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  • How Cohabitation Can Jumpstart An Indie Team

    [11.13.12]
    - Morgan Lean, Rohan Harris and Leigh Harris

  • Leigh: Working out of each other's apartments, having your friends work on the bits you don't have the talent to manage, and living off two-minute noodles may help you create the physical product, but doesn't help you get your game in front of QA teams or deal with publishers and distributors. And it certainly won't give you an environment full of people who can find a workaround for that bug you've spent the last week trying to fix yourself.

    Rohan: That's another very important advantage, from my perspective, to co-developing with Epiphany: technical skill. While I had done some amateur game development and modding in the past, most of my development experience was in web applications and database development. Fortunately, my tinkering with game development years ago in DirectX 8 and SDL meant that learning OpenGL and brushing up on my C++ wasn't impossible, but it was difficult. Anyone who says that application development skills are cleanly transferable to game programming skills is having a laugh -- at your expense.

    Having the tech team at a professional and experienced game development studio is nothing to sneeze at. It's one thing to rely on internet forums and maybe a few folks on twitter or IM, but having people in a physical space with you, even just to ask casual questions or sanity-check things like "is this the most efficient way to render this series of objects?" is a blessing worth its weight in figurative compilers.

    For our project, the majority of the programming is done by me. Of course, the bulk of any game's coding is not particularly difficult -- it's mostly data-wrangling, like any other project. So I spent the hours and hours coding a thousand helper routines and data-massaging stuff, and when I (routinely) hit things outside my skill level, I verify the way I'm doing things before turning to Epiphany's main mobile programmer -- resulting in a lot of stubs and temporary routines with big, happy, helping //FIXME: Can you do this for me? comments.

    Between us, when we run into issues, we turn to one of the other coders -- when we had an OpenGL shader issue, for instance, it was great to be able to walk ten paces and talk to Josh, their senior engine programmer, about the problem.

    Needless to say it was solved pretty fast -- and there was no better way to very quickly learn quite a lot about OpenGL ES 2.0 and shaders.

    In fact, there's been no better way in general for me to develop a new skillset. I've never learned so much so fast, and it's never been so enjoyable.


    Morgan: The game also presented us with unique set of gameplay challenges which were just out of reach of our current engines and capabilities, but which we could eagerly tackle. Moreover, I really thought their idea would do well in the iOS market -- it was a combination of gameplay elements which had never been tried before in a market which was entering its adolescence and was ready for new ideas.

    Rohan: We are not the only indie team working with Epiphany, and I doubt we'll be the last -- having a few indie teams working with them alongside their bigger projects is beneficial for the indies, and beneficial for the established development team.

    We couldn't be doing what we're doing without this help, and I hope that other teams around the world are equally lucky in finding supporting companies to help develop their ideas into awesome titles.

    Leigh: If you decide to venture out entirely on your own, you're leaving yourself wide open. If you 'hire' a bunch of people who are working for free and thinking you'll split the costs of it later on, you're exposing yourself massively by not having a distinct, written contract stipulating how much work each person is expected to do and what they're entitled to in return.

    For us, the ability to use the contract between ourselves and Epiphany was a huge boon, as it gave us a template to use as we created similar arrangements with our team members. The cloudy, downright stressful fog of not knowing whether or not that sort of thing is watertight has therefore lifted, and has allowed us to focus more intently on creating the game itself.

    This is what it mostly comes down to for us -- we've been guided in the essentials of starting our own company, while not having to spend the bulk of our time and money on figuring that stuff out for ourselves. Are we beholden to Epiphany as a result? Perhaps, but only in that we're beholden to each other to create a game we can both be proud of which can ship with both our company's names on it. For any aspiring developer looking at trying for a similar arrangement, I'd advise that they consider it an experiment in trust. We're thrilled with our working relationship with Epiphany, and it really depends on the earnest intentions of each party involved.

    Both companies are now eagerly looking forward to our first combined release, at the end of which we'll have the potential to use revenue from the game to look at leasing a couple of desks and making our arrangement with Epiphany a more permanent one.

    [For even more from Leigh Harris and the rest of the team at Flat Earth Games, be sure to check out his recently-launched developer blog on GameCareerGuide's sister site, Gamasutra.]

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