Stay tuned for more updates 🙂
To help generate extra funding for our own games we’re adding a Store to the Awaken Games site.
Open Job Positions
United States: Texas
- Sr. Game Engineers
- Sr. 3D Artist
- Tools Engineer
- Sr. 3D Artists
- Sr. UI Engineer
- Tech Artist
Send your Resume to Will@AwakenGames.com
A long time ago when I was asked to come up with the game play design structure for Abe’s Oddysee for Oddworld inhabitants, I already had a game play system in mind, for I had already been a design consultant on Heart of the Alien, created by the same group that developed Heart of Darkness. I was also a fan of Flashback from Delphine Software and Blackthorne from Blizzard Entertainment and Interplay.
I knew I wanted to design a platform game with much more depth like these games demonstrated, but I didn’t have a concept that would fit it until Abe’s Oddysee came along.
Unfortunately, what I didn’t know is that Heart of Darkness was already in development and was much farther along than Abe’s Oddysee was, and from the demo disk I got from E3 it was going to be a hard game to beat.
I must have played the footage of Heart of Darkness hundreds of times over the course of developing the game play designs for Abe’s Oddysee, for I felt it set the benchmark in play and quality of graphics for us to beat.
Lucky for us, and unknown to us at the time, the development of Heart of Darkness dragged on for years, allowing Abe’s Oddysee to hit the market with no competition.
If Heart of Darkness had of come out when it was intended Abe’s Oddysee would have been seen as following in its footsteps and not as unique as it was.
In the end, in all modesty, after playing the final product Abe’s Oddysee is a far better game, but the final game does owe its core design motivation to Heart of Darkness.
EA Press Conference Impressions
1: Titanfall 2 (Looks awesome and excited to see single player mode)
2: Madden 17 (Boring!)
3: Mass Effect Andromeda (Looks Awsome! On my to buy list!)
4: FIFA The Journey (Why oh why add a Story Mode, boring and useless in a sports game!)
5: Fe (Indie Game, looks intriguing but not enough shown to draw in into buying yet)
6: Star Wars (WTF EA! Show something new, other than new environments and characters. Didn’t really say anything new you can’t find on the web already)
7: Battlefield 1 (Was skeptical about a WW1 BF game but I’m sold after seeing this and will be on my to buy list)
What happens when making games are no longer fun for the developer?
This is a question all videogame designers and developers have struggled with over the years, and for me it was the deciding factor in me creating my own game design company, Awaken Games.
I wanted, and let’s face it, needed a break from the corporate world of game development.
Like a lot of game designers these days, I got into making videogames because I have a crazy imagination and I wanted to see what I could bring the life.
But dealing with the corporate bureaucracy in game development is often a nightmare for creative people, for often decisions are made based on expediency and corporate profit, and less on what is right for the product and its consumers.
This was highlighted once again when I read the departure letter that Minecraft’s Notch wrote to his staff in the public.
It was sad to read what he wrote, for I’m a big fan of what he has created, while at the same time I really respected his honesty and candor in his departure letter.
Not every game developer, when they leave the industry are so open and honest with their feelings, but over the years I have heard from many colleagues and super talented individuals who have left our industry for other pastures for the same reason.
They love developing video games, but just got sick and tired of how crazy it can get.
Some of my most joyous moments are just hanging out with my development team and coming up with crazy ideas for the products we are working on, and working out the technical details of how to get things to work. While at the same time my greatest nightmares have been in dealing with inexperienced producers, corporate execs and marketing departments who haven’t a clue of what you’re trying to accomplish.
The final straw for me personally was when I was meeting with one of the owners of a game studio I was working for at the time, when he looked at me from across his desk and said with all honesty in his heart “It’s not our job to make good games!”
I felt at that moment that somebody just punched me in the heart, for that’s why got into videogame development and why I pour my heart into every game design I produce. For someone to think of game development in that way, not only disrespects their customers, both the publisher and the game buying public alike, but also totally disrespects all the hard work that not only I put in to the games I make but the entire team who spend countless hours devoted to the cause of making a great game.
We all want in our hearts to make a game as successful as Minecraft has become, but few of us want to deal with the politics and the headaches that will come with creating a successful product. And yes it will come!
I have often told people in the industry that it can be just as bad for a team to make a great game as it does for a bad one, for success can really bring out the worst in some people and in some companies.
They lose perspective on what got them to that point in the first place, which is often a small group of passionate people working together to create something totally awesome.
But when that awesomeness comes it often comes with unexpected consequences, something Notch over at Mojang has run into.
You either become part of the corporate culture of high level success, or we burn out and move on.
I’ve always loved the aspect of designing video games and working out all those little fine details that make product works successfully, but I’ve never been one to embrace or relish in the same that sometimes follows.
It’s never been about that for me, and in many ways, because I haven’t embraced that success at the corporate level I opened up the window for more than a few people to take advantage of that.
There has been one of the few individuals who take credit for my work, plagiarize my work and even gotten employee by large game development studios by passing off my work as their own, but sometimes that’s the price we pay for anonymity.
I don’t spend my time standing on a soapbox talking about how great I am or how great some of the games I’ve developed have become. I am happiest when I’m sitting at my computer or my drafting table coming up with the next wacky game design that pops into my head or someone needs my help with.
But others chase fame and glory for their accomplishments, and some for the accomplishments of others, but for professionals like me, Notch and others who just want to make something fun, that the world you can have with our blessing!
An up-and-coming game designer asked me the other day, “What is your game development philosophy?”
I told him that somewhere out there, there is a guy or girl who will have to save up their hard earned money working some crappy job just to buy your latest game, and if you don’t feel it’s worth the money, then it’s not ready to be published. Also, if you are not working for a developer who respects their customers enough to produce a quality product then quit and find one that does.
Be proud of your work, be proud of your team and be proud to work for a great company. If you can’t feel proud in any one of these areas then something needs to change.
Lessons learned from being a Mechanic
As some of you know from either working with me in the past or just following some of my articles, that I worked as a mechanic for a few years, before I got my big break working in-house as a full-time game designer.
One of the lessons I came away with from working in the automotive field and how it relates to the video game business, is that employees are a lot like the tools in a mechanic toolbox.
1: If you buy cheap tools then they will always let you down and need replacing.
2: If you take care of your tools then they will take care of you.
3: Always know where your tools are, so they can be deployed in a hurry to the next task.
4: Keep an eye out for the next innovation in tools, so you can do the next job better.
5: A shiny new tool isn’t always the best solution to a problem, than an older and reliable one.
6: Often it takes a hammer to deal with an immovable situation.
7: Sometimes there is more than one tool that can accomplish the same job.
8: A tool that isn’t used or useful anymore is only taking up space for new ones that are.
9: If you force a tool to do something it wasn’t designed for you risk damaging the job.
10: Always know where to buy the best tools.
The Wind Up and the Pitch in Game Development
Over the past 30 plus years as a game developer I’ve been to many product pitch sessions to publishers, dealing with early game concepts, full game designs, half-finished games to fully finished products.
During this time I’ve experienced my fair share of do’s and don’ts that I thought I would share.
Doing a product pitch to a game publisher is never easy, for no matter how many times you’ve done it in the past there is always that feeling of anxiety.
This anxiety can lead some to make some really foolish comments during a presentation, or even act out in way that will sabotage their efforts.
In one presentation where I was asked to sit in for a pitch to SCEA (Sony Computer Entertainment America), the owner of a developer I was working with was asked by a rep at Sony, “How did you come up with the name for your studio?”
A fairly simple question and one often asked by publishers as an opening to get the conversation rolling. But the answer he gave shock me, and it takes a lot to shock me after so many years in the field.
He said, “We were just throwing names around and this one came up. I’ve always hated it, but it stuck!”
I was saying to myself, Wow, Really! That’s your answer!
One of the most important decisions you can ever make in starting a new business, is coming up with the company’s name and what it stands for and what it means to you.
Well, that was just one of a list of forced errors made that day and I wasn’t surprised when Sony didn’t call back.
In another story, I was working for Namco as a product manager and as such was often asked to sit in on meetings to evaluate new products to publish.
In one such meeting we had a group of 3 guys come up from a development studio to pitch their new game product. The only problem was the Producer and Lead Designer couldn’t even agree during the meeting on what the game was about, and they actually started arguing with one another right in front of us.
In another meeting there with a different development team, the guys use of profanity throughout the whole presentation sunk their pitch.
And for my last pitch gone wrong stories, we had to show off a product to a publisher in San Francisco, but the owners of the studio thought it would be a good idea to bring a Play Tester with us to demo the game.
Now normally this wouldn’t have been a problem, but unfortunately this particular Play Tester was so excited about showing off all of the ways he could crash the game, during our presentation.
In presenting your studio, products or game concept for review by a publisher or an investor it really comes down to preparation.
Make sure you’re ready to not only sell your product, but your studio and its staff.
Often when I’ve been asked to evaluate a developer for a publisher, I’m asked to evaluate the staff first.
This means digging through the initial sales pitch that developers will come up with, just to sell the publisher on them and get down to the facts.
Always remember these 3-Greats when it comes to game development:
1: Great Talent equals Great Games!
2: Great Games equals Great Studios!
3: Great Studios equals Great Publishers!
Any great game publisher will evaluate you and your company in this order, and you really need to approached each new pitch with is in mind.
So, here’s the Wind Up…
During the Wind Up phase to your pitch you want to make sure to create the following materials, for most publishers and or venture capital companies will want these.
1: Full bios on your development team and studio management staff.
Providing a full resume to a publisher is not only overkill it can also be unwise, for some publishers can use such information to recruit away your staff at a later date. So just focus on areas of their strengths that support the game development project your pitching.
2: A bio on your studio and or your development group and its past product successes.
While you might think this is a no-brainer to go into any product pitch meeting talking about only the positives aspects of your studio, some developers miss the small details that publishers won’t.
As an example, I was working with a game developer once whose studio portfolio document started off with a picture of the outside of the studio, which is not uncommon, but when it’s taken on a dark and cloudy day with an almost empty parking lot it becomes one.
As the old expression goes, never pass up the opportunity to make a great first impression. So I don’t know about you, but a depressing picture of a studio with few people at work doesn’t exactly make me excited about working with them.
So always take a look at all of your presentation documents as if you’re on the other side of the table and look for anything that you might see as a red flag, if this developer was coming to you and not the other way around.
3: Draft a financial statement on your studio.
As an example, if you’re an established game developer then most of the times a publisher will want to know how stable financially you are.
Because historically game publishers who are funding the development of a game can be held hostage by a developer who is not financially stable, when they tell the publisher they can’t pay their staff during production.
This sometimes forces a publisher to infuse a studio with money, beyond their agreement or risk losing the capital investment that currently have in a game projects. So publishers really want to make sure that the studios they are dealing with are not holding lots of unsecured debit.
4: A financial forecast of the P&L (Profit and Loss) for your game.
When a game publisher and or investor finance a game development project they will always want to know when they will be paid back on their initial development cost and profits beyond the recoup.
In the world of game development, the developer doesn’t see a profit from his game until the development cost have been recouped by the publisher or investor, which can take some time, depending on the sales of your product. So, it’s important for you as the game developer to take this into consideration and plan accordingly to have another funded game project kicking off by the time your initial game project wraps up.
Often game developers will go out of business when they haven’t adhered to this overlapping planning process.