It’s been a crazy year for us so far, and I can’t believe it’s already half over! We started out this year with this new website as a way to better connect with our fans, and it has actually been doing a pretty good job of that. You have been commenting in the forums and on our blog posts, which is really cool for us to see. Thanks for reaching out. Anyway, I want to give you a run down of what we’ve been up to and where we’re going.
We started out this year with a bang. Our Ouya dev kit came right around New Years Day and soon after we heard of the Ouya Game Jam contest. We had some ideas that we’ve been kicking around in our heads and thought it might be a good time to buckle down and crunch out a demo. We surprised ourselves with how much we were able to do in so little time. At that point, I haven’t used ZBrush (a high end modeling program that allows you to make million polygon models) in at least 6 months, but the Giant model came together surprisingly fast.
With the model in place, we needed an environment. Anna started working on skyscraper models since they could be made as modular set pieces and also work really well for portaling and other optimizations. Plus, this worked well with the super hero movie vibe that we wanted to achieve visually.
At this point we had almost no time for animation or programming, so we just focused on a walk cycle and a throw animation while hooking up a simple camera and movement controller in script. The hard part was hooking up the Ouya controller since at that time the Ouya SDK was in it’s infancy and the tools hadn’t been ironed out yet.
The Game Jam Contest
We immediately went into a media blitz. We cut YouTube videos together and hired a firm to help spread the word. It worked great! We quickly grew to having BY FAR the most likes and views on YouTube for our Operation Giant video compared to the other contestants. The positive comments blew us away and it felt great to know that the concept of the game was resonating with people.
We were hoping to win at least a $5K prize so that we could pay for character animation and hire a video team so that we could launch a Kickstarter campaign for the project. We were excited to place as finalists in two categories, but in the end we didn’t win and we had to fall back to contract work to pay the bills.
Working With Oculus
While this was happening with Operation Giant all through January and February, we were also working full time on the now famous Tuscany World Demo for Oculus. I modeled and textured the house while Anna focused on the terrain and foliage. It was great to be able to use some of the reference pictures we took while in Europe last year on the project.
The other cool element of this project besides creating the environment was, of course, getting to work with the Oculus hardware. When I first met up with Brendan at Oculus they were just getting settled in their new office when he handed me a rough headset prototype. In fact, the headset they lent me was only their 3rd or 4th actual prototype. It was covered in black tape and used a something like a ski mask for the body. As crude as it was it worked great and allowed us to build the Tuscany scene in Unity while testing on this headset.
Gearing Up For GDC
When we finished the Tuscany Demo we realized that GDC was right around the corner. There was a lot of excitement in the air as Sony just announced the PS4. I decided to contact Sony and ask them if they would like to meet me for a pitch meeting, thinking that there’s no chance this could happen. To my surprise I got a reply! Great! I have a pitch meeting at GDC, now I need something to pitch!
Not really sure what to do, I thought, “if I can get a meeting with Microsoft and Sony, that would be really great. I’ll have to make a prototype for sure then.” So I dropped Microsoft a line. Yes! Another pitch meeting lined up! Now we just need to make something really great. Something worthy of a next gen console, but something just me and Anna can accomplish on our own.
First off, I knew Operation Giant would not work as a pitch concept. At this point we’ve put some more time into OG and released a new YouTube video, but we quickly realized that the game will require A LOT of animation. High end character animation is not something that Anna and I are very good at, or at least fast at, so we decided to explore another concept. Also, the consoles don’t really want a game like OG since the game stands to directly compete with their $60 box titles, which isn’t good for business.
After racking my brain all day I decided to go out for a late night run. That’s when it hit me. I worked for the next 3 days straight on this new concept and got something running. It was literally like the scene in Limitless when Bradley Cooper writes half a novel in a day. If it’s one thing I’ve learned from being in the entertainment industry for the past 13 years, if you have a burst of inspiration hit you, it’s best to ride that wave as long as you can. It really shows in the end result. People can tell.
Anna and I invested heavily in the pitch. We bought a new Sony Vaio laptop to run the game since it didn’t run on my MacBook Air. We drove up to SF and got a hotel room. Overall, it cost us about $3500 to drop what we were doing in our lives and go up to SF to pitch our new prototype.
Our first pitch meeting was with a new publisher, which I can’t announce who they are yet. Let’s just say they are an awesome company that is deeply embedded in the games industry. I hooked up the laptop to their big screen, dimmed the lights, an unveiled our new baby. After going through the basic gameplay and solving a few puzzles we turned the lights back on. Smiles all around! “We love it!” they said. In fact, the publisher went on for the next 20 minutes about all the things they loved about it. So far, so good.
Microsoft was next. Same response! Instantly got through the first gate. Sony was last. Another great response! I was super relieved that it was going so well. The concept is pretty far out there, way off the beaten path, yet rooted in classic undertones of gaming’s greats of the 8 and 16 bit era. Anna, who was 6 months pregnant at the time, started to assume that people in pitch meetings love everything. “No they don’t!”, I said. If you pitch something and they don’t like it or want it, they’ll tell you. It’s their job.
The Victory Ride Home
We drove back from GDC 2013 on cloud nine. First party digs it, we possibly have funding from a publisher, and we have a great prototype that will be fun to work on and will be perfect for lots of different platforms. We stopped at a few favorite spots on the way home, including the famous Sandwich Shop across from Hurst Castle. We even got lost at one point and found ourselves on a military base and training grounds in the mountains.
Back In The Saddle
Before we jump back into this new prototype, we decided we needed to update our old game Roboto. Roboto has been in the app store for almost a couple of years now and the app world has changed considerably since then. First of all, Open Feint shut down. I wish I would have known that was going to happen before I wasted a week putting in their SDK into the game. Oh well. Also, iPhone 5 has wide screen which doesn’t work with the old app, the sides of the display are black. Lastly, we used the old Unity GUI system in the game since we made Roboto before great GUI plugins became available like NGUI and EZGUI. This has caused some screen problems and is slow to render. We decided to finish our planned update and get it launched before we do anything else.
At this point it’s mid April. Tax season, which is THE WORST for small businesses. It’s always a scramble with accountants and CPAs and bookkeeping. Then, after all that work, you find out you have to pay a ton of cash to the government! What about economic recovery? How about helping the little guys out? If I had some tax breaks I might actually hire some people to help get our games out faster! Anyway, we got shelled this year.
We also spent about a week creating a game for the NHRA (that’s National Hot Rod Association). They needed a simple drag racing game and were in a bind, so we helped them out. Whew!
The good news was that the conversations for the prototype continued after GDC. Microsoft, Sony, and the Publisher all followed though with us. With taxes done Anna and I focused on another build of the new prototype to prove more functionality to the publisher, which took the rest of April and into May. While we worked on this, the Roboto update fell aside and Operation Giant become a distant memory, but we’re getting good traction here with a real funding opportunity. Must – Keep – Going.
On Stand By
While the Publisher has been deciding whether or not to do the project with us (these things take time) we have started to look at what projects we could finish quickly. While we worked on mostly contract projects last year (we actually finished and published 7 large games last year for clients like Red Bull, Chevron, and John Deere) we used our downtime to create new prototypes. Some of these prototypes got pretty far, but not far enough to announce and go FULL bore on, so they’ve been stacking up on the shelf. At this point we literally have about 7-8 awesome game concepts on the shelf, and all will be huge hit games. You watch!
Anyway, we decided to dust one of these off and finish it up; something our fans would really like. It was also very much a business decision. As much as we want to finish the Roboto update we don’t really stand to make any more money on it. It’s a premium game, mostly because we didn’t want to do the whole F2P thing (which was new just as we launched the game back in 2011), and because of that the game has kind of “run it’s course”. Some experts say it’s better to make a new app then to overhaul an old one since you get a brand new window to be featured and everything. Roboto did pretty good for us, but too many people stole it: for every one copy we sold about 50 thieves didn’t pay for their copy. Piracy like this was almost too much to bear, and really disappointed us that fans of videogames would think nothing about hurting the very creators who make them. Come on people. Stop stealing games.
This past month we’ve been bouncing around a bunch. Anna is now 9 months pregnant. As I write this I know that literally ANY MINUTE WE COULD BE HAVING OUR FIRST CHILD. It’s super exciting. Can’t wait. With her at 9 months, she hasn’t been able to create as much art so production has slowed down on the art side of things. I’ve been wrapping projects. One of these was with Oculus: we did another round of updates for the Tuscany Demo, which we’ve been working on since April. Another project was with toy company Wow Wee on a new toy robot, which I consulted as a Creative Director. I’ve been helping Wow Wee on this since January. Yet another project was with RealD, doing something really experimental and next gen. Lastly, a motion simulator project with our friends from JTS engineering, which are always fun. Oh yeah, we created special effects for a movie due to be out soon called Dragon Day. Whew! That’s a lot of stuff!
Questions About Roboto Update And Operation Giant
We do what we can to stay afloat. Operation Giant is likely a 2 year project for a team of ten people. Fenix Fire is just me and my wife. We knew it would be an ambitious project and we have a full design ready for the game, but it’s future is uncertain. One scenario is to fuse it with another prototype and roll it out as a super game for Ouya, Steam, and PC. Another is to get Kickstarter funding and make it with a team of people. We’re not sure yet, we have a baby on the way and we’re mostly thinking about that right now.
Regarding the Roboto update. We OVERHAULED the code back in April after our road trip. The game runs cleaner, faster, and is more responsive in the controls. It also runs on the Ouya really well. We’ve taken out Open Feint and have put in a new GUI system which improves the look and the frame rate of the game considerably. We’ve also added some social features because we want to get more people to like us on Facebook and Twitter, but don’t have buttons for these in the app (huge mistake!!!!!). That said, we’re actually REALLY close to finishing the update. We really just need to finish up the GUI and test it, which is unfortunately a lot more work that it sounds. We’re close on this one.
We’re also REALLY close to announcing the game we took off our shelf and possibly the next gen CONSOLE PROTOYPE really soon. We’ve been thinking a lot about how to roll these out since we do all our own marketing and PR. For now, really soon is the best estimate I can give.
Get In Touch And Spread The Word
I know it’s been a while since we self published anything (Roboto back in 2011), but I urge you to get in touch with us and/or show support through Facebook, Twitter, and our Email Newsletter. I know we’ve been kind of quiet, but believe me when I say it’s not on purpose, it’s just because we’ve been working on so many projects that we haven’t had time to really pop our heads up and say “hi.” Don’t be a stranger.