Indie Game Developers Discuss Their Failures

Indie Game Developers Discuss Their Failures (photo)

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Prototype. Don’t get comfortable. Keep your head up. That was the message at yesterday afternoon’s “Failure Workshop” at the Game Developers Conference. 6 different independent developers, responsible for titles like “World of Goo,” “Off-Road Velociraptor Safari,” and Plants vs. Zombies,” shared their development horror stories to help an audience of hundreds. Here’s what we learned from their months and sometimes years of pain.

“No amount of ‘theming’ will save a bad idea.”

Kyle Gabler, half of indie dev 2D Boy, spoke about the follow-up to PC/Wii/iPad success “World of Goo.” The title, “Robot and the Cities That Built Him,” sounded fun: a giant robot destroys a city over and over again. But the game, as Gabler describes it, was boring. Very boring. It took two months of polish before the two-person team bothered to prototype the game. With tangible proof that the core idea, while entertaining thematically, was no good, the team scrapped the project.

“The Parking Lot Theory”

Matthew Wegner and his studio Flashbang made a name for themselves with Blurst.com and the site’s hit game: “Off-Road Velociraptor Safari.” It was one of many games made for Blurst under 8 week deadlines. The goal was to attract people to a developer website with lots of quickly made games – and ideally make money off traffic. Traffic only spiked around each new game’s release then tabled; the financial strategy was a whiff.

To make money, Wegner and Co. chose to adapt “Velociraptor Safari,” the highest trafficked game, for an HD/XBLA/PSN style port. The process proved to be dull and time consuming. So they tried a new art style. That too failed.

In hindsight, Wegner admits the company slouched into the comfort zone. “It’s the Parking Lot Theory,” he said. When a man loses his keys in the parking lot, he looks below the street lights not because that’s where his keys might be, but because it’s the easiest place to look. Updating a proven game was easy. What they needed to do was make the project more fun. They needed to put more game in the game.

“Start prototyping”

George Fan, the man responsible for PopCap’s most recent game, Plants vs. Zombies, told the tale of Cat-Mouse Foosball, his 2001 failure that nearly scared him out of the industry. At that time, Fan was more artist than designer. He drew level layouts and character designs, creating the game in his head long before touching a computer.

What Fan learned: you can’t draw games, because you can’t keep the image in your head. A video game has too many variables – one action could cause any number of reactions. The design process isn’t static like drawing a picture. To see a video game, Fan echoed Gabler: prototype. Creating a rough version of the game often reveals if the project’s fun. Or at least if it works.

Fan loaded up a recreated demo for Cat-Mouse Foosball. Cats and mice scurried through the screen colliding into red barriers. It was a mess and Fam let out a good-hearted laugh. Without failures like this, he might have never made it so far.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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