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Taking Independent Videogame Developers out of context since 2010.

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The Last and Final Word: Glen Forrester

Glen Forrester has been developing videogames for many years (the earliest game listed on his website is recorded as being released back in 2004). As is the case with many developers in his position, he wanted to try living off his creations and see where it took him. After the success of Enough Plumbers, the future is looking bright.

Bonus link at the bottom of the interview.

Age?

24, I think.

Location?

I’ve been in Shanghai for the last few months and probably will be for most of this year. China is a great place to live as an independent developer since your living money stretches twice as far. Not so much in Shanghai, but I’m currently stuck here for Real Life reasons.
If you’re frugal and don’t mind living away from the expensive cities it can be ridiculously cheap though; I had a decent apartment in this one place where the monthly rent was 75 USD.

Development tool(s) of choice?

Klik & Play! It’s the only thing I really love using, once a month, for the Glorious Trainwrecks’ Klik of the Month Klub.
Besides that I’ve been working in AS3 with FlashDevelop (with Flixel and Flashpunk), MMF2 (I strongly prefer Construct, but I’ve been enjoying MMF’s swf exporter), and messing about a bit in Unity.

What do you do?

Right now working with Arthur Lee on a Flash project under contract for Adult Swim Games.

How did you get into game development?

I think I was around 8 or 9 when my school introduced me to a really bright kid that needed a geek friend. He introduced me to QBasic and the two of us spent all our free time messing around in the senior computer labs or building robots and junk.

In high school I had another mate who introduced me to "klik" products and we’d stay up all night making really stupid junk. I was nearly suspended for the series of games I released on the school network that let you blow up this one guy in my class, except that they were hilarious.
I’ve always enjoyed game design in general, for me video games are a way to find an audience for a hobby I’d do anyway. I’ve never thought of any other job as anything but a way to afford food.

What are your short term and long term goals as a game developer?

I want to make my own games as much as I can forever. I think I need to get a couple of major projects out there if I want it to be a permanent full-time thing, so in the short-term I’m saving up to take a year to work on something or other uninterrupted.

You have collaborated with the likes of Arthur Lee and David Scatliffe. How did each of these collaborations come about and what roles did each of you take on, during development?

Arthur and I know each other from the old klik games development communities. Around the beginning of last year we decided we should totally do something together. We thought we’d found that with Gnilley (the yelling game I put together for the Global Game Jam), but after we put up a page to crowdsource funding for a month or two of dev time we got a couple of exciting offers that would’ve involved upping the scope quite a bit. The reaction was so good that it convinced me we could make a more serious game out of it, so that might end up being one of those major projects I mentioned earlier. After Arthur did the music for Enough Plumbers we decided to pool our efforts for Flash stuff under the label mak gam. We’re both fairly multi-skilled but he’s a much better coder than me, and I’ve never attempted music, but beyond that our roles are generally fairly blurred.
As for David and Xycle, we chat sometimes and he was looking for somebody to port a demo of his to Flash. Despite telling him, “dude, I’m not really a coder” he somehow got me to check it out, and it turned out to be something I could do in a weekend… which immediately ballooned into a proper game that’s taking way too long. We’re splitting the level design, he’s doing the music, and I’m doing most of the rest.

What do you find rewarding about collaborating with other developers and how does it differ from working alone?

One method I often use is to experiment rapidly with a whole bunch of things and keep what sticks (or whatever is the most fun to finish) but in a collaboration things become a lot more fixed in the act of communicating them, especially when you’re both designers who are going to build in different directions on ideas once you agree on them. That can be a good or a bad thing; the evolution of an idea always has the potential to produce something valuable from something you wouldn’t have chosen deliberately.
That might be different if I worked with someone less interested in design. Apart from music, which is something I can’t do, the collabs I’ve done so far have had a lot of overlap with skills which probably isn’t ideal for smaller projects. So I’m not sure if I’m qualified to answer this one. 

I’ve asked a few of the developers interviewed so far about the issue of motivation and ways to kick start it when it slumps. What would you rate the chances of a collaborative project getting finished as opposed to something that you have worked on alone?

I guess working with someone is a good way to drastically improve the chances of a particular game getting finished. I don’t really think I’ve ever had a problem with motivation, though. Game design for me is something I’m always thinking about, and I’m experimenting with some little thing nearly every day if I’m not working on a project. I can lose the thread of a single project and never finish it, sure, in fact that happens constantly… I think I’ve released something like fifty bad freeware things (my site isn’t a comprehensive collection because a lot of them are lost) and not a single one has ever been the product of me setting out to make The Game, they’re all just little ideas which were accidentally finished. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to sell what I make, giving me a reason to make discrete products. 

Is collaboration a good way to stay motivated on a project - bouncing ideas off the other person or possibly not wanting to let each other down?

Bouncing ideas of people is always fantastic motivation. You gain a lot of perspective just by talking and it gets really exciting as things crystallise. Riding that wave of excitement and neglecting food, sleep and loved ones properly is something you can do better solo but you still get some benefit from talking about things as a team, sure.

I don’t think not wanting to let one another down is a factor, but being proud of your craftsmanship is. It’s also really encouraging to see someone else helping to fill up that GAME COMPLETENESS progress bar.

Do you think motivation could become an issue, once you are working on a larger scale project for a larger period of time? Is there any fear of losing that initial spark that gets you excited about a project?

There’s a difference between projects which need to be finished and ones which you can shelve or switch between. For the ones that really matter I think I’ve learned enough to get them done. Yeah, the spark only lasts so long and it’s a case of finding things to keep you interested, which as someone working nimble you can do. Like, are you getting sick of puzzle design, but that’s about the only thing left to do? Add some new level elements that you can combine in ways that are interesting to you, the designer. 

But in the end when it’s a job you just need to do it. I don’t want to say much about how I do it, because better qualified people have talked about that. But lists are good. Lots of lists. And as I think the heppest of cats Jarrad T. Farbs said somewhere, make working on your thing your default activity. So open up your development environment before you do anything else when you wake up. Before you have a shower. Before you get out of bed if you can reach your computer. You still might find some way to distract yourself but it’ll be there, waiting for that moment when you’re deciding what to do next.

On your website, you have teacher crossed out and replaced with game designer - are you making a living as an indie developer now?

Yeah, making some sort of a living from Flash games at the moment. There was a string of good exposure for a while there and Enough Plumbers did fairly well, so why work in sucky jobs. There’s really not much of a games industry in Australia though, so all I could do is my own independent thing until it either pays off or I’ve earned my shit well enough to relocate for an ideal industry job.

I wouldn’t mind teaching again someday. High school software development would be a fun subject.

What would an ‘ideal industry job’ be for you?

I’m not at that point yet so I’m not really sure what ‘ideal’ will mean when I’m there, but I think it would need to be exciting and satisfying enough for me to want to give up the freedom of zero expectations. Who knows what my priorities will be later, though! Scientists say all the best indie devs have like twenty, thirty single mothers trying to track them down.

How do you approach the game development process - do you have a set way of planning out and doing things?

I do a lot of reading on games history, and filling in the gameplay gaps in a description of a game can lead to ideas either from a misinterpretation or thinking about related concepts. This might sound kind of wanky but I visualise the game design idea space as a cloud of interrelated mechanics and concepts in which you can make connections that may expose big empty gaps of unexplored ideas, and then I sit down with a prototyping tool like Construct to test out how filling that with a new mechanic or whatever would work.

If whatever I come up with is fun then it might be worth building a game around, so I spend some time thinking about it. If I get excited enough then I’ll either start over or build on the prototype, otherwise I file it away in my head for a future jam or whatever. I keep meaning to keep paper notes but I always lose them. I have some other sources of inspiration. European-style board games are a goldmine of original game mechanics that video games rarely exploit because they tend to be based on convivial player interaction… so you usually can’t simply appropriate them, but it’s an awesome resource for new ways of thinking about design.

At this point, as I start working on the game I try not to think too much about planning overall structure, because there’s still plenty of time for the idea to develop. Something that might initially seem ideal for a larger game might not be, and thinking thinking of it like that too early would give me an unnecessarily daunting image.

Once I’m started I really try to avoid programmer art as much as possible and include sound effects as I go. The feel of a game is really important to me, not in the sense of atmosphere as peeps like Cactus have popularised it, but in that anticipating the player’s mental state is an important part of making the kind of tricky puzzle design that I enjoy. It’s less frustrating for the player and I like getting a handle on that from the beginning.   

Over your time as a game developer, in the klik community and beyond, what lessons do you feel you have learned about game development? What do you feel are your strong points and weak points as a game developer?

As I mentioned I’ve never really tried to make “the game”, a serious project that I put a lot of myself into. That might be because I’ve always known I’ll need to build my skills to succeed with one of those, but maybe I’m missing out on something by not making the attempt. As a partial result I rarely ever make games with any dialogue or characters with any kind of personality or even names. My aversion to planning games out fully as I initially imagine them to keep things realistic means I seldom have any kind of a story that isn’t a dumb joke or afterthought, so I don’t have a lot of experience with that. Which is kind of ironic because I used to write a fair bit of fiction and once thought I might enter the mainstream industry as some sort of writer.

I think I’ve learned a lot from work that I’ve never put into a finished game, but since it’s not out there for the public I haven’t really been tested. I feel a lot of my strengths aren’t actually represented in finished work, but I do put a lot of thought into player psychology and design theory which I’ll be able to leverage one day. I guess my process lets me come up with original spins on gameplay and level design which sets me apart to some extent, but that’s also a weakness. I’m really reluctant to release a simple game that doesn’t show off some original gimmick now… even though I know not every game really needs to be unique, just fun.

Do you feel that to improve as a developer, you have to challenge and push yourself?

No. Wait, yes, I mean, challenges are important but they’re going to come up anyway. You have better things to do.

I’ve always said that the best thing you can do to develop yourself is make some fucking games. 

It might also depend on your objectives, though. If you’re trying to build a portfolio for a games job then yes, you’re going to need some awesome junk in there and actively building your skills for that will help because there’s not really a point where you can say you’ve achieved enough until you have what you want.

What sortof time frames do you spend on development and what importance do you place on rapid prototyping?

On average I probably spend one to two days on experiments, one to two weeks on small games that grow out of experiments, and a maximum of two or three months on the occasional bigger thing. Rapid development is central to almost everything I do. Being able to play the game in every iteration allows you to detect suckiness immediately, and it helps a lot to dive right in when you’re trying to ride the enthusiasm. For solo or small team stuff I don’t see the point of doing a lot of preliminary planning and stuff unless you’re trying to hit some key market or design things around microtransactions or something. Otherwise on such a small scope I don’t see an objective difference and one is clearly more fun than the other.

Your most accomplished work to date?

Of the stuff I’ve released I’d have to say Enough Plumbers. I’m happy with the puzzle design and it did okay revenue-wise. I just checked and it’s had over ten million plays, so that’s nice.

I’m sure many a developer has held off on doing the ‘full-time indie’ thing because of the fear of failure. Does the fear of failure play on your mind at all?

Not at all. I’m already pretty much a vagrant. It’s different for people who would be doing something else if they weren’t doing this. But can you attain failure when all you need is a suitcase and laptop and some cheap cigars?

Bonus page: Abandoned and lost project snaps.

Notes

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