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Interview with Troy of MyGameCompany, part 2 in the replies

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The latest installement of Gaming On Linux interview time has been well spent with Troy the founder of MyGameCompany.com

Liam: First of all let's start nice and easy, can you introduce yourself and your company a little bit?

MGC: Sure. I'm the owner and sole employee of My Game Company, an independent game developer who designs games mainly with kids in mind (although people of all ages enjoy my games). I started the business back in 2003, after a number of friends commented that they had a tough time finding good computer games for their 6-14 year old kids. I had dabbled in writing games as a hobby for many years and enjoyed it, so I decided to see if I could turn my hobby into a business.

Liam: Would you say your business has been a success since you have been operating for what around 8 years now? Have there been any real big drawbacks that you could advise other people on?

MGC: Success is a difficult term to define for an indie. Most people would probably say the business hasn't been successful, since I still can't even earn a full living from it. However, in 8 years I've slowly grown the business to the point where it not only pays for itself, but also puts some money in my pocket. At this point, I can work a full 40 hours per week writing games, which is what I love doing. I still have to work part-time outside of the business to bring in enough money to survive, but I no longer need to work full time for someone else. To me, being able to spend more and more time doing something I love is a good thing, and that's how I measure success. Eventually I will be able to quit the part-time job and be self-supporting, and that's the ultimate goal.

I think the main reason the business has been slow to grow is because of the target market I've chosen. My games are designed for kids, but kids don't buy games. Their parents do. So the struggle I've had from day one is how to reach the parents. Most publishers aren't interested in publishing games for kids ages 6-14, which of course is the reason for the unfilled market niche. And most of the traditional gaming sites and gaming magazines aren't interested in reviewing childrens' games either. So I've had to do mostly direct sales from my own web site, with lots of marketing experiments to find ways to bring customers to me.

Other indies tell me that being able to earn a living from direct sales of one's games is the holy grail of independent game development. Very few people have ever achieved that. It takes a long time and a lot of work to get to that point, but for some market niches, that's the only option. The best advice I can give someone who starts off down this road is to be patient and keep working at it. Some days can be discouraging, and I wonder why I keep doing this, but then I get an e-mail from a parent whose child loves my game, and that reward gives me the motivation to keep going.

Liam: So given the struggle it has been, have you ever thought to maybe making 2 or 3 more adult games just to see if you can get a bit more revenue to get you by?

MGC: Yeah, sometimes. But if I chose to do that, I'd have to be careful about what games I made. First, I don't want to alienate my current customer base. Second, a game oriented toward grown-ups would put me back in a bigger market where there's a lot more competition from companies with more resources than I have.

Fortunately, my games already have a broader appeal than my original target market. So now that I'm working full time on the business, I'm investing that extra time to improve my games so I can try to capture that broader market (and maybe appeal more to publishers).

For example, right now I'm working on a sequel to Dirk Dashing, my secret agent platformer. The original game has done fairly well for me. Kids love it, but the reception among adults has always been mixed. Most of the adults who don't like it are put off by the graphics. I had wanted to make the game look like a cartoon, so all of the character animation was hand-drawn and the backgrounds were hand-painted. Unfortunately, the characters are flat-looking, and some of the background elements don't look as good as others. Kids don't always notice these details, but adults do. So for the sequel, I've worked hard to improve the game's visuals. I've redrawn all of the characters, applying cell shading and adding extra detail to give depth, and I've added a drop shadow beneath them to anchor them to the ground. I've painted a wider variety of background elements, and I've added lots of small details to give each scene interest. I've also added lighting effects to really make the visuals look even better. This should result in some good-looking screenshots that will hopefully entice more adults to download the game and try it out.

Liam: So after Dirk Dashing 2, what's next?

MGC: I have several ideas for new games I would like to do, but I haven't made any decisions yet. Depending on how well Dirk Dashing 2 sells when it is finally released, I have several other Dirk stories ready that I would like to do. I've also thought about combining my 2D space shooter Rick Rocket with the Dirk's platforming engine and doing a game I've wanted to do for over a decade, where you fly around in your rocket ship participating in space battles, then land on a planet, get out of your ship and explore. But those are big projects, so I may do a couple of smaller games first to help sustain me while I work on the larger games.

Liam: What is your OS of choice? (And why!)

MGC: At the moment, I'm using a Mac - mainly for convenience.

When I started my business, I was using Windows because that was what I knew. Then in January 2005, my computer got infected by a nasty virus that destroyed some data and corrupted the OS. My computer was probably more secure than most, because I had closed all of the unused ports, turned off features I wasn't using, used text-only e-mail, and had multiple antivirus, anti-spyware, and firewall programs running. I had thought I was very secure compared to most Windows users, and I still got a virus. So I had a choice - I could either reinstall Windows and risk the same thing happening again, or I could switch to another OS.

At that point, I had already been experimenting with Linux. So I decided to wipe the hard drive and install Linux. I used a lot of open source programs where I could, and I ran Codeweavers' Crossover Office for Windows programs that I couldn't find a suitable substitute for (like MS Frontpage and Quickbooks). Overall I was pretty happy with Linux. The performance was so much better than Windows on the same machine, since I didn't have antivirus running in the background all the time. And many of the open source programs I used were certainly robust enough for my needs. It always cracks me up when I see articles debating whether Linux is ready for the desktop - I successfully ran my business on a Linux desktop for 3 years, and didn't have one problem.

When Mac OS X 10.5 with Boot Camp came along, I decided to switch to Mac. The only reason I did so was because I had 3 different computers on my desk, each running a different OS. But with the Mac, I can boot into any of the 3 operating systems I want. And using Parallels, I could run all 3 operating systems simultaneously on one machine. This really simplifies things for me, and I have room on my desk once again. Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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I am the owner of GamingOnLinux. After discovering Linux back in the days of Mandrake in 2003, I constantly came back to check on the progress of Linux until Ubuntu appeared on the scene and it helped me to really love it. You can reach me easily by emailing GamingOnLinux directly. Find me on Mastodon.
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9 comments

Liam Dawe Jun 10, 2011
Rustybolts also had a few questions to ask

Rusty: Hi Troy!
I was wondering if you are a games player at all yourself? If so which genre of game floats your boat and from what period you got into playing games e.g the 8bit, 16bit era? Also what are your standout moments in games history in your time as a games player?

MGC: Oh, yeah - I love games! I've been playing computer games since the earliest years. My dad bought me an Atari 2600 back in 1980, and we played Pong, PacMan, Asteroids, and lots of other great games. I also had a friend with an old 8-bit Commodore 64 back in 1982 that we used to play games on. In 1985, our family bought a PC Jr, and one of my first games was Sierra's King's Quest, which I absolutely loved. He also bought a cartridge with the BASIC programming language on it, and I started dabbling in writing my own games.

I enjoy a pretty wide variety of games. Through the years, some of my absolute favorites included the Commander Keen games (particularly episodes 4-6), Wacky Wheels, Interplay's Lord of the Rings and Star Trek: 25th Anniversary, Sierra's King's Quest and Space Quest series of adventure games, LucasArt's X-Wing and Tie Fighter games, some first person shooters like Quake II and Dark Forces, Disney's Jungle Pinball, Re-volt, and more.

My current favorites include a number of indie games, particularly Eschalon 1 & 2 by Basilisk Games, Fairway Solitaire by Grey Alien Games, Titan Attacks by Puppy Games, and Ancient Empires Lux by Sillysoft.

I still play a lot of the older games via DOSBox. There's something about the purity of the gameplay and the stories that is almost timeless. The older games focused a lot more on story and character development, and they had an undeniable fun factor while you played them. It seems like most newer games focus almost exclusively on combat, realism (in both gameplay and graphics), and darker settings (military missions, horror settings, or weird supernatural themes). That doesn't appeal to me at all.

That's probably the biggest driving factor behind the design of my own games. I'm trying to recapture some of the fun of those earlier games, because nobody makes games like that anymore. That's why my Rick Rocket game borrows a lot of elements from Dan Dare, Buck Rogers, and Flash Gordon, in terms of both story and art. That's why my Dirk Dashing platformers use the same slanted 2.5D look of Commander Keen, with traditional spy music, a cool cartoon spy that is not a bungling idiot or a dark, hyper-realistic CIA type, and a lot of fun gadgets, weapons, and moves. These are the kind of games I enjoy!

Rusty: Yeah really enjoyed the Eschalon series myself, looking forward to the third installment. Can you tell me a little bit on how you produce the artwork for Dirk, as some of that background art is gorgeous. Also I read in one of your monthly newsletters about a problem you had creating the secuirity cameras for Dirk, can you tell us a bit about this problem or any other problem like this and how you solved them.

MGC: Oh, thank you! I'm glad you like it! Hopefully that's an indicator that I'm on the right track with the improved graphics...

Many of the graphics are hand-drawn and hand-painted. For the background elements, I use a combination of acrylic paints, colored pencils, and colored markers. I draw and paint each individual background element by itself - this includes repeatable walls of bricks/stones, floor surfaces, trees, furniture pieces, etc. Then I scan them in, trim them, and scale them using GIMP. For the animated characters, all of the frames are hand-drawn, just like they are in a traditional cartoon. Then I scan them in, clean up the edges, and paint them in the computer.

I've had a few art pieces that posed challenges for me. The security camera you mentioned was one. I was having difficulty with the hand-drawn animation - the camera movement just wasn't coming out the way I wanted. So I built a paper mock-up, photographed each frame in the position I wanted, and then converted each photo into black and white line art and painted them. A fellow indie called me the "MacGuyver of video game production"!




Another art piece that challenged me were some background hills I needed. I couldn't get the paintings to come out the way I wanted. But I found an article on the Internet about how to convert a photograph into a watercolor painting using GIMP, and after some experimentation, I came up with the perfect background piece that I think complements the rest of the art in that scene.



Liam: Have there been any problems in porting/coding your games to the different platforms?

MGC: Not really. Most of my games use the same core game engine, which is built with cross-platform technologies. The initial port for the first game that used this engine took some work, but once that was done, it became trivial to do a build for any of my games on any of the 3 platforms.

Linux was probably the most difficult platform for the initial port. Even though I had developed the game on Linux, it wasn't easy to create a binary that would run on almost any distribution. There was almost no useful documentation available for doing this. Fortunately, Erik Hermansen at Caravel Games put me in touch with Gerry Jo Jellestad, who has done a lot of Linux game development and had experience with building distribution-independent binaries. Gerry was very helpful, and very patient as I bombarded him with e-mails over several months, asking questions and getting help for technical issues that I was running into. By the time I was done, I had two notebooks full of great information that wasn't documented anywhere else. So with Gerry's permission, I wrote a series of articles that captured what I had learned, and I published them on gamedev.net a few years ago.

Actually I've been thinking about turning those articles into an e-book. There's a lot more I've learned since I wrote them, like how to handle PulseAudio (which seems to be the norm on most common distributions nowadays) and how to build a binary against older versions of glibc so your game will run on older distributions. I've also talked with some other indie developers who would like me to write an article or tutorial about how to get started with basic development tasks, like compiling, linking, and debugging on Linux. When Dirk 2 is done, I might put that book together and sell it from my web site.

Rusty: Ok to keep the spy theme going ill end this interview with spy themed question.
Whats your most loved bond film and who is your favorite bad guy from the bond films (Odd job is my fave although I do have a soft spot for Jaws). Also if you wish you can end with anything else you wish to say to our readers.

MGC: That's a tough one! I enjoyed all of the Bond films, to one degree or another. I don't think I could pick just one, but my favorite movies would be Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, The Living Daylights, and Tomorrow Never Dies. And Odd Job would definitely be my favorite bad guy too!

Thanks, guys, for the great interview, and thanks to all of you for reading this and supporting me and my games! I really appreciate my Linux customers, and I'll definitely keep bringing you new games in the future!

Some cool pictures to end it with!
[ATTACH]166[/ATTACH][ATTACH]167[/ATTACH]
Brandon Smith Jun 10, 2011
OOOh cool article. Could we get a link to those gamedev articles Troy? That information could really help me out.
MyGameCompany Jun 10, 2011
Here you go! Though I notice they've lost the link for the 4th article since they switched to their new repository format, and the links at the bottom of each page that point to the next article in the series don't work. Maybe I'll have to repost these on my own web site. Article 4 contained tips for testing on various distributions, and how to deal with things like SELinux, hardware accelerated drivers for various cards, 32-bit vs 64-bit, etc.

1 - Introduction
http://www.gamedev.net/page/reference/index.html/_/reference/programming/platform-specific/linux/linux-game-development-part-1-r2372

2 - Building a "universal" binary for Linux
http://www.gamedev.net/page/reference/index.html/_/reference/programming/platform-specific/linux/linux-game-development-part-2-r2377

3 - Installers on Linux
http://www.gamedev.net/page/reference/index.html/_/reference/programming/platform-specific/linux/linux-game-development-part-3-r2389

5 - Marketing on Linux
http://www.gamedev.net/page/reference/index.html/_/reference/programming/platform-specific/linux/linux-game-development-part-5-r2421
Brandon Smith Jun 10, 2011
Thanks dude. It seems like some of the terminal commands got messed up in the new formatting, but the information is good. I really appreciate it!
Brandon Smith Jun 10, 2011
You know Troy, there was [URL='http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1777096']this thread[/URL] on ubuntuforums.org. Someone was asking for a 3D platformer for kids. It got me thinking, if you could make something in the vein of mario 64 or such than ran on Linux, I bet a lot of people would appreciate it!
MyGameCompany Jun 10, 2011
Thanks for the link. I'm not quite ready to venture into 3D yet - my 2D platformers are more than enough work for me! Though I have been starting to dabble in 3D, with the lighting and 3D planets in the background on The Adventures of Rick Rocket, and the new lighting and shadows in Dirk 2.
MyGameCompany Jun 10, 2011
Ok, I've reposted all of the articles I've written on my web site. So you can find article #4 in the series here, as well as a Post Mortem I wrote for the first Dirk Dashing game. Enjoy!
http://www.mygamecompany.com/articles/index.htm
Brandon Smith Jun 10, 2011
Cool! I'll need to check that out. Btw, in case you were interested, Helena will have a kickstarter page where I'll be giving out the source code to the engine for a nominal pledge amount. Could be used to make a kids 3D platformer, and comes with a level editor!
MyGameCompany Jun 10, 2011
Thanks, Brandon. When I get to the point where I'm ready to delve into 3D, I'll check it out! Good luck with your game - it looks like a lot of fun!
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