What follows was an interview through the Game Developers Like You Survey Form that I recently posted. Remember: anyone at any experience level is encouraged to share their story, too. Join in – share your work, journey, and thoughts!
Today’s interview is with Tim Donley, a very experienced game developer living in Austin, Texas. He’s released over 30 projects, most of them commercial, and has infectious good energy. He’s also working on this ridiculously awesome game, Boss 101, due for release in July 2015:
Q: Hi Tim! To kick things off, mind telling us a bit about yourself?
A: Well, I’ve been in games over 20 years and I was a toy designer for five years before that. I can say that working in games is a passion of mine and the people I’ve met are some of the most talented and generous folks. I know I’m living a great life and my goal each day is to give back what I get and remember just how lucky I am.
Q: Is your game development non-commercial, commercial, some hybrid of the two?
A: Most of my career has been in commercial game development.
Q: Do you have education or specific training related to game development? If so, how has or hasn’t it helped?
A: My degree is in Industrial Design and I only got into that since I heard the guys that did Star Wars were industrial designers. I wanted to draw spaceships.
Q: What role(s) do you typically serve on projects?
A: I’ve handled just about every role in games. Started as an artist and worked on things like concept art, characters, animation, environments, UI and the like. Moved over to design and then into production. I’ve been a Development Director and managed (at its peak) teams over 200 people. Nowadays I work on my own games from home and it’s as awesome a time as I’ve every had.
Q: Tell us about some of the videogames that you’ve worked on.
A: My first game was as a cinematic artist for Shattered Steel, one of Bioware’s very first published games. I worked at Interplay’s Black Isle Studios and was the art lead/director on Planescape Torment. I also worked on the Icewind Dale series and helped with the other Black Isle games like the Fallouts. I worked at Sony as an external producer – the studio I was at was making God of War at the time, as well as publishing Shadow of the Colossus. I worked at Vigil games on the Darksider’s series until they closed. I also started two companies, one of them is the one I’m currently at. I’m now working on a game called Boss 101 where you fight ONLY bosses and you get to make them yourself:
Q: Focusing in on one or two specific games, what are some highlights or favorite project(s) or challenges that you’ve worked on?
A: One would have to be Planescape Torment. That was a tremendously fun game to work on since the team was so awesome and we had a blast making it. The other is my latest game. I feel the same vibe I had back then. Small team, lots of fun and great people. To me, when you have fun AND you are into the game – it’s one of the best times you’ll ever have.
Q: Why did you want to get into making videogames? Is it different from why you continue to do it?
A: Fun, that’s why I got into it. I had plenty of jobs that paid me well but this was the one I did when I got home. I figured – make a life out of it! I specifically chose this life since it gets me up in the morning with a ton of energy.
Q: Were there videogames that you’ve played which inspired you to be a developer?
A: I do recall begging my parents for an Atari 2600. We had some sad Pong console before that, I think it was a Magnavox or something. I played the OG Ultimas on my Apple ][e one million years ago! Of course, the Sega Master System and NES changed all that when they came out.
Q: How has making videogames been different from what you expected going into it?
A: I think one thing is I have learned to just keep getting up and that nothing gets done instantly. You just keep chipping away and it will all happen.
Q: Which tools, technologies, or platforms do you use? Why?
A: Well, I track all my time in Toggl, use copious note taking programs and a regular pen and notepad. Lots of Trello (for the team) too. Mostly it’s about watching where your time goes. That will stop most foolishness!
Q: What do you do to learn and improve at your game making role(s)?
A: Listen closely to feedback from others. Also I look at my work in terms of “if I were a consumer, would I pay for this/like this/ want to see more of this?” That’s an incredibly helpful angle.
Q: What advice do you have for people who are thinking about getting into videogame development?
A: If you love it do it. You will never regret following your dreams. Also – if you need some cheering up WRITE ME! I am here for you! Keep living your dreams. No one else will!
It’s about never giving up. Ever. You will fall a lot. You just have to keep moving. I think the phrase “Walking is just falling and catching yourself” really applies to game development.
Q: Any game development role models or heroes?
A: Guys like Chris Avellone and some of the old crew at Black Isle (now Obsidian). I’ll always be thankful to Feargus Urquhart for giving me my first job. That guy is a hero!
Q: If game development had a mascot and you got to decide what it’d be, what would that mascot be and why?
A: Maybe the Phoenix. Ideas, people and companies rarely stay down for long.
Q: If you have a brand, company name, or developer alias, how did you come up with it or what does it mean?
A: I called the company Donley Time Foundation. That may sound arrogant but HEAR ME OUT. I have always wanted a time machine and I figured this thing out. If I START a company that EVENTUALLY builds a time machine then I myself won’t have to make one. Hence – Donley Time Foundation. Maybe they’ll come pick me up!
[Disclaimer for these next couple of questions: every interviewee has some space at the end to write and answer a few custom questions. I should probably have known this is what it might lead to…]
Q: Would you want the power of immortality if upon accepting it you were immediately teleported to Pluto?
A: If I had some time to get things in order. I think it would be a long time before I was given a ride back to Earth.
Q: Would you sooner (1.) take the power of flight if everywhere you flew there was the sound of a baby crying loudly, or (2.) would you take teleportation if whenever you left there was a large stinky cloud that formed both where you teleported from and where you teleported to?
A: Teleportation, there might be a humorous use in there. Probably have to be careful about going to the movies and date night though.
Q: Riiggghhhttt. That makes sense I’d say. In closing: Any shout outs that you’d like to mention?
A: Yes, anyone who I have worked with – thank you. (that’s a huge list). Also Joshua and Manon who I’m working with at the moment on Boss 101 – they are the best! Finally – my father – he taught me to be true to myself.
Awesome. See, I’m really glad that Tim took a little time to pick some questions from the Game Developers Like You Survey Form that I recently posted, since now we know him and our world of game development seems just a little bit bigger. No matter if you personally haven’t been making videogames for as long as Tim, or doing it professionally, or even if what you do is way different, I and many site visitors would still be quite interested to hear from you! Variety of perspectives is what this is all about.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @DonleyTime (seriously, dooo itttt, it takes 1 second)
Check out http://www.donleytimefoundation.com/ for more Boss 101 info!
Coming up next: another interview! Could be yours!
Speaking of which: if you take the time to answer the interview questions honestly and personally, but your responses don’t happen to get selected for as an entry this month, that doesn’t mean it’s effort wasted or no one will see it. You’ll see right there on the form that there are also two other fallback options you can choose, allowing me to either share it during a later month, or as part of a collection in a free PDF I’ll fit together and share broadly when this is over. My goal is to include as many developer stories and interviews in that free PDF as possible, and if you’ve been making videogames too for any scale, style, and purpose it’d be great to have yours in there.
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