming up with concepts for new games?
I did a very write up complete with video footage at different stages of development here:
If you want me to dive further into anything else let me know!
Since it’s an ama - and I’m all bouts that ui... How did you approach the UX/UI side of your project and what have your learned along the way?
I did so enjoy working with you on Bioshock Infinite, Getting to know you over the years and watching the development of Kine!!! It’s so exciting that you chased your own path and found your platform - your skills and abilities never cease to amaze me!
Congrats on your launch!!!
I did a big write up with this with several time lapse videos. You can check it out here:
I'm pretty sure I went into UI, but that was honestly a massive struggle for me. I didn't know what the game was going to be like at first, and I had a hard time achieving the vision that I wanted. I tried having a world map that you would click (and that failed) I tried having narrative flavor text (And that was largely cut.) In the end I stumbled into what I have and while it works well I'm not convinced I couldn't have come up with something better.
Let me know if you have any specific questions from the article :)
Was Kine a solo effort in the end after signing or did you wind up hiring help?
Congrats on the release!
I ended up hiring on average 4 artists for 4 months on contract. I also hired someone to port the game to other platforms (through Disbelief) and I hired a studio to translate the game and give me QA.
Also I obviously paid a composer to make music for the game! So it wasn't truly a solo project :)
(possibly an obvious one, but...)
I'm an experienced (non-games) developer, but always wanted to develop some games idea of my own. Can you recommend any learning path to do that? Should I improve my animation or modelling & rigging skills (any good inexpensive online/offline resources for that)?
Or just focus on gameplay / AI etc. with placeholder graphics/models and hope some day I can afford to pay a professional to do the graphics/modelling side? :)
Thanks, and best of luck with your new venture!
There are two things I'd focus on here. First, I would figure out what inspires you or what interests you. You wont stick with something if it isn't fun (at least not at first.) Is there a game that you love and want to emulate? Second I would strip the experience down to just something you can personally craft, at least for now. There is no reason you can't make a game using simple shapes. BaBa is You is one of the most successful games this year and the graphics for that aren't prohibitively difficult to craft. Focus on what you are personally capable of making.
Also keep in mind that the single hardest discipline to find is a programmer. There are loads of artists and designers looking for engineers to work with. If you did want to work with a team, or bring people on later, then you have a serious advantage!
It is no secret that Epic is amazing to other game developers, so working with them has been really easy and fun. This was by far the easiest storefront to work with.
And yes, I'm very happy with my choice. There was only one other place offering me funding at the time and they wanted both a larger cut of revenue AND I would have been on an even less known storefront. Also (knock on wood) the backlash against the Epic store hasn't been aimed at me. I didn't ever promise the game would be on Steam, I didn't have a Kickstarter... no one cared when Epic picked up my game! I have been very fortunate.
What you playing these days? Or what are you trying to find time to play, since you're busy lol.
I have a lot of down time right now actually! I just played Eliza over the weekend. I never liked visual novels before, but this one really spoke to me. I loved it.
I just bought Disco Elysium (as soon as it came out). I got busy with some Stadia work and I could only put 30 minutes into it so far, but I'm already floored with how innovative the narrative is.
I picked up "The flame in the Flood" off a whim and it's one of my favorite indie games. What was your role in that project?
That was made by a team of 6 people: a designer, 2 programmers, 2 artists, and an animator/tech artist. I was the animator/tech artist. So I did all of the rigging and animation in the game, some FX stuff and some shader stuff. I also did the first pass scripting of some of the behavior for the various characters.
What's your favorite game?
That is a cruel question... I would need to give you a list.
By hours it was probably Civ (anything in the franchise, but Civ 5 hooked me the most)
For inspiration as a dev it is probably Inside.
The one I just started last night and I'm already in love with is Disco Elysian. I've only put 30 minutes into it and it is already jaw-droppingly good.
Assuming you could get any resources and support you'd need, what would be your dream project? Doesn't have to be limited to games, if there's anything else you'd be interested in working on.
Maybe this is lame but it would definitely be a game. It would be a AAA tactical rpg. Think XCOM, but instead of shooting guns you fought using positioning on a grid sort of like how you do in Into The Breach. I would love to have a proper budget and lead a team to make that.
That's sortof my pipe dream. Tactics & Strategy games require very large budgets to be competitive. (Same with FPSers, but I don't really care about making those)
First of all, congrats on launch! So excited to try the game. I was wondering what inspired you to make Kine? The premise seems so charming!
At the time I was obsessed with a film called La La Land. There was something so heartwarming about that movie! It was about following your dreams and having passion. I was pretty down at the time so this film really meant a lot to me.
As far as the mechanics go there is a game called Stephan's Sausage Roll that I really, really enjoyed. It is punishingly difficult, but for some reason I find moving around the space in 3D to be intuitive and the puzzles were very satisfying. I think working in 3D for my entire career has primed me to be really interested in 3D spacial puzzles.
I apologize, this is a two parter:
How is the Boston game development scene compared to other places you have lived and worked? How important do you think geography is to success?
Did you go straight from school into the game industry? Or did you have a prior "real" (as you referred to it) job before your gaming career? I ask this because I am in a "real" industry, but find a lot of appeal in the notion of going solo.
There are advantages and disadvantages to living in certain places. If you live in a tech hub (like SF, LA, Seattle, or Austin) then you can more easily meet collaborators. You can get to meet ups and get ideas and support from others. However, those hubs are often expensive. If you are willing to lean into online communities you can live somewhere cheaper, but you wont have access to that awesome local community.
Honestly Boston is expensive and the game dev scene is not as active as LA/SF/etc. We havea tight-knit crew here and I enjoy living here... but if I was starting out I'd move to Austin or Montreal instead.
The economy was collapsing while I was in my last year of college. I went to GDC, got a job offer as a character rigger, and I was so scared at the time that I just took it! I left college before I actually graduated because I was worried I wouldn't get work if I waited any longer. In the end my professors let me finish up the last semester from CA :X
I'm late to the game but Bioshock Infinite is one of my favourite games ever. Is there anything we the gamers have never found within that game?
How many cats did you see in the Opening (Paris scene) of the DLC?
Did you find all 12?
Also... did you find Schrodinger?
Hey there, been a follower of yours in Twitter for a bit! I'm working (on GamingVPN.com) while writing you. Thanks for the AMA!
Question: What are your thoughts on how people are so divided on the whole Steam vs Epic store bit?
I think it is a mixed bag - there are some people with legit complaints and there are some bad actors who just want to rage.
I can understand someone being upset if they were really, really looking forward to a game and then found out they couldn't play it because it moved to a storefront that doesn't support their currency. As a gamer that would suck! I would be upset! Things like that I totally understand. However, a lot of the people raising their voices don't have very clear complaints (other than the Epic Store not being as good as Steam yet). I think that is valid - the Epic Store doesn't have all the features Steam has right now. But as a developer that makes single-player experiences and doesn't need community forums/etc I don't need most of those features. My customers mostly don't care if Kine is on Steam or on the Epic Store, and I get way more of my sales revenue and way more discover-ability on the Epic Store. I actually do want to support what Epic is doing because I'd rather not have to pay for a bunch of Steam features that I don't use. In the long term I like the idea of only paying 12% vs 30% to my digital storefronts. I also think competition is good and healthy so... I'm obviously very pro-Epic right now.
Will your game soundtrack be available to stream on spotify or for sale?
I gotta say, I watched the trailer, and those beats and rhythms gave me a great sense of euphoria. I'd love to listen to this while I work. Thanks again! You've got yourself a customer here!
I hired a composer to craft the sound track. He is allowed to sell the OST for royalties and I would love it if you supported his work! Here is his band camp:
How do you feel about epic?
Epic is the company of game developers that built my favorite engine. I've built my career out of becoming an expert in that engine. I've shipped AAA games on their engine and when I needed help fixing something on BioShock I always knew I could message an Epic dev and an actual developer would help me.
When I first went indie 5 years ago We struggled to get noticed. Epic thought The Flame in The Flood looked cool, so they featured it in their GDC booth. Because of that we were noticed by the press and by our peers. This was huge for us. When I showed The Flame in The Flood at PAX my booth cost half what it should because Epic covers half the booth cost of any dev showing a game in the indie mega booth. This isn't just a PAX thing - Epic sponsers events for game developers all over the world. If you look at ANY developer event you will see that Epic has sponsored it.
The Unreal Engine became so powerful that me - an animator with absolutely no programming experience - could craft and ship a multi-platform title. When I declared that I was going to make Kine and I was going to make it entirely in blueprint script Epic cheered me on. They gave me a grant, which was how I could afford music for Kine in the very, very beginning. For years and years Epic has given 100s of thousands of dollars in grants to people that used their engine for cool shit. Google it - the mega grants have always been there.
And then when I went solo to make my artsy indie thing because I was so damned burned out on the industry... that was right when Epic happened to launch their store. They invited me to be a part of it and the completely funded Kine. They encouraged me to pursue my dream and make this into something real. They retweet my work, they are feature my blog posts on their blog, and Kine is at the top of their store right now. I am financially secure for a bit thanks to Epic.
Epic Games has supported my efforts to make games for over a decade. I honestly sincerely love Epic Games. They are my favorite company in this industry. They have supported me for literally no reason for literally a decade now. I will do everything I can to make sure their storefront is a success. In all seriousness: I'm bummed that there isn't more that I could do.
Did you contract out any work for your solo project?
If you did how was that experience for you?
If you didn't how was it doing almost everything yourself?
I spent many months working on Kine solo while I had a job, and then I spent a year working on it solo as I had a part time job. I managed to get funding from Epic not long after I quit my job to work on Kine full time. After I had money in the bank I was able to hire some people: a programmer friend of mine to port the game to other platforms, and an art outsourcing house to help me uprez the art.
You can see the difference in this link. Look at the art in phase 2 vs phase 3 of production. That was the difference the money made.
I love working with other people and I vastly prefer that to working solo. However a large part of that might have just been that it was so stressful trying to dedicate the time to Kine that I wanted to while also having a steady job.
I hope you're still answering questions, and someone hasn't asked this.
What is your opinion of the hire/layoff cycle that big companies always seem to go through every couple of year, despite some of those layoffs coming after record sales of games? And the fact that these places can have toxic work culture (things like working long, unpaid hours to prove yourself). Do you think unions are the answer?
I have very strong feelings about this and recently did a twitter thread on it. You can read the long form of it here:
You can reply here if you disagree, I just didn't want to type it out again :)
how did you think about the game's mechanics? it's a familiar concept but funky twist to it. I love the artwork as well.
When I first started making this game I wasn't making a puzzle game at all. I'm not a designer and I've never tried to design a game. I'm a technical animator by trade.
I hate animating run cycles and I wanted to make a game where a character tumbled around a world by somersaulting and kicking off of walls. I prototyped this on a grid with a cube because that was the easiest way to get the tech up and running. Uh... then I draw a face on the cube. I loved this idea and I thought it would be a great puzzle game, but I didn't know how to make anything fun with it. I tried a 3D tetris kinda thing, but it didn't work well.
A few months later I played a game called Stephen's Sausage Roll and everything clicked. I realized it had to be a small grid based puzzle game. That was how the initial idea came to be.
Is this a first-person puzzle game?
I'm happy for you that things worked out. Sounds very exciting!
Since you've gone Epic, how do you feel that you won't be able to sell to Mac or Linux users?
I'm bummed that I wont be able to sell to Mac or Linux users. However, because of the money from Epic Kine is in available in 8 other languages that it wouldn't have been available in. It is also available on Xbox, Switch, PS4, and Google Stadia.
If I just launched Kine on Steam then it would have been available to English users that use Mac and Linux, but it wouldn't have been in all these other markets. That was a trade-off I felt was worth making.
I love seeing devs branch off and do their own thing. It allows you to have such creativity and free reign in so many aspects. You can make the game exactly like YOU envision it; as well as not having a deadline. Do you plan to continue developing games? If so will you continue solo, or adopt a team to work under you?
I will make games. This is what I do!
As for how (solo, grow a team, get a job) I have no idea yet. I need to make it through the next 48 hours and then I'll start to think on that more :)
Is it too late? Did Gwen up and leave? Anyone know where she Gwent?
Sorry, I had to hit the launch button ;P
You're insane for answering 8 hours straight! Lol take a break!
Question:The Flame In The Flood was definitely one of my favorite games/experiences of all time.
I played it through the Xbox Game Pass, how do developers make money from putting their game their? Does Microsoft just pay you a big chunk or something?
I can't say exactly what we did, but I can say that there are a lot of services like this out there (Humble Bundle, GamePass, PS+, etc) and they typically give you a large up front sum of money in exchange for giving your game away to people in their service. The sum depends on which platform it is and how long your game will be free in their service. Typically you look at how well your game is selling on that platform and do some math to figure out how many sales you are giving up if you go into their service, and then you ask for a sum of money that is greater than that.
There are newer subscription services out there that pay based on the number of hours that gamers are spending in your game. I personally hate this as a developer. I prefer shorter quality experiences over longer clicker-type experiences. But hey... mobile games are popular for a reason! It's just not my cup of tea.
What puzzle games have inspired you?
I've said this before but Inside was a massive inspiration for me. That is a game that used mechanics to capture a feeling. Along these same lines I like The Swapper. I like how tightly the puzzles and the narrative are interwoven.
Stephan's Sausage Roll and Pipe Push Paradise are both excellent examples of 3D spacial puzzles.
In the Sokobon space I really like trying out the experimental puzzle script games. This is a fun way to spend your time and really gets your creative juices going.
The Witness and Portal 2 are massive inspirations because they are reaching for AAA quality in the puzzle genre. That just isn't something you see very often and it is very inspiring!
How has life been as a female developer? Do you get a lot of shit? Did you have reservations even doing this ama?
Heh... look at this thread. It actually reflects my experience over the last year very, very closely.
When I went solo to make Kine I was worried about 3 things: that I would get a bunch of shit for being a chick, that I would get a lot of opinionated/grumpy devs giving me shit for not using a real programming language to make a game (this is a big deal in my industry) or that absolutely no one would notice my work. All of those scenarios would really suck and I braced for all of them.
Never in a million years did I imagine that I would get shit for launching my game on an unreleased storefront. I never saw this Epic Store controversy coming. And again, when I made this post I figured it would get buried - which would suck, I don't have a great marketing plan. I worried that Reddit is about 110% dudes and there's be a bunch of weird chick questions, and I figured there'd be devs that were overly suspicious about Unreal Script's potential to make a decent game. None of that mattered, easily 1/3 of the posts in this thread is about the Epic Storefront stuff.
Whenever you do anything you are going to get shit for it and you'll never really know why or see it coming :-/
Any keepsakes from working on BioShock infinite?
Fuck yeah man! I still have all the vigor bottles, and a Songbird statue :D
Hello Gwen! First of all, congratulations on finishing your game!
Here are some questions I have:
I just discovered about your game yesterday and even though the aesthetic is different, the complexity that the movements can have reminded me of Stephen Sausage Roll. Is that an inspiration for your game? What other games did inspire you?
In terms of difficulty, how would you rate Kine? Something that i find very curious in puzzle games is that a huge amount of players never finish them, getting to a point where they just can't advance anymore. That's not something I see that much in other genres. In the testing part of your project did you have a lot of players getting stuck?
Are you planning to include some kind of level editor?
How many levels is your game going to have (you can answer that one with a spoiler tag if you prefer, I just like knowing this before buying and not many devs include that info in the store page)
What are your favorite puzzle games?
Anyway, thanks in advance for any answer you can give.
How was your experience with Epic Games? Did working with them cost any creative control?
Absolutely none. It was fantastic! We signed a contract, they gave me money and they told me to get in touch when I needed to.
I have a channel in their slack and I ping them when I need something. That's it.
Hello. Congratulations on the release.
I wanted to ask which console was hardest to deal with while porting the game and making the deal with the console owners?
By far the hardest was Stadia - for many reasons. They are a new console with a brand new cert process and they are ironing out the kinks. This is a "console" that works on any screen size, which means your UI has to work on a phone and also on a 4k monitor or a TV. This is a HUGE consideration. You have to support any input... just in general what they are trying to do is very difficult and really very impressive!
After that the hardest was probably Switch, just because (again) you have to support 2 different states for your game, and that platform has the lowest min spec. (The hardware in the xboxOne and PS4 is more powerful.) However the Switch was definitely worth it and I suspect that is the platform most customers will buy Kine on. I personally love my Switch... 100% worth the trouble imo!
I'm really excited for you. I'm glad you were able to make the game you wanted to make. I'll be checking it out on Switch!
What sort of advice would you give to other people currently at a low point in their career. Whether they're feeling creatively unfulfilled, can't make the game they want to make, or just can't seem to catch a break. What kept you going during that period?
Edit: Saw it's being released on Switch so made an edit!
The highs and lows go together. I'm typically depressed when I don't enjoy what I'm doing. The longer I stay in that state the more low I get and the solution is usually to leave. I was bored rigging the same biped superheroes day in and day out at Marvel Heroes online. I loved the game and the team! But my job was very boring. So I left. I was unexcited about our next game at TMF and really, really drained from pitching. I had to leave. It is actually a flaw, but I really do need to be passionate about the thing I'm working on. I spend a lot of time working and if I don't believe in what I'm doing then I have a very difficult time doing it.
That is a terrible answer because that isn't always an option for everyone though. If I was stuck in a low point I would either look around for another job or I'd pick at things in other fields. I'd find a hobby or something that I really truly enjoyed and I'd fixate on that. At some point I'd probably try to get a job doing that thing.
Have you ever met game developers who came from a wildly different background from what they were doing in the industry? If so, did they seem to enjoy their new jobs and handle it well?
Devs come from all sorts of backgrounds. The animator that sat next to me at Irrational (Pete Paquette) was an ex-marine that trained himself as a film animator after leaving the military. He went from active duty to animating Horton Hears a Who. Then he ended up working with us at Irrational on Bioshock Infinite. He's an incredible father, a good friend, and well rounded person.
Life is crazy man.
Did you do the writing and programming and scripting, etc all alone too?!
All of the gameplay code and the PC version of the game I scripted myself. For the console ports I hired a programmer buddy of mine to help. :)
Congrats on the launch! I'm sure it must feel great being self employed so you're finally in control of your own destiny (or at least more so). I've been through three studio closures myself over the last decade and an ex-coworker of mine actually worked on The Flame in the Flood (Forrest) so I'd like to say I know how you felt. I actually just got laid off again today and could use some insight.
What made you decide to stick it out with the games industry vs something safer? I've got a new family that depends on me so I'm very inclined to just take the safest job no matter how boring but I'd be lying if I said I didn't think many times of just trying to go indie if for no other reason no one else could lay me off this time.
Thanks and hope your game is successful enough to not have to ever work for someone else again!
I make games. It is kinda all I know how to do. I'm pretty good at it, but I have no other skillset. I've thought about moving into publishing or some other part of the industry before, but I don't think I'll ever be able to leave the industry entirely. This is what I do, ya know?
Thanks for your kind words :)
As a programmer in this industry, any advice you can give even though we're in completely different disciplines?
I don't know, but I'll try. How long have you been in the industry? What kind of advice are you looking for?
How do you feel small studios should deal with direct competitors (media, social media, etc), and how do you keep family members from trashing the competition?
This is going to sound lame but it is true: Artists don't have competitors, they have contemporaries. I made a 6-8 hour puzzle game. If it is good people will buy it. If someone else makes a good 6-8 hour puzzle game then people will buy both games and will start to think that maybe puzzle games are great. In art there are fads that come and go and you actually want people to be making stuff that is somewhat similar to yours so that you can learn from each other and advance the medium.
This is obviously less true if you are making a highly replayable game (like a shooter.) Gamers will usually chose one of those types of games and play them indefinitely.
Is there any chance your game will be released on other platforms down the line, or is it a permanent exclusive to the EGS?
edit: I don't know why OP failed to mention this, but Kine is a timed exclusive and will eventually come to Steam. Thanks, /u/phoney_user
Kine is launching today on Switch, PS4, XboxOne, and in November Kine will be launching on Google Stadia. I've been busy!
What’s the best part about the Epic Store that every developer out there should know about? (Services, deals, potential...)
I know there’s info out there but more interested in your personal perspective!
Also, best of luck for your project. Kudos to you for making it happen!
I personally love the Unreal Engine so I'm biased, but I don't think enough people stop and consider how beneficial it is to release on the Epic Store if you are using the Unreal Engine. The Unreal Engine costs 5% of your net revenue. If I launch Kine on Steam I pay 5% of my revenue to Epic and 30% to Valve. If I launch on the Epic Store then Epic waives the engine cost. I only pay 12% to Epic. This is massive.
Also, as an indie dev there are loads of small ways working in the Unreal engine can help you. Epic sponsors loads of events and there are small perks that go with that. If your game is in the Indie Megabooth then Epic will pay you $5,000 towards covering your booth cost. Epic will double the Footprint of your booth at EGX is you are showing a game that uses the Unreal Engine. They do a lot of small things to help promote games that use their engine, and it is great :)
I got a question, I'm 18 right now and was considering studying game development, but I went for artificial intelligence. Do you think I can get into the gaming industry with this? Or would you recommend to keep studying and also get a game development degree besides me AI one?
Technology is moving very quickly. In 5 years there will be jobs that don't even exist right now, and part of being in tech is being comfortable with that. Especially someone in your shoes (young and very interested in cutting edge stuff.)
I would say no matter what you study you should make sure you learn the foundational principles as that will be more important than the specific current trade skill (so in art make sure you understand color theory, not just how to use Photoshop, in programming ensure that you understand the principles of software engineering, not just a specific language.) Beyond that I would recommend you pursue what interests you. Throw yourself into what you are passionate about and keep an open mind. You are 18, tech can advance suddenly at times and the thing that ends up being your career might not exist just yet.
Hey Gwen, congrats on the launch! It looks like it has a lot of personality behind it, as well as really clever gameplay.
My question is this: How did you survive the PAX cakes?
I didn't. I'm a re-animated corpse.
Do you miss working on some huge title like Bioshock?
Sometimes! Kine is 100% mine and I adore it. I'm more proud of Kine than anything I've ever done. However, it will never have the name recognition something like BioShock does. I see people cosplaying as Liz when I go to PAX. When I talk to normal people (not hardcore gamers) at family gatherings and stuff and I say "I make games" and they ask "what games?" they will know BioShock. They will never have heard of Kine. There is something cool about working on a title that pierces the zeitgeist like that, ya know? Also when you are in AAA you get to be a specialist. There will be 5 other people in the world that do a specific thing as well as you do it. Whereas in indie you are a generalist. You are good a lot of things, but other people are better than you at each thing.
Being indie is fun in totally different ways than being AAA. Both are great and I recommend every dev try both at some point. Variety is the spice of life :)
The biggest problem of Indie is having a game stand out. You said "The Flame in The Flood." died - was that for lack of attention, or it just wasn't good?
What I want to ask is, do you feel confident that Kine can do better? I imagine the support of Epic helps a lot.
I didn't think Kine would ship a single unit when I started it. I made it because I wanted to enjoy making games again. I was still really heartbroken from the launch of The Flame in The Flood.
However, now I do think Kine will do well. Being a launch title on Stadia is huge - there are only 30ish games on that platform. And Epic has been incredibly helpful when it comes to promoting Kine. I think it was very helpful to be on these smaller storefronts with fewer games.
Sounds a bit obvious but what did you study to get there?
I went to school for 3D animation. I got great grades in High School and had a great scholarship to RIT because of it, but I didn't want to be a programmer. I loved Pixar films and figured I'd try being an animator.
I was always a massive gamer. I almost dropped out freshmen year because I played WoW so much. But for some reason it never occurred to me to be a game developer. I didn't get Game Developer Magazine when I was young or anything like that - I got games as hand-me-downs from my older brother. I honestly didn't even realize that making games was a job a person could have until I wen to college. Around Jr year I met a bunch of programmers that wanted to start a game dev club, but there were no 3D artists at RIT (it was a tech school.) I joined in with them and we made games together and uh... it was just kindof obvious that I should spend my life doing that.
How much did Epic pay for exclusivity? Are they paying you to do this AMA?
I can't legally say how much they paid for exclusivity. And they are not paying me for this AMA. I didn't even tell them I was doing this.
You could tweet at Tim and let him know I guess? It would probably help me get noticed ;)
Hi. Looked at the teaser, looks beautiful and fun, congratz !
If it's ready to launch and you are going to do nothing, why did you schedule it 4 hours later ?
You schedule these things weeks in advance. Kine is launching at the same time on Xbox, PS4, Switch, and PC. That kind of thing requires coordination and I had to get approval for the launch date/time way in advance.
I have a daughter Gwen with another on the way, do you happen to have a sister and would you mind sharing her name?
I don't have a sister, but I do have another story. My great-grandmother might have been a bit of a feminist, I'm not sure... but she hated that her daughters would lost their last names when they got married. She wanted to keep a part of our lineage intact. So my great-grandma is Jacklyn, my grandma is Evelyn, my mom is Carolyn, and I am Gwendolyn. Our first names always end in "lyn" and no matter what happens in life we have this small thing that connects us. Perhaps you can find some inspiration for your next daughter's name in that story?
Why Epic Games?
As a studio, how do you plan to stand out, survive, and grow so that your studio minimizes the risk of closure?
From the experiences you had, what was the main factors for closure?
Thanks a lot for taking the time to kindly answer so many questions! =)
Honestly I have no idea what I do next. Making a game as a solo dev was a lot harder than I thought it would be - and I knew it would be hard!
I don't live a lavish lifestyle at all (my rent is cheap and I have cheap hobbies) so don't need to get any funding figured out for at least a yearish. I'm going to chill for a bit and think about what I should do next.
The first studio closed because it was a shady studio that wasn't 100% honest to investors about how much money the game would take to create. When the investors were briefed the investors bailed. I can't really dive into why Irrational Games closed - I signed an agreement saying I wouldn't talk about it. You generally have to do that when these things happen.
What kind of a game is Kine? And which platform do you think is the best to play it on? Good luck with your launch!
It is a narrative 3D puzzle game about machines that dream of being musicians. It can get pretty difficult at times. I think you should buy it on whatever platform you prefer. I worked hard to make this a good experience on any of them!
Epic is Essentially featureless and Lacks the many, many qol of life changes needed to actually compete with steam. Not to mention exclusivity is bad for consumers, along with the various Clientside technical bugs and difficulty in actually getting intouch with EGS customer service. Why should I buy your game on a game store that barely works as such? It’s nearing three years at this point and this isn’t steam in 2010. It’s 2019, putting in regional pricing and a shopping cart shouldn’t be an issue in this day and age.
What platforms will your game be available on? Will it also have DLC content, or will everything be all inclusive?
Today is launches on PC (Epic Store) XboxOne, Switch, PS4. In a month it'll be on Google Stadia.
There is no DLC, this is a complete game :)
I hope you do well on consoles. I also hope EGS crashes and burns. Best of luck to you though.
How do you feel about hummus?
A decent spread that works well in many situations. It is not as delicious and versatile as guacamole but is far superior to mayo.
Bioshock infinite is one of my favorite games of all time so thank you for that. Can you talk about what particular segments or portions of the game you worked on?
I had several jobs:
- I did all of the cloth and physics stuff for the game using Nvidia's cloth tech. So I worked on Liz's skirt and hair and things like that.
- I owned all background characters in the game. So, for instance, a designer would say: "This is a beach, fill it with people" and I would write down a list of things I wanted to get mo capped (dudes doing jumping jacks, a kid digging in the sand, etc.) Then I would get that cleaned up mo cap and put it on our rigs. I would script the characters to look at you as you walk by (and then look away from you and at each other, and then look back at you, etc.) I would talk to the narrative team to make sure all the background characters had lines. Things like that.
- There was loads of other small tasks that add up in the end. I would look at a scene and think "we need birds flying away when you open this door) and sometimes I would animate those birds, or I would get animations and I would put those birds in the game and script them to fly away when you open the door. I have a million small things like this: at one point I found an old cat mesh, rigged it, animated it, and put 12 cats into the Paris DLC. I made an octopus for the under the sea DLC (I just really wanted to see if I could make a good octopus rig)
I was lucky at Irrational. They didn't task me, they just kinda let me polish the game in whatever way I wanted and so I did. It was a great goddamn time.
Hey congratulations, and for what it's worth I loved Marvel Heroes.
Over the course of a year I slowly cut ties with my first indie studio and I focused full time on developing my indie puzzle game.
Can you elaborate on this? Did you work on your game in the evenings for the first year? When did it finally click that this is the project you wanted to pursue?
I spent 8 months or so prototyping and messing around in my free time after work, and I fell in love with what I was working on. We dropped down to part time at my workplace because we didn't have enough money to keep paying ourselves full time salaries. The others worked contract work as individuals part time, but I just dedicated the extra 20 hours a week to Kine. Not long after that I told my team I would stay around long enough to help them get the next game going, but I wanted to leave at asap and work on Kine full time. I was just too burned out and Kine was the game I really wanted to make. It took a solid 8 months of pitching the next game and getting it funded, but as soon as they were funded and The Molasses Flood was safe I quit.
I was exceptionally lucky as far as timing goes. I happened go full time and start pitching Kine right when the Epic store launched.
Is there a certain game engine you’d recommend other Indie devs start out on? Being that you’ve moved from some many other companies, I’m sure you’ve seen it all. Or I guess more specifically, what’s your favorite engine to work on and why?
I've worked in 3 engines: a home-brewed one based on Ogre3D, an engine called BigWorld and an engine called Unreal.
I use Unreal because I know it very, very well. I've used it for about a decade now. I would recommend you figure out what kind of thing you want to make and then you use the best tool to make that thing. For generic engines that will most likely be Unreal or Unity. (Unreal is C++ and visual scripting, Unity is C#.)
If you want to make narrative experiences there is Twine. There is RPGMaker and PuzzleScript - you have a lot of options if you want a non traditional engine as well.
Rolling your own tech is an option that I would take if you feel you need to do it to craft the game you want to craft, or if you feel that would be much more pleasant based on your background.
If your game becomes successful are you gonna put microtransactions in them?
No. That isn't something that is easy to shoehorn in after the fact. And even it is was there would be no point. Kine is a narrative puzzle game that can be completed in under 8 hours. Microtans only works on highly replayable games or games that need many, many hours.
Good luck with the game Gwen :)
How long is the exclusivity length on the EPIC platform for an indie dev like you? Have Microsoft or EA approached you for their monthly subscription platform?
A lot of people have said how long they are PC exclusive with Epic, but legally I'm not supposed to, so I wont.
I think Gamepass is an incredible deal for gamers and if they were willing to offer me enough money to compensate for lost xbox sales then I'd totally put Kine into GamePass. I tried as hard as I could to get Microsoft to notice me before launch, but I never made any traction with them. I don't think they are interested in Kine :-/
I don't know anything about EA's subscription and they haven't approached me, so no to that one.
Why did you deal with the Epic store considering it's anti-competition "buy out everything" tactics?
I know you're probably off now, but I wanted to comment and tell you that I LOVE The Flame in The Flood. It was the first indie game I bought on my switch and it's one of my favorites. The art style and music direction are amazing.
Only thing I wish was that the switch had all the updates the PC version has. But just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it!
I know you said you left the indie studio, but do you know if there will be any updates to the switch version of the game?
I'm afraid I left and I don't know what their plans are. However the devs are super responsive! You can ask Forrest on twitter here: @stuckbug
Why the Epic store when your audience is much wider on Steam?
I have what I think is a great idea for a fun and unique video game. I have zero knowledge of programming and no knowledge of game development.
Is there anything I can do with this idea? Could I sell it to a company? Or is it just an idea that will never see the light of day?
Execution is significantly more important than an idea. Everyone has loads of ideas. If you want to beg a company to make your idea you can try, but I can't imagine a world where you could sell *an idea* alone for money.
If you wouldve gotten another chance at the AAA industry, would you have taken it?
I easily could have continued working in AAA after BioShock Infinite. Character riggers with as much experience as I have are kind of rare.
I went indie because I really, really wanted to try it and because if I went back to AAA I'd have to leave Boston. Don't get me wrong, I hate Boston but... I'm in love with a boy and that boy wont leave Boston.
So I just gotta make this indie thing work :)
Favorite national park or other hiking area? I assume you've got an answer to one or the other based on your twitter pic! :P
I have fond memories of Joshua Tree National park. I go hiking in NH a lot, and I've been hiking in different parts of the world, but I never get to hike in deserts. Because I never do it I find deserts to be beautiful.
I wasn't into hiking when I lived in SF and I deeply regret that now. There are some amazing parks out in CA that I missed out on.
How do you feel about Epic taking 12% cut vs Steam's 30% cut? Also Epic's cut is just 7% if you're using the Unreal engine, vs Steam's 30%.
Not quite. If I release on Steam Epic gets 5% and Valve gets 30%. If I release on the Epic Store Epic gets 12%
I've been working in the Unreal Engine for over a decade. I wouldn't work in anything else at this point. Not paying the engine fee because I release on the Epic Store is a great perk for me.
Is it more stressful doing work post the games release for a AAA game or an indie one?
That doesn't matter so much. I would say it is very, very hard to work on a game that isn't received well (commercially or critically) post release. However, it is a lot easier to continue working on a game that has done well.
When you initially showed Epic Games the puzzle game you were working on, weren't you afraid that somehow they / someone would possibly steal the idea / game? What measures did you take at that time (NDAs, perhaps only disclose a portion of the game), to protect yourself?
HA! Single player puzzle games aren't super lucrative, and execution matters more than the initial idea does. I wasn't worried about this at all. In fact I live streamed development, so anyone on the internet could have "stolen my idea" at any time. It just wasn't a concern.
What college did you attend and what was your major?
RIT. 3D Animation (My major was focused on film animation. Think Pixar type stuff. I didn't know I was going to be a game developer when I went to college. I figured that out after a few years of flailing.)
Ew. Epic store. I'm a game developer too. Why would you do this?
How long does it take to complete your game?
The most hardcore puzzle dev I know beat it in just over 5 hours. Core gamers need around 6-7 hours typically. People who aren't into puzzle games or games in general will need a lot longer.
Any chance that you were pals with Tynan Sylvester while working on Bioshock?
We just barely overlapped (maybe a few months) and he worked on the other end of the studio. But we did meet a few times. I'm a big fan of Rimworld!
Is Gwen Frey a stage name? It sounds an awful lot like Glenn Frey.
Anyway, whenever Kine hits Switch, I'll definitely be picking it up!!!!!
It is on your Switch literally right now ;)
Why the epic game store?
What is your favorite modern console, the Switch, Xbox One/Xbox One X, or PS4/PS4 Pro?
I'm not allowed to choose favorites >.>
My question is: How you doing today?
I'M SUPER FUCKING WIRED RIGHT NOW.
I feel like I've had 10 cups of coffee but I haven't had any.
Why not steam?
Why the Epic Store?
What do game developers do one week before a game is released?
Out of all platforms, why Epic? The worst one.
Other than the money, why Epic?
Why not release your game on a good online store?
Why epic and not steam?
Why did you choose epic over steam?
Why the Epic store? Don't you know the internet hates everything Fortnite related?
Why oh why Epic? They're the single worst platform to launch on.....
Why did you pick such a shitty evil platform to launch on? Will you launch on steam?