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johnmasterlee's blog

Oh Snap, My Game Is Changing
5:30 PM on 05.12.2013
Here's $100 in Free Games
5:17 PM on 04.18.2013
Building a game in 1 week
2:07 AM on 04.15.2013
Why no love for mod tools?
8:30 PM on 03.27.2013
Creating Games In Hawaii
10:42 PM on 03.19.2013
Becoming a Game Designer
1:55 PM on 03.08.2013

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Community Discussion: Blog by johnmasterlee | johnmasterlee's ProfileDestructoid
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johnmasterlee 's blog
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Gaming Evangelist. Game Creator. GAMER.

I'm a game developer, and head up several gaming studios, including Wicked Loot and FitGoFun. Been in the game industry for many years now. It's the only life I know.

I pretty much done it all. QA. Marketing. Game Design. Coding. Editor. The guy who had to wear the (stank) mascot costume at a gaming event. The guy who drove a truck to deliver games to a warehouse. For the love of the game.

You can follow a behind the scenes look at my game dev life on YOUTUBE page.
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Back to the grind of making games after a day of surfing.†

Yesterday, my team was out catching waves for the first time to shoot a parody video of us having a board meeting. Get it? Board? Surf board? It's not ha ha funny, more I'll chuckle in my head amusing.

So this past week, the Munch Face concept has evolved. When I initially conceived Munch Face it was clearly inspired by Pac-Man, especially the Pac-Man Championship versions, one of my fave games of all time. I was hooked on that game for a while, reaching up a top 30 rank in the world out of several hundred thousand players. Some people have commented that Munch Face gives them that same sort of high as Pac-Man Championship, which warms the cockles of my heart.

But I really don't want to settle here. We didn't set out with a specific direction, it was more exploratory. So we set no boundaries and we started to explore, which is a pretty liberating way to design. Scary, but liberating.

The next thing you know, we had hints of an arcade mashup and that's when the eureka moment happened. Imagine an arcade game mashup mixing elements from Portal, Space Invaders, Metal Gear Solid, Pac-Man Championship, etc. with a storyline inspired by Wreck It Ralph!

This direction is so much more interesting that we went back to redesign our splash screen to visually capture how different game elements are spilling into the Munch Face world.

This all sounds that much more interesting when you can create your own levels and do your own mashups. I'm dying to see what people cobble together. And I think that's the main hook. The levels I create are merely a sample to what could come, and the best stuff will ultimate come from the gamer. We're just catalysts for that inspiration.

Munch Face It's still in early alpha and much could still change. Your feedback could help shape where things go from here!

Aloha from the Wicked Loot team!

Photo Photo Photo

Like any indie game dev studio, we don't exist unless we have a Facebook page that posts up all the sexy pics we do in game development. Like code all day. Or eat Cheetos. Or work in our underwear.

So we set up our FB page! Now we're legit. And for fun, I thought I'd give away some goodies from my game collection as an incentive to LIKE our page. That's $100 worth of games to some lucky bloke.

BONUS for Dtoiders! Just leave a comment below for an extra shot at winning.


I'll post up some more pics of our adventures in Hawaii soon. And yes, I know, needs more hula girls. I do hang around our FB page, stalking our fans, so if you ever just want to say hi and chat things up, you can find me there drinking way too much soda.

And I'll be giving away more of my gaming swag. I amassed such a ridiculously large collection of awesome swag that if the pile ever toppled over, I'd be buried alive. While sounds like a heavenly way to die.

We do have a Twitter page, but I find that I lack the discipline to tap out 160 characters of insightful insight on a regular basis. I'm not even gonna bother linking to our Twitter page... I'd rather post incriminating pics of our team here without them knowing about it.

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So life out here in Hawaii isn't all pineapples and hula girls. Though there is a lot of that. Like any indie studio, we spend much of waking hours building games.

For the last few months, we been focusing on a turn-based strategy game that I been dreaming up for a while. It's a big game, and I have tons of charts, spreadsheets, and artwork that's been conjured up. It's a game that would take over a year to build. And after working on it for a few months we realized that we weren't moving fast enough. So what did we do? We shifted gears to work on another game.

Wha? What crazy logic is that? Well, it's pretty simple. Sometimes making a big game with long drawn out milestones can drain the team. We end up with concepts that aren't quite working yet, and tools that aren't quite user friendly yet. So to keep everyone motivated, and to test our design theories, we decided to work on another game at the same time. A smaller game that allows us to iterate faster. This other game is more like an arcade game, and we gave ourselves 1 week to build it. And we did.

I won't go into details about the games here, as there's time for that. What I thought was interesting to share was that this development approach works because we embrace user generated content. In other words, our goal as a development studio is to make games that feature user generated content. Making content takes a long time, so our approach forces us to launch a core concept, testing designs and ideas with our users, and then giving them the tools to play around with the game engine, while we build content based on what people find fun.

You may have noticed that more and more indie devs are taking a similar approach. They open up their game at a much earlier stage while in mid development, so that fans can sample a pre-alpha build and provide feedback. But many devs do this for perceived early marketing buzz and to build a user base. We just take it one step further. We try to let you create things too so that we can play test your stuff.

And that's how we could build a game in 1 week. Because the 1 week mark isn't the end of game development, but rather the beginning. From here, we'll continue to add new features, new ideas, and even your new features and ideas. The tools we create and the methodologies we establish for this smaller game can then get carried over to the bigger strategy game, and development on that game will then go faster and smoother.

The arcade game we're working on is coming along swimmingly, so I hope to share it with you all soon!

I'd totally understand that you would think all I do is sit on a beach each day, drinking a Mai Tai, soaking up the Hawaiian sun. But really, I'm working hard! Not only am I creating a game, I'm also creating a platform that allows users to create their own content in our game.

It's something I'm pretty passionate about. The mod tool scene has been around for decades, primarily supported by the PC gaming community. But it wasn't until this past year when I was inspired enough to quit my job and to make games that featured user generated content. What was the catalyst that made me take a dive? In a previous blog I talked about some personal motivations, I'll now share with you a business reason: I discovered that games that featured mod tools were able to increase engagement by x2 to x10 over the long haul. And that translated into more new gamers, longer play time, and thus more revenue generated.

In addition to this data, a number of industry peeps have gone on record talking about how user generated content is the future of gaming, including Gabe Newell of Valve. Recently at the BAFTA awards, a question was posed to Gabe: "What do you see as the future of gaming? Give us a 5 year snapshot." And his response was great: "It will be challenging for award shows like this to deal with the fact that more and more of the experience will be created by people participating in those experiences... How do you give an award for best game design to a community of 10 million people building the experience."

Yet, despite all this, few game devs bother to offer mod tools. Even on Steam, less than 1% of all games support Steam Workshop. Which begs the question: Why aren't mod tools more popular?

I have my own theories, but I feel like it's worth vetting out. So I been posing this question around the industry, talking with game devs, mod creators and users of mods to see what the skinny was. While I'll share my findings at a later date, the exercise made me realize how the solution isn't going to be easy. It'll require game devs, mod creators and users to come together to made it work.

I posed this question in the Dtoid forums, and some community members have offered some great feedback. But I'd love to hear more from you guys about what you think.

What do you love about the mod scene?

What do you think prevents greater adoption from gamers and developers?

What about the modding do you wish worked better?

Aloha from Hawaii!

Since I last wrote, my life has been flipped-turned upside down, and Iíd like to take a minute, so sit right there, and Iíll tell you how I ended up on an isle out here.

My new indie game dev studio Wicked Loot got accepted into an accelerator program out in Hawaii. So I gathered the team, packed up my bags, kissed my wife and dog goodbye, and headed out to the middle of the pacific.

This isnít just about a new life as a game creator. Itís about starting off fresh, with a new mindset. And I figured what better way to do that than on the beach with a Pina Colada.

Itís been a whirlwind though. Not easy or cheap to find a place to live in Hawaii. After calling over 30 places, I finally locked down a condo to live for 3 months, and had to fork over $5000 a month just for rent. Even with that amount, one of my team members still has to sleep on the floor in the living room.

Living in Hawaii is not cheap. 4 apples cost about $8. A jar of mayo ran us over $8. Pretty much within the first week here, the amount of investment dollars that came from our involvement with Blue Startups is gone!

But Iíll tell you what. Itís been worth it. Itís given our team a chance to bond, to really get our hand dirty building a game, to connect with mentors and advisors who are sharp as a whip, and itís given me a chance to admire the local hotties. And man, Hawaiian girls are really the best.

Itís been a nonstop and rather ironic experience so far. Play hard. Work hard. Yet the Hawaiian way is to just take it easy.

I figure thatís enough talk. Here are some pics to enjoy! BTW - If you want to see more pics of our adventures in Hawaii, follow us on Facebook!

Packing up ready to head out to Hawaii.

Buying a mattress is as fun as it looks.

Oh shit! That's Master Higgins!

Our office.

Our Wicked team.

Our view from our office.

If you can't guess, the Blue Startups accelerator was founded by the guy who made Tetris famous.

Me and some of the other companies participating in Blue Startups.

The team and I enjoying the best udon in the island.

Work hard. But work comfortably.

A Doodle Jump arcade game? I'm equally "Man, that is dumb as hell" and "Anyone got a quarter?"

A gal who is running for Miss Hawaii in June. She's got my support.

The amazing Taimane. Man. She's hot. And can jam too.
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Today is the beginning of the rest of my life. Which is an inspirational way of saying that last week I quit my job.

I been in the game industry for +18 years now, and considering I broke into the industry as a game designer, I havenít designed squat. Iím not complaining or anything. Itís been an amazing ride. Early on in my career, I moved over to the business side of things back when Eidos (Better known as US Gold then... anyone remember? Anyone? No?) had no one on the business side that actually played games.

Since then, I got to work on some of the most amazing launch campaigns over the decades. I saw the birth of Tomb Raider (The game originally ran on the Sega Saturn.) I got to work on one of my favorite RPGs of all time - The Elder Scrolls (back then, Bethesda nearly ran out of money trying to make Daggerfall, so luckily it was successful.) I got to work on both Sonic and Mario (Hudson Entertainment pretty much created Mario Party.) I got to work on my favorite game of all time, Bomberman. And I got to check out Skywalker Ranch when I was involved with some Star Wars games. The gaming industry has been good to me.

Just some of the games I had the distinct honor of working on over the years.

But as the games got bigger, the more distant the sensation of satisfaction. And the more I realized that I still hadnít designed anything, the more that itch turned into a burning sensation. The kind you canít solve with Gold Bond.

I felt restless enough that a few years ago, I decided to start creating again. I picked up coding again, building a simple flash game that was a simple parody of Pokemon. I hacked it together in a few months, and with the help of others who contributed to art, code, and design, I hoped that the the output wasnít as bush league as I figured it would be. And it was barely good enough to get published on a few Flash portals, and build a small following that wanted more content created. Making a simple game was just enough to get my creative juices flowing again.

So I recently created a new indie dev studio with some fellow game creators. I can finally announce that we also are joining an accelerator program. Whatís an accelerator? Itís a program designed to help fledgling companies get off the ground. They provide you with a bit of cash, in this case $20K, and connect you with mentors and advisers who help guide you in shaping the business. Itís exactly the sort of boost I need to take the plunge back to game designer.

And it does feel like a plunge. Off a cliff. After climbing the corporate ladder for +18 years to become a senior exec, Iím going back to square one as a game designer, throwing away a fruitful career and secure paycheck along with it.

But I already know in my heart that to make great games, I gotta embrace the game designer in me first and foremost. I changed my LinkedIn profile to reflect this career change as well. Today, I am Junior Game Designer at Wicked Loot.

So why ďJuniorĒ game designer, especially since I founded the company? Because Iím humbled by the fact that I still havenít created anything substantial, and I have a ways to go. The adventure game I created in 8th grade doesnít count, and neither does few Flash games I cobbled together. I want to be in a position where Iím constantly learning, absorbing, and that means starting from the bottom rung.

Over the next few months, Iíll share with you my adventures in building a new game studio, creating a game and living in Hawaii. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: The accelerator is based in Hawaii. So my partners and I are moving there to soak up the sun, the beach, and hula lifestyle all in the hopes that it inspires us to make better games.

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