Tech Rocket Students Interview A Professional Indie Game Designer!

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Greetings from Tech Rocket, iD's year round learning community!  As many Tech Rocket members have aspirations of one day becoming a pro game designer, we decided to give our students the opportunity to interview someone who was living that dream!  We collected questions from members over the past month, and then sent them over to Nick Yonge, owner of krangGAMES an indie game design company.  Nick's games can be found all over the internet, as well as on the Tech Rocket Arcade!  Additionally, Nick has created a series of Flash Game Design tutorials for us that are rolling over the course of this month!

I highly recommend reading this interview to all aspiring game developers.  Nick answered every question posed by our students and his responses were very thoughtful.  Thanks Nick!

Interview with indie game designer Nick Yonge of krangGAMES:

From fall: How do video game designers get into making games?

Short answer: by making games!

Before I became an official "game designer," I used to think that there was some kind of specific event that had to occur to become a game designer, like being hired at a game studio, completing a college course, receiving your first paycheck, or something fancy like that. The reality is, the only thing stopping you from being a game designer is the act of making games!

I don't just mean video games, but any kind of games: board games, card games, even some crazy variation of "tag." Anything you create that people can play counts as game design!

It's literally like riding a bike. The only way you can become a "bike rider" is by actually riding a bike. Get out there and make a game! You're already on a site full of excellent tutorials for game design, all of which will help you get started.


From pilot230: I would like to know, what is their source of learning what they know?

I'm assuming by "they" you mean professional game developers/designers. The biggest source of learning comes from experience you gain while actually making games. Every time you make a game, a prototype, design, or demo, you become a little better at it. It's like gaining XP from every fight in an RPG!

Other sources of learning come from the development community, from online forums, and meeting other developers. If you live in a decent-sized city, there's a good chance there are other local game developers around.

Google "game designers located in [your city]" and see what comes up! If you have a particular type of video game that you want to create, try and find forums that cater to that design. Since these forums are generally public, remember that anyone cast post to them, and some people on the Internet can be crazy! Forum moderators usually do a good job of keeping things clean, though!


From techguy100: What programming language do developers use?

This is kind of like asking "what kind of food do people eat?" There are tons of programming languages that exist, each with pros and cons: C, C#, Java™script, ActionScript, Lua, Python, and tons more.

Don't feel overwhelmed! Generally, a game developer will pick the best language for the project they have in mind. Ask yourself: what kind of game do you want to make? If you want to make online Flash games, look into ActionScript 3. If you want to easily make 3D games, an engine called Unity uses several languages, but the best one to learn is C#, which runs a bit faster and is more versatile. If you want to make games for an iPhone, look into Objective-C if you have a Mac, or Flash/ActionScript 3 on Windows.

Figure out what kind of game you want to make, and then use the power of Google to learn which programming language would be best for you! Any decent language will have tons of tutorials available, too.

By the way: if you decide to make Flash games, please use ActionScript 3 and not ActionScript 2. AS2 might be easier, but it's slower, less functional, and way more restrictive than AS3. If you're even remotely serious about being a Flash game developer, bite the bullet and learn AS3. Good luck!


From ForcePower8: I'm curious as to what is the best way to prepare for a career in the game industry, and what the best opportunity to get a job (once we're adults of course) in a game studio.

Great question, and one that comes up a lot! There are several ways to get into "the industry," but they virtually all require one common element: a portfolio. The only way to build a game design portfolio is by designing games! Your first step is to make games and develop your skills as a designer, developer, programmer, artist, whatever you want to be. The best part about this step is you don't even have to wait to be an adult – you can do it right now! I mean it, right now. Start making games. Go. I'll wait.

Made some games? Good! After that, there are several avenues you can take. If you're old enough, apply for jobs at studios. Usually, you have to be at least 18, though I've seen some 16 and 17 year olds employed as interns or QA (which is uncommon). You have to be a really good designer for that, so get cracking! You can then send your portfolio out, along with a resume and cover letter. If you're geographically close to the studios, awesome! Drop your resumes off in-person, and shake some hands while you're there. If you have business cards, all the better! You can email your info off as well if you're not nearby, but make sure to make it's really eye-catching! For the record, "i can haz job plz" is so, so not going to cut it.

Alternatively, once you've graduated from high school, you can look into taking a post-secondary game design program. Lots of these have been popping up, which is both good and bad – the odds of getting into a program are good, but game design has become a much more competitive field. Remember, there is no, I repeat, no substitute for hard work! If you intend to be a game designer, remember to play games too! Not just play, but study them, find out what makes them fun. Learn by example, learn from the best.

Finally, no matter what you do, remember to network! Meet people! If you're old enough, make a profile, send emails to ask for available positions, or just get to know names and who's who! Be friendly and the world will be your friend. Obviously, this mainly applies to adults; youths can do light networking too, but I wouldn't recommend any in-person meetings. However, if there's a game development studio near you, phone them and ask if you can have a tour! I can almost guarantee they'd be willing to set something up for you. You can then meet some actual industry employees, and see some real games being made!

If you're too young for that, try joining some modding communities or creating your own content based off of existing engines. Plug "Steam modding communities," "UDK," or "World of level design" into Google and see what you find! Maybe something will stick out to you.

Of course, for more avenues you can always plug "how to get a job in the game design industry" into Google, there's bound to be more routes than that! Personally, I briefly worked in a studio. I got there through networking, with contacts I made via a game design college. There's many ways to get into the industry, you just have to work hard and be absolutely dedicated!

The short version: make some games, learn who makes games, play some games… live and breathe games! Success follows passion, not the other way around.


From M1kep: For some body who is interested in programming what language should they start with?

There are many languages that work for many things, but in the interest of keeping this relevant to you (an aspiring game designer!) I'm going to keep it simple.

If you want to make 2D games, learn ActionScript 3 (3, not 2) and use Adobe Flash. This is what I use! You can get a free trial of Flash for 30 days, though after that you'll have to find some other way of obtaining it (maybe convince your parents to give you an early Christmas present). Though there are also free versions of Flash, they're a bit more code-focused as opposed to art-focused. FlashDevelop is great. Also look into flixel and FlashPunk to get started making awesome games for free!

If you want to make 3D games, learn C# and use Unity. Unity is another free tool, and a great way to make simple 3D games. Once you have the skill and know-how, Unity can be used to make complex and huge 3D games! Unity has been used to make some impressive stuff. While Unity works with several languages, I'd recommend learning C#. It's a bit tougher, but it's way faster, much more flexible, and will make you a much better programmer to know it.


From Patar: I would like to ask if what programs you need to use to make flash games.

To make Flash games I use… Flash! To be specific, I use Adobe Flash CS5.5; it's basically an all-in-one package that lets you create art, games, and program all at once. However, Adobe Flash isn't free – you get a free 30-day trial, but after that you have to buy the software.

To make Flash games for free, use a program called FlashDevelop. It's only code and no art assets, so you'll need to use another program for art assets (look into GIMP or Paint.Net for that), but it's a nice tool for creating anything from beginner to advanced projects. To help you get started, look into frameworks called flixel and FlashPunk; these are tools you can use to help you create games much easier. For example, instead of programming your own movement and collision detection code, flixel and FlashPunk have built-in systems that let you do that easily and automatically.

Finally, for audio assets, I'd recommend using as3sfxr to make great retro-sounding sound effects (like a Gameboy), or to get free sound effects. Download the program Audacity to edit audio files. Check out for a really awesome program you can use to make music!


From Rutabaga200: What inspires you to make/think of new game ideas?

Almost anything! Inspiration can be found anywhere, at any time. The other day, I heard a song online, and that one song has inspired me to create a sci-fi action game trilogy!

The arts provide great inspiration all around, but some of the best inspiration for games comes from other games. Play games, really look around the game world, and see if you can find inspiration there. Or, read comic books, concept art books, and listen to video game soundtracks.


From JpangElite: How long does it take to come up with a good idea? After you have the idea, how long does it take to create the game?

This is actually a very tough question to answer. Coming up with an idea is literally impossible to pin to a particular time frame. Some games take weeks, months, or years of meticulous planning and refinement before their idea is truly fleshed out. Other games are born in under a minute, and are fully formed within a day. What's more important than the idea, however, is the execution of that idea!

Obviously, the better you are at developing games, the more skills you have, and the faster you can make them. The biggest determining factor of this is your game's scope. Scope is the size of the entire project, every element that's in it, and the amount of time it'll take to create that element. Generally, you want to keep scope as low as possible — figure out the core necessary features of your game, and strip away everything else. Does your first-person shooter need a character customization screen, considering you never see the player? That's over-scoping.

It's the same with adding features, even if they'd be cool. If you already have a pistol, machine gun, and rocket launcher, that's a good assortment of weapons. Sure, a super-laser death cannon would be awesome, but it's outside your scope. Don't worry about it – your game will be awesome anyway.

If you keep your scope down and keep building your level of experience, you can minimize the amount of time it takes to make a game. It's still dependent on the core size of the game, though. In general (I can't stress the word general enough), a typical Flash game takes 2 weeks to a month to finish, which is my area of expertise. 3D games take longer, as do games with a lot of art and sound. Keep it simple, only create what you need, and don't waste your time — you'll find yourself pumping out games with regularity!


From Grizzle: Why did you choose to be an independent game designer instead of working in a studio?

This was a personal decision of mine, one that definitely wouldn't work for everyone. I want to preface this answer by stating just how unbelievably risky it was/is to "go indie." Sure it's fun, and you get to make the games you want to make, but you're also responsible for… everything! Not only do you have to worry about everything that goes into the game (you have to be a programmer, and a designer, and an artist, and an audio guy, and a storywriter, everything!), but you have to worry about yourself. Making enough money to live can be tough, and I personally have gone months at a time without drawing a paycheck. It's tough and risky, but if you can make it work, a ton of fun.

Now, why did I become an independent developer? One of the main reasons is the state that the professional game design industry was in when I graduated from game design college. Around that time, several game studios in my city had been shut down and there had been dozens, if not hundreds, of layoffs. There was a ton of skilled, experienced talent floating around looking for jobs, whereas I was just a newly graduated student. I had an excellent portfolio, but it simply couldn't match up to someone with actual AAA experience. I figured it'd be just about as tough to make it as a small-time independent developer as it would be tough to get an entry-level job at a studio.

Working in a studio is great, but generally you really have to climb your way up the corporate ladder. Typically, you start in a QA position, and have to work for over a year until you become even a junior designer or programmer. I'm a pretty impatient guy when it comes to making games, and just couldn't bring myself to wait several years before I'd have any real say in the development of a game. Plus, I had so many ideas for games that I wanted to create, and still do!

I was lucky enough to have some financial backing. I also officially incorporated myself as a company to gain some legal and tax benefits, as well as to become eligible for some external funding. All these factors combined, and it was the logical choice to go indie. It's worked out great so far!

Again, this is just my personal experience, and while it is an exciting career/lifestyle, I would definitely not recommend it for everyone. At the very least, make sure you have enough money behind you that you can feasibly go an entire year without making a cent of profit. Working in a studio isn't bad at all, even QA is a lot of fun and you get to work in a great environment. There's tons of options out there, and going indie is just one of them!

Of course, going indie is my favorite option.


From Grizzle: Do you ever experience "writers block"? How do you get over it?

All the time! Seriously, if you're a game designer and you don't experience genuine writer's block once a week, you're either a savant or you're doing it wrong. Any creative field will spawn its fair share of writer's block, and it's up to you to overcome it.

There's many things I do to get over writer's block. Sometimes I take a break, stop developing games for awhile and do something else. Try playing a game! Go biking, or play a musical instrument. I typically do anything but work to give my brain a rest. Sleep is also a wonderful, wonderful cure for writer's block.

Other times, if I'm in a productive mood, I'll work on a different project for a little while. I find most developers usually have at least two or three projects going on simultaneously, which is more than enough creative outlet to get
over any kind of stagnation.

If I'm not in a productive mood, but I know of a task that has to be done, I'll bite the bullet and get to work anyway. I may not want to, but there's one very important thing to understand about game design – it is not always fun! There will be times when it is grueling and as un-fun as it can be. During these times, it's your passion that will carry you through. There's a very distinct line between people who play games, and people who make games. The people who can get through these boring, stressful, lousy parts of game development and focus on the game as a whole are the people who make games. Ticking tasks off of a to-do list is a great way to invigorate yourself, and thus cure writer's block.


From Grizzle: What games inspire you the most? What is your favorite video game?

Ahhh, I hate this question! There are so many good games out there, and so much inspiration to draw from. I love playing indie games and Flashgames, and if I had to pick a couple favorites I'd say endeavor, Coma, and The Company of Myself — seriously, plug those into Google with the word "game" after and play the heck out of them!

For AAA games, I'm a pretty big Halo fanboy, and playing any games from the Halo series always inspires me! Halo tells such a huge, awesome story, it's hard not to feel invigorated! The same definitely goes for the Half-Life series. BioShock is one of the best examples of modern storytelling and game atmosphere, and the Grand Theft Auto series is always good for some classic, crazy, amoral mayhem.

If I had to pick a favorite game, I'd have to go way back to the SNES days. Unfortunately it's a dead-tie between two games, and always has been. Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy II have been extremely influential games to me. Having played them first when I was very young, they strongly directed the flow of my creative development. I'd recommend them to anyone in a second, especially if you have even the faintest interest in interactive storytelling!


From Grizzle: What is the best part of being a game designer?

Sleeping in all day! Just kidding, that's only if you're indie, and it's almost the worst part after you do it for long enough. Personally, there are two things that I like the absolute most, equally, out of all the game design experience.

First is the ability to bring worlds to life. The ability to actually create, to make something out of nothing. Using only graphics on a computer screen, a few lines of code, and some sounds from a speaker, you can create rolling kingdoms, vast outer space civilizations, terrifying asylums, lush and living forests… anything you can dream. Not only can you create them, but you can genuinely bring them to life! Game design is a new and unique medium; it allows people to interact with art, to change things and play as they see fit, and to direct a movie as they watch it. Nothing like it has been seen before in human history, and using this medium to create universes is unreal.

The second, is seeing people's reactions to those universes. Comments on a Flash game, forums discussing the story, YouTube videos of people playing your game, they're all amazing. This is especially powerful for narrative based games (games that tell a story). Eliciting an emotional response from someone that you've never met, and never will meet, is a powerful thing — you've established a connection with that person, and they've opened up to you through your game. I've read a few comments of people saying that a game or two of mine have moved them to tears, and reading those few comments, to draw that much emotion out of graphics and code, arranged in such a way as to tell a story, was one of the most fulfilling moments of my life.

Excuse me, I seem to have gotten all philosophical! In summary, actually breathing life into a game world, and seeing the public's reaction to a finished game are, for me, the best parts of being a game designer.


From Grizzle: What did you study in school?

My high school was fortunate enough to offer a game design class, but this wasn't really that valuable. I learned some basic C++ scripting, but for the most part my classmates and I just played Halo PC multiplayer until the bell rang!

Post-graduation, I took a one-year intensive course in Game Design at the Vancouver Film School. This course is a general course that spends the first half of the year teaching you the basics of every aspect of game design, and the second half of the year allowing you to specialize in whichever field you want to focus on. This was useful, as it gave me a general knowledge of the entire game design process, including art, sound, storyboarding, even stuff like marketing and team management (which has come in extremely useful). I personally ended up specializing in Level Design and Scripting, skills which I use extensively in my current career.

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