In this edition of "Half a Million Seconds" we're doubling up on our first tandem interview. I suppose you could claim we're only giving 250,000 seconds per developer, but that's something you'll just have to deal with. Introducing Pixeljam! Let's get to it!
LEO JAITLEY OF DEJOBAAN GAMES: Please introduce yourself! Who are you, and what's your background as a game developer?
RICH GRILLOTTI: Pixeljam (inc.) officially consists of myself (Rich Grillotti) and Miles Tilmann. Mark DeNardo has been working with us from the start as a contractor for music, so he's certainly a part of the team. We've been at it since about 2005. Until recently I did all the artwork and animations & Miles was doing all the programming & sound production. In 2008 we were able to work with additional programmers and pixel artists, which has helped out a lot.
Our background as a game developer... ummm.. We didn't have one, really. aside from being a kid thinking "wow, it would be great to make video games" and having ideas pop up now and then for games I would have liked to exist.
LEO JAITLEY: Why did you go indie?
RICH GRILLOTTI: I don't actually see what we did as "go indie".. I didn't even have much of a concept of the indie games scene in 2005. Miles and I had been working together successfully on art and client design projects for years, plus we were roommates in Chicago for a time and both had interest in old school video games. At some point I was doing some minimal pixel art characters and he was getting to a point in his Flash Actionscripting where he felt he could probably make a simple video game, so we did some experiments and discovered that we could actually make simple games! It was exciting so we just began to put our efforts towards making our first game, Game 01, which was never finished but supplied much of the groundwork and characters for our games to come.
We were just doing it for the sake of making a game together, something fun that we might enjoy playing, and also to see if we actually could finish it and find out if other people might enjoy it. By 2006 we made 1/3 of Game 01, Ratmaze and Gamma Bros. We entered Gamma Bros, into the 2007 IGF competition, where it became a finalist, so we went to San Francisco for the IGF/GDC and that sort of introduced us to the indie game scene. At that point it seemed that we were actually now a part of the indie game community, which I didn't know much about until then. It was a great step and probably made the difference between us stopping and moving on to other things and continuing to make games.
MILES TILMANN: I guess you could say we didn't have much choice in the matter. Indie or nothing :)
LEO JAITLEY: What did your family or significant others say when you said you were "going indie"?
RICH GRILLOTTI: Nobody else had too much to say about my desire to make games. It was more of a side art project and I was doing other stuff to make a living. Only in fall 2008 did we actually begin to make any money doing it so that it became our full time jobs, thanks to some Dino Run licensing income and exposure and then the client games for Comedy Central and Adult Swim we've been doing since then. Since it's become my full time income-generating thing, and I can support myself doing it, people around me seem to be happy about it. Especially that we're doing fine in this time of larger economic.. transition.
MILES TILMANN: I had just started a serious relationship (that would eventually lead to marriage, babies, etc) when Gamma Bros was released. Right after the game came out we took a road trip and visited my wife's father. He was a retired businessman and seemed very impressed that we had created something of that size in our spare time and seemed intrigued by the whole business model of making free games. Also when I showed him Gamma Bros for the first time, his initial comment was "where's the button to get the graphics out of low-resolution mode?".
LEO JAITLEY: Tell us about your workspace - are you "work from home while watching Oprah" kinda devs, "get out of bed and trudge through the snow to the office" kind, or something else?
RICH GRILLOTTI: I work at home and have from the beginning. Miles and I started out as roommates in Chicago starting it up and working on Game 01, Gamma Bros and Ratmaze 1 and 2, so, that was sort of like a shared office/living space. It worked great and we accomplished a lot that way. Then I moved to Eugene Oregon and he got married and moved to Seattle Washington (after a period of living in France). These days we do our best to keep a virtual office feel with Skype calls, lots of email and daily chats. Our contractors live all over the place as well, but I am sure that if we did go to an office daily and have our team right there we'd be a lot more productive and everything would happen a lot faster, but for now that's not an option.
Being disciplined in the comfort of my own home with the ability to make my own schedule can be wonderful and also tough at times. There are periods where I don't seem to make much progress, and then motivation or inspiration will strike and I'll work a great deal. It's not a completely regular schedule, but it seems to be somewhat like a tide. I'll have a super productive and inspired phase, then a stepping back to let things settle and allow some space for fresh ideas and motivation to come in it's own time. Forcing myself to work when I don't actually want to doesn't really work that well.
MILES TILMANN: I'm a bit more steady-paced than Rich I would say, but probably just because I do a lot of coding. I work in an office above my house. I can hear my baby boy (Samuel) downstairs doing his baby thing, and I've gotten very used to working amidst the sounds of chaos.
Although I do have noise-canceling headphones and a steady stream of music, which helps a lot :) Twice a week I go into a collaborative office near downtown Seattle. It's good to get out of the house now and then.
LEO JAITLEY: You wake up on a Wednesday morning. Congratulations -- you have a full day's work ahead of you! What do you get done in the first hour? (Okay, go on and tell us about the subsequent 10 hours.)
RICH GRILLOTTI: It can be really different day to day, and my productive hours used to be all over the place with very late nights involved, but beginning in 2010 I've become much more intent on waking up early (7:30am-8:30am) and have realized this makes a big difference in my productivity. It is also very helpful to be available to communicate with miles for many more hours of the day. He wakes up early daily. This change has also allowed me to make a more clear division between work time and my own free time. I'll work a full day, until about 5pm or 6pm, and then stop working! the rest of the evening is mine to do with what I will, where before it was all blending together and actually made it feel as if I didn't have time of my own.
Of course, there are times when we are really working hard to get things done for deadline, or when creative inspiration is on a roll (Like now, with our Glorkian Warrior project we're doing with James Kochalka). At times like these I might wind up working from when I wake up to when I go to bed, and weekends as well, but I'll still do my best to get back to the regular 9-5 work hours as soon as possible.
Most of my work time is done at home in my little apartment, but occasionally I'll bring my laptop to one of my favorite cafe's and work from there. It's good to see other humans once in a while.
MILES TILMANN: My wife and I have an agreement where she takes care of the baby the whole night (he wakes up, needs food and diaper changes, etc), and then at around 6-7 AM, I take over. I take care of him until 9-10 AM to let her catch up on sleep, and then i get to work. Sometimes if he's still sleeping I'll go through some emails or nose around the indie game sites. After 10 AM, i work pretty much constantly until 6-7 PM, where I stop and make dinner and spend time with the family. I never work at night anymore, even though it's usually the best time to really get things done. I have a pretty set routine of working, which is necessary because its healthy for a baby to have a routine. So we all adapt :)
LEO JAITLEY: Would you classify yourself as more of an artist or a tech wiz? Master of biz? Maybe you do it all, tell us about it Jack...
RICH GRILLOTTI: Artist mostly, from these choices. I'm not interested in programming much at all. I like to come up with ideas, sketch and make artwork and animations. I also enjoy art directing when applicable. Miles (thankfully) has been handling the accounting and business management part of things as well. I burned out on that stuff a while ago so I'm grateful for that.
MILES TILMANN: I manage the projects, make sure the contractors know what they should be doing, keep the books, pay the bills, deposit the checks, all that stuff. It doesn't really take too much time, since Pixeljam is still very small. Most of the time I'm programming or designing. My favorite part of my job is just sitting on the couch with a notebook, writing down ideas.
LEO JAITLEY: We have a few favorite moments in our studio's history -- care to share one of yours?
RICH GRILLOTTI: I think the first time Miles made a character of mine move on the screen with the arrow keys was a favorite, and probably any time we finish and launch a game we're excited about. The whole "Gamma Bros as a finalist at the 2007 IGF" was a good time. It was good to see screen shots from it on the huge screen on the stage at the awards ceremony when the category came up. Receiving great fan art is always fun. and the time we started to run payroll for ourselves in Fall 2008, that was a favorite. A couple interviews we did were actually pretty fun as well. I guess the most rewarding part is making a game that I actually like a lot myself. the feeling of a job well done.
MILES TILMANN: Probably going to the GDC / IGF for the first time... so awesome!
RICH GRILLOTTI: Adventure for the Atari 2600. I played that when I was a kid,and I still enjoy it. It just really got the imagination going on what could be.. plus it had secrets hidden within it. that was super cool. A bunch of the old classics were certainly inspiring as well, like Donkey King, Robotron 2084, Pitfall (1 and 2), Legend of Zelda, Time Pilot, Dig Dug, Ms Pac Man. So many good games.
MILES TILMANN: I don't know which game that would be, but I used to draw levels for games (that did not exist), and i can tell you that they were all clones of either Zelda, Mario Bros or Rastan.
LEO JAITLEY: So what do you guys have in the oven? What's in store for Pixeljam's future?
RICH GRILLOTTI: So, for starters, We're working on a bunch of stuff for Pixeljam, including Gamma Bros 2 and Glorkian Warrior. We're working with our pals at Spiralstorm to make Dino Run for iPhone (with lots of new stuff in it) and a version of Gamma Bros for iPhone is also in the works. We've got a new project going with Adult Swim and the last of our 8-Bit Rejects games is going to launch in April. Also they would like us to make Mountain Maniac for phone as well, with new mountains and elements to the game. We've also got an awesome new project on the horizon that is most likely going to happen very soon, involving a Pixeljam version of a very popular classic game that I can't reveal at this time. We're very excited about that one. Look for it near the end of July 2010. :)
We also recently simplified and launched a new Pixeljam web site, and the blog is now on our server so I think we'll post to it more frequently than we did before. We've also got some other games in progress, such as one where you can make and share your own games and stories with a library of minimal pixel graphics (we still need a name for that one). We've also got one that we started about Llamas just waiting in the background, one with a wizard character, and a few others that are further in the background. We've got loads of ideas just not the time, people and budget to make them all come to life just yet.
In the more distant future, I definitely would like to make a great ninja game with a ninja character I made a while back. Dino Run 2, Bee game, Moon game, Gamma Bros 3, a new Ratmaze game with online multiplayer.. and one about a frog we already started.. and something for our little green guy Buddy and his friend Pooper, the purple worm (as seen in some of our games and on the top of our blog section). And of course we leave room for new ideas as they come and inspire us.
We recently succeeded in raising $10,000 to fund the development of Glorkian Warrior on kickstarter.com and we'll probably set up another kickstarter project for Gamma Bros 2 when it's time to get full-steam back to that as well.
MILES TILMANN: I'm not sure what else to add. I think Rich said it all. As you can tell we've got more ideas we want to execute than is physically possible for a company of our size. Over the next few years we hope to grow at a slow and healthy pace, so that these games can be made with the attention that they need. Of course, in a few years, we will have a whole new set of ideas.