Hey guys, got a fresh interview hot off the presses! My first interview with someone actually in development and this is mightily exciting. Anyway, I'd like to introduce you all to Andrew from Spilt Milk Studios, known for Crunch, Hard Lines, and an upcoming unannounced project. He took a few minutes from his busy schedule to answer a quick email regarding various things with independent development.
1. Thanks for taking a few minutes out of your busy schedule to spill some information on the life of an indie developer. What initially inspired you to get into the business?
No worries at all, it’s a pleasure to talk to you!
Way back in the sands of time, I played an awful lot of any game. Board game, tabletop role-playing, and of course video-flavoured ones too. The thing that always hooked me into any of them was their ability to let you play in a different world, and this became the obvious driver for my desire to be a ‘Game Designer’. That said, I think I was about eight years old when I decided what my professional fate would be, and little did I know I’d actually be living my childhood dream one day. Every now and then I remember that, and get a little happy chill down my spine.
2. Why the name "Spilt Milk Studios"? Every indie studio I've come across has some interesting backstory to the name. As well, what made you want to do your own venture instead of aspiring to work for a prominent developer?
The name was actually never on the giant list I’d made of potential company names. My girlfriend at the time hated all of my ideas for a name, and just came out with “Spilt Milk”, right off the cuff. I loved it, and that’s that!
The reason I set out on my own is that I’d got increasingly frustrated with traditional games development. I worked at Visual Science, Realtime Worlds and Proper Games as a designer (and at others in QA) but in each one I eventually got fed up with decisions that the management made, or the ways that they expected designers to work. I was always looking to learn more and grow as a designer too, and I began to feel that I wasn’t going to get that out of the various jobs and companies I worked at. That, combined with the appeal of really earning top dollar off of any big successes I may be fortunate enough to dream up and release meant I had to at least try to go it alone.
Suffice to say I’ve learned so much in the last year and three quarters, way more than I ever would have working for any other company, and I’m so pleased that I made the decision. Life’s too short, you know?
3. Do you feel the independent development scene is flourishing currently and where do you see the industry in five, ten, twenty years time?
The indie scene is probably experiencing the biggest and best years of its entire life right now. And they’re only going to get better. As digital distribution truly becomes the norm across all entertainment industries, it empowers the individual to create and compete on a global scale in ways we couldn’t have imagined ten years ago.
I can’t possibly guess with any reliability what will be happening in another five years from now but I’m guessing the big console players will still be around, there’ll be a ton of the mid-sized developers dead, and maybe we’ll have seen a shift more to the ‘Hollywood’ model of game production. From indies we’ll continue to see a butt-load of vibrant, exciting and downright awesome games. They’ll still vary wildly in scope, and I’m guessing there’ll be a bunch of ‘non-programming’ tools that are mature enough that almost anyone can have a go at making a game. The kind of revolution that happened in movies when home cameras became affordable is yet to occur in games, but it is not far off.
4. How invaluable was your experience working with Ruffian on Crackdown 2 DLC? Any behind-the-scenes tidbits you'd like to share with everyone?
Well it was my first contract work, and was essentially arranged so that as I left Proper Games there was a smooth hand-over to the new design team. It was really exciting working on such a well-known and respected franchise, and the DLC elements were really fun. Any situation where you get to muck around so freely within an established game system and game world is to be treasured. It also taught me a lot about the business side of what I was now doing, and how freelancing/consultancy work is different from in-house contracts, so the whole thing was brilliant for me.
5. Try and describe the elation of finally getting Crunch: The Game completed and out on the App Marketplace. You write on the website: "So when we hit the deadline and launched, I was very happy with the result," but I'd like to believe you are understating the excitement.
Ha-ha yeah. Not only was it a lovely experience developing my first game all ‘by myself’ (obviously I’d hired the very talented coder Rory Kelly to do the, well, code work) and it was something very close to elation that I felt when it launched. I’d handled a new client well – we’re still talking, so that must be a good thing – and launched a game that, while just a gentle and simple twist on existing games, I was very proud of. It proved I had what it takes to devise, create, manage and launch a game successfully. I had a victory cigar to celebrate. And probably a few beers too.
6. After Crunch, was handling development on Hard Lines any easier having experience, or did you face similar difficulties?
Hard Lines was a very different experience. I co-created and developed it with Nicoll Hunt, a coder friend - riffing on a game with a talented chum is a much more freeform experience than simply designing something and farming out the development. That said, I learned just as much – though not necessarily about my design ability that time. I already had the confidence to make a good game, but the PR was entirely down to me to deliver on – and from what I have heard and seen since, I think it was a resounding success on that front. Tons of downloads, loads of great reviews on prominent sites like Kotaku and Eurogamer – these things do not happen to every good game that comes out. It’s so easy to get lost in the sea of new games on mobile, and I’m so very proud of the exposure the game received.
Also, while I was confident in my skills as a designer on the iOS platform, both Crunch and Hard Lines have cemented in me the desire to work on every game in the specific way that best suits me. I am a designer who relies a LOT on iteration, gut feeling, and working things out by actually playing them. I can see why some developers need lots of documentation, but I honestly believe there is a point where documentation becomes a crutch and harmful to a game; and that point is crossed a lot sooner than most people think. That’s one of the biggest reasons I’m enjoying mobile development, because the scale of the projects that fit the market suit my working methods very snugly indeed.
7. Speaking of difficulties, what are the challenges you face operating without a big budget? Are advertising and the cost of development sometimes strenuous to manage?
Advertising is not something I do much of – I’m far more keen to be active within the community of gamers on Twitter, I make use of Facebook pages, and try to encourage word-of-mouth excitement about my games. The costs of development are a troublesome thing, because if you can’t afford to pay people ‘traditionally’, then you have to compromise. I’ve been very lucky (and continue to be so) with the people I’ve been working with, and am able to find experienced and passionate people who aren’t concerned about the upfront remuneration.
That is not a position I find terribly comfortable, so I always try to be very fair with the contracts that I sign - that way I can sleep easily at night. But the aim is to get to a point where I can hire people properly for a given project. I like outsourcing and remote working, and the freedom that lends (and often enforces on) the project. I always try to take time out of the equation on game projects, because there are enough pressures to making a good game without the one that makes you launch a game before it is ready.
8. Is there a difference between developing for Android and/or iOS or is it strictly preference?
The simple fact is that iOS has fewer things to worry about in terms of complexity of the hardware, and I like what Apple stand for in terms of UI and all that. Android is still a big market and obviously you don’t have to wait on any approval processes so you can be slightly more nimble with updates, but ultimately the fragmented nature of the multitude of handsets and hardware means that a tiny team like the ones I’m working with wouldn’t really be able to handle it all and remain on-budget.
9. Any tidbits on your new game? Maybe a schedule for the unveiling or something?
Well I can say that the next game we’re working on is on iOS right now (Android a possibility for the future) and is another character-packed twist on a classic old school arcade game. It’s the perfect fit for mobile gaming and I think people will really get charmed by it.
Our OTHER next game will be fairly familiar to those who’ve played my work before, but I can’t say more than that. Both will be in semi-public Beta soon, and there are a few teasers on my website for those that want to see some of the characters from both of these games.
10. Lastly, would you do Volatile Mode readers the honour of a followup interview once your game is announced or released?
I’d love to, it’s been really fun doing this one!
Sadly, this was done by email so I didn't get to ask many followup questions I had. But surely, once the new project is shown, I'm sure he'll have more free time. If you guys have any questions you'd like to submit for Andrew or for other interviews with developers, please leave a comment! Jeff out.