Interview With Wicked Games

Let’s get to know a little more about the people behind the Wicked Games logo. How many members has the team picked up so far, and what were some of the highlights of your videogame industry experience before striking out on your own as indie developers?

We’re just two full-timers: I’m Sean and he’s Kristopher. I handle programming and audio while he handles animation and art, and we collaborate on game design. Our other contributors are freelancers brought in for a specific task like voiceovers or illustration, depending on the game. The whole operation is light and virtual, so we’re able to work with freelancers all over the world.

Kris was the lead animator at Raven and worked on the X-Men and Marvel Comics series of console games. My background is split between software engineering and audio; I was a principal scientist at Adobe and before that at Macromedia, and I also did sound design and scored a few small films and games for other studios. Basically, with a background in programming and music and a degree in English Lit, creating games is probably the only avenue open to me professionally. So let’s hope it works out!

What’s your advice when it comes to preparing for and handling the indie life financially? When you have to seek other work to pay the bills as a project drags on, have you been able to turn your game development experience to your advantage in a job search, either through sheer connections or because the skills you’ve picked up make good resume blurbs?

Well, there’s no doubt that pointing at completed games is helpful for finding interesting work with other studios. But if a job search is the goal, I think there may be easier ways to hook on, such as contributing to other projects even as an intern. That way you make connections and you can probably contribute to more projects in a shorter period of time versus producing a full indie title yourself.

As far as general job advices goes, an audio director at a certain AAA studio once told me that his best advice to people seeking jobs was “don’t be an ass.” He meant that if people enjoy working with you, chances are they’re going to want to continue working with you as they go on to other projects and studios, and help you out as you do your own thing. If you’re difficult or more of a lone wolf, you’re less likely to get that call regardless of your talent. Working on game dev teams is usually not like working for a corporation; it’s more like being in a band.

For those of us bent on creating our own titles, wisdom be damned, the trick is figuring out how to finish our games while limiting the damage to other parts of our lives, like finances, family and health. Doing that is different for everyone, and even for each game. Contract work is alternately helpful and detrimental to that, depending on the stage of development. Toward the end of a title’s development, when the sheen and excitement have dimmed and you’re debugging, polishing, and doing the hundreds of little things to ship — I think it’s tough to do other work at the same time when you’re in that part of the process.

Ultimately I think you reach a point where you’re either going to commit and make the sacrifices or you’re not. There are a lot of talented people who start and restart projects without finishing, or talk about novels, films and games, write big plans about them, who tweet and post about them, go to all the parties and whatnot, or who promise to do it one day when they have the funds, or whatever it may be — but who never actually finish the thing. Most of us will never have the funds or time or multi-discipline expertise for it ever to seem like a good decision to commit to finishing an indie game, but if we are motivated primarily by the product itself or else have a compulsive itch that will drive us mad if left alone, then we find a way to do it anyway. If you make the leap, you will likely find, like we did, that a lot of people are rooting for you and want you to succeed. That includes other indies and people in the media as well as gamers.

SpyCorp is actually the second iOS title released by Wicked Games, right? Did you have the idea for SpyCorp in mind already while the team was working on Revolt, and how did the production cycles for the two games compare?

It was very different. Every project seems to be different so far. Revolt was really Kris’ brainchild, and it’s a dual stick shooter action game. Although there is some crossover, Revolt is mostly interesting to a different sort of player than one who will pick up a platformer like SpyCorp. As far as I can tell, platformers are more or less supportive of each other rather than competitive, because people who play platformers tend to play a lot of platformers, not just one. So the success of one platformer sort of benefits us all and buoys the entire genre. I’m not sure that’s the case with dual stick shooters, which analytics suggest are a little more competitive.

We have a lot of ideas and have done other games as well. My first self-produced iOS game was called Zenfalls, and it was a simple arcade vertical jumper kind of thing involving a grasshopper and a waterfall and a little Zen parable. Ideas are the easy part, though; it’s winnowing the ideas down to something we believe we can execute well and in a reasonable amount of time that is harder.

I had the idea for SpyCorp around the time Revolt had shipped, but we’d already started work on another game at that time. That one was a turn-based strategy game for iOS, but we quickly realized the project would require much more time to produce than we could allow ourselves financially, so we switched gears to SpyCorp, which was another idea we both really liked but had planned to do at some later point.

Part of the appeal of SpyCorp was the music, strange as it may sound. I was scoring a lot of games for other studios at the time, and everyone seemed to want these giant Hans Zimmer scores with full choirs and pounding taiko drums and massive string sections playing staccato rhythms or power chords, basically game audio mimicking Hollywood. I wanted to do something quieter that relied on a simple band with 60s guitars and that also relied on a lot of silence and basic sound design.

As things always go, though, the game took longer than expected, and we went through a couple of iterations on the art and mechanics. Early on, it was more of a physics sandbox puzzle game with spy characters, and all of the movements and gadgets were based on touch gestures. That changed to gravitate more toward traditional arcade platform play over time. In fact, the only thing that remained more or less as originally planned was the ludicrous spy story that links everything together, which is maybe a little backwards since story is usually the easiest and least expensive element to change, at least compared to art and code.