Opinion// Welcome to Development Hell

Posted 15 Sep 2009 17:58 by
Paul Taylor and Mode 7 games are located in Oxford and we stumbled upon them by very lucky chance. Basically, we thought they were spamming our Forum. Basically, they weren't. After one of the most courteous email exchanges ever seen by a SPOnG employee, we realised that Paul and his team had some real insight into the sheer grind, passion, pain and pleasure of making games in the UK. "Tell us about it", we said. "Sure", said Paul.

So, what follows is the first of many genuine insights for those readers who want to see what it takes to make games from the ground-up.

Our level designer Bin busy crafting 'The User Experience'
Our level designer Bin busy crafting 'The User Experience'
In the summer of 2007, I was sitting outside at a publisher-organised party in Austin, Texas with three famed US games journalists and one of the developers of Mushroom Men watching a transvestite spanking a man with a huge black paddle while screaming the words to Don't Stop Me Now. None of us were quite sure why that was happening.

I turned round and John Romero was sitting at the table behind me: I was so drunk that I went up to him and said, "John Romero, I just read a book about you called Masters of Doom, can you express, as a percentage, how much of it is true?" He said "All of it, of course" and bought me some pizza. I sucked it down.

On the way home, I tripped over one of Austin's many incredibly misaligned paving slabs. I lay, staring up at the immense Texan sky and thought: "How did I get here?"

I never really intended to be in "the games industry", and neither did my business partner Ian. We both loved games and wanted to make them, but we couldn't see how we'd fit in to a normal company. I had always liked games with personality; Ian wanted to make games based on skill and intelligence: we felt those two things could cohabit and we started a company.

Determinance, our first game, was a totally weird mish-mash of different ideas. Some people loved it but, understandably, it didn't sell very well. I can't tell you how glad I am that we made it; it led to a huge number of opportunities that still make a difference to us today. We learned more about making games than you can from any course, any in-house training, or any low-level development job.

"How do I make games?" is a question that we get asked with surprising frequency. Ian always advises people to mod an existing game, or at least license an engine like Torque: you're unlikely to get off the ground if you're coding your own engine and tools, as this is practically an art-form in itself. The most important thing to do is finish your game: it doesn't matter how bad it is, as long as it's finished!

After Determinance was released, we did contract work for a while and tried to get our next title off the ground. Working for other people is great for the bottom line, and we have some fantastic business relationships with other companies, but what we really want to do is create a successful game that people really notice.

We're hoping that Frozen Synapse will be that game: it's a multiplayer turn-based squad tactics game, not a million miles away from the old X-com series. Instead of long, drawn-out positional battles, games of Synapse are based purely on your ability to read terrain and use your units effectively.

Take a look at our concept art if that sounds interesting.

Every few weeks, I'll be dropping in with an update on our progress and giving you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of next year's indie hit (we hope)...

The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect those of SPOnG.com except when it does.

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