Opportunities and Contemplation

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June 23, 2013 by jonmillymiles

It’s not every day that you get to represent an independent games developer at a national event, but this weekend I did just that. It all began almost two weeks ago now with the guys from Nyamyam Games putting a call out for volunteers to help with their stand at the Rezzed PC and Indie Games Show at the NEC in Birmingham. I quickly sought permission from my domestic line manager and once my wife had given me her blessing I offered my help.

I received a Tweet later from Phil at Nyamyam thanking me for my offer and he rang me later that week to confirm my availability. I took the opportunity to ask a few questions; what should I wear; what should I know; when was I needed; what was it that was expected of me. In short it came down to the fact that Nyamyam are a very small company and that they barely had time at last years Rezzed to go to the toilet, all they needed was someone to watch the stand and talk to the crowd so that they could take a break. I also spoke to Phil briefly about my degree and asked if we could have a chat throughout the day, he was only too happy to oblige.

I like to be prepared, so when I found out that I would be helping I checked out a few features on both Nyamyam Games and Tengami. The first place I headed was to their website which features a fantastic blog about their shows and the development of what is essentially a completely original game. I watched the video of Tengami and was fascinated by its elegance and beauty. But I’ll let you see that for yourself…

The game takes place inside a Japanese pop-up book and is quite unique in its visual style and deliberate, slow-paced gameplay. I carried on researching on the motivations behind the game and came across this second video from the Bradford Animation Festival in which Phil and his Nyamyam co-founder Jennifer both talk about the development of the game.

This insight greatly helped me to get my bearings on the product that I was presenting and to be able to offer a deeper insight to the members of the public that I met. Similarly it allowed me to represent Phil and Jennifer in a good light and, most importantly for me, represent them as well as I can when they have given me this unique opportunity.

IMAG0882The morning came. I was helping out on the Saturday as a couple of others had come forward with help, this significantly improved my chances of remaining on the wifes good side! She’s not a big fan of games but she is supportive in my endeavours and wants me to have some fun… just not too much fun. I arrived at the NEC early, about 9:30 before the crowds began to swell and was met at the entrance by Phil. He looked rather stressed and it turned out that their iPad Mini had been misplaced in their arrival, to top this off he had been up until 4:30 that morning finishing off that version of the latest build of Tengami – their game.

I went with Phil to the stand and was introduced to Jennifer we had a short chat about what I knew about the game and then I got to have a try: I was immediately blown away. Unfortunately the youTube videos do not do it justice it is simply beautiful. Unfortunately I didn’t get long to play as before I knew it the doors had opened and a relentless tide of gamers swarmed through the doors like a horde of Orcs storming Helms Deep, but wearing Atari and Minecraft t-shirts.

The first gamer rushed in and took up his seat (what I would later refer to as – Gamer Thrones – say it out loud :D) and mashed away at the screen with his fingers. He kind of got nowhere fast – in fact he was somewhat taken aback at his lack of progress. His honed, lightning reflexes were wasted when confronted with a book that needed to be opened by swiping the screen. He progressed through the tutorial, fumbling as he went and so I crouched down beside him and said “Hey there! Relax and take it slow, it will tell you what to do.” and he did.

In a world where twitch gaming makes mega-bucks Tengami is a different breed – it demands patience and rewards thought: everything is obvious if you think about it. He slowed, and slowed and lowered on his throne. Our first gamer played the game for 20 minutes without stopping and completed the Forest level. I asked him what he thought about it and he said that it was fantastic, “the sort of game that he would love to play to wind down after a day at work”. The public continued in this vein, hardcore gamers, young children, developers, fathers, journalists, mothers and couples all sat down to play and all of them left loving the game and feeling relaxed.

There were many positive comments about the classical Japanese art style, one lady kept coming round every hour to see if the iPads were free for a game because “she loved anything to do with Japan”… when one finally was, I quickly ushered her in for a game – much to her delight.

When lunch time came I managed to grab a bite to eat with Phil and we sat down in the restaurant… cunningly placed right by our stand!!! We talked at some length about our backgrounds, work and my future in the industry: when I spoke to Phil on the phone I explained that this was a quandary that I faced. When I look over my life, at the times when I thrive and excel and those that I suffer there is a clear distinction with the type of management that I have: I need to work free from as many confines, rules and regulations as possible. A big company, which was where I thought I would be heading in this industry, would not be for me. When I was a lad I had a huge issue with some managers: some people did not listen to you if they did not think that you were important – if you had the wrong title, even if you were right. This caused me more than a few headaches. I don’t have a problem with doing as I’m told – far from it – I just have an issue with people not listening.

I explained to Phil that I was speechless when it came to the visual style of the game, the only way I could describe it was simple – as in elegant not simplistic. Yet the mechanics of the game were simple too – swipe and tap to interact with the book and double tap to move your character. Phil explained that the concept came from a single sentence “Could we make a game based in a pop-up book?” Simply put, yes.

Phil and Jen have developed Tengami from the ground up with the engine and the mathematics involved being written from scratch. They had been working on the project for over two years of which the first was spent perfecting the engine and scenery builder. Phil explained to me that he had to mathematically model the way that the paper folded as they could not find any books or articles about it. When he had done it they then found an academic paper stating the formulae. At this point I asked Phil if he was right: if his formulas were correct – he turned to me with a wry smile and said “Yes”.

Throughout the day there was a clear sense of pride flowing from Phil and Jen. Phil had explained that he was most proud about the things the public would not see, such as the scenery builder and the way Tengami got couples to play cooperatively, talking through the puzzles. They were talking to members of the public about their game and its development and watching their reactions as they played. The positive feedback kept coming as did questions regarding a release date and formats – more on that at the bottom of this – and the public reception was nothing short of astounding – everybody loved the game.

The Tengami Stand

The afternoon moved on and the crowds came and went, slowing down as the day progressed and I was given the opportunity to speak to another developer that I had been tipped off about: Matt Clifton MD of Poly Pusher Studios. He has been single handedly creating Montagues Mount a first person story puzzler set on a remote Irish island where something sinister has happened.

I sparked up a conversation with Matt telling him that he was a person that I needed to talk to about making a late change to become a games designer. He explained how he was working 14 hour days, seven days a week, with his wife supporting him as much as she could and a young child whom he wished he could spend more time with. He explained how life was very hard and that making the game single-handedly was extremely stressful on everyone around him. He described days being locked in his “Dev Dungeon” and how brittle his situation had become – I had the utmost sympathy for his struggles and respect for his accomplishments.

He is currently working hard to get his game through the Steam Greenlight system so that he can get approved for distribution across the internet. Having seen what Matt has achieved I would whole heartedly recommend voting for him here. Most importantly he is now getting some support from Get Games Go who help with some of the quality assurance and production issues.

I left Matt laughing somewhat hysterically (I’d used my “50 Shades of C” joke on him when he mentioned the Dev Dungeon) and had a quick wander round the rest of the show. There were some great games on offer but I was keen to get back to the Nyamyam guys and help out some more. I spoke to Phil about helping again as I can honestly say that I loved showing off their game and promoting it to the public. But before long it was time for me to leave and catch my train.

As I made my way back home I began to think about my future career and where I wanted my life to go; AAA games and big publishers with stability but with little control or creativity; lone wolf development with high risks but potentially lucrative payouts; indie design where you have freedom but little support.

What I found that was particularly poignant was that it could be a rapid career progression within a large firm if you were good, however, there was a huge element of going where the work was. While this would not be too much of an issue, gamed design is a young persons life as the disharmony caused through the constant uprooting of families can be excessively harsh. Similarly for me to enter the games industry at a base level will require me to take a pay cut, further impacting on my family and with moving etc… it all adds up.

I almost immediately ruled out the lone developer option as I would be divorced within weeks – of that I have no doubt. Indie while romantic, required an essence of financial stability outside of the development of the game. All seemed somewhat lost: with so many responsibilities I cannot make a rapid shift into the industry. This all seems very negative and to some extent it put a negative slant on my extremely positive day – and then I explained it all to the wife.

My wife is brilliant – just don’t tell her I told you so! She said quite simply, that I should carry on with my day job and work on games of an evening until such time as we could afford the break. I’d never thought of it – I’m an all or nothing guy but the missus can see many shades of grey, fifty I believe!! I have decided to move towards developing mobile games as they are generally smaller in scale, simpler to produce and have a wide audience. I just needed a system that would allow me to create on a wide variety of platforms and then I thought of Unity 😀 This will allow me to create games and port them to a number of devices in a one click process.

It seems as if I now have a plan*:

  1. Continue with job
  2. Learn Unity
  3. Develop small mobile games
  4. Market them on the various stores
  5. Make the switch to full time games development when I am able

*please note that this plan is subject to change as the situation changes and opportunities arise

At this point there are a few thank you’s that I must say.

Phil and Jen at Nyamyam Games – For giving me the opportunity to talk to people who have seen both sides of the gaming industry, for allowing me to ask some searching questions and for sharing in your glow. Please follow them on twitter @nyamyamgames

Matt at Poly Pusher Studios – For some of the most level headed reality checking advice going, for showing me what true grit looks like and for highlighting some of the opportunities out there. Follow him @montaguesmount

Finally – Tengami will be released later this year, initially on iOS devices and then PC, MAC and Wii-U. Hopefully, at a later date, it will also make its way onto Android so that everyone can enjoy it.


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