Like most hobbyist game designers, I was raised on games practically since birth. My first Super Nintendo sparked in me a passion for really good games and game companies, so I was elated when local game developer Minicore Studios invited me to talk about their games.
“It started out as an experiment, really,” said John Warren, CEO of Minicore Studios. “I wanted to see if it was possible to sustain a video game company that makes the kinds of games I like to play.”
Minicore Studios is composed of a small team of developers, furiously programming away in an office off of Burnet Street. Amid the click of keyboards, they sat me down and explained what it was like to be a small game studio in Austin today.
Warren continued, “I said let’s see where this takes us. We started making artfully crafted games in the bedroom in my apartment, in November of 2011.”
Video Games in Austin
Ask about the game development scene in Austin, and you’ll probably get one of two responses. You’ll be told that Austin is the greatest place to be a game developer, or that Austin is filled with scorned developers who moved here with stars in their eyes.
So which is it? Do some Googling, and you’ll see that giant game companies like Bioware and Blizzard have begun operating out of Austin. Massive companies like these bring a lot of attention to the city. One of the “Best Games of 2011,” Dishonored by Arkane Studios, was developed in Austin.
Yet, go to a gaming meetup, and you’re likely to meet more than a handful of out-of-work developers who have few good words for the big companies and the fame that has come to the city.
How Minicore Stays Afloat
“You can’t move to Austin to make games unless you are willing to bootstrap and work hard,” said Minicore’s Marketing Director, Shelley Smith. “There are a lot of booms and busts in this industry, and not a lot of security. You can’t show up expecting to work for a big company.”
Minicore began by launching its first game, Tanks for the Memories, right out of the gate. Like many new game studios, the team found out that they may have bitten off more than they could chew right away.
“There isn’t a whole lot of difference between professional game developers and hobbyists,” said Warren. “Just go out there and make games. We lovingly refer to Tanks as our ‘test case’ at this point. We made a lot of mistakes. We weren’t exactly ready to take on that complex of a project.”
“A lot of first games are like that, though,” Smith finished. “You are going mess up and learn a lot. On average, it takes about three or four good games under your belt before things start rolling smoothly.”
The Next Step
It was obvious that all of the Minicore team members are the types of people who can carry on through adversity. Despite their lackluster first game, they took note of its flaws and began designing their next game, Tumblewords. It’s a completely different type of game than Tanks for the Memories, and it was intriguing to hear them talk about why they chose to make it.
“It was clear what we messed up on,” Warren said. “Tumblewords is much more organic and polished. It’s totally worth the money. We collaborated with a local board game prototyper, Jonathan Leistiko. We talked, and eventually came up with this idea for a mixture of Tetris and Scrabble. We loved the concept, and immediately began using all of the knowledge we gained through Tanks to make this game really stand out.”
Minicore Studios is currently working on their third game release, Laika Believes. This game is shaping up to be a novel project as well. I am excited to see where it goes.
I left my intervew with Minocore Studios with a bit more wisdom about game development in Austin, Texas. This city may not be the be-all, end-all of cities for gaming, but it is filled with talent and ideas waiting to be brought to life. I also learned some practical advice about making games. It is a process, not an event. Every game published offers new insight into what makes good games.
How do you feel about the gaming boom in Austin?
Photos courtesy of Minicore Studios, Stuart Seeger, and the Vancouver Film School.