Interview With Ryan Mitchell, Creator of Mission Europa

Let’s start with your background in the videogame industry. Can you tell us a bit about previous projects you’ve worked on, and how you started out? Did you have any formal training in game design, or did you pretty much pick up a programming book and jump right in?

I started making games as a child on an Apple IIe. I must say they were just text based adventures back then. I followed my love for making games into college, where I got a Masters in Visualization Sciences at Texas A&M University. After graduation I went to a small developer that was making educational games. That was a foot in the door, so to speak. My next journey was to Arizona to join an existing project as the effects programmer on Horizons. That didn’t take off for a number of reasons, but because that was such a giant project, I had the honor of meeting and making so many good friends. From Horizons I ended up at 2015, working on Men of Valor for the PC and the XBox. I worked there for about a year and found myself in the position to come back and work next to family while applying knowledge gained from working with so many extremely bright people on all the latest engines to my own games. I have been creating apps for about a year now on the side, basically as a second job that tends to keep me up WAY past my bed time every night.

As someone who’s experienced in both console/PC and iOS videogame development, what would you say is the most important difference between these two types of platforms, either when it comes to development tools or when it comes to actually getting your game to market?

There are important pros and cons to all of them. PC game developers enjoy low entry cost, access to development information, tons of system memory and resources to play around with, and user interfaces that make use of the mouse and keyboard. You don’t need a publisher to get your product on the market either. On the downside, a PC developer has to choose from a wide variety of application programming interfaces while supporting a million different setups and configurations. Drivers are a real pain. The market’s comparatively small, and it’s very hard to get noticed if you aren’t backed up by serious marketing power.

In console game development the system design’s locked down for you. Since it’s still the de facto standard for game creation and playing the market’s huge, but so regulated that you’re not going to drown in an ocean of competitors and you don’t have to worry as much about losing to whoever’s got the biggest marketing department. On the other hand system resources may be extremely limited compared to PCs, each separate console has its own application programming interfaces, and information is more difficult to find when you’re having issues. Shipping costs are extremely high, and before you can get your product out the door you need both a publisher and the console manufacturer’s approval.

Apple has created a fantastic model for getting iOS games to market, the market itself is huge, and you can rely on C and OpenGL to program the apps. System resources are a challenge though, and I see problems with quality control. Even if you’ve spent years making the best thing since sliced bread you could get lost in an ocean of competitors — your release will literally be sandwiched between weekend projects with names like “Stick Figures on Ice” and “Stick Figures on Ice II: The Blades of Doom.” In many ways the market is still evolving, and the current pricing model is just ridiculous. For the price of a stick of gum you get a year of someone’s work these days. Not exactly sustainable. This race to the bottom is really hurting the market.

Mission Europa’s credits carry a very formidable message: besides the watchful eyes of numerous beta testers and a little help in the voice acting department, it’s pretty much “Created by Ryan Mitchell.” That means the character models, texturing, level design – and this is all in addition to the programming – resulted from a one-man tour de force effort. How did this experience relate to your overall creative philosophy? Despite the time sacrifice involved, do you sense there were certain advantages in a solo project versus the collaborative model a lot of people have in mind when they think of the videogame development process?

Yes, it was highly beneficial being the lone gunman at the expense of sleep. I know where every line of code is in my engine. I can get an asset from idea to in-game in hours, not days. As I go I create tools, and every tool makes the process faster. Now the question begs, would I have liked help? I would have loved some highly talented help, but I could not support a dev team. This is an App Store issue and pricing model problem for 99% of app developers. Finding someone to put in the hours I have on this would be very hard with only a promise that we might be able to afford a 1987 Oldsmobile after it ships…

I bought the music, however. I can do most things but music definitely is not one of them (I would love to learn though!). Art is the hard part, as you have to limit the time you allot per item. I have 2000+ assets in this game and if I was not judicious with where I allocated the time, it would be next year before I shipped it.

Any particular reason why you went with a combination of Action RPG and First Person Shooter when designing Mission Europa? Was it always planned to be that way, or did it win out amongst a pool of competing ideas you had in mind for the project?

I love first person games (I was the nut case in MMOs running around in first person). I loved Elder Scrolls. I really loved System Shock 2. I also love RPGs. During my planning I was noticing a ton of shooters on iOS with the same scripted, “follow the dotted line” formula and four guns to shoot. I wanted to have a game with random levels, TONS of enemies, TONS of weapons, and high paced action that is not the same at every turn.