Grant designed this robot from life, observing Sean's curious clanking motions and hard carapace.

Grant designed this robot from life, observing Sean’s curious clanking motions and hard carapace.

Way back, when we were making Joe Danger, we wrote a column for Edge about our experiences as a tiny, new, indie developer. Actually, we sort of cringe to read them now, it’s a bit like reading our diaries when we were teenagers. But it’s all part of our history, so we thought we’d publish them here again every week 🙂

Check here for the full set…

Grant Duncan “Do you think there are some people that are actually robots?”

The answer is yes, by the way. There are robots among us, and they all work in the game industry. I’m sitting listening to three of them communicate right now – I’m the only artist trapped in a tiny room with three programmers. While I sit here, drawing a picture of a dog eating a banana, they lounge around like rich lords, in a little circle, pontificating about code issues like they’re discussing French literature. I suspect they might even be plotting evil deeds, talking enthusiastically about ‘virtual operators’, ‘float arrays’ and something about ‘dangling a pointer’. It’s like this every day.

You only need to look at our respective task-lists to know that something is very wrong. My list is somewhat childlike, barely legible and slightly embarrassing. It contains tasks such as ‘work on jelly texture’, ‘build giant doughnut’ and ‘dance animations’. A lot of it has become obscured by a doodle that got out of hand and probably caused me to fall behind on my schedule. A quick sweep of Ryan’s list paints a different picture, or should that be ‘efficiently renders a different image’. It’s all neatly bullet pointed, containing tasks like ‘deferred rendering’ and ‘pre-compile the command buffer’. I have no idea what that means exactly, but it sounds like work of great importance, work worthy of a cold emotionless machine.

I was slightly worried before we started Hello Games that as its sole artist I would struggle to stay motivated. What if Guildford was the place my creativity would die? I was used to working as part of a team of artists, bouncing ideas around and inspiring one another. In times of hardship we’d solve our creative dilemmas by combining our skills, Captain Planet style – though, admittedly, this usually involved a group standing around a monitor, arms crossed, going “make the eyes bigger”.

When I first started working in games I was very surprised at the mixture of people and personalities. Artists, writers, programmers and businessmen, all trying to work together. Creatives and non-creatives making sweet awkward love. When it works, it’s magical. When it doesn’t, it’s like an abusive relationship, and their foul spawn of a game gets squirted upon the world.

Over the years, the games industry has introduced me to some real characters. There was Rude Bill, the coder who liked to tell people that his brain “operates at four times the speed of a normal human”. I don’t know if that was true, but he definitely had quarter of the personality. Then there was Grumpy Tom the artist, who refused to play the game he was working on, saying “I just make it look nice”. Imagine these two people working together and you get some way towards picturing the dysfunctional goings on behind the doors of many dev studios. Not Hello Games, of course. It’s like Three Men And A Baby in here. Only Ryan doesn’t have Ted Danson’s hair and he rarely changes my nappy.

One of the things with working as part of a small studio is that it forces you to wear a great many hats. I wear so many these days the top of my bonce is but a distant memory. Working on Joe Danger, there have been times when I’ve found myself scarily close to wearing the metallic dial-covered helmet of a coder and, in turn, the others have found themselves in the shadow of a flouncy artist’s beret. Truth be told, I feel somewhat tainted by working so close to the code, it’s like the Bog Of Eternal Stench – once touched, the stench lingers… Eternally.

Though I have managed to avoid direct contact with the code so far, I have found myself dangerously close. Entering numbers into spreadsheets and editing XML files, my dignity has all but gone. It’s not only me, though: my three coder comrades have certainly changed, too. Only yesterday I had them gathered around my monitor, arms crossed, stern faced. “I’m having a creative dilemma,” I said. “Any suggestions, guys?” “Make the eyes bigger.” I could have wept.

Artists and coders are different beasts, but over the year I feel like we have drifted away from those labels, or blurred the line, at least. I guess we’re just game developers, now. Maybe we’ve all come too far; maybe there’s no going back. But Joe Danger is our pact. It’s the tramp we killed, and none of us are going to the police.

Originally published December 22 2009

by Grant

One Comment

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