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GDC Day 1: From Big Studio to Small Indie - Guerilla Tactics from Hello Games

Sean Murray, the resident programmer for 2008 studio startup “Hello Games,” was on hand to represent his team and to tell us a bit about the team’s transition from working at a big studio to their current indie lifestyle.

Sean Murray, the resident programmer for 2008 studio startup “Hello Games,” was on hand to represent his team and to tell us a bit about the team’s transition from working at a big studio to their current indie lifestyle.  The group of four friends, that includes David, Grant, Ryan and Sean, has collectively worked at studios like Criterion, EA, Kuju and more.  After working on titles like Burnout and Geometry Wars they felt comfortable leaving as what Murray described as “Young Industry Veterans.”  Today, they are working on launching their first title, Joe Danger! 

The next slide was a reality check for those looking into making a move into the indie community. There are hundreds of new indie studios formed each year – in this first year, only ten survive.  Only half of those ten actually go on to release a game, and of those that release, only one in ten will keep its doors open for as long as three years.  He capped this off with the fact the indies typically don’t have much money, and “aren’t very bright.”

http://www.hellogames.org - Joe Danger

What can you do to stem the tide, you ask?  Murray advised going Guerilla.  He described it as competing against huge armies (that of companies like EA and Activision) and the only way to survive was by knowing the landscape.  Know what your players like, what other indies are doing, and what you are capable of.  Building a strong community is also another vital piece of maintaining a strong presence and building hype.

As for the process of building your game itself, Sean advised starting slow and building up.   Joe Danger is something reminiscent of ExciteBike, a side scrolling motorcycle game with jumps, tricks, and power-ups.  To start building it, they began with just a wheel, ramps, and movement.  This build was playable within 6 weeks and helped them get a “proper vision.”  All the gameplay that came after stemmed from building off the initial “wheel build.”

Lastly, one of the most important aspects of building Joe Danger was keeping with the philosophy “Everyone is a designer.”  By building a robust and easy to use toolset not only could they build more efficiently internally, but also they chose to release this editor to their players.  They demoed it during the presentation, and it was pretty impressive!

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