So you want to make games Eh?

I get asked this question a lot, so I decided to write a post and link it if someone asked again. It’s generally one of these variations:

“How do I join the video game industry?”

“I love playing games and want to make them! How do I start?”

“How can I get a job in a video game company?”


With my class at Backstage Pass

The game industry is made up of several kinds of ‘Outfits’. There are large companies with studios in different countries that employ thousands, medium-sized ones that have 20-100 employees as well as Indies that consist of a few people working together to make games.

Some of these outfits work on client projects; that is, they make games for other people; also known as outsourcing. This is a reliable source of revenue and pays the bills, so to speak. Some outfits only make their own games; that is, they conceive, create and release games and live on the revenue thus generated. This is comparatively risky, as there is no assurance of when a new game will be completed satisfactorily or how much money it will make.

Others such as my own outfit Roach Interactive, do a mix of the two. We work on client projects as well as make and release our own games in the mobile space. It’s a simple strategy that helps us to pay the bills while making the kind of games that we can be happy about.

The important thing to understand here is:

“The only way to learn how to make games is ACTUALLY MAKE THEM”.

This means that theory and textbooks and lessons have a rather limited scope in teaching game creation. It is very practical and “Just Do It” based learning, so any path that you choose to learn how to make games must involve actually making them.

That said, it definitely helps to have a strong base in the theory of game design, art and programming. A good mentor and/or experienced instructor (with actual industry experience) can make a big difference in the time it takes to figure things out.

I’d say that there are generally two paths to being a professional game maker-a formalized education followed by work experience, or jumping straight in and starting to make games. A lot depends on your circumstances and background; if you already know some art and/or programming through school or your work, that will make things easier. However, remember that you will need to make at least one buggy, unpolished game that you may be embarrassed to show after a few years.

A formalized game development training course can be anywhere from six months to four years, and the fees can vary from a couple of thousand to a hundred thousand dollars. A good training course involves theory as well as project training, where students form teams and create their own games in consultation with mentors and/or instructors. At the end, students graduate with at least one game title to their name.

If you can afford the time and money, I would definitely recommend some form of formalized education, as it helps to build a strong skill base and establishes an invaluable network of peers and mentors. It takes away a considerable chunk of trial-and-error from your first few projects. I studied game design at VFS, and I now realize that one year of education and training taught me what I would have taken three to five years to learn otherwise. It was a heavy financial burden though, and one that I still bear.


Talking about Level Design to a student at BSP

If your circumstances do not allow you to join a course of study, then by all means jump right in. This is a great time for making video games, as the technical and financial barrier to creating games has recently become very, very low. This is good as well as bad news. It means that almost everyone can (and is) making a video game, so the world of video games is getting very crowded. However, most of these games are of a rather low quality that betrays the unprofessional game development process behind them.

Even if you do plan to set up your own game making outfit or become a solo developer, a basic education in making games will help a lot.

Game making is collaborative in nature and whether you wish to be a designer, programmer or artist, it really helps to understand the nature of the work of the remainder of the team. Try to be as versatile as possible; a programmer that can use image editing software like Photoshop, dabble in 3D modelling software like Blender as well as be part of a strong design feedback loop is worth a lot to any development team.

The best place to develop this kind of versatility is a small, highly motivated team, such as an Indie outfit. Typically, everyone helps out with design and nobody is excluded from any part of the game development process. The whole team needs to pull hard together to build a high quality game with limited resources, and the skills acquired in this kind of creative environment are very valuable. Moreover, it is a high-risk creative environment and ideas/concepts are edgier and more radical. Unfortunately, it also means that your paycheck (if there is one at all) is not going to be very secure. It’s a great ride, creatively speaking, but It may not be a dependable way to pay your bills.

Larger companies are comparatively low-risk creative environments. Large teams mean that you will probably be a small part of a large process. There is scope there to learn structured game development processes (and politics!) as well as gather experience in newer areas of the game making process such as Analytics and Marketing as well as really understand the QA (Quality Assurance) process. All of these are valuable skills too.

A good way to start (like I did) is as an Intern. I worked for quite a while in Piranha Games, Vancouver as a QA Intern. I would (without pay) work Monday to Friday from 10 to 5, testing games. I actually helped to set up a QA system where none existed, and learned how a studio functions. I made some good friends there and my work there helped me to get my first job as game designer at Gameloft. It may sound like exploitation now, but I was actually quite happy doing the work.


An early conceptualization sketch for Bird of Light

Some outfits welcome interns, and even pay a decent stipend. Others can be persuaded to take on a new team member who is wiling to work for little or no money.

The last option is to start your own outfit without any kind of education or work experience. This could work too, but you will need the heart of a Lion (or Lioness). To make good games you’re going to need a team, and getting one together could take years, like it did for me. This particular journey needs a post all of its own, that I aim to write sometime soon.

A very important factor is the development of a work portfolio. Start a blog, post links to your projects, sketches, renders. Write a game review without worrying about how it’s going to sound. Go to game jams, make something. Post it on Facebook developer groups and ignore the trolls. Look for genuine feedback for your work without being greedy for praise. Strive to be honest, sincere and earnest. You’ll go far.




Shame and game making

This is a sensitive issue, and one that requires a degree of introspection and empathy to get to the bottom of.

To really engage with the art / science / profession / hobby of making games, it is important to understand one’s relationship with the medium.

Dedicated game makers, for the most part, are players first and creators second. We make games because we are devoted to the medium as players and want to create what we miss. I understand that subconsciously, I want to fill the gaps and perhaps take the medium where I want it to go. This is a consuming process, one that demands all.

A game maker experiences a variety of emotions in this process. There’s the Euphoria of conceptualization, the Pain of scoping, the Exhausting yet strangely Fulfilling grind of development, and the Fear of failure. There’s another that we don’t talk much about-Shame.

It comes from several sources.

1. I don’t have a Real Job

We live outside the mainstream, particularly in environments where game development isn’t as accepted as a ‘Real’ profession. There’s the obvious question-

“Making video games! That’s cool, but is it really something that you can build a life around?”

We also ask ourselves this question pretty often, particularly Indies. The video game industry has been in existence for 30-40 years in the West, particularly North America, but it’s barely been five years or so since the first Game development jobs started popping up on job portals in my home country, India. Game development isn’t a sought after profession because salaries are low compared to say, a job as a software developer with a big-name MNC like Microsoft. There isn’t much awareness of the fact that you can actually earn a living making games.


Moreover, Games are Play! You can’t really call creating Fun a job, right? 

This means that we live in the shadows of our contemporaries in the software industry. Parents and friends understand that we’re following our dreams and all that, but sigh inwardly hoping that one day we’ll snap out of it and find Real Work.

This causes shame. It’s (mostly) subconscious, but it exists. Shame creates self-doubt, hesitation and checks ambition. We are social creatures, and the approval of our family and peers matters to us whether we choose to admit it or not.

This is where being part of a community helps. The rise of social media has enabled developers from all over the world get together, talk, empathize and discuss their art.

This is a great group that I’m part of on Facebook: Indie Game Developers

Apart from online communities, local meetups of Indie (or not) developers are great to hang out with others like us and understand that we’re not alone in facing the problems that we do.

2. I’m not making ‘Real Games’.

I see this a lot. Most kids who get into game development are hardcore PC/Console gamers who want to be a part of making the kinds of games they play. It’s natural to want to do so, but more often than not they find that there are few jobs available in the PC/Console development space for beginners, particularly in an emerging game development environment. This is mostly due to the fact that outside of Indies, very few companies actually make from-scratch games for PC or Console in India.

It is a common perception among players of Hardcore games that the games they play are the ‘Real’ games, and not mobile games. Mobile game development has a low barrier to entry, technically and financially, but good mobile games are by no means easy to make. Mobile is arguably the most innovative space in game development today.

I would argue that mobile is a great place to start making games, as one needs to create a much leaner, cleaner core gameplay experience without the use of high-end graphics or audio. They are a great way of reaching a worldwide audience, honing one’s skill and gaining experience.

To make good games for mobile, one needs to think mobile and play games on mobile.

Playing and analyzing a variety of games is crucial to understand your platform of choice. As a designer , you need to accept and internalize the fact that you’re making a game for mobile, and do away with any peer-induced guilt or shame that gets in the way of making a great game.


It took me a while to wrap my head around this reality. The first Indie project I started working on was a PC game, and was so hopelessly ambitious that I chuckle thinking about it now. After deciding to switch to mobile, the first project I started to work on collapsed, partly due to a lack of understanding of the mobile platform it was meant for (read my analysis here) and after some serious heartburn and introspection, I made StarTrail, a first tenuous step into mobile game development. Now, after a year and a half of analysis and design, we are close to completing our second (rather ambitious) game-SuperVeg Girl.

3. I’m not making the games I should be

Soon after completing my game design diploma, I spent a year in a Game designer’s position at a major mobile game studio. There was some design work to be done in the first few months, but after some churn in the company’s priorities that (design work) went away and I was assigned a Producer’s role.

I wasn’t happy, to put it mildly. I resigned after three months to set up my own company and teach. My resignation was triggered by an incident where I met an Indie developer who showed me the game he was working on. He was a bit bedraggled and looked like he hadn’t eaten in a while, but I envied him his creative freedom and was more than a little ashamed at the kind of work that I had been doing for the last year.

Looking back, I realized that even though I hadn’t liked what I was doing at the moment, I had learned a lot. I had understood how a studio functions, how risk-averse large game companies are and how the creative buck gets passed around endlessly. It was an important lesson , primarily in What Not to Do.

I built up a solid list of friends, acquaintances and contacts in the game industry during that time. This has helped me immensely.

In conclusion, It’s not always possible to do away completely shame and embarrassment. You can’t just make feelings go away; all you can do is try to observe them something approaching detachment and understand how they arise and be aware of how they affect you.

The best approach is to create long-term professional goals, be it establishing your own Indie studio or working up to a lead role at a AAA outfit. Treat every job or assignment that comes your way as a specific learning opportunity, master it and move on to the next one. Take the opportunity to create a network of friends and acquaintances in the industry; it will be your greatest professional asset one day.

Try to not pay too much attention to what peers or family think. Making good games is hard, and the process of getting better at it takes time, effort and a sharp awareness. Few outside the industry can understand this, but we know that our process, our love and dedication to what we do, is it’s own reward.

The Difficulty of creating difficulty

This is a tough one, pun unintended. I have struggled with difficulty levels from day one. If you want more proof of this, here’s a dropbox link to my first ever game, made using Flash while at VFS. If you can complete it without restarting from the beginning, I will buy you Dinner. You play as a Vampire Walrus AND a Pirate Octopus….’nuff said.

Count Pengula’s Castle

So if you have read my postmortem of StarTrail, you might have understood my pain of creating and tuning the difficulty level of a game. Ultimately, as a game maker, I need to understand the behavior of my prospective player.

What I do understand is this: There are different kinds of players out there. Some like me, don’t really mind difficulty as long as the game doesn’t make me feel like a fool. On that point, some, like Flappy Bird, DO make me feel like a fool; but the fact that it’s making everyone feel like a fool makes it tolerable.

If you look up Wikipedia for ‘Game difficulty’, the page is quite informative. Here’s a line from that page:

An alternative approach to difficulty levels is catering to players of all abilities at the same time, a technique that has been called “subjective difficulty”. This requires a game to provide multiple solutions or routes, each offering challenges appropriate to players of different skill levels (Super Mario Galaxy, Sonic Generations).

I guess that means that I am adopting the Subjective Difficulty approach while designing SuperVeg Girl. To that end, here are the categories that I’m classifying players into:

a) Super casual: The kind that like a pick-up-and-play experience above all, one with low skill level. They are not really invested in the gameplay and have no Gamer Ego to speak of. They will abandon a game at the slightest sign of difficulty.

I don’t have much hope of retaining these players beyond the third level (that’s where the difficulty level has a spike).

b) HardCurious casual: These are casual players that have a secret, dormant Gamer Ego. Like my Dad. He never plays games, but he really got into Angry Birds when it first came out. Lure them in with something that they like, like graphics or sound, and before they know it, they’re swearing at their smartphone in the cockpit while cruising at 30, 000 feet.

I like this kind of player. I’d like to think that a sizable percentage would stay and play. To help keep this kind of player, we have a comic strip in the game that reveals the story, as it were, while the game progresses.

c) Faux-Hardcore: These are the ones that think they’re hardcore, but they’re really not. They revel in progress in a game for it’s own sake, without exploring the game or it’s mechanics in any depth. The end of a level, or the game, holds more attraction than the process of getting there.

I hope to keep these players engaged for a decent amount of time; it’s the reason I have a SpeedRun badge in each level. Here’s how it works: There are three levels of achievement in each level, signified by the following badges:

The SpeedRunner

Medal speedrun

The SpeedRun badge is awarded for picking up all the Eggs in a level. In the screenshot below, you can see the level with the positions of all the eggs and key marked clearly. You can also see the player start position and direction (red arrowhead) and the castle that the player needs to go to. There are three bridge tiles available to be placed.


In the GIF below, you can see the path of the SpeedRun as a white dotted line. The player needs to find and pick up the key and head straight to the castle. The bridge tiles need to be placed in a way to get to the castle ASAP. To get the SpeedRun badge, the player does not need to pick up any of the eggs in the level.


d) SemiHardcore: These players enjoy a challenge. They like to test all the mechanics of a game and explore the levels. To keep them playing, the game needs to constantly throw out new, creative and (sometimes progressively harder) challenges. They like to show off their progress, but that’s not the point of playing. I’m kind of like this, depending on the game I’m playing.

For this kind of player, we created

The Explorer


The explorer badge is awarded to a player who, finds and collects all the eggs in a level. There’s no time limit; she/he just has to get all of them. Picking up each egg in a level presents a challenge unique to that egg; I’ve tried really to keep the collection of each egg in the game at least slightly different from the others. It’s been a big creative challenge for me, and I hope I have managed to some extent.

e) Hardcore casual: This is the kind of player that loves challenging games but only plays mobile games, due to a lack of time- someone exactly like me. If he/she finds a game they like, they explore everything and complete every single objective. For this kind of player, there’s

The BossRunner


To get the BossRun badge, the player needs to pick up all the eggs in the quickest possible time. This means that the bridge tiles need to be placed to find the shortest path to the castle via picking up the key, and there is no time for mistakes. If the player mistimes a jump to pick up an egg, mistimes it and turns around to try it again, it’s probably too late.

This can be seen in the screenshot below showing the same level as in the SpeedRun, where the placement of the bridge tiles is different.


Lessons from StarTrail

It has now been one year and four months since StarTrail went live on the App Store. In this post, I will deconstruct my process of releasing a game and trying to make some money from it.

1. Marketing a game (with no marketing budget) is Ridiculous Hard.

m-man_with_empty_pockets I had absolutely no idea where to start marketing my game. One good move I made was to make a trailer– this took me weeks. I used Adobe Premiere, which I had last used four years ago in VFS and had all but forgotten- I needed to reconstructed it about a dozen times until I was happy with the result. I created a Facebook page, which has 103 likes after almost a year and a half- most of the likes are from my friends and family. I launched the game at $0.99, with no clue as to how it would go. My original choice was freemium with IAPs, but there was nobody on the team who could code that. My marketing budget was $0.00, so I had to write a gazillion emails, ALL of which went unheeded, to dozens of review sites. I posted in every form I could find on the internet, but the best one turned out to be Touch Arcade. I got 7,000 to 8,000 views on that one side alone. My advice to anyone wanting to market a game without money would be- post on forums! It’s free and you get some good feedback on the game. I got into a bit of trouble because I bumped my thread a fair amount-your thread drops into nothingness unless people keep commenting! A month after launch, StarTrail got it’s first and only review on 148 Apps.  I was pleasantly surprised at the 3.5/5 rating and some kind words that came my way. The review called out the game on its weakness, namely lack of depth, but I was still pretty happy.

 2. Feedback and updates are super important

I was happy whenever anyone gave me feedback on the game, positive or negative. The most illuminating one was on the Touch Arcade Forum, where the principal weakness of the game was exposed- but more on that later. On the basis of this and a lot of other feedback, I started to work on updating the game. New art assets were paid for and created, and StarTrail 1.2 was 50% ready when the programmer informed me that he would no longer be available to work on the game as he had other new projects. It was fair enough, but it put paid to any plans of making the game better. I was bitter at myself, more than anything, for my lack of programming abilities.

3. Once your Free, there’s no going back

To boost sales a week or ten days after release, I decided to make the game free for the Thanksgiving weekend. Downloads saw a huge spike that day, but then once I made the game paid again…Zero. Non. Nada. I had no choice but to make it free again- a well-learned lesson on the economics of the App Store. sales

4. The same design mistakes again

I always make games too hard. It was the case with Count Pengula’s Castle, where the first level was harder than it should have been, and it was the same here. The comment on the Touch Arcade Forum was: “I like the game, the concept (matching game disguised as an endless runner) works well and the controls are responsive. But it’s so frustratingly difficult, I keep losing over and over, often before even getting enough points for a single credit. Please consider making the start easier or adding difficulty levels.” During early Beta testing, I could tell that the game had a very sharp learning curve. One wrong pickup and the spaceship exploded quite spectacularly and loudly in the player’s face, and this could happen five seconds into the game. You had to be something of a Masochist to continue, but the fact that more than a hundred people (as seen on the leaderboard) actually continued told me that the gameplay was solid.

My instinct as a designer told me that this was the case early on, but changing things was going to be expensive time-wise and I thought that I couldn’t afford it. It was a fatal mistake for this particular platform and audience.

Another factor that may have worked against the game was the theme. Space is not a very bright and colorful place, and the visuals of the game were perhaps too dark to attract a younger audience.

5. Number of updates: Zero

The game needed to be updated, fast. I decided to add a difficulty mode where you could choose the level of difficulty. In the easier mode, the objects would be spawned at longer intervals and the boost could be activated much faster, with lesser number of energy spheres.

As the game was now free, I also needed to integrate ads into it so I could at least make some money from it.

I even paid the artist to complete the artwork for the new feature, and at the last moment: The Programmer Left.

So nothing. No updates, No ad integration.


It has been two years and StarTrail has close to 2000 downloads. I successfully released a quality game on the App Store and engaged with the universe of video games. People played, some(most) Rage Quit but a few stayed and enjoyed it. I began to understand how mobile games are marketed, I gained lots of self-confidence and some degree of recognition and respect from my peers.

Largely on the basis of this project, I engaged with schools and managed to obtain contracts to conduct short courses on game development. That in turn led me to start a Creative Software club in other schools.

So, even though I earned $12.84 on the App Store, I gained a lot more.

The making of StarTrail

I hear this all the time from people (who don’t make games): “I’ve got a great story for a game!”. This supposes that the story (or theme or fiction, as you will) is central to a video game. It’s usually not. In most Agon/Alea dominant games the fiction of the game world is secondary to the gameplay and strong, interesting mechanics.


The first name we thought up for StarTrail was actually StarMiner. Actually, it was Shape Shifter, which was kind of a working title. Once we saw that the prototype was reasonably compelling, we started thinking of the fiction/game world. This was important because we had to start creating art assets. For 2D art, I managed to rope in Sanjay, who used to work with me at Gameloft (and still did!) I didn’t know him well back then, and I remembered that he was the guy always looking at pictures of semi-naked women on the Internet. It turns out that was a study of female anatomy – he’s not like that at all.

In case you missed it, here’s the release trailer of StarTrail:


In this post, I will try to reflect upon a few design choices that were made while making the game.



Here’s a mockup of the screen that I made during the Pre-production:


And here’s a screenshot from the actual finished game:

2012-10-28 11.19.09

To illustrate the iterative design process, I’m going to focus on one example where we changed our Power-Up system during early production. In the mockup screen above, you will see a HUD to the right with “Power UP” on top, with a vertical series of symbols. This was the initial system of activating the Power-Up (during the Power-Up, the spaceship would speed up to twice the speed and be able to pick up all objects irrespective of shape or color).

This system required the player to look at the sequence of objects and colors indicated on the HUD and pick up the exact same sequence to activate the Power-Up. As soon as one object in the sequence was picked up, it would be greyed out indicating the remaining ones that were needed to complete the sequence. If the player picked up anything out of sequence, the sequence would reset.

This did not work, for reasons that now seem obvious. Playing the game (well) required the player to keep her eyes glued to the scene, picking up objects that got larger with time. There was not even a split second to spare, to divert one’s eyes to another part of the screen and actually memorize a sequence of objects and colors. Doing so meant….well, death. During play-testing, players simply ignored the bar to the right and continued picking up objects in sequence. The Power-Up had become an unused accessory.

Here’s an early in-game screenshot with the “Power-Up Combo” visible to the right. The left sequence shows the current sequence of objects picked up.


Once I realized that this was not working well (at all!!), I needed to come up with an alternative way to activate the Power-Up without taking ones eyes off the screen. After some brainstorming with the team, I figured that one way would be to make a particular object the ‘fuel’ for the Power-Up, and that would logically be the ‘Energy Spheres’. We implemented the present system of charging up the Power Bar using the energy spheres, and that worked quite well!!

Powerup full

Above, the Power-Up bar is ‘full’ and the round button at the bottom is ‘flashing’, inviting the player to tap it and unleash the Power Up.

I wanted some degree of depth and replay ability to the game, and as that’s not easy to achieve in an endless runner (or flyer!). This was done by:

1. The PowerUp, which is activated by filling the PowerUp bar, which in turn needs energy spheres.

2. An upgrade purchase system for the spaceship that rewards extended play…

Upgrade system

3. A Pickup that temporarily enhances the abilities/performance of the spaceship….

I introduced a ‘Mystery Box’ that spawned every 1200 points or so, which gave the player some or the other temporary ability like a shield, or instant PowerUp.

We also went through a few iterations of our HUD. I now knew that the player would almost never look away from the trail of objects on the screen towards another element like the score or fuel gauge. I therefore decided to group together as much information as possible in one place-the top-right hand corner of the screen. Here are some options that we were offered by Sanjay:

  HUD options

HUD option

A Game is born

So, brushing aside past failures, I embarked on a new project. I announced to my diploma class (consisting of all of four students) at BSP that we would be making a game.

The scope of the project:

1. A small, simple game that we would release for free on iOS and maybe Android as well.

2. The environment would be 3D and be art-light. I had realized from past experience that making a game with 2D art (sprites) was quite difficult with the resources I had.

3. We were looking at a production cycle of approximately three-four months, apart from pre-production and marketing.

4. We would be using Unity 3D.

After this, we spent a week or so pitching various game ideas, and we narrowed it down to three that we liked best. I promised to make concept documents for all three and we dispersed for the weekend.

On Monday Satish, one of my students, came up with this prototype.

It was the concept that we had liked best, and Satish had prototyped it over the weekend….! It was tentatively called ShapeShifter, and was based on collecting objects of different shapes and colors in sequence. I called it the UNO mechanic, after the popular card game. The player would move left and right across the tracks(trails?) colliding with, and avoiding objects. It would be possible to ‘levitate’ above the trails, but this would be an ability limited by time and usage.

It was essentially a high-scoring ‘Free-runner’ where the game got faster and faster till you died; the environment (pickups/objects) would be dynamically created. There would be a lack of depth in gameplay but as my wife says, “That’s what’s we have for dinner.” If we could pull this much off, it would be a miracle.

The important thing was that we had a prototype with a fun core mechanic. Now we needed to add a universe, some fiction and as much depth as possible.

The Anatomy of Fun

Teaching/mentoring part-time at a game college is an interesting gig, to say the least. I have complete freedom when it comes to curriculum-with the result that I’ve put together lectures based on what I’ve learned. You’d be surprised at what you end up learning about a subject when you need to teach it. Teaching means that I have to prepare, which in turn involves reading, analysis and ‘research’, which mostly means that I have to take out time to keep track of what new and interesting games are out there.

To analyze a game, I break it up into it’s components, and I’m not speaking as a designer here but as a player. Why was that particular game fun but not that other one? Players are individuals with differing personalities and preferences, and everyone’s idea of fun will be slightly different; but is there a ‘kind of fun’ that turns specific players on? I think there is.

In the beginning of each course, I teach students the Four Fundamental Categories of Play, as explained by Roger Callois in his 1961 book Man, Play and Games or as I like to call them the




Competitive play, the expression of skill. A game where the player’s hand-eye coordination, balance or even mental prowess is all that matters. A first-person shooter would be almost purely Agonistic. So would Chess. Statistically a male-dominated trait, this taps into the primal Alpha instinct of getting ahead by force. Most games have a reasonable dose of Agon, casual games admittedly less so. Some examples of Agon-dominated games:



Super Meat Boy

The game we were making would definitely be skill-based.


Chance-based play, the play of luck. Snakes and Ladders would be an example of a game that is won or lost purely on the basis of chance. The slot machine, if you could call it a game, would be a purely Aleatory game. Many games seem to be biased towards luck, such as the draw of cards at Poker or Teen Patti, or even the roll of dice in a board game like  Settlers of Catan- but one finds that luck can take you only so far, and a skilled player always beats the lucky one because luck runs out, skill and experience adds up. Here’s a video of a slots game for iOS:

Slots Casino 

I wanted to incorporate some degree of luck into the game as well.


Role-playing, make-believe. The player(s) enters the Magic Circle, the game universe. Mary the pastry chef is now Meradeth, the Half-Elf leading a formidable troupe of legendary warriors. Mimicry affords players release from their lives and environment; if one can craft one’s own character-so much the better! It is the fiction that leads the way, that makes the player identify with her/his character and immerses the player in the game. Here are some Mimicry-heavy games:

Fable III

Grand Theft Auto V (Warning: bad language!)

We had a game mechanic, now we needed to weave a fiction and create a world around it.


This is the physical sensation of vertigo. If you’ve ever been on a roller coaster or any kind of amusement park ride, this is the kind of fun you’re paying for. It’s what makes a racing game fun, that maintenance of delicate control in a world rushing past at high speed. This kind of Fun comes from moving really fast in real life, or in a game world. Here are a few examples:


Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit


It is said that to realize the world one has to realize the self :).

I’ve been analyzing myself as a player to figure out what I like and why, because as a game-maker I need to understand the player for whom I am creating a game.

I (and I realized this while I was thinking about, and writing, this post) am something of a skill-grinder. If I like a game, however hard it is, I will do whatever it takes to get better at it. I’ll die a million miserable deaths but will respawn each time and play that level again just for the pleasure of improving-my hand-eye coordination and figuring out the perfect timing and position for that jump. How it looks matters only up to a point.

I’ve tried (hard) to get ‘into’ RPGs, but nah. Role-playing games, mimicry-heavy with customizable multidimensional characters, beautiful and immersive environments and a strong narrative….nope. Try as I can, I can’t buy into the fantasy or really get involved with the story or character. I don’t really enjoy exploring gorgeous game worlds either.

I’m no gambler, either. At cards, I prefer the deviousness of Bluff (Cheat) to the chance and bluster of Teen Patti.  The last time I went to a casino was in Vancouver. I played the slots for a while, lost twenty bucks and fell asleep on a couch.

I really really like roller-coasters. At Disneyland, I did the Indiana Jones (Backwards!!) ride two times back-to back, and during my fourteen years in the merchant marine I was never seasick.

That makes me an Agon-Illinx type of guy/gamer. There you go.

So what now? Well, I thought I’d make a game for my kind of gamer. Heavy on the skill and vertigo, and light on luck and story. This seemed logical, as my target demographic would be very close to my own tastes.


In 2010 and 2011, I was part of two consecutive game projects that didn’t make it.

The first was a project that I started while still at Gameloft- a TF2-esque team-based online multiplayer game that I still have salted away for when I have a million or two to put into it. The reason it failed? One and only one-Scope. It was (is) a truly awesome game, but way too big for a team of three working part-time. We had put a decent amount of work into it before we went our separate ways. That was…

Lesson #1. The importance of Scope.

The most common mistake, apparently, and one that I repeatedly make. I think that at the root of this mistake lies an ego that refuses to understand that like any other discipline, making video games needs to be learned gradually. You can study about it, you can hear about it, but you’re never going to figure it out ’til you do it. And you have to start small, if you’re doing it on your own or as part of a small team. There is a (subconscious) assumption that “I know how to play it, so I know how to make it”. The scope of the project has to match the resources (time, money, team) and that is easier said than estimated. A thorough risk analysis of any project based on what you know, is always a good idea.

The second project was one that I started with my students. It struck me (and this was by no means an original idea) that I could fulfill my game-making ambitions by involving my students in a project. I would have creative control, a willing and enthusiastic team and I wouldn’t have to pay any salaries or rent or bills. They, in return, would graduate with a live title at the top of their resume- if the game did well I’d even pay them! Win-win for everybody! Right?

Lesson #2: Motivation and Vision.

The concept we came up with was interesting enough. A side-scrolling 2D game with a hot-air balloon that would surf air currents, collecting objects and avoiding enemies. It needed prototyping and proving, but it had the germ of a really good game. We had two good programmers who delivered the prototype on time, but by that time the rest of the team was falling apart. We had six artists with creative differences among them, with the result that there was zero output. Design-wise, we were at a standstill. I would have had to pretty much do all the level design and everything else myself, and also hire somebody to do all the artwork. By the time I got around to deciding to do this, the programmers (also students) had moved on to other jobs. It was 6 months and all we had was a very un-fun prototype on the iPad. I decided to pull the plug.


I hold myself responsible- I wasn’t able to motivate my team or ‘Hold the Vision’, and had delayed some crucial project-saving decisions like hiring a 2D artist to complete the work. There was also too much democracy at work within the team, where I let some crucial (design and otherwise) decisions be made by committee that I should have made on my own. If a team member is showing a lack of commitment, give him/her a chance to improve, even two chances. If there’s still no improvement, fire him/her and either do it yourself or get someone else.

There is a initial euphoric phase in every project cycle when everyone is simultaneously motivated and enthusiastic, and there are phases when this enthusiasm starts to flag. Team members quit or fall sick, a few realize that it’s turning out to be harder or taking longer than they expected, and then the question raises it’s head-“Am I wasting my time?” In my experience, every self-motivated project needs at least one team member to be unreasonably optimistic, or at least seem to be- that guy is usually me, but this time that wasn’t enough.

In the beginning

My first experience of making a game was at Vancouver Film school. I was one of a five-man team, and we took five months or so to make a wacky little side-viewing 2D game using Flash where you control two characters: Wally, the one-eyed Vampire Walrus and Joe, the seven-armed Pirate Octopus. Behold the trailer:


My primary role was level designer, but I also got to write some of the low-level code in AS3 and created most of the the 3D/2D environment assets. It was a wonderful, nerve-wracking, back-breaking yet exhilarating project, the lessons of which are still seared into my mind.Prime among these: Keep The Passion and Mind The Scope.

After graduating from VFS in June 2009, my aim was to find work in the video game industry in Vancouver, a task made very difficult by the fact that I did not have a work visa. While I looked unsuccessfully for a company that would not only be willing to hire me straight out of design school but also make the (extraordinary) effort to sponsor me for a work visa, I put my ‘other’ skills to work trying to make some cash.

First, I thought I’d making my fortune picking blueberries. It’s a thing in BC- you go to a farm and they give you a trough. Pick ripe berries all day, and you get paid by the kg. Turned out that I spent five hours and twenty dollars commuting to the farm and earned thirty dollars picking berries. I decided to seek my millions elsewhere.


I was good writing resumes, so I started by plastering these flyers all over downtown Vancouver and posting ads on Craigslist. I used to meet clients at Starbucks, get their details and make their resumes, cover letters and bios, at $30 a pop. “The Perfect Resume”, I called it.

I was starting to make half-decent money at this when a resume I had written for myself hit the spot.I was ‘hired’ as a QA Intern at Piranha Games. I worked 9 to 5 Monday to Friday, for free, testing a PS3/PC/Xbox NASCAR racing title for four months. It was a good gig, all the same. I got to participate in a live project, participate in scrums and work with some really smart developers. Also, free Coffee, Bagels and Cream Cheese!! The pantry was always well-stocked.

After this, a resume I had posted on caught the eye of some HR folks and I moved back to India to work as game designer at (the now recently deceased) Gameloft Hyderabad, where I handled the the transition from a single-screen mobile phone to the dual-screen Nintendo DSi of these two games:

Crystal Monsters (Nintendo DSi)

Date or Ditch (Nintendo DSi)

I had to re-do most of the screen layouts and figure out what to put on two screens that was previously on one, write some design documentation and make some decisions on graphics updates. Not really the forefront of creativity, but at least it said “Game Designer” on my employee ID. Right after this, the studio stopped doing creative work. After spending six months on Facebook and playing Left for Dead 2, I was shifted into Production (porting). I quit within two months.

“I’ll make my own games”, I said. 

Just before I quit, I’d started teaching game design part-time at Backstage Pass school of gaming. I would teach the Diploma class after work, from 7 to 9PM. It was great, because

(a) I got to interact with students that played waaay more games than I did.

(b) When you teach, you’re also learning- for yourself, and your students; it’s a two-way interaction, and

(c) I now had an alternate source of income. This turned out to be a crucial factor.

The other significant development was that I had decided to start a business of my own in cooperation with a family friend. It had nothing to do with games or even software- I’d supply frozen food to hotels and restaurants. At that time, I imagined that I’d do it for a while- a year or so, and then get into making games full-time. It’s been two years now, and I’m still doing it.

MNR Card-1