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Thursday, 2 January 2014

First interview of 2014! - Jason Carter, creator of "SBX: Invasion"

See, I told you I would start earlier with the interviews this year!  Only 2nd Jan and we have one already.

So, I interviewed Jason Carter, who last year became a full-time indie game developer and released the tower-defence game SBX: Invasion (see review).  He gives some great insights into what it's actually like to be a full-time indie dev.

Q1.  So, how does it feel to be a full-time indie dev?  

A1.  I love it.  It's scary and fulfilling at the same time.  There are so many things to learn that sometimes it can be overwhelming, but at the end of a project, or after a revision or significant update to a project, the fulfillment of creating something is hard to match elsewhere.   It's a process too: I'm always getting better as a designer and I'm far from where I'd like to be someday, but I've learned a lot so far and look forward to learning more.  It sometimes seems that everything I learn just serves to show me how little I know.  It's fun though, learning is fun.

Q2.   You did a post recently on your own blog about what you’ve learned in your early indie game dev career… could you quickly summarise those points?

A2.  Let's see, I've had to teach myself so many things over the past year.  A few big ones that I'm still working on and that I didn't foresee when I started out are:  Web Design, Marketing and Social Networking, and Video Production.  Marketing I knew I'd have to do, but when I first started out, I didn't know exactly how much work it would entail.  Web Design and Video Production are still things I need to spend some time working on.  My website still isn't as professional looking as it could be and it certainly needs some more work.  And my trailers are mediocre at best.  That's the tough part about being an indie - everything is pretty much up to me to make it good.  Especially at the point I'm at right now, where I do all my own work, it can be tough to devote the time necessary to individual skills to bring them up from being "okay" to being "great".  I think this is probably the hardest part about being a small/solo indie.  Once I'm able to grow the studio and work with more people, I can start focusing my skill sets into programming and design, which is what I enjoy the most.  

Q3.  How long did SBX: Invasion take to develop, from initial concept to completed game?

A3.  SBX: Invasion was a game jam project, for the Winter GMC Jam in January 2013.  I worked on it part time for about 4-5 months after the Jam and then when I moved to Boston I began full time work on it.  The core gameplay was finished around August/September 2013 and then I spent a month reworking all of the art assets.  I've still had to do more work to them too and I'm still making the game look better as I learn more about pixel art and art theory.  I launched the game November 1st so the total production time of the first release was about 10 months.  That said, I should have spent a few more weeks polishing off the game (stuff I'm adding now and reworking).  But live and learn and each update makes the game that much better.  I'm sure in a few months I'll look back and wonder why I didn't think of all sorts of things to add to the game in this update.

Q4.  What was the toughest part of making SBX: Invasion?

A4.  I'd say Self Motivation probably, and Marketing of course, always the Marketing.  But yeah marketing sucks so I'll talk about self motivation.  I had to learn how to manage myself.  Project Management doesn't normally seem like something you use on yourself but it works really well.  Not just lists, but planning out and setting goals for myself and setting small benchmarks has helped me stay focused.  It's easy to get burnt out working by myself on the same project for so long.  I don't have people to bounce ideas off of or vent to, so I have to keep myself in check constantly.  It's very easy to let precious time slip away by browsing reddit, or taking a "break" to play some LoL, and sometimes those mental check outs are necessary to recuperate, but I have to keep that shit in check.  Trello has been a great resource for planning everything out and making myself lists of all the things I need to get done.

I have to go into a "planning mode" and set time aside to really think about where I want to be, and what I want to accomplish, and then break that down into steps.  That way during the week when I feel lazy or tired, I can look and say to myself:  "Okay, I'm just going to finish these next 3 tasks and then I'll take a short break."  or "This is what I need to get done today and then I can relax a little and dink around doing smaller stuff."  

Also, when I start the day with a big project or a specific task, I am able to engross myself in the task and am able to be insanely productive.  I find those days to be the best days and the most enjoyable, and trying to make all my work days like that is the challenge.  So that's kind of a lengthy response, but yeah, Self-Motivation is one of the hardest things, but I think the most important things that I've learned (and am still learning).

Q5.  What aspect of the game are you most proud of?

A5.  It's not a big part of the game, but I'm really proud of the fact that you can completely wall off your base and the reactions of enemies when you do it.  I have never come across a tower defense that lets you do that yet.  The ones that are more free form like bubble tower defense generally don't let you wall the path off, but I wanted to let the player do it if they wanted.  And it's generally not a great idea since enemies will just start going HAM on all your defenses.  That's one of the small things I'm proud of.

Q6.  Any hints as to your next game release?

A6.  Haha, yes I'm in the planning process for my next project with another developer.  We're going to do a smaller project to see how we work together and create a smaller project that will lay the foundation for a much larger project later on.  If you like Chess or Shogi you might like the game we'll be working on.  It's going to be a chess variant, I'll tell ya that much.  I also have games planned for the SBX universe but for now the'll be on hold or side projects.  I have a few ideas, some more expansive, some smaller and more doable in a moderate time frame.

Q7.   Looking back, do you think you would have waited a bit longer to become a full-time dev, if you knew then what you know now?

A7.  No I wouldn't.  The timing of going full time indie was pretty perfect.  I've made games in my spare time for a long time and dabbled in game design, and for a long time I wanted to be a game designer, but I was honestly pretty naive.  (I'm still naive and uneducated about a lot of things in the Game Design world).  So I worked a good paying, shitty job for a few years and saved up money.  Then the opportunity came to live near Boston for nigh free with my wife so our living expenses were low enough I could work full time on indie game development without dipping into our savings at all.  This kind of opportunity doesn't come often, so of course I took it and do not regret it.

Q8.  What is the single most useful piece of advice you could give to someone wanting to become an indie game developer?

A8.  Hmm, this is a tough one.  I'd say don't bet everything on being successful on the first try.  Work your ass off and keep working to make your game better and better, but make lots of games, and keep learning, however, don't bet your financial security on making it as an indie.  I see so many people out there on reddit and whatnot who say: "I've just gone indie full time, betting it all!"  and it makes me cringe.  Being an indie is a LOT of hard work and not a lot of financial reward initially.  And the failure rates are high, so if you really want to go for it, do it safely!  Be smart.

Thanks Jason for the great interview and all the best with your full-time indie devness!

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