Enter the world of video game development in this collection of discussions with noteworthy game creators ranging from solo hobbyists to major triple-A veterans. Todd Mitchell—an independent game developer, freelance writer, and host of the popular development podcast, GameDev Breakdown—speaks to experts about their projects, their experiences, and how they broke into the game industry to do some of the coolest jobs in history.
Interviewees include David Fox (Electric Eggplant, LucasArts, Rocket Science Games), Jordan Mychal Lemos (Ubisoft, Sucker Punch Productions, Hardsuit Labs), Richard Rouse III (Paranoid Productions, Surreal Software, Midway, Microsoft), Joshua Davidson and Ash Lyons (Gearbox Software), Rob Hewson (Huey Games, TT Games, Dark Energy Digital, Blade Interactive), Michael Hicks (MichaelArts), Paul Nicholas (Liquidream), Ryan Engle (Golf Scope), Say Mistage and Michael Silverman (Silverware Games), and Thomas Kildren (Fletcher Studios).
Games discussed include Pillar, The Path of Motus, Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Thimbleweed Park, The Suffering (series), The Church in the Darkness, Topgolf with Pro Putt, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, MatchyGotchy Z, Saints Row (series), Borderlands (series), Battleborn, Lego games, Booper, Get Home! and more.
Todd Mitchell is an excellent writer and game developer. That puts him in the qualified position to know just how arduous the task of making a video game—good, bad, or ugly—really is. Within the pages of Inside Video Game Creation, Mitchell talks to auteurs and teams, indie devs and triple-A designers, about how they bring their games to life. – David L. Craddock
"Todd is a great guy with an even greater book! His debut tome, Inside Video Game Creation, zips viewers through the minds of modern digital wizards from chonky CGA graphics to the 4K crystal clear gaming worlds of today."– Mat Bradley-Tschirgi, Author, How To Buy a Sony PlayStation 5 (RESULTS NOT GUARANTEED)
"This book was eye opening to the behind-the-scenes of video game design. Very interesting read."– Christopher Higgins
"I thoroughly enjoyed reading these interviews, lots of great insights from a wide variety of game developers. Even though I've heard some of these as podcasts, I love reading their written form as well, as it's more convenient when I want to read some good content in between my parenting and work responsibilities."– Josh Anthony
The nineties made for an incredible time to discover video games. SEGA battled Nintendo for the hearts of players everywhere while PC enthusiasts lugged cumbersome machines to LAN parties where they fragged until dawn. Grocery stores offered console game rentals. Pizza restaurants were as likely to have a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cabinet as they were to have stuffed crust.
But we weren't just buried in classic games. By the end of the eighties, a collection of new magazines had sprung up, dedicated to video games, the gamers who played them, and the mysterious wizards responsible for them. In a world full of players not yet connected over the internet, game magazines let us know what likeminded people were playing and how video games were changing the culture.
For many, publications like Nintendo Power and GamePro also provided our first glimpse behind the curtain at the seemingly magical process of creating video games from nothing. Every one of my friends in the neighborhood read game magazines in those days, but they seemed content with news, reviews, and cheat codes. I was as interested in the process of making games as I was in playing them. This eventually led to my own experimentation when I booted up a ten-year-old Apple IIc for the first time, opened a heavy spiral-bound book of ancient code (both from yard sales) and tried my hand at typing out a game program for myself. Fine, I convinced my mom to do a lot of it, but running that woefully primitive maze game afterward cemented my appreciation for the craft. Soon enough, I was walking across town to the local library to work my way through its humble selection of programming books. I was off to tech school a few short years later.
Since that time, books about games have kept me company on a wild ride of a career. Living far from any of the game industry's hotspots, I worked in a series of much less glamorous commercial software jobs to pay the bills. I spent countless lunch breaks hiding out at the nearest sandwich shop reading stories of developers and studios so expertly captured by the likes of David Kushner, Jordan Mechner, and David L. Craddock. These tales of determination and design kept me dreaming of the opportunity to strike out on my own to try to thrill players and build my own studio worth writing about. They also kept me grounded enough to work hard on staying current on the latest engines, languages, and frameworks in game programming. Developing games around a full-time job is notoriously daunting, but I was determined not to give up hope. Through incredible luck, I eventually had the opportunity to chase the indie dream.
Technology was not the greatest thing I discovered in the nineties. I met a friend of a friend during my early teen years, and she quickly captured my heart. She was a couple of years older which felt like a big deal at the time, so I didn't do much to let on before we eventually went our separate ways. Thanks to Facebook, we reconnected in our twenties. While I was building a career in software, she had put herself through med school. She spent years surviving alone in Chicago with little money and less support. I was grateful to be by her side when she returned to St. Louis to take on medical residency. It wasn't long before I was flipping through Morgan Ramsay's Gamers at Work at a Barnes & Noble while my fiancée tried on dresses with her bridesmaids across the street.
Together we invested years into our future, grinding away at high-pressure jobs that paid too little and took too much. I branched out to read more great game development books by authors like Blake J. Harris, Jeffrey Ryan, and Gabe Durham who'd since launched the Boss Fight Books label. I participated in weekend game jams, making tiny game projects of my own and spending just as much time writing lengthy "postmortem" articles explaining my process and sharing stories about how it went. I teamed up with friends to work on a geek culture blog where I managed all things gaming. This soon led to my first experience in podcasting.
With the end of medical residency and my wife's first subsequent job lined up, we felt comfortable thinking about expanding the family—all we had to do was figure out how we intended to care for a baby.
My wife didn't come this far to end her career and stay at home, but there aren't many options for childcare with hours that match those required by medicine and software. My career, on the other hand, didn't necessarily have to end if I wasn't able to continue driving to the office. There were a number of ways to work in software from home, and one of them very closely matched that dream scenario in which I took a real run at game development.
After intense number crunching and a little soul searching, we decided I would put in my notice and go indie. I'd begin work on software projects as time allowed, and my wife would head back to the hospital. The dream became real—just with the addition of a tiny, defenseless human depending on me for its well-being.
I don't know if you've ever attempted to fully invest yourself in a solo software project while ensuring the survival of a newborn, dear reader, but somehow it was simpler in my imagination. I sincerely don't recall what I attempted to produce first with my new creative freedom, perhaps because no one in the house had slept eight consecutive hours in months. I was under no illusion that my first indie game was likely to put me on the map or pay any big bills, but as weeks turned into months, I began to question my ability to produce even a reasonable failure under the circumstances.
My wife remained supportive, but my own concern led me to start browsing freelance sites where I picked up any small job I could fit into my week. I did a lot of very tedious work for not nearly enough pay, but I was happy to have initiated some meager cashflow on my new journey.
I was unwinding on Twitter one night when everything changed. An incoming editor-in-chief at a gaming outlet called Zam was looking for new freelancers. No formal experience was required.
I don't know why it took me so long to figure it out. I didn't just have an opportunity to create games—I had an opportunity to capture the stories I'd loved reading since I was a kid. I frantically gathered anything that might pass as a reasonable writing sample and attached it all to an inquiry I'm unable to dig up now, but I'm certain it would make me cringe.
Instead of well-deserved silence, I received a supportive message from the editor promising to consider my pitches, and indeed, they commissioned a lengthy feature from the first pitch list I submitted. The site's relaunch prominently featured a set of interviews I had conducted with project leaders and major contributors throughout the homebrew community. I learned a ton from working with professional editors (the inevitable errors and poor choices in this book are a result of my continued ignorance despite their efforts). In addition to my regular reading, I frantically consumed all of Nathan Meunier's writing on games journalism. I was hooked on the process immediately.
For a lack of better ideas about how to promote myself in the gaming space, I started CodeWritePlay, an industry shoptalk site. As a podcasting contract with a local studio came to an end, I also started a companion podcast for the site, GameDev Breakdown. These outlets gave me the opportunity to hone my approach to industry coverage, provide resources to the community, and focus on topics that interested me when paying editors didn't pick them up. After a stretch of contract development work and the eventual release of my first indie game, I returned to find that Zam had temporarily ceased operations. I've maintained connections with other sites and editors, but I have continuously worked on CodeWritePlay and GameDev Breakdown to this day.
This book is a curated collection of interviews I've conducted with indie and professional video game creators. You might recognize some of their names right away. Others you'll appreciate for the popular projects to which they've contributed. All of the subjects have been part of a story worthy of close examination. Most (but not all) of these individuals appeared on my podcast, GameDev Breakdown. I did not address the same set of pre-determined topics with all of the guests. Instead, I tried to capture a larger picture of the game development landscape by asking them questions about what they were up to and what was on their minds. The results have been transcribed and edited for length and clarity. My top priority was to maintain the meaning of each person's words and the tone in which they were spoken.
I put tremendous (perhaps obsessive) effort into podcast interviews, and while this book aims to serve an even wider audience, listeners curious about the book should know why they should bother reading it. Readers should also know why it won't be the same to just go binge on the podcast. First and foremost, the book closes with an interview that has never been released anywhere else, and I consider it one of the most worthwhile stories I've ever had the privilege to write. Several interviewees have also graciously reviewed their chapters and provided updates on their projects and situation since their appearances.
It's also my sincere hope that this book helps elevate the profile and the reach of the guests who kindly helped me entertain and inform listeners. GameDev Breakdown has reached thousands of people around the globe, but books and podcasts tend to reach different audiences. Each of the subjects here stepped up to share their story, and they deserve my continued best efforts to share those stories far and wide.
If you're a creator, I hope you find inspiration and insight in these pages. If you're a gaming enthusiast, I hope you enjoy this look inside the world of game creation and that it enhances your enjoyment of these games and others like them. If you opened the book to read about a specific person, I hope one or more new names pique your interest and make a fan out of you. Above all, I hope this book imparts some of the awe I still feel when I look around the industry all these years later—at a young couple who took a leap of faith with a revolutionary new business, at a guy my age whose project explained his father's influence better than his words could, at a terrorism survivor who found a new way to bring his family together, and at so many other amazing stories that I could spend a lifetime hearing and sharing them. I hope I do.