Last month I had the pleasure of sitting down with tinkerer and all around fine gent Andy Gibson, from York based Team Pesky, creator of the IOS game Little Acorns and the Windows title The Kraken Sleepeth. We had an enlightening chat about his own history and inspirations, the way he works, what he’s working on at the minute and, ultimately, his advice to aspiring game developers and coders. This is what he had to say.
How did you get into the gaming industry?
“I Started out as a graphic designer, but I’ve had a passion for games since I was a kid, so eventually I got in contact with Revolution games in York and just didn’t stop really. Nagging, cajoling, sending them work, and thankfully they gave me a job as a junior artist and I learnt my craft that way. I started with 2D then moved onto character modelling and just got my hands dirty, it was a really great way to learn.”
What inspirations and influences led you to make games?
“Obviously, films and older RPG games had an effect. As a kid, I’d often play board games with my family, and I guess the combination of getting into those and RPG’s in my teens was what really inspired me. When I was about 14-15 PC’s and consoles like the Atari 400 and 800 were really on the horizon so it was then I had the opportunity to start monkeying about with things and see how things worked.”
I had the chance to play little acorns and the Kraken Sleepeth, your newest title, the former being on the Apple store and the latter on the Windows store. What led you to put them there and not other marketplaces like steam? Was there a deal?
“Yeah as you say there was a deal. I worked a 9-5 and made little acorns in my spare time with the help of some of my friends. Through that triangle of hard work, a little bit of luck and it being something people enjoyed, it did really well. That was my opportunity to drop out of working for other people and doing something for myself. With the money I made from little acorns I set myself up and gave myself two years to succeed, I guess that was about five years ago now.” *Laughs*
“I looked around for any funding at that time and there was an opportunity to work with creative England and Microsoft so I went along with lots of other studios and pitched my idea, not just the game but the business plan and how it was going to get finished. They liked my pitch and with the funding they gave me I had to make it an exclusive to the windows store. I haven’t really done much with it since, but I would like to come back to it, potentially on other platforms as well.”
The Kraken Sleepeth was a fun little twin-stick shooter with some great voice acting for the character Professor Eldritch, what was it like working with a voice actor?
“Thanks. I worked with a really good voice actor called Peet Torjussen. There’s a long story with that but somebody recommended him. I didn’t know the guy and I asked him to do the voice in a certain way and he sent me a recording, then he asked if he could try an idea he had and the voice sounded way, way better. When I first met him I thought it was a joke because I had an idea of what he would look like based on the voice, but he looked nothing like that at all. As soon as we got in the studio he just turned it on and really delivered on the vibe I was looking for. He really got the direction and ran with it.”
What were the major challenges in delivering the game?
“It certainly wasn’t straight forward and it was my first title on my own, apart from the voice acting and the music. I did all the coding, the art and design myself, as well as handling the business and development side of it, and that was a huge challenge. Bigger than expected. But because there was funding attached to it there was a deadline which really helped in getting everything done on time and getting the game released. As a solo project I aim to do something as simple as possible as high quality as possible, and I think I underestimated the difficulty of getting the thing well optimised on the platform and released, but that’s partly why I wanted to try a project like that and to learn.”
Little Acorns was a platformer, the Kraken Sleepeth was a twin stick shooter, have you got any ideas about your next title?
“Part of the way I develop prototypes means I’m working on something new every week and trying to track the core mechanics. I have a handful of projects I’m working on at the minute and I’m constantly working on the mechanics to try and get those golden nuggets of gameplay that will hopefully lead onto future projects. The main project I’m doing at the moment is something with Sony, that’s a PS4 game that doesn’t fit into many genres *laughs* hopefully that’ll release this summer, that’ll be a PS4 exclusive.”
How did you end up working with Sony on a project?
“So a couple of years ago they were in Leeds as part of a Game Republic event, saying we’re very approachable, come and talk to us about your ideas and we can help you out, so I showed them a small prototype that I had and they liked it. From there I went on to pitch formally for funding and thankfully that worked out.”
Are there any insider details you can give us about the project?
“Well I’ll probably start dropping some information out about it before summer, but there’s nothing I can really say at the minute, keep following Team Pesky’s twitter feed. When I’m happy with what I’m presenting, the mechanics aren’t quite there yet, but once those are nailed down I’ll start sharing some stuff, it’s a little way off yet.”
What do you think about the state of the gaming industry at the minute? Are there any positive or negative trends?
“My little kinda corner of the gaming world I live in is drifting further and further away from what people call the gaming industry. Obviously, I sell into a market place the same as everyone else, I went through the mill with triple A and big studios, running teams and budgets, a lot of games and projects determined by consensus or committee, I took a conscious step away from that, not as a criticism, just because I wanted to do other things, take risks, carry on learning and be myself as well. There’s always going to be positive and negative trends, the interesting thing is the speed of change. I don’t really spend a lot of time catching up with what’s going on with the industry, I just keep focused on what I need to do to keep making games. I think it’s interesting now to see how games are so fragmented between mobile, console, pc, niche titles, E-sports and even VR and AR, it’s not homogenous and its very fragmented. It’s interesting to look at the diversity in the gaming industry. I’m always interested to look at the left field stuff. Triple A games you know what you’re going to get, they’re gonna be great and that’s fine, it’s the little rough diamonds that you come across, that’s just my kinda taste. I get more inspiration from those games than huge triple A ones these days.”
Is VR something that interests you?
“Yeah, Sony were kind enough to give me a VR kit to have a play around with, I’ve not done a huge amount with it but you can see some amazing possibilities with it. There’s certainly some issues with tracking and nausea that a lot of time and money have been spent on to try and negate those, I haven’t seen anything that totally succeeds yet, so I don’t think it’s going to replace the industry that we were just talking about, it’s just one more fragment. It’s certainly exciting and interesting, again I’m more interested in those funky left field experiences and games.”
“VR is very interesting but so is AR. I don’t think the two are immediately comparable, they offer very different experiences and different markets. Early adopters want to jump in and play with their new toys and see them work, but I think AR will become more widespread because you’re less cut off from reality, we have a kit in the office and it’s really interesting. A lot of money has been thrown into VR, thinking it’s the next big thing, but I think the on-rail stuff is too passive, I can’t interact with the world. For me it’s all about how I can interact with the world in ways that are interesting to me. Although I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at a lot of cutting edge VR stuff, I’m yet to see that killer app that delivers on that promise of here’s that imaginary world for you to explore and without the limits of the movement in the way that, you know Minecraft and others, limit you. I’d love to see that VR experience that’s very accessible and rewarding.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring game developers?
“Yeah, I wouldn’t worry about starting with something that’s going to make a lot of money. Try little experiments. I think the key thing is getting the game in other people’s hands, it doesn’t have to be polished or amazing quality, but just in terms of feel and reactions, how does the game react to your inputs, and how does the game change. It could be any genre, just focus on those micro interactions, how it rewards the player, and just work on lots and lots of those and get them in front of people. The best thing you can do if you want to make games is watch people play your games, even if they aren’t finished. Watch people interact with it, work on small experiments and get the influence from other people. Are they interreacting with the game as you’d imagined? Are they doing something you didn’t expect? Do that and do that lots, and you’re going to learn about the mechanics of fun. Don’t fixate too much about a game you really love that you want to try and imitate, just try and deconstruct your favourite games, get those core mechanics and try and replicate them. Mario’s jump has a load of elements, from the sound effect, to the particle effects, to the timing to the weight, go make a perfect Mario jump with your own character and really understand the fundamental building blocks of those. If you can break these down you can start to make a game, and then you can worry about the commercial aspect.”
“Probably the most important decision is whether you want to make money from something or not *laughs* If you free yourself from making money from something you’re probably going to learn a lot, a lot more quickly. Also, things like unity take so much of the heavy lifting out of making games, if you spend all your time making a game engine, well you aren’t making a game, you’re making an engine. There’s loads of frameworks around, even if you aren’t technical. If you really want to make games, download a free version of unity, pop in a few placeholders and see how these things fit together. There’s no excuses these days. You don’t have to buy an engine, you don’t have to a have huge powerful computer or sign deals with publishers, you can make small funky experimental games and put them on Kongregate or host them yourself.”
“One other thing to think about is getting metrics in your game, to see how many people are playing it and how they’re playing it. If everyone’s getting stuck on level three there’s something you need to change. I mean that’s one of the biggest changes since I started in the gaming industry, there’s so many more metrics now. Getting that data back from your users is lifeblood, it tells you want they do and don’t enjoy. Game sparks have an office at the university and they’re experts at getting that stuff back, and there’s plenty of other ways.”
What’s it like being a game developer in York?
“There’s loads going on in York and Yorkshire. To any local developers, there is a meetup every month in York and it’s a very inclusive community. Bring stuff down, even if it’s not finished. I do it, but I’d love to do it more, there are some very smart people who come and can give you some great positive feedback. It’s scary as a developer to put your games in someone else’s hands but getting that constructive criticism is so important. There’s also meetups in Leeds, and Geekfest of course too.”
“If there’s one thing to take from this, it’s that there are no excuses. There are free tools, millions of players, all types of games, all types of gamers. If you’re interested, there’s no excuses, get onto something small and get hooked on making games.”
If you want to get in touch with Andy or find out about Team Pesky’s upcoming projects, you can find them here: