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Troubadour: An Xbox employee and his desire to make games

4:00 PM on 07.08.2013 // Brett Makedonski

The power of the indie spirit

Securing a job in the videogame industry is a lifelong goal for a lot of people. Some eventually get there; many of them never do. Eric Doty got there a few years ago. He's worked his way through the ranks of the Microsoft Xbox team on the community side. But Doty's not content to simply "get there." He has a deep-burning passion that doesn't exactly parallel his day job.

No, Doty (maybe better known as "DMZilla" to the Internet community) has a fervor for creating. He's already authored a comic book (about a cyborg corgi!), but now he's moved on to a more interactive medium. After playing videogames for the majority of his life and being surrounded by the culture at work, Doty has decided to try developing them.

So that's exactly what he's doing. He's acquired game development software, he's written the story, and he's enlisted the help of Seattle artist Zak Alexander to collaborate on the game's tone and visual elements. The only problem is despite the desire to make a videogame, Doty didn't actually have the know-how to program it.

Luckily, he has the drive to figure it out. Doty began the process figuratively neck-deep in online tutorials. As he continues work on the game, he learns new things every day. Mechanics that were once difficult to grasp have become increasingly easy. He's treating the entire endeavor as a learning experience and as an experiment -- because that's exactly what it is.

Only relatively recently has Doty become comfortable enough with the project's progress to begin speaking about it publicly. He created the label Cicatriz Entertainment, and the first game under that banner will be Troubadour. But, he readily admits that the term "game" might be a bit strong.

While the term "videogame" is easiest for consistency, Doty feels that "interactive short story" may be more apt. He's always had an acute affection for well-told narratives, and that's his primary aim with Troubadour. It follows a woman through a surreal lucid dream as she reflects upon her life, while the mysterious Troubadour serves as her guide.

Troubadour's overarching themes are social anxiety, and the way that we make personal connections to sound and music. A litany of works across different mediums have influenced its direction. Doty cites the likes of Home, Kentucky Route Zero, Donnie Darko, and The Machinist as inspirational cultural pieces to the 2D sidescroller.

Despite being thrilled about making his first game, Doty is cautious and hesitant about overpromising Troubadour because, again, it's just an experiment. He understands fully well that it probably won't resonate with a core audience, because it's not really built that way. It's only about 22 minutes long (similar to the length of a single television episode), and it's made up of little to no puzzles. Hell, he doesn't even know if it'll be good; he just knows that he enjoys making it.

While Cicatriz plans to release Troubadour sometime in 2014, the public will be able to get a sample of it a bit earlier. The team will have a playable demo available next month at PAX Prime in the Mugen Studios booth. Doty's simultaneously giddy and terrified at the prospect. One on hand, it'll be the first time he gets to show his baby to the public; on the other, it'll probably be the first time that he gets honest feedback about the project that means so much to him.

Regardless of how it's received, Doty has no intention of slowing down any time soon. In spite of not having finished Troubadour yet, he already has ideas rattling around in his head for a second game. He's a creator, after all. He may work for one of the world's biggest corporations, but the indie spirit is strong with this one.

Brett Makedonski, Associate Editor
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