Founder and Creative Director at Infinite Playground, a small independent game development studio based in England. I've come from a background of game modding, helping out several projects on ModDB before deciding to try the Indie Route. I still like to get involved with mods when I have the time!
It's been some time since my first true attempt at an Independent Game came to a sad and drawn out end. I've since gone away, got my Masters (passed with a First!! (YALDI!)) and managed to get a job in the games industry at a nice Indie Studio in Scotland.
When I moved to Scotland I didn't have a career plan in mind. I knew that more than anything I wanted to make games again and the Masters would be the kick up the arse I needed to get back into games after Mech Mania's demise.
The Masters was actually pretty trash but it got me my first full-time in-house job!
I worked away tirelessly for 2 years, living like a hermit and putting as much into my savings as I could manage.
Then I quite my job.
There are many reasons why I left, one of the biggest being the Working Holiday Visa cut-off age for Japan. I like to travel, I also hate rushing and like to take my time and move at my pace. I figured 3 months for a Tourist Visa wouldn't be enough to really know a country (A year isn't enough either!!) but I knew I would regret it forever if I didn't go while I could.
Booked flight, found work and went.
I lasted one month before the urge to create a game came back.
So what now?
Now I have started it all again, but this time in Japan. I'm travelling this amazing country, seeing the sights and meeting the people while making my dream video game.
Back in 2011 I got together with some modding friends to attempt professional game design. Sadly due to complications with the companies bank account and directors we couldn't all be based in different countries (at least that's what my business account manager told me).
So I bought out the shares of my two friends (as the company was registered in England) and we agreed to carry on with me at the helm.
We carried on working on the game regardless and made some headway before we discovered all of us were essentially broke and couldn't continue working on it. This time we all went off and got other work which delayed that game and eventually we decided to stop working on it for the time being.
After some time I resurrected the company, gave it a logo and a website and started to invest my money into a game!
This game was the beginnings of what would evolve into Mech Mania.
It started off with me creating a bunch of stock assets, a collectible orb with three colour variations for textures, two arena tiles, one for vertical and one for floor with a few textures to break up the monotony. With these and the GDD created I went in search of a programmer.
This was a role I had a lot of trouble filling and would become the bane of the project.
I interviewed a few programmers, many of which were either scammers or genuinely wanted extortionate amounts of money for a small prototype, or in one case ownership of the IP aswell.
Another awesome friend of mine who I had met and University put me in touch with a programmer who seemed to be sane and willing to work for the budget I had. We met and got on really well, he liked the project and we got things going.
I had wanted to work in Unity, but he persuaded me to use XNA, a grave mistake.
I had opted to make the mini-game which would eventually become known in Mech Mania as Survival.
I was still very new to the professional world of game design. Unsure how long programming would take so I fully trusted him. However at each milestone the game was always that little bit further behind.
I attended my first game industry event, the Explay Festival which reaffirmed everything I loved about making games and the game industry. I came back from that filled with a passion that fired me through the rest of the year.
A year later I had arranged for the prototype to be displayed at the next Explay festival, by now the programmers company had fallen apart due to a fallout with his business partner and I had brought him on as a Director... mainly because it meant not having to fork out large sums of money to pay him and that he may finally take an interest in working on the game (another mistake).
On the day I was expecting the prototype to be fully functional, but was handed a broken mess which regularly crashed, had no lighting, no bots and no native controls for the game pads we had. Instead using an emulator which had to be reconfigured each day.
By the end of the festival I convinced him to swap game engines as XNA was not suitable, with Microsoft ditching it and the new consoles just around the courner it seemed very silly so support a dead language.
I gave the options of UDK and Unity, letting him know I didn't know it but a friend of mine was well versed in UDK but it would mean learning Unreal Script. He went with UDK over Unity.
So now we began again, I hadn't used UDK since my degree and ended up taking a back seat for part of the project. Working with my former business partner we produced all of the arenas and remodeled the games characters and props while the programmer got his head around Unreal Script.
While on an industry binge I stumbled across Starter for 10, a competition run by Creative England to pitch for £10,000 of grant money and several months of business mentoring and workshops. I applied for it and was very surprised when I heard back saying we'd made it to the first pitching stage. I prepared a pitch, traveled to the venue and in Dragons Den fashion pitched the game first to two guys from Creative England for feedback and then five minutes later into the main room to pitch at three judges from the creative industry.
Again I made it through! Now came the final pitching event in front of four judges. I'd refined the pitch and now had better visual aids but still worried about my ability to pull this off as until now pitching was new ground for me.
A few days later an e-mail came through inviting me to one final event which I also managed to pass, making it from the final 15 to the final 10!
I'd done it! Got a company running, got the talent to work on a game and now we had the funding and support to get it done! Nothing could stop this from coming to fruition.
Now more mistakes were made!
Originally the plan was to develop my silly mini-games as stand-alone mini-games like Flappy Birds. Each one designed to be very simple but fun and addictive. Using Unity each would be developed over 6 months giving us a steady release rate and some credibility as a company...
Now all of the game modes were merged into one mini-game collection for the PC, targeting Steam for the Big Picture mode and Steam box. This was the complete opposite to the original intentions.
We carried on and before long all of the 3D assets and most of the 2D assets were finished, but the game was yet to rear its head. The programmer gave me updates and assurances but only once during development did he show us anything in-game.
Now the programmer/business partner had wanted most of the £10,000 for himself, even though under the contract signed with Creative England no Directors were allowed to take cash out of it. He however took nearly £6000 and then without warning went of a 3 week holiday to the USA with his girlfriend. At the time I was very ill, also for three weeks and upon getting better discovered from a friend what the programmer had been up to.
The £6000 was intended to keep him working purely on Mech Mania. But again, through a friend, I discovered he had taken on yet more very well paid work and was spending next to no time at all working on MM. When confronted on it (as I ended up doing frequently) it was shrugged off.
Then Explay came round again. Finally we could see and play the game!
Well sort of.
He had promised, and it was in the contract, that he would produce three game modes. I arrived at his house the night before Explay to find he had pretty much just started work on one of the game modes. He told me only one would be ready in time.
What was even more frustrating was watching him code and seeing how quick he was with it. In the next few hours he got it done and we even implemented some changes there and then!
Explay went well, the game mode was well received and turned out to be fun! But half way through the first day my business partner tells me he's going away again later that day and I'm on my own for the next three days.
Following Explay he became ever more difficult to contact. Throughout my time working with him he had been tricky to get hold of, often I'd have to send multiple text messages, facebook, twitter, steam and call him in order to get a response and even then it could take up to three weeks!
Following Explay the engine was changed again (yep I'm good at getting things wrong!) This time I had convinced the programmer to go with Unity which he told me was amazingly easy to work wit hand we could have a full prototype by Christmas! (three months away)
To this day since the Explay festival he has had no contact with me and seems to be living guilt free =/
So I found myself back at square one, with a partly built game in UDK and no programmer. I contacted a few people to see if we could get the UDK version finished rather than starting again in Unity and managed to get an old friend to make a bit of headway before he had to drop it for other work.
I approached another friend of mine, a talented programmer with a knowledge of Unity. Things started off well, assets were ported and we quickly had almost daily updates on game progress!
Finally we could see the game taking shape in front of us! Finally someone who responded when contacted, the excess stress evaporated and things really started moving.
I had decided to show off the game in Tablet form at The Wild Rumpus in London, the game went from not existing to working prototype in just four weeks! In four weeks we had something fully playable on PC and tablet.
We had a new release date, going for late April (two years after the original April deadline of the XNA single game mode).
With things finally looking up for the project I'd relaxed a bit and began planning out the rest of development and marketing for the future.
The out of nowhere the programmer tells us he no longer wants to work on the game and severs all communication. After contacting him he refused to hand over the files created so far, instead holding them to ransom.
Now we find ourselves right back at the beginning. We have a pile of art assets and no functionality.
A few days ago I was invited to a pair of events, the first being Creative England's 2nd Anniversary Party, the other being a seminar called 'Stimulating Growth for the Arts, Cultural and Creative Industries: Access to Finance' and its after party 'Stimulating Growth for the Arts, Creative and Cultural Industries Networking event'.
Creative Englands 2nd Birthday was quite hard to gauge, I arrived a little late, by which time some very intense conversation circles had formed which I totally failed to slide myself into.
Now to date I have worn a suit once and I would quite like to keep it that way, all the events I had been to before had always been very informal, so I turned up in my hoody and jeans to a room filled with people in expensive evening wear... looking ever so slightly out of place!
Free alcohol was abundant so I quickly availed myself of a bottomless wineglass and found a nice wall to lean on while waiting for the event to begin.
I then bumped into an equally outcast girl who was looking to shelter from the noise and movement of the floor. We got chatting and it turned out she worked for a Japanese television company, which being a typical geek I thought was amazing. After a while a fellow south-westerner and friend whose company had also made it onto Starter for 10 appeared and our group grew to three!
After some attempted speeches (the audio was really terrible!) this animation was played which sums up just how much Creative England have done and are committed to doing for the creative industries in the UK.
Very soon after it had finished the event came to an end and everyone very quickly dispersed, so I made my way back to my hostel and was given a cupcake by one of my room mates =)
Day 2 - Google
The building we were in hosts several companies with Google occupying several floors in the center of London.
Being a bit neurotic about running late I turned up an entire hour early which had its benefits as I got to chat with some more really nice random people while waiting!
The seminar was broken down into several areas but its main focus was on finding out exactly what it was companies like those attending wanted/needed from Creative England's programs.
It began with talks from Venture Capitalists of various kinds, though some of them baffled me a bit. It seemed, though they were given this money by government to invest, they were only willing to invest if the product was already a success... and therefore doesn't need the funding.
Another part focused heavily on a very common theme at these events which is raising a company very quickly to become large and bloated, ideally with a one-hit-wonder then selling it for maximum profit. This is of course a perfectly legitimate way of doing things, but it would have been nice to get advice from people who had the same aspirations as me. Running a small studio and remaining independent.
The final event of the day was one of the most entertaining (aside from the networking drinks!) as we were placed into random groups and had to look at our own companies as an investor may see them, addressing strengths and weaknesses from your and the VC/Investors point of view. The people I was with made this pretty fun considering most of us weren't chasing investment but it did help us find possible problems within our businesses.
I think the participation part may have put people off as by the time of the final group workshop there were certainly less than half the attendees we had started with!
The Networking Drinks
Now I was expecting something similar to Creative England's 2nd Anniversary, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it very informal. It took place in their rooftop cafe and was pretty well attended (quite a few faces that had skipped out the workshop re-materialized for the booze=P.)
The booze (yep I took pics!)
They all had really festive names, which I cannot even begin to recall now =( This concoction involved Lychees and was topped off with gold flakes. Told the barman the drink was probably worth more than me. It tasted like skittles and it turned out was rather potent...
More festive drinks!
Aside from the drinks they also had various stands setup around the room punctuated by more free drink.
The first was a Print your own Android logo on a bag. A bit random but quite fun, ironically I think they used an iPad for the design app. You could shape and clothe your own little Android robot then the would print it straight onto a bad.
The guy running it was awesome!
Next up, an icecream stand! Now by the time I'd made it to this part of the room I'd consumed several cocktails in close proximity and my motor-skills had become slightly impaired.
Some of the flavours on offer included Stilton, which I dutifully tried and did enjoy! Beside them they had a potters wheel on which you could attempt to spin your own pot made from icecream. No one wanted to try so I went up first.
My pot was a bit of a disaster and it melted very quickly, but it did taste good =D
They were rocking a Victorian/Steam punk look.
And finally they had a Sushi Chef working away right in front of you, it was pretty neat watching how quickly he worked and how consistent he was. He made a lot of Sushi!
After that a few of us got together and visited a couple of pubs.
My train was leaving at 05:30 in the morning so I was in no hurry to get to bed. Got back to the hostel around 01:00, played cards with room-mates till about half 2 then ready my book till 4am at which point I packed up and walked to the station.
And so concludes my most recent adventure in London.
To be more precise it was onboard a Cold War era East German fishing trawler named Stubnitz which has since pulled back its Iron Curtains and become a floating venue for events.
I'd been to the very first Bit of Alright and Wild Rumpus and had an amazing time so I had high hopes for this which were not let down.
Bit of Alright was an almost tranquil affair (compared to the Rumpus) with workshops, talks and games ongoing throughout the day.
To list a few of the things I indulged in we had Lemon Jousting, Quick Draw, Level Design Workshop, Laza Knitez and many more whose names sadly escape me =(
The Wild Rumpus lived up to its name, with more games, no talks and now alcohol thrown into the mix!
I had another go at J.S. Joust and managed to lose on all three occasions! (though I didn't always go out first!)
An unexpected highlight (for me, not paying attention) was a live set by Super Hexagon composer Chipzel! This rounded off the night with a small rave in the bowls of the ships holds.
Bit of a dull write up for such a colourful event, I really should have written it after I got back!
Back in August 2011 I founded Infinite Playground in order to pursue my dreams of becoming a full-time game developer.
The journey so far has been quite rough so I thought I'd have a go at sharing whats happening and a little advice from some one whose gotten it wrong a couple of times.
1. I founded the company as a knee-jerk reaction to someone attempting to steal some of my intellectual property so it could be under development by a registered company.
This meant I had to get all the legal side of the company sorted out at a time when I was quite busy and had little money.
I should have carried on researching the necessities of business and running a company before registering.
2. Making people of other nations Directors. This is purely because I did not do enough research prior to starting the company. There is nothing at all wrong with people from other countries being Directors of your company, but as Directors they need to be signatories on the companies bank account. With the company made up of Modders we were all over the world making this impossible without a small fortune in airfares.
The others decided to step down as Directors leaving me at the helm.
3. Distinguish between friends and business. I made a few friends here on Mod/IndieDB and from Uni, all very talented people and most of them were finding it hard to get work to expand their portfolios so they could get work.
I made it my mission to give as many of them work during the project as I could. This money came out of my pocket and for a while I was working 3 jobs (all pretty badly paid!) to raise funding for the company and our first game project.
I had a friend of mine producing concept art, he was a talented artist and I asked him to flesh out the character and generate some more possible designs. He missed his first deadline but I let him off and set another, then another and another. This carried on for nearly two months. Looking back I was very naive! I should have called him on it after he missed his first deadline but I wanted to give him a chance.
Thankfully we had a contract which he had voided by taking so long and as such I didn't owe him a penny for his time wasting.
Which bring me on to...
4. Paperwork! Never underestimate paperwork! One of the first things you want to do is acquire a Contract template and an NDA template. Both of these documents will save you from a potential world of irritation. They are readily available online or you can message me and I'll drop one to you!
Another note is if you are discussing a possible contract with someone it doesn't hurt to add 'Subject to Contract' to e-mails to prevent yourself from accidentally getting contracted.
That's about it for now. I made mistakes and I am still here. Just keep up that same passion that brought you to game design and you wont go far wrong for long! Each day of development you grow too!
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