Thursday, January 23, 2014

4th Studio for 5th Planet

I just recently started listening to the internet radio Pandora.  I’m a big fan of Tool, Deftones, and Korn but not when listening to those same bands over and over on the “Industrial” station.  Come on, guys.  Is there a “This song is nice and all, but doesn't fit the genre you think it does” and I just don’t see it?

So last night I went to an event at 5th Planet to see their new studio.  There were about a hundred people there with tons of food and a keg(which I later found out was full of root beer--and it was good).  The CEO came by, saw me checking out the scene and asked me how Stigma Games was doing.  We talked production methods for a while.  I still can’t believe what a nice guy he is.

I’d say about a third of the people there were people I knew, but I was so engrossed in checking out the studio, I didn't even want to talk to people yet.  That place is massive.  There was an 8-10 foot tall dragon in the reception area.  Past that, you walk into the studio and it’s maybe 10k square feet with dozens of work stations.  No cubicles.  Everyone can see everyone else.  The kitchen was about the size of a Starbucks.  The break room was about the size of a tennis court.  No, bigger.  There was another large empty area where I was told later that they race go-carts in.  There were also half a dozen “chill out” rooms with couches and tvs in them.  The game room was straight out of a mega corporation meeting room only with tons of popular board games, consoles, a giant projector screen, and nerf darts and guns all over the place.  Even the office buildings were loaded with gamer related stuff.  In one business office I saw a replica of Frost Mourne, a sword from one of the Final Fantasy games, and the Portal gun.  I just thought, “This looks like Disney Land.”  I looked around again and thought, “If anyone is wondering what I’m trying to do with Stigma Games, this here, is it.”

After that, I did a fair amount of socializing.  There were people from KlickNation there.  One of their artists that got laid off used to be in a writer’s group with me and I talked to her about seeing if she’d like to join my current group.  I met another woman from KlickNation (which EA has since renamed “Capitol Games”) and she saw the “Stigma Games” title on my shirt and told me how cute it was to see young, unheard of studios in the area trying to make it.  Nice, huh?  All that really does is push me to want to build up Stigma Games more.  And once we’re a big studio and I meet someone trying to get their game studio off the ground, instead of being condescending to them, I’ll encourage them.  I believe the best revenge is to do on to others what should have been done to you.

I made another post recently, so this might be strange so close to that one.  But I wanted to talk about the various stages Stigma and I have gone through.  I remember when I first started this, anytime someone would answer a Craigslist add, I’d meet with them and tell them how awesome Dawnshine was going to be and why they should want to join.  No need to send me a resume.  If you were a gamer and knew anything about code or art, I’d talk to you.  Eventually, it turned into, “Well, do you have a portfolio?” first.  And then I started giving tests.  And now it’s gotten to the point where people need to demonstrate to me that they have a proven history of doing the role they’re applying for and the drive to push it further.  I've now seen the life cycle of the “I've never tried to make a game before, but I’m a big time gamer and I just want to be part of this” type applicant who ends up taking up space and slowing the morale of the team.  I have to stop seeing them as people that just want a chance that they haven’t otherwise worked for and see them instead as anchors that make it more difficult to reach our goals.  From now on, I’m only recruiting people that have the same drive I do.  We’re starting to attract applicants like that now.

It’s time to raise the bar.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Starting 2014

Hey everyone.  A lot has been going on.  We've had some crew shake ups over the Holidays.  It happened last year as well.  People on the team take some time off and reflect if they really want to be part of what we’re doing or not.  It’s a hard thing being in a start up.  No money coming in and still a lot more work to do... it’s certainly not for everyone.

I feel as though the team has gotten just a little too big to manage, so I've decided to downsize the team just a little.  That means, I won’t be seeking replacements for those we lost.  There are still a couple positions we still need to fill and I’ll continue to look for the right candidates for those.  Otherwise, I think we're going to shrink down to a 15-20 person team size, at least for now.

So let’s get to some progress:

Not a lot of Raygun Rocketship news.  I’m hoping we can finalize concepts for the remaining, unfinished levels in the game.  We had to switch lead artists on the team, which I’m hoping doesn't slow us down too much.  I've been working more on story lines.  The marketing team has been talking about putting together a Kickstarter campaign for it.  I've been on the fence with that for a while.  Other KS campaigns for games in the same SHMUP genre are pretty dismal (nearly all successfully funded are less than $10 grand), certainly not enough money to make it worth it for paying the team of 6-7 people who've put nearly a year into it so far, but possibly enough to fund a decent marketing campaign.  We’ll see.  I know there are a few members on the team that are in financial trouble, but are so committed to this that they’re pushing forward.  It really sucks that there’s not much I can do about that right now.  A big KS funding round would be amazingly helpful.

Very little news on our casual game other than we have a basic story arc done.  Now we just need to storyboard it out in combination with the levels.  We only have a programmer and a story designer working on it right now, both of which are hard pressed for free time to devote to it.  But I’m thinking we’ll probably announce it soon.

I think I mentioned our parody fighting game hit a snag a couple months ago and we decided to start over.  We didn't get a whole lot done over the break on that in terms of asset competition, but we’re on a good path now.  I think I mentioned I screwed up and added too many artists to the project and turned it into a cluster mess.  I've re-assigned artists and one artist left the team entirely.  Now we’re settled with everyone having a specific job they need to take care of.  One of our artists has stepped up to be the Art Director on the project and I’m really happy with how she’s doing so far.  This game will be entirely hand drawn.  We've thought about going 3d since the very beginning.  Recently, I even considered modeling, rigging, and animating 3d characters then rendering them to 2d sprites, so it would technically still be a 2d game.  That would make things faster.  But a hand drawn game should look better and, hopefully, generate the buzz we really need.  I don’t want to quickly put out a game no one will care about, so it might be the better decision to take the long way.

Lastly, the Dawnshine table top project has been through a lot.  I was taking a backseat role, letting the rest of the team do the designs while I just worked on lore, theme, and flavoring.  I wasn't really happy with how the design was going, so when the design team fell apart and people left the team over the Christmas break, I knew it was time for me to step in, throw out everything that had been done so far, and start over.

I've decided to take the game in a deck building direction as the mechanic for an empire building game--thus merging two genres.  Though I have the finished idea in my head, it will be important to play test and keep researching other similar games to see if there’s more elegant ways of doing things or if my brilliant ideas have been done to death in other games.

Aside from that, there’s a few cool things on the horizon that I hope to be able to post more about soon.