So it's been five, almost six years since that last entry. I was busy for a bit there it seems, eh? Let's do a quick review of what happened to catch up to the present.
With two other guys I founded Gaslamp Games. Being "the artist" I got the grandiose corporate title best-met-with-skepticism of "chief creative officer". I don't actually think it quite accurately described my role, but we'll get there. Technically this happened in 2010 when we were collectively working on Dungeons of Dredmor which finally released in July of 2011. And it did rather well. An order of magnitude or two down from "other prominent commercially successful roguelike/likes of 2011", but successful nonetheless.
A few words on the success of Dredmor:
In hindsight, we had no bloody clue what we were doing. There were a couple things we did well enough, however, and that was 1. have a funny, cute, and/or easily appealing aesthetic 2. be accessible-enough (though painfully awkward by any of today's standards) but this may largely be 3. have a solid, quick couple game loops that worked nicely. There were also a few interesting, critical flaws which I can see in hindsight, but they're not supremely relevant to our story here.
Actually, I'm getting ahead of myself. Dredmor wasn't a success for any of those reasons. It was a success because it showed up on Steam in the year 2011 and was vaguely competent. Remember, this is before the floodgates opened. You only got on Steam in 2011 because you talked to Valve and they set you up. Indeed, for those handy with their backend, there was no backend in 2011. You sent them the assets and they set it up for you. Isn't that crazy? And the new releases per week -- oh, between what, 3 and 8 across all genres? Simply appearing at all in that market got you boatloads of impressions. Provided you didn't suck, you were good to go. So we were nobody, but we knew a biz-dev guy who was in the business and found that Valve was pushing the idea of Steam for MacOS and was looking for games that happened to be on MacOS. And some dude on the newfangled YouTubes named TotalBiscuit or something did a feature on Dredmor -- and Gaslamp was in. Luck and circumstance, man.
Making a pile of money off an indie game is pretty sweet - no, not that much, but a good amount. It's a very strange experience stumbling into success. You think you're brilliant and awesome and have important things to say. Other people think you're brilliant and awesome and have important things to say - and special wisdom that can be acquired through contact. Load of bollocks of course; we were young and stumbled into it. Looking back, I think it served largely to reinforce some pretty bad ideas in our heads about why it happened.
(I like to think my natural cynicism acted against this a bit, but it was still a baffling couple years.)
A couple expansion packs later, coming up on 2012, we decided it'd be great to move on to the next thing and make it stunningly ambitious. I will note for the record that my vote was to do a 2D take on revitalizing the Master of Magic genre, but the steampunk Dwarf Fortress idea won out. Thus: Clockwork Empires.
2012-2016: Clockwork Empires
I don't want to talk much about CE right now. It was released in October of this year after roughly 2 years development and 2 years early access. The broad points of this story are in the public record. I'll write about various aspects of the development more in the future. I will however make a few personal career points:
On Dredmor, my role was effectively principal artist/art director/game designer/writer. I made most of the art, contracted out that which I didn't, as well as implemented and iterated game content. On CE I was art director, concept & promo artist, 2D game artist (for UI, environment textures), did marketing content, did admin/accounting/paperwork, gameplay programmer, game designer, writer (marketing and content), and handled (some) testing procedures. Probably more to it than just that, but it felt like the jobs of 3 or 4 ... or 5 people. The key thing I also did was management.
Hiring contractors is one thing. You find someone, then they do their job or don't and you deal with it and go on your way. (Well, there's a lot to handling contractors which would be valuable and interesting to write about, but save that for another time.) Hiring and managing employees is another thing entirely. I knew not a damn thing about it before ramping up the CE art team, and management is not my natural inclination due to being a rather introverted kind of guy, but I dove in and hired three completely green artists - no previous employment experience in the industry - and molded them into a team. It was a difficult and rewarding experience. I learned tons, they learned tons, we did some really good work shockingly fast with the tools we had. I've got some stuff to say about what I learned doing that for another time.
One of the hardest things I'd had to do was firing my art team at the start of 2015. The required set of art was basically done, though the game was not. Not an ideal situation, that. I gave some nice recommendations and I think my artists were given a good start to their careers. And it's weird saying it because two of them are older than me, but I'm really proud of what they accomplished. (Just remembered another thing I'm proud of: the art team never crunched. Never.)
So, one way or another, it's done and shipped. Those were the most frustrating years of my life. In contrast with Dredmor where I learned a few easy lessons and missed the rest, with CE I learned a lot of the hard lessons.
(Makes for great blog fodder, mind you.)
Yes, this is still in development! And throughout my time at Gaslamp I still did freelance work on the game now called Starsector. (It had to change its name due to reasons I'm sure you can imagine without much work.)
And hey, Starsector is great. Still drawing spaceships, doing content implementation, and Alex gave me the job of writing game content. I'm a huge nerd about science fiction, so I just love being able to do this.
Not much else to say here; the game iterates slowly but surely and gets better and better with each release. I could get back into reposting stuff I write for the Starsector Dev blog which, not just to plug my own work, is legitimately really good.
And from here?
Now that we're caught up, well, I'll have to write about what happens next in future posts as it happens. Or as I feel compelled to write about old stuff. A few ideas:
- I daresay I'm having a pretty good time putting random art on the Unity Store; it's giving me lots of time to draw those tilesets I love so much. Will show off some of the thinking going into that when I release the next one, perhaps.
- Speaking of Unity -- and good lord, use Unity, don't make your own engine unless you're in it to find a hobby -- I've been learning it and C# for a while now. Once I have something worth showing, you gotta know that I'll show it off.
- I'd like to write a series on the art direction of Clockwork Empires, both the strategic creative decisions made and perhaps the nitty-gritty of taking art from design to implementation.
- ... and game development lessons learned in general, 'cause I got a couple.