My 2014 as a game maker in 8 moments.

This year I worked on Mutant Gangland and Penarium and it was awesome. It was a good year for me. The following sums it up: 

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8: Going to GDC for the first time. I guess
Boy, was I disappointed in GDC. It’s just not what it’s cracked up to be. People on social media will have you believe it’s the most joyful thing ever with their selfies and their inside jokes but that wasn’t my experience. Every evening was super stressful because there were parties all over town and I just always felt like I was missing out. It’s like new year’s eve five nights in a row. It’s not for me. I don’t even like parties. I did meet a few nice people and it was interesting to see a new city. I guess it deserves a place on this list because of how big an experience this was. Otherwise, I couldn’t find 8 significant moments. I’m also probably going again next year. Enough for the sour stuff. The rest of the list is happy stuff. I promise. 

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7: Getting a new console
I know this is shallow but I just love unboxing game consoles. When I was 8 and got a NES on Xmas, I freaked out, ran out of the house and went screaming on the streets. Ever since then, I try to recreate that moment. It’s never going to be that intense anymore but unboxing a new console will always be special. During previous console generations I was not very big with money and only got a game machine after it had been out for years. Somehow I always missed noticing their releases but I was extremely excited about getting a PS4. Maybe so hard that I actually tricked myself into wanting it. I wanted a new new PS4 and I got mine. That smell of new plastic is amazing. 

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6: Realising how much experience I gained over a year
Two years ago we released Paper Vs Paper, a game you probably don’t know because we did a crappy job at promoting it. We were fresh out of school and somehow had the idea that we could put it on the app store and email people about it until it started selling. That was naive. There was a moment when we were far along with Penarium where I though “Man were we a bunch of idiots when working on Paper Vs Paper”. Somehow that cheered me up.

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5: Putting Mutant Gangland online and actually selling units
Mutant Gangland has become a very personal project I can fill up with everything I like about action figures, Robots, Ninja turtles, and apocalypse stories. I honestly believed that when we put the game on itch.io maybe ten people would buy it but it’s a little bit more than that. I often check out the names of people and it’s not just friends of friends anymore. It’s complete strangers thinking “this might be worth my money” and that feels like a signal that we are making a proper game here. It might sound superficial but I wouldn’t know if I was equally enthusiastic about Mutant Gangland if we sold 0 copies. But we do sell and I’m super pumped to make a big release in 2015. 

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4: The moment Penarium pieces fell into place
At one point a game is just a bunch of moving objects and at another point it’s a game, a product, an orchestra of arts that together create magic. Sometimes the transition between those moment is unclear but in the case of Penarium it was when the sound effects and music were in. Our sound man is a wizard and when we loaded the game for the first time with audio we were very very happy. There’s something awesome about trying your game for the 100th time and finally, BOOM it rocks. 

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3: Signing a deal with a publisher
WE knew that Penarium is a fun game but we actually rang quite a few doorbells with it and it took a while before they started opening. Then we started worrying. Not because our game might be bad but because the outside world had their eyes full of shit and couldn’t see how awesome it is. Team17 was enthusiastic from the start. We felt good about them. A nice bunch and a name I look up to. For us signing with a publisher was signing a treaty that said “look, we think your game is so good that we’re actually going to spend money on it. We trust you.” Also, I can’t wait to one day come home, turn on my console and buy my own game. 

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2: Picking up drawing again
In 2009 I took concept art seminars. The huge amount of stuff you need to learn to become an artist scared the shit out of me. I decided I did not want to be a concept artist and focused on other things. Since then my sketchbooks became less filled with drawings and more with scribbles of game mechanics. It was a shame though. I loved the idea of Penarium right away and researched circus life and aesthetics. I had trouble transporting that directly to pixels. I just couldn’t get it right in Photoshop. That’s when I discovered my sketchbook again. Countless sketches of clowns, tents, monkeys, and directors came out. Not just that but also robots, monsters, and spaceships just for the fun of it. Now the year is almost over, the book is almost full and I often look through it feeling proud as if I reclaimed something I left behind for no good reason. Welcome back, Drawing.

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1: Pitching a game to Nintendo
I can’t believe we actually got to present our game to a number of important folks from Nintendo. I look up to Nintendo and its people. We were quite nervous. The introductions were awkward as we gave them our business cards Japanese style (bowing, two hands) and the Japanese handed theirs western style (one hand, eye contact). We presented Penarium, they played it and seemed to like it. Then there was a round for questions from our side. I asked them if there was going to be a sequel to Advance Wars. They all laughed and then there was a silence. I think that’s a “yes, secretly”. One minute later a Japanese boss read what his translator wrote and it made him chuckle. I feel like this was the man who might know more.Business-wise this meeting did not leave a lot of ripples but for me it was significant in the sense that I presented my game to freaking Nintendo! Words like ‘Nintendo’ ‘Flappy Bird’ and ‘Angry Birds’ are things family and friends understand. They know I “make games” but saying “Uncle Joe, I just came back from a meeting with Nintendo” became my way of saying “look, I’m not playing around anymore”. I’m serious. I’m playing with power now. 

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As for next year, I look forward to seeing my first game on a shelf when I happen to walk around in a store. It would also be great to finish Mutant Gangland although making games costs a lot of time. With all that behind, look here’s a new Penarium development log.

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