Interview with Andrew Goulding from Brawsome on Jolly Rover and going Indie
Andrew Goulding is one of countless developers from the local games industry with years of experience under their belt who've made the huge career changing move towards independent games development.
With so many taking the plunge in recent times, it was worth grabbing Andrew aside for a few questions on his new indie studio, Brawsome, his latest game, Jolly Rover, and his personal experience on going solo.
It seems like hard work going at it in indie games, particularly with a young family to support, but Andrew has gathered some worthy advice for those considering a similar move...
Thanks for talking to us, Andrew. Could you give a brief background on yourself?
(Andrew Goulding) I've been in the games industry for about 7 years now, having worked as a tester, programmer and assistant producer at Torus, Codemasters, Tantalus and Krome. I'm based out of my home in the suburbs Mitcham, Victoria, with my wife and 20 month old daughter, with another on the way.
I registered Brawsome Pty Ltd in 2008, while working as a contract programmer on Emerald City Confidential by Wadjet Eye, with the intention of creating original casual and flash games, with a focus on point and click adventure and unique, simple game mechanics that are easily accessible.
I've since worked on the successful casual adventure Avenue Flo, and am currently working on two original point and click adventures - Jolly Rover with the help of Film Vic, and another funded by PlayFirst.
There has to be a story behind the naming of your studio, Brawsome. Let's hear it!
(Andrew G.) I used the google test. I use the word 'awesome' a lot; and I initially wanted to create a studio called 'Awesome Games', but not only does this google very badly, it was taken. So, I started playing around with lots of different words, looking at iconic brand names such as Atari, Sega, Nintendo, LucasArts, Sierra, Microsoft. Eventually I created a word that consisted 'awesome' and 'braw', which is a Scottish word that could be used interchangeably with awesome. So, Brawsome. Typed into google this yielded few results, so I had my name.
What prompted you to make the move to independent game development, and how have you been finding it so far? What are the challenges you've had to overcome?
(Andrew G.) I wanted to design and develop original games, particularly point and click adventure. When I first got into the games industry, I thought that's what you did, you made new games. But over 5 years and 4 companies, the reality seemed to consist of working with existing licenses or porting between platforms. At every games company I've worked for I've always pitched ideas for games in the hope that one of them would get made. None of them were picked up, which made me question my worth as a designer, and the quality of my ideas.
During this time I was loosely involved in the indie adventure game community, and through that started chatting with a fellow adventure game developer, Dave Gilbert. We wanted to collaborate on a title, but it never quite got started. In 2008 I read on his blog that he had just gotten a deal with PlayFirst to make an original point and click adventure game. I asked him if he needed a programmer and he said yes, but could only afford to pay me 20 hours a week. At the time I was working at Krome as an assistant producer, so to make it work I would get up just before 5am, work for 3 hours, then jump on the train to Krome for a full day. On the weekend I would put in 5 hours. Including travel time this was just over 70 hours a week. I did this for 3 months, before realising I was mad, and decided to make the move to doing the adventure game work full time, picking up other contracting jobs on the side surprisingly fast.
Since then life has not been without its ups and downs, but it has generally been awesome. One thing that can get difficult is the long delay between payments, sometimes up to 2 months! So, you need to be able to budget well; my wife helps with that. It can also get tough when you start employing people, because I like to pay them within a month but I don't normally get paid until much after. So the money balance is tough. It was easier with the US dollar was stronger, but now it's a lot harder. It went down to 0.86 the other day, yay!
How helpful was the Film Victoria grant in achieving your goals as an indie developer?
(Andrew G.) My initial response to applying for a Film Vic grant was “Gee, there's a lot of documentation I have to provide. Is this worth it?” But in hindsight that's a resounding YES! If you look at getting venture capital, private funding or publisher funding (I've done all 3) you'll have to do the same amount of documentation anyway, and you're likely to get a fairly poor deal. Keep in mind that the Film Vic grant must be paid back on commercialisation of the project, but that's only a measly 5% on top of what they loan you. You'd be hard pushed to find a deal like that anywhere else. And the best part is you get to retain full control of your IP, which I believe is the single most important thing when building the value of a studio.
Film Vic have been awesome, and I wouldn't be developing my own game today without them, but the barrier to entry is high, especially for a small indie developer. You have to have a registered company, and a good deal of demonstrable experience, as well as a strong team with a track record, and a lot of your own investment into the project. Plus the time it takes to prepare everything, which is hard to do when you work full time. And you have to have a head for business and marketing, which is not a core area of focus for most designers. So in that respect it's hard for people coming out of uni, experienced people in full time work, and creative people with great ideas but no business skills.
You attended the GDC Casual Games Summit in 2009. What did you take away from that conference?
(Andrew G.) The big buzz word at the conference was 'social games'. There's not even a Casual Games Summit this year, it's been absorbed by Mobile/Handheld, Independent Games, iPhone Games, and Social & Online Games. I'm going to the Indie stream this year. The Summit though was just something to do between meetings and other networking events. I was pitching Jolly Rover and making new connections on the show floor and at the many parties that run all through GDC. Just being at GDC opens doors for so many chance meetings with some of the most important people in the industry, and allows strengthening of relationships between existing partners. I spent a lot of time at the publisher PlayFirst, when we were finishing Emerald City Confidential, I then went on to work directly with them on Avenue Flo and now I'm working with them on another original adventure game I pitched to them mid 2009.
You've developed a few indie and commercial games so far. What was the reasoning behind the decision to focus on point and click graphic adventure games? Did you have any influences from the old LucasArts or Sierra style of adventure games?
(Andrew G.) I have a soft spot for point and click adventure, which unfortunately is a niche area at the moment. The LucasArts and Sierra games of the early 90's were a big influence, particularly the first two in the Monkey Island series, Indiana Jones – Fate of Atlantis, Space Quest, Heroes Quest (Quest For Glory), Day of the Tentacle and Sam and Max. The Legend of Kyrandia and Flight of the Amazon Queen are also two that may be less well known, but still big influences. What I loved about these games was their humour and personality. They really felt like they were made buy a bunch of guys having a laugh. It also felt like you were playing a cartoon, and the dialog was awesome! Not something to be skipped through so you could get to the action. I think guys my age and older are still around, though maybe with less time, and if they loved those kind of game then, they'll still love them now. But I'm also hoping to get a new younger audience, as well as a casual audience, and to that end I've attempted to make the games as accessible as possible
I was against many of the design decisions of the early point and click adventures though. Early adventure games, especially by Sierra, were punishing and unfair. But as Ron Gilbert states, that was 'value' back then. I think LucasArts took a step in the right direction, where you could never die or get stuck, though I do miss the comedic deaths of Space Quest, and hope to integrate that in a future game, but still be fair to the player.
In my adventures I want them to be as accessible as casual games are now, but not dumb down the experience for the player. I cite the example of Fable 2 that had the glowing trail to each quest, lets you concentrate on having fun, rather than getting lost.
Can you tell us about your recently announced adventure game, Jolly Rover?
(Andrew G.) It's hard not to revert to my practised marketing spiel here =0). Jolly Rover is a light-hearted swashbuckling 2D point and click adventure game in a pirate setting. It follows the story of young Gaius James Rover across 3 wild tropical islands as he attempts to fulfil his dream of starting a circus, hampered only by pirates, villains, voodoo, love and a considerable lack of loot. Oh, and did I mention the characters are all dogs? They're dogs. Scurvy dogs, yarr!
My biggest fear with Jolly Rover is that people will see it and instantly dismiss it as a Monkey Island rip of. And while I can't deny it was an influence, it's more than that, a unique story in its own right. Seasoned adventure game players will no doubt pick up references to many old adventure games, especially from the games mentioned above. The timing of the Monkey Island Special Edition and the new Monkey island series by TellTale was more than a surprise. I had already submitted my proposal to Film Vic, after unsuccessfully pitching it to several casual publishers at GDC earlier in the year. This idea had been kicking around since about 2004 because I thought it had been long enough since we had a good pirate adventure and I wanted another one. Though if I had the chance now, I probably wouldn't be pitching a pirate adventure, but then... oh ho, that's another story.
You've been developing and publishing for the PC/Mac. What services are you using for distribution? Any plans on developing for other DLC markets? (iPhone, Xbox Live etc).
(Andrew G.) I sort of fell into developing using our current engine. It's the PlayGround engine, which is a free engine developed by PlayFirst for casual games, and it has another layer on top called MyQuest by Dan Filner. MyQuest is a specialised adventure game creation layer, which I licence of Dan. The beauty of this is, I spend the bulk of my time making the game, which primarily uses lua scripting, rather than dealing with technical issues. I used it on Emerald City Confidential and Avenue Flo, and am becoming a bit of a niche expert on it. This engine targets PC/Mac. Targeting Mac is kinda nice, as it's slightly underserviced for games compared to the PC. The recent adventure games developed using it have done quite well in the Mac market. The underlying engine can also be ported to iPhone, but I have to enter into a discussion with PlayFirst about that.
I plan on distributing mainly via my website, Steam, Greenhouse and BigFish, of course I have plans to go through many other casual web portals
The game has been designed with XBLA like achievements in mind. And the interface has been kept simple enough to be portable. So if I can make enough off the PC/Mac sales I'd consider taking it to XBLA and PSN, but that's a whole other can-o-worms.
Back in 2004 I imagined it would be on DS, and I'd still like to see that.
What's your proudest achievement so far, as an indie developer?
(Andrew G.) Hah, that I'm still around! But seriously, that would have to be Jolly Rover, and this other game I'm working with PlayFirst on. 2 years after going indie, I'm working on exactly the kind of games I always wanted to. And both original titles of my own design! Again, I've probably bitten off more than I can chew, but I'm guessing it will be worth it in the end. I would say "I wish I'd done it sooner", but I probably wouldn't have been able to without the experience I had working for games companies in various roles. I think indie developers that have "done their time" working for bigger companies, approach development differently that people straight out of uni. Not to say there aren't those virtuoso's that have been making games since they were 8. They make games in primary schools now you know!
Do you have any tips and suggestions for others who are considering going independent?
(Andrew G.) Unfortunately, you'll need to know something about business, and marketing yourself; or find someone who does. Man, that would be sweet! Get involved in the IGDA, at least turn up to meetings, and expand your network. It's there you find out about all these grants, rebates, tax incentives and such that allow you to make ends meet in this business. I went to GDC last year and had no idea about the grants I could have got, or the activities the GDAA had planned. I'm in Victoria, which is a good place to be indie in Australia, there is a real sense from the game development community that they want to foster indie game studios. I've just joined the GDAA, which seems bloody expensive for an indie, but they've opened my eyes to all these great things I didn't know about before, that will definitely help me in the future. If you're thinking about joining up, try to get in touch with them first before joining so you can chat about whether it's right for you.
Lastly, it does cost money to be indie, and it's got to come from somewhere. I didn't have the option of moving back home and living rent free, and I am the sole income earner with a young, and growing, family to support. Either you save up so you can support yourself for 6 months, or you find contract work part time while you can work on your indie endeavours at least 30 hours a week. Even with the grant from Film Vic I have to work on a side project to make ends meet, and after the games are done I've got to find more work until I start making a royalty, if any. So yeah it's tough, but if you've got the passion, and can manage to keep moving forward, then I'd say it's worth a shot.
(Souri) A huge thanks to Andrew for his time in answering all our questions. If you'd like to find out more on his games at Brawsome or want to keep up with the latest, here are some handy links!!
Brawsome Website: http://www.brawsome.com.au/
Jolly Rover Website: http://www.brawsome.com.au/JollyRover/
The art for Jolly Rover is being handled through Viskatoons: http://www.viskatoons.com/, who have also invested in the project in addition to Film Vic. Audio is being handled by Lamaic: http://lamaic.com/, run by Jacek Tuschewski, who is currently employed at Torus Games, but freelances on the side.