Developer Interviews | Flash

Developer Interview #1 – Terry Paton

Terry Patton in IndiaTerry was kind enough to let me interview him on his inspirations and process in developing Flash games. Interviewing developers is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now and he really came through with some inspiring and thoughtful answers.
I hope you enjoy the interview, and please +1 this if you want to see more in the future.

For those who don’t know you, where are you from and what do you do?
I’m originally from New Zealand, a awesome but small country in the South Pacific, though now I live in Sydney, Australia. I make games using the Flash platform for multiple platforms and so far have made over 100 of them (101 I think is the current count, with #102 coming soon).

How long have you been developing games?
Over 7 years now, possibly 8, can’t quite remember, when I was around the age of 30. When I was 11 years old I tried making a few simple games on the (now ancient) computer I had, but sadly those are lost in time.

Were there any specific consoles or games you played growing up that inspired you to make games?
Yep totally, the ‘ZX Spectrum’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZX_Spectrum) was a HUGE inspiration for me. My mother bought me a computer I could learn to program on instead of the Sega I wanted. I cried in disappointment. Turns out she was totally right in doing so as I soon discovered the games on the machine were incredibly addictive AND I could also learn how to make things myself. This opened up a whole world for me.

Trying to create characters or monsters on screen made me realise that I needed to learn to draw to make those things, eventually leading me to ignore computers and focus on art for several years. Later as life changed, I went through what I can only call a ‘mid-life crisis’ in my late 20’s. I suffered major depression, tried to kill myself and spent a few months in a private physciatric hospital. I won’t go into the reasons for this happening, but my recovery which took several years involved me looking at what I really wanted out of life. I began to look at what I had enjoyed in life, what inspired me, what motivated me. Turns out it was making games (amongst other things). So I began looking for ways to make games, and focusing my energies and attention. It was still several years before I can say I was safely out of the worst of my depression, but it’s something that I always live with. Having a purpose, or something I love to do makes a big difference.

And back to game … Arcade machines and the playstation 1 also had a huge impact on me. Like a movie or a good book that captures your attention and creates a world that you get lost in. Games for me create a world that I can live in, I can say I’ve been to alien planets and fought the scourge of the galaxy, because I have. Creating these worlds, stories and scenarios is very hard work, but satisfying. I’ve enjoyed making things for most of my life, and being able to make things that people can play, enjoy and thank me for is huge.

What does it mean to be an indie game developer? Do you solely make a living off of your own creations, or do you take on client work as well?
To be an Indie developer? For me I think that means making the games I want to, making the decisions good and bad about what goes into a game, how I distribute it etc. Being in control of my own work is hugely important to me, as I tend to refer to full-time work for others as ‘The slave trade’, or ‘making other peoples shit’, I’d rather be making my own ‘shit’. Having worked at a bunch of advertising agencies, responding to client/employer requests has kind of strengthened this opinion.

I wish my games created all my income, they do in part but I definitely need to do client work on a semi-regular basis. I pretty much do enough work to buy me enough time to focus on the next game, then as funds start to dry up again I look for more work. There is an art to creating great games, and it takes practice, a lot of practice. One day I hope to crack a partly mainstream success, but I’ll be happy to be able to live well and pay other people solely from the income of my games.

You create a lot of your own graphics, sounds, etc. What other outlets do you use to acquire assets on such low budgets?
In the past I have created my own assets, or bought stock ones and edited them. This has mostly been from a lack of willing contacts and funds. iStockPhoto has been a huge help to me for assets. As I also worked as a pre-press mac operator (creating packaging, posters, magazine art etc) for about 12 years I have all the photoshop/illustrator (and more) skill I need.
I also learned to draw and paint in my teenage years and those skills are enormous help when developing games.

I also use sketchbooks when developing my games to scribble the ideas and concepts down, I have scans of all these pages in my flickr account here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/terrypaton/collections/72157623562011731/

If your interested, here’s screenshots from all my games:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/terrypaton/sets/72157623541209367/

And here’s a photo collection of some of the art I’ve produced over the years:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/terrypaton/sets/72157618212234516/

Do you typically build and publish your games with the Flash IDE or are they usually straight AS?
I originally used the Flash IDE a lot, then moved to FlashDevelop, then to Flash Builder. I originally coded on the timeline with AS2, but as my knowledge grew I eventually became a pure actionscripter. I still use the Flash IDE to create my assets which I publish into ‘swc’s’ for use with code. I started out using a PC and am solely on Mac.
Currently I am using Flash Builder 4.5.1 as my main weapon of choice.

Do you use any specific frameworks for your games or have you crafted your own set of libraries by now?
Over the years I’ve developed my own framework, through trial an error. I’ve looked at a couple of other frameworks, but when you build something yourself it tends to be quicker to adapt and change. Almost every game I make shares certain elements amongst them all, but then a portion of the game is going to need to be very customised. Performance is often an issue so at times I need to change the structure of my framework to suit. At present I’ve been working on my game ‘Robot Arena’ and setting it up to use the Stage3D accelerated Flare3D engine. This has meant a huge change in my framework, removing a lot of the rendering code I usually have. Not having to write the rendering code has meant an enormous cleanup of old code habits and made things a lot simpler for me. I plan to now focus my games on using Stage3D, perhaps using different rendering engines in the same way I’ve used Flare3D. For me my framework is just a collection of ways to do handle repetitive tasks for every game (screen handling, menus, saved data handling etc) and is flexible to change with every project.

Blitting seems to be the flavor of the week these days. I suspect you’ve been blitting for ages, is it always the way to go?
Yeah I’ve been using blitting for a while, it’s a technique as old as games themselves. I had to find better performance for certain games and that’s where it lead me.

Is it always the way to go? No not at all. Its a great tool in certain types of display and performance, but has its own issues and problems. The right tool for the right job needs to be picked, and that is often determined by experimenting. I experimented a lot with rendering techniques over the years, which means I can fairly quickly decide on a suitable rendering method in my games. Mobile has obviously had a lot of influence here with flash needing greater rendering performance and blitting giving the seemingly best option.

My focus has now turned from blitting which I’ve used a lot, now to Stage3D (or ‘molehill’ as it’s otherwise known). It’s now in a public release and should be coming in the near future. The tests I’ve done show it’s a huge performance leap. The particular techniques I’m currently using for my game Robot Arena use very blitting like techniques, but also like those of the display list. I’m still part way through this learning curve but already I don’t want to return to blitting if I can at all help it. The performance is that great.

You’ve ported a few of your games over to iOS using Air 2.7. What is your overall feeling on the Air to iOS process?
Publishing to iOS with AIR is ridiculously easy, I think Adobe have nailed the process of publishing to multiple platforms and really the hardest part is dealing with code-signing, of which Apple’s has it’s own fairly convoluted approach. Deploying to a device for testing, distribution etc are all very easy. Having been on the beta program and needing to use the command line was total pain, but with the public release of their tool sets it’s almost too easy.
Publishing with AIR 2.7 was the first time I could practically publish my games to iOS as previously performance was unusable for me (with AIR 2.5/2.6) and I’m very happy with both the performance and the publishing.

Do you think you’ll continue to build a lot of mobile games or would you rather develop for the desktop?
Monetising content on the desktop has always been difficult to me, I’ve tried a few different methods – though I’m not great at marketing (to the public) and selling my work. Mobile is a lot easier as there are now app stores that handle a lot of the hassles of desktop (hosting websites, updates, selling tools).

I also think the particular style of games I make is well suited to the semi-casual nature of mobile and tablet game play. BUT and for me this is a big but, I intend to publish for whatever platform I can. I may focus the attention of a game firstly on mobile, but as I use Flash/AIR I can easily publish to multiple platforms with little effort. So if there’s an opportunity to be had I’ll try and take it. I would rather not get locked into one mobile platform or distribution method as technology is constantly changing and todays winners may be tomorrows losers (to put it harshly).

Have you been toying around with any other languages for game development? Like C# or Javascript?
I’ve only briefly looked at different programming platforms and languages, but a while ago I quickly came to the realisation that I don’t want to be a programmer, and the core reason I started using Flash was so I could make games. I learned Flash so that I could bring the games I wanted to make into reality, as Flash still serves that purpose there is little reason for me to change, especially as I have gotten very proficient with it now. I did start looking at Unity3D a while ago, but with Stage3D being introduced into Flash I found I no longer had a reason to continue.

This might seem close minded or limiting my coding skills, but that is exactly the point. I don’t want to be able to work with multiple languages, as I have no reason to. By specialising in Flash I’ve developed work-flows which allow me to produce what I want very quickly.

Also just to add more to the ‘I don’t want to be a programmer’ statement. I want to make games, I greatly enjoy the process of problem solving when coding games, but I don’t want to be held up with barriers of not understanding the tools that I’m working with. My understanding of programming techniques and concepts comes from being self taught. I don’t see myself as incredibly intelligent, more like incredibly persistent. My longer term goal is to step away from the coding and work with other much more talented people, doing what they love and specialise in (coding, design, music).

What’s next for Terry Paton?
One of my core problems is monetising what I do, at the moment I self-fund everything. I love making games but tend to make exactly what I want to do and don’t necessarily play-test, bug fix, market, distribute, license out or the bunch of other things that I should do. I have fairly particular ideas about what I do, and why I do it and would prefer my games to be free to play, so this is something I’m working on. I may have to go back to the daily grind of working for someone else, but I will try and avoid that.

One of the biggest things I want to do is work with other people a lot more. I have so many more games that need making, but I lack the time, skill and talent to produce them. I want to be able to pay other people to work with me producing ‘Terry Paton games’ (and I would like to be able to pay well). I also don’t see these types of games as just my dictatorship, but my general lead. Working with others can bring a much greater depth to anything you make, and the ability to create much more. Imagine if I was able to produce 1,000 games over my lifetime?! :D

I’m currently beginning to work with a few great people, though sadly without any payment. I hope that these projects will be great lessons in how to work with others (and share the input). I know that the time for me working alone is over, it’s been great a great ‘apprenticeship’

Otherwise I am am a little unsure about my future, technology changes rapidly and I often don’t. I’ve been thinking a LOT lately about what I do and the feasibility of it. I think it’s a matter of finding a way for me to not just continue what I do, but to expand it greatly. I want to maintain a genuineness that I think I have, and produce games that people (including myself) really love to play.

Thanks
Thanks for asking :)

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