Are “small content creator” support communities really something we should want?
In this episode of GameDev Breakdown I take a look at the latest in a trend of proposals (or actual initiatives) to connect small devs, artists, authors, content creators, etc. to support and promote one another. It sounds nice, but 1.) Is it good for us as creators, and 2.) Is it even likely to work?
Fresh off of his contributions to Borderlands 3, Gearbox senior VFX artist Ash Lyons calls in to talk about the post-release mood, parenting in the triple-A development space, and his long road to Borderlands.
I first connected with Ash over Twitter around the time I put out my interview with Joshua Davidson and we got along immediately–he’s a parent of young kids, he has a passion for connecting with newer devs and creators, and he is hilarious. I’m not saying I’m all those things, but he is. We wanted to do a recording pretty much right away, but decided to wait until Borderlands 3 hit shelves. After launch, and with Gearbox’s blessing (thanks again) it was game on.
In addition to career and background stories, Ash shared some favorite games, contributions he’s most proud of in Borderlands 3, and even filled me in on the inspiration for some of the game’s messier moments. Don’t miss it.
Richard Rouse III calls in to talk about his new indie title, The Church in the Darkness, and treats us to some stories from his fantastic career including the design of The Suffering, writing Game Design: Theory & Practice, and some interesting creative projects we never got to see.
Richard is a really insightful guy. He has too much writing and too many talks to fully list here, but I encourage you to check out his wisdom around the web. I could have filled much more than a one-hour show while picking his brain–and I’d love to have him back for more–but I sure appreciate the time he took with us this time.
I wanted to be sure to include the IGN article that was written after Richard and Midway lured game journalists into a defunct prison and locked them in overnight. Richard even seemed to get a kick out of revisiting the topic. It’s a little piece of unique game PR history, don’t miss it.
Todd puts in an appearance on the Nightfall Unlimited test show with fan favorite Ray Marek, but not before an extended rant about positivity.
Okay, Todd here, this is a short show and then I’m headed out of the country for a little getaway with my wife–sorry, not sorry. I thought about skipping this week’s Thursday show completely or cooking up some kind of “best of” episode, but instead I thought it would be fun to pull back the curtain a bit and share a little segment I did for our friend Ray as he works on the return of the Nightfall Unlimited podcast. This was a Google Hangouts call I connected to, so my end of the conversation sounds a lot different from their end. I did run through it in Audacity to tighten things up a bit. There will still be a Monday show and next Thursday’s show is a good solid maybe, but things will definitely be on autopilot until I get back in town.
Yeah, I ranted a bit on this one. I think it was for a good cause. I think we have a certain responsibility to look at what folks in the community do around us. It reflects on all of us, and it’s usually pretty basic right and wrong. In any case, show Ray & company some love and I’ll be back before you know it.
LucasArts Employee #3 himself, David Fox joins to talk about his fantastic career contributing to some of the most iconic graphic adventure games of our time, chasing the technology to create location-based interactive experiences, and his philosophy on positive change through design. Topics include VR, interpersonal issues in the modern game industry, politics, electric cars, and more.
David was so kind to agree to this show, we were both fighting illness at the time of recording (I had to really work hard on my end of the discussion in post to make it listenable, apologies for any unusual tone quality) but I could not have been more pleased with the discussion itself. David has contributed to so many games we all know and love, Zak McKracken, Maniac Mansion, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Thimbleweed Park, and more. It was such a pleasure to spend some time learning about the rest of his awesome work and capture more details about the things he’s done. Please keep an open mind; David’s time at LucasArts has been discussed in super deep detail in a variety of interviews and I’d encourage you to check them out. I wanted to do more for this show to really get a sense of David’s contributions to technology and interactive experiences on a broader scale. Nonetheless there’s plenty of great material here to dig into about design, VR, and the game development community. Check it out and reach out to David on Twitter!
Our friend Ted drops by to talk about the history of martinis, what to look for at a Porta Potty in the woods, and the best way to combine Peeps, cola, and obstacle courses. We discuss game development here and there where it comes up.
You have to meet Ted to understand him. He’s the kind of teammate who divides his time between yelling at the other team, yelling at you, and then yelling at himself. In a fun way. Ted contributes to the OHCPlay channel on YouTube which we’ve discussed before, but also has a personal account, TrojanManSCP, full of just as many assorted gems as you might suspect from our chat in this episode. He’s an authority on all matters Overwatch and he can drill down pretty deep into anything that has his attention.
Anyway, here’s Ted taking the bug salt shotgun to the face:
How many software developer characters in popular culture can you think of, past and present? How many game designers? How many female game designers under 18? If you have anyone left in mind at all (and the headline didn’t ruin it for you), you probably caught Clarissa Explains It All in the 90s.
If Clarissa did not explain it all to you, you can get up to speed quickly at Wikipedia or even catch a few episodes on Hulu.
Update: Not so much on Hulu anymore, sorry.
Throughout the show’s five-season run, Clarissa created
weird, wonderful games and prototypes she used to explain her world to the people
closest to her. This article celebrates the highlights (and lowlights) of her
run in game design.
Clarissa reveals the intensity of the Darling sibling
rivalry with a revenge simulator in the show’s pilot. In this anti-endless
runner (if you like), Clarissa attempts to catch her brother, Ferguson—who is
running down the street in a straitjacket—with large helium balloons tied to a
hook. If she succeeds, he floats upward off screen, meeting the game’s win
While the player tries to catch Ferguson, a helium meter
slowly decreases at the bottom of the screen. It’s clear that this is the
amount of time before the player’s game is over. If you think about it, there’s
only one way for a kid flying away on a decreasing helium supply to end. This
is the first of many times Clarissa will casually explore the idea of maybe killing
Nightmare on Shadow Lane
To scare away her eccentric aunt Mafalda, Clarissa concocts a plan to “haunt” her own house, which she explains to her best friend, Sam, with a Maniac Mansion-inspired graphical adventure game.
Nightmare on Shadow
Lane features such horrors as “The Devil’s Dust Bunnies,” an alligator suspended
from the ceiling (likely her tiny pet alligator, Elvis), and a murderous giant
turkey known as The Poultrygeist. Nightmare
was a big missed opportunity for LucasArts.
Clarissa and Ferguson come together for one of their rare
concerted efforts when they suspect their parents are considering a third
To illustrate how difficult a new baby makes life, Clarissa
creates Baby Bomber, a stork-flying,
baby-dropping physics game. As the player drops baby Fergusons and Clarissas
into the family (shoe-shaped) home, their parents are pushed further and
further until they’re finally driven out of the home completely. Needless to
say, Baby Bomber affects absolutely
nothing in the show’s real world.
With school picture day fast approaching, Clarissa creates
this burning building sim to demonstrate the importance of her fashion freedom
to her mother, Janet.
To win Blaze-O-Rama (shout-out to all the O-Ramas of
yesteryear), Janet must navigate a fire ladder to the window with the right
version of Clarissa in it. The correct one, naturally, is the one wearing the
funky outfit. The other Clarissas turn out to be green aliens, apparently
undeserving of rescue.
“That was very manipulative,” Janet exclaims afterward.
After taking an IQ test in school, Ferguson learns he’s near
the top of his age group in intelligence. He devises a plan to compete on a
trivia show in hopes of becoming rich and powerful. Clarissa schemes to
sabotage his efforts, just to be safe.
To convince Ferguson to use a nonsensical study plan, Clarissa
shows him a falling objects game in which he swallows books whole to devour
their knowledge. Don’t struggle too hard to make sense of that last bit; this
is almost certainly the shakiest game usage in the entire series. To muddle the
concept further, Ferguson tells Clarissa he can feel himself getting smarter,
and plays the game a second time.
Untitled Home Defense Game
When troubled young Sam needs to stay with the Darling
family while his father leaves town—a story we’ll hear again about troubled
young Shawn Hunter
in just a few short years—Clarissa and Ferguson are dismayed at the attention
their parents show him (sitcom friends are just the worst).
Clarissa creates a game to help them choose cartoon-style
traps they can set to keep Sam out of the house. The player can cut the
electricity, trip a coiled spring welcome mat, and dump buckets of water to get
the pesky disadvantaged boy to leave. The Home
Alone videogame had been released less than six months prior, and the
similarities are not subtle.
The Darlings never have to use any of these traps, as Sam
walks into Clarissa’s room while they’re playing the game. Great work, kids.
Get to Know Me
When mother Janet takes an interest in spending quality time,
Clarissa explains maybe not being the best person by creating a no-lose trivia
game, hoping her mom will decide she knows her daughter plenty well and leave
Clarissa’s game backfires on her once again when Janet gets
credit for the last question and wins the game before she’s had time to choose
As Clarissa’s interest in writing begins to take center
stage, an episode is devoted to a poetry assignment, in which she develops a software
application capable of doing her work. It wows students and faculty alike with
the following verse:
“Gray cube, rectangular light, cantilevered rainbows sunshine open close open close glass square sunset outside outside outside sunset inside daffodils.”
Instead of celebrating what would still be an impressive feat of linguistic programming, Clarissa
wrestles with the ethical dilemma of taking credit for her application’s work.
She eventually acknowledges the program at a banquet, and has her computer
deliver a reading.
Blind Date Bash-O-Rama
As Clarissa gets older, the topics of her games shift from
primarily harming her brother to more mature issues, like dating and driving.
She readily tackles the challenges facing older teens, while keeping her
youthful sense of mischief alive in her games. This is the most apparent in Blind Date Bash-O-Rama.
In this fighting game you may as well call “Date Fighter
II’: Champion Edition,” Clarissa takes on various monsters that show up hoping
for a date and leave with a good ass-kicking. Obvious influences aside, BDB-O-R looks like actual, legitimate
fun. If they’d released it in stores, it would have been on my 1993 Christmas
Clarissa’s final game of the show’s five-season run is a
loosely Mario Kart-style racer
developed mostly to convince everyone that her plans to start riding a
motorcycle are safe and totally reasonable. She is surprised at her own
inability to complete a race without wiping out.
Although this is another good-looking game, I think Blind Date Bash-O-Rama should be
remembered as the spiritual conclusion to the Darling games series.
As Clarissa became a young adult, game development
eventually gave way to her fledgling writing career, disappearing for good
early in the final season. Though game dev was not always crucial to the plot, its
presence in the show served to introduce young viewers to a practice much less
common and much less accessible at the time. In addition, Clarissa’s use of
design to explore difficult issues and explain her perspective to those around
her demonstrated initiative toward aspirations the real-world game industry still grapples with today.
Where are all the modern game creators in pop culture? Gaming
is here to stay and all aspects of the game industry are now widely accepted as
legitimate—if tumultuous—career paths. It’s surprising that game development still
hasn’t been done this well on TV since Clarissa left for college.
Indie developer and author (and podcaster!) Mat Bradley-Tschirgi discusses his beginnings in journalism and indie development, his upcoming book, The Films of Uwe Boll Vol. 1: The Video Game Movies, and makes a surprising revelation about an upcoming video game to which both he and Boll are attached.
You read that right: a game project from the mind of notorious (former?) filmmaker Uwe Boll is forthcoming, and this is a chat with the man making it happen. Let the intrigue and concern wash over you.
YouTuber Matt Hill joins to talk about running the OHCPlay channel, highs and lows in the gaming community, and we give the public their first glimpse of a list of spectacular gamer tags over 7 years in the making. I hope listeners enjoy this show half as much as I did.
This is the first installment of our second weekly show. Each week we’ll feature a content creator who will share their perspective on process, community issues, and hopefully have some fun in the process. Have a community member in mind you’d love to hear from? Shout them out.