Sunday, 10 March 2013

Indie Dev Insight: Whitaker Trebella

It was during 2012 that I first came to learn of Whitaker. Didn't know him from Adam and at this point hadn't released anything but everybody I was following was either talking about him or his unreleased game polymer

I couldn't quite work out why somebody who seemed a relative unknown like myself was getting so much attention.  This was four fold: 

  1. Some notoriety in the industry for doing the music for games such as  Super Stickman Golf
  2. An excellent marketing strategy - see more later on this
  3. A great app in polymer
  4. A thoroughly nice chap
Since then we have exchanged quite a few tweets not least because he was an early adopter of Futile and would very kindly be my sounding board.  If you haven't already follow Whitaker on Twitter not least for his obsession in changing his avatar every week :).

What proceeds is probably one of the most insightful blogs for newbie indie gamers and is the very reason I started my project and indeed this blog to share and have other people share such knowledge. Enjoy!

What got you into writing games?
A couple years ago, I was just starting to get into the world of doing music for games. While I loved it, the more I did it, the more I had the urge to make a game of my own. Unfortunately though, I had absolutely 0% programming experience. I hadn't programmed a day in my life. So I had a lot to learn. More here: http://www.polymerapp.com/ 

What's good and bad about what you do?
 I do music for games and I also create my own games. In some ways this is awesome. Whenever I hit a creative wall with one thing, I can switch over to the other. This gives me a way to sort of leapfrog over each other, always progressing in a different way. At the same time, this can be troublesome. If I'm in the middle of a successful programming run while making my game, I tend to have a very hard time stopping and focusing on music for awhile. The same thing happens in reverse when I'm really into a song I'm composing.

What would you do differently now given what you know from projects completed and experience from the gaming and app market?
It's hard to say what I would do differently in regards to Polymer. I seriously did the best I could with the knowledge I had. Of course, looking back at my code horrifies me now. But at the time, I just did what I could to finish it. I'm trying to be more organized this time around with my new game, but who knows what will happen as it progresses. The one main thing I would have done differently with Polymer was to take out the IAP's that popped up, allowing you to skip the "grinding." This pissed some people off, and I think it's one of the reasons that it wasn't quite as respected in the indie community as it could have been. I'm not against IAP's in any way, but I think the way I implemented them in regards to gameplay could have been handled better (I'm not referring to the purely cosmetic IAP's though). 

What tools do you use.  By this I mean software development kits/engines (Cocos2d, Corona, Unity3D etc), audio packages, art packages.
  • For Polymer: Cocos2d
  • For my next game: Unity and Futile
  • For audio/music: Logic Pro
  • For art: Photoshop
What made you choose these tools over others?
Cocos2d: it seemed like the best option at the time. It was iOS-specific (which was my only target for Polymer). And there were a TON of resources out there. Pretty much any problem I had could be solved by a Google search. Very helpful for a beginning programmer (well, for any programmer for that matter).

Unity and Futile: I really wish I could have made Polymer multi-platform. It's the biggest thing I'm looking forward to with my next game. I'm shooting for PC/Mac/iOS/Android. I feel that I missed out on a big chunk of market because of only focusing on iOS (even though it was the right choice at the time for my skill level). Also, Futile is very similar to Cocos2d in execution so it comes naturally. Finally, I may eventually want to get into 3d games, so making the Unity transition now is a good first step. 

Given you experiences in music what advice could you give to tone deaf indies who want to take a stab at their own music?
I wrote two blog posts about this.


Music theory is super-complicated. Because it seems like second nature to me now, it's easy to forget how difficult it can be to explain. The biggest thing I can recommend for beginners is to *get feedback.* This is true for any new or amateur skill. Getting feedback from pros/teachers is by far the best way to improve your sound and continue on your way to more professional-sounding music.
 
What marketing tactics do you employ?  Forums, twitter, paid PR etc
I wrote a blog post about this too:


I think Twitter was probably the most important thing in all this. I've been building my follower count for years now, trying to make a good reputation in the indie gamedev community. It's really important to talk to other industry professionals, be willing to offer and receive help, and to be patient. As for other PR things, my wife Dana helped me a ton because she's a PR professional. One of the most important things with PR is to have a "story." My story for Polymer was that it was my first game, and I was branching out from doing music. I think this is what helped some people latch onto it, and also be inspired by it (I got a LOT of comments saying it inspired people to finally try to make their own game.) I posted my story (http://www.polymerapp.com/my_story) on Reddit, and it got a lot of attention. I also wrote a press release (with a TON of help from my wife) and reached out to a lot of targeted press contacts who I thought may be interested.
 
What effect do you think free to play has had upon your game design?
Not a lot. I've considered doing F2P, but I don't know if I want to go down that route, especially at this point. F2P is just not part of my brand. I want to make standalone games that you buy once and play. Having said this, I get very annoyed when people associate F2P with being "evil." It's a business decision that works well for many people. It's just not one I want to take at the moment.
 
What resources do you swear by for learning new techniques, getting more from the packages you mentioned above, news etc.  e.g Books (specific titles would be appreciated), forums / websites, social media
There has been a lot in the press recently that app development is going through a gold rush and that the bubble will burst soon.  Do you see it like this?
I don't think the bubble will burst necessarily. But I do think we're entering into a totally different era of app development. It's way harder now to develop a super popular hit because of how inundated the market is. It's getting harder and harder for indies to compete with the big studios, at least when it comes to polish. It's incredibly important, more than ever, to polish your game as much as humanly possible. Make the best possible game you can. I've heard this said before, and I'll paraphrase: for each game, you have one chance. If your game's not 100% ready, don't launch. Making a good game is the most important thing, before anything else. The F2P revolution is also taking over so it will be interesting to see where that leads. 

Do you think app games will eventually kill off Triple A titles as we know them?
 Well, that's a tricky question. I think we may be leading towards a universal solution. I think eventually one app/game will run on all devices and there won't be many console-dependent things anymore. So I don't think apps will "kill" AAA titles, but I think gaming as a whole is going through a major transition. 

What does 2013 have in store for Whitaker?
 I'm currently working on a new game. It's taken me WAY too long to figure out what to do. I've prototyped a ton of things and thrown out a lot of crappy ideas. But I think I've finally settled on something that's gonna be pretty awesome. I've also been working on a lot of music, including the soundtracks for the upcoming Danger Boat, Super Stickman Golf 2, and Nimble Quest. 

Any additional advice you would give for up and coming indie developers?
Make the best game you possibly can. That should be your first goal. Get as many industry pros to look at it as possible. Get BRUTAL feedback. Network at local industry events. Do not settle for less than perfect (well, as perfect as your skills can get you). Use Twitter (correctly!!!). Don't launch until your game is absolutely 100% ready. Be insanely nitpicky about every tiny seemingly unimportant detail. Every single pixel matters. POLISH POLISH POLISH. If you do all these things, marketing your game will be much easier.

Go download Polymer immediately available for both iPhone and iPad!

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