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Gameful Art

Interview with Dave Taylor by Jolene Spry

Jolene: Game development requires some insane schedules sometimes.  How often are you sleeping under your desk these days?

Dave : Not at all.  I'm 37, can't handle that anymore, more board room material now than developer superhero.  I've got friends doing this, but it's usually because they bit off more than they can chew, refuse to cut a feature, or didn't delegate properly.  But more often than not, it's because they think it'll keep them from going broke or getting fired, which is usually not true.

ProFX Stairs Painting

Jolene: Do you think the downsizing of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) will have a major impact on the industry?

Dave : Capitalism abhors a supply vacuum, and if there's a need for an E3 more like the last, it will be reborn, if not in the US, then somewhere else.

I see this new invite-only version they're doing in Santa Monica as a natural stratification of the game industry.  It's the new Oscars, and not everyone can get into that show, but that doesn't mean anything to indie filmmakers who are still quite merrily putting out great films and making some impressive bank. While at the same time, the really big game companies will probably enjoy the improved signal-to-noise ratio.  DICE is a more exclusive conference, and though it lacks diversity, it's definitely higher quality in some ways.

Totally similar with games.  In fact, increasingly, you don't even need game publishers anymore.  Don't get me wrong. Publishers are awesome if the deal terms are good, you got assigned a good producer, and marketing is really behind your product. Although oftentimes, it's easier to make all those stars align by brewing your own with angel/corporate funding, clever co-marketing, and hiring your own PR and marketing firms.  In fact, a mistake I see a lot of developers making is trying to make a game right out of the gate that only a publisher could fund, instead of making a smaller game designed to polish the core gameplay mechanics, that they could release without a publisher, which if good, should proceed to infect the minds of people inside the publishers, so that publishers call the developer, instead of the other way around.

With all these options, why go to E3?  If you want to meet with a publisher, just go visit them.  Don't get lost in the noise of 100's pitching in the space of a few days.  If you want the press to see it, hook up with a PR firm.  It costs between $2k-$5k/mo, but if it's a good firm, it's really worthwhile.  If you want the fans to see it, send copies to the big bloggers.

Jolene: Do you own an Xbox 360, PS3, Wii or all?

Dave : Actually, none.  I work at home much of the time, and if they were sitting around here, I wouldn't get anything done.  I had my cable TV disconnected for the same reason.  I visit peeps to catch up and drop sample them.  I really like Wii and the 360.

Jolene: How often do you play video games?
What are you playing the most right now?

Dave : I'm currently playing the Supreme Commander beta.  I'm a huge RTS fan, and to RTS fans, this is the Second Coming of Total Annihilation, which a lot of us felt was the height of the RTS genre.  Much of the core team from TA, similar gameplay mechanics, and tons and tons of units that do the right thing automatically instead of requiring "micro".  I play a few games of that every day.

I'm also a huge fan of DotA Allstars, which is a mod for Warcraft III, but mod really doesn't do it justice.  This thing is not only a whole new game but a completely new genre, and it's insanely polished due to the inhuman efforts of its dedicated author, IceFrog.  It features over 70 different character classes, each with 4 radically different powers, and yet through tons and tons of testing and feedback and iteration, it has become this perfectly balanced piece of art.  I like to call it the "first derivative" of an RTS, because the base is already built, the armies auto-spawn and auto-path to one of 3 front lines, and you only control one character on a team of 5, and the team tactics are everything.

Robo Blitz

Jolene: Outside of gaming, where else do you draw inspiration from?

Dave : You know what.  I have no idea.
Stuff pops into my head as if out of nowhere, and I usually can't trace it back to anything.
      A lot of the good stuff comes from brainstorming with people, where their ideas make my ideas bigger and better, and then we circle in on a monster of an idea that works on every level, including gameplay, art direction, sound, marketing, and business.

I avidly read slashdot and Google news every day, Penny Arcade, and I derive a lot of satisfaction from chatting with other game developers.  I'm sure all this stuff is having an effect on me, but it's mostly subconscious.

Jolene: What’s the best part of your day?

Dave : I never know until the end of the day.  Yesterday, it was a recharging visit to Naomi Mercer's house.  I'm guessing this interview will be the best part of today, but it's up against a mean bowl of bowtie pasta with bacon bits that my neighbor Zach Ashton just brought over.

Jolene: What’s your advice to anyone trying to break into the industry?

Dave : I'd recommend they contact me or Justin Lassen.  I am not a believer in generic advice.  It depends very much on the individual's goals, superpowers, contacts (particularly outside the game industry), and finances.

More on Dave Taylor

Dave Taylor Dave Taylor received a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas, at Austin in 1993. After university, Dave helped id Software program both Doom and Quake. Dave funded Crack, as well as having designed and produced Abuse, a 2D scroller, while still at id, then leaving shortly after Abuse's retail re-release. Abuse made a lot of money, but Dave spent the money on a title too ambitious called Golgotha, which wasn't finished. Despite crazy lucrative game industry job offers, Dave contracted the CPU design bug and left games to work on the Crusoe processor at Transmeta. Transmeta started talking about a product it wasn't manufacturing and then IPO'd.  Upon which, Dave started game design and production company Carbon6 with American McGee. Dave went on to design and produce Spy Kids Challenger for the GBA, eventually leaving Carbon6 to pursue a solo career in helping people. Transmeta is fully recovered from talking disease, btw, and making damn neat product now!  

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