Landing in the Credits: Stories from Game Makers

I’ve been asked to serve on a panel at a GEEKCon that some folks at my university are putting on. The title is Landing in the Credits, and the panelists are students and alumni who have built games. I share here some notes on my contributions as moderator.

Here we are at GEEKCon 2017 celebrating things that don’t quite make sense in this world. The things that our parents could never understand. The things they said wouldn’t get us more friends or a better job. GEEKCon is a celebration of being irrational with our time and energy, and finding that perhaps our parents were wrong.

Today we get to hear from five individuals who have spent an irrational amount of time and energy on video games. Not just playing them, but building them. They have landed in the credits.

Allow me to introduce them, and then we’ll dive into some questions:

  • Dan Trewin was born in the fires of Platteville, WI. A couple of years later, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, as a computer science major, where he currently helps students in an introductory programming class figure out what the code that they just wrote actually does. He says the games that have influenced him most are largely independent titles, like Towerfall, Super Meat Boy, Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Tales of Maj’Eyal, Trainyard, and Dungeon Raid.
  • Kyle Johnson fled from Waconia, MN, to seek out an education at UWEC, where he studies computer science. He works as a web developer for the university’s Learning and Technology Services group. The games that have influenced him most to make his own are ones that fit in his pocket, and his pocket is shaped like an Apple. These include Monument Valley, Tiny Wings, and Duet.
  • Matt Larson comes from a little town north, south, east, and west of here called Eau Claire, WI. He graduated from the Department of Computer Science at UWEC and is now a full-time web developer. The games that have impacted him the most include Gauntlet, Dark Souls, Donkey Kong Country, and Faster Than Light.
  • Seth Gilbert skipped rocks in the waters of Rice Lake, WI, before joining UWEC as a computer science major. He is quite happy to play games that only require him to click on things—repeatedly—but he also enjoys puzzlers and shooters. His favorites include Battlefront 2, Clash of Clans, Overwatch, FIFA, The Hobbit, Pokémon, and Beatles Rockband.
  • Theresa Hanson comes from the Eau Clairea, and refreshingly, she did not study computer science. Rather, she studied graphic design and is now a freelance designer. The games that have influenced her the most include Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime.

Audience members, at any time during the talk, I invite you to submit questions to the panel by texting them to 715-###-####. Or politely shouting them out.

Here are the questions I will ask our panelists:

  • Tell us some stories about games you are making or you have made.
  • Why exactly are you making games?
  • What’s hard about making games? What’s easy?
  • Some of us are passionate players of games. How do we start making our own?
  • Stardew Valley is a farming simulator made more or less by a single individual: Eric Barone. He started working on the game right after he graduated with a computer science degree and was having trouble finding a job that he felt good about. He spent four years on the game, writing all the code, designing all the art, and composing all the music. Eric got his game greenlit on Steam, shipped it after several years of 10- to 15-hour workdays, and is now a multimillionaire. When you hear Eric’s story, what goes on in your own head when you think about making games?
  • Some of you have graduated or are graduating soon. Have you considered pursuing game development as a career? What would that look like for you?
  • Making money on the internet is a thrilling and dangerous business. Kickstarter has given us wonders and disappointments. Just this week, we saw incredible backlash when Patreon decided to alter their fee structure. What have been your experiences with publishing games and making money on the internet? Are there services that are better to developers than others?
  • Tommy Refenes, who was part of the two-person team that developed Super Meat Boy, once said in an interview, “If you want to be a programmer, do not go to college.” What would you say to an impressionable 16-year-old who wants to make games?
  • I’ve heard many technically-minded people run away from game design because they were afraid of making game art. They say, “I’m not an artist.” How can we help these people?

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