Developer Interview: Matthew Hagen

May 31, 2015

Today’s Game Developers Like You interview is with Matthew Hagen of Minnesota.

Q: Hi Matthew! How’d you find your way into game development?

A: In school I majored in animation and multimedia, with a 3D emphasis. I got my first game development job at a local mobile game studio called Troop 13 while I was still in college.

I was hired at Troop 13 to help create a new game for the budding company, but I had no prior knowledge of how to make games, let alone mobile games. Since then we have released 2 games, and are working on our third game now. I also have started another project on the side.

Q: What size of projects do you tend to work on?

A: Mobile games with a team of 4-6. Generally the projects take a few months each.

Q: What’s a typical day in your life as a game developer like?

A: Every week day I spend two hours at a local Perkins.

I go to Perkins so that I’m away from distractions. It’s a consistent place that I’ve designated for work. It’s also across the street from my day job.

While at Perkins I model, texture, market, plan, or whatever I need to do for Fleet Calamity – my side project – on that particular day.

Then I go to my day job at Troop 13 from 9-5. The day acts the same as if I’m at Perkins. I model, texture, plan, market or whatever is needed of me that particular day.

On weekends I play test Fleet Calamity since most people are free Friday-Sunday. I try to get 1 or 2 play test sessions each weekend and collect data to make alterations the following Monday.

Thats pretty much my day to day. Overall I work 10 hours a day, sometimes extra if I need to. I like to ensure I’m not working in the evening so I can dedicate some time to my family and recovery.

Q: What are some of the videogames that you’ve worked on?

A: Troop 13’s two launched games are Banonkey Town and QD3. Both are mobile games. Banonkey Town is an adventure game in which you are an employee at the zoo. All the monkeys have escaped and it’s your duty to capture them all again.

QD3 is a match-3 puzzle game in 3D space where you rotate the playfield to find matches for score.

The current game we are working on is like Star Fox. You navigate a star ship through hazards. You must be quick and dexterous or your ship will be crushed or smashed.

Our current game is my favorite yet by far. We have an experienced team and the company we work for allows us to make a game that we can really be proud of. The project is just starting and has a short production period, but we are all enthused about it. The team has worked together for some time now so we know each others skills and weaknesses, allowing us to really shine in our expertise.

Q: What’s your process like?

I keep a blog for Fleet Calamity that documents my process and progress.

After the concept I made a physical prototype to test and see if it’s fun. I play test the prototype as much as possible before writing code, since this is cheap and easy and reveals issues in the game. It’s also easy to change large chunks of the game during that phase without worrying about reprogramming everything.

Once I feel the game is fun and there are no obvious issues I work with programmers who do their magic. Once a playable build is up we then test it for bugs. We then continue forward, making sure ‘must have’ features are working and looking good before we move on to lesser features.

I also find its important to make sure your builds look very nice when you need to show the public or a client. People want something that feels finished, even if it’s obviously not. I’m not only making something I like, but hopefully something that other people will buy or invest in. It needs to look appealing for my audience, too.

Q: What role(s) do you typically serve on projects?

A: At Troop 13 I was hired to write story and animate the characters. As I grew with the company I started coming up with the game ideas and how the mechanics would work. I also moved onto modeling.

For my own game I do everything but the programming. My math skills are dismal. However I do the models, GUI design, game concept, marketing, and the like.

Q: Why did you want to get into making videogames? Is it different from why you continue to do it?

A: At first I got into it because it was an animation job. I was excited to use my skills and prove myself as an artist. However, I quickly noticed that the actual development, modeling, and animating process for games is much different than movies. This captivated me!

The challenge kept me working hard at it. I can’t get enough of that challenge and the hard work it takes to make something really enjoyable.

Q: Do you have education or specific training related to game development? If so, how has or hasn’t it helped?

A: I have an associates degree in animations and a bachelors in animation and multi media. I know how to animate, rig, model, draw… how to be a general artist. However, my schools taught me to make movies and tv shows, where you only render once and from one angle and you could really make it shine. Well, in games, it renders constantly and you can view things from all sorts of angles. Things have to be aesthetically pleasing from all angles. Plus, the super high poly stuff I did in school had to be made much simpler a ton so it could work seamlessly on smartphones.

Overall School was great. I met cool people and I learned a bunch of basic things that I need. However I learned just as much on the job and I learn new things every day.

Q: What do you do to learn and improve at your game making role(s)?

A: I make mistakes. I make tons and tons of mistakes. I’ll just try something and see if it works. If it doesn’t I’ll try a new approach until it does work as intended.

I also linger on a few forums and talk to people in the industry to see what they did or are trying.

I spend many hours scouring the internet to see what other people are doing and how it’s working for them. Then I try and think about how their approach or solution might help me in my situation. But in the end I find that every situation is unique and you’ll just have to keep trying in your own way.

Q: Any projects currently in development that you’d like to talk about?

Troop 13’s star ship game is coming out for mobile devices very soon. It’s easy to pick up and play so you can get in and out with no effort. Just start the game and get playing. Last as long as you can and earn new ships.

As for the game I’m making, Fleet Calamity, imagine Magic the Gathering meets chess. Take over the galaxy as humans or machines, using cards to build up your army and fill your battle ships or fortify defenses. Annihilate the enemy fleet!

 


 

Q: If you have a brand, company name, or developer alias, how did you come up with it or what does it mean?

A: My personal studio is called “Half Heart Games”. This is because I was born with half a heart. In total I’ve had 18 surgeries on my heart alone and I’m due for a heart catheter this summer.

Q: What advice do you have for people who are thinking about getting into videogame development?

A: I always suggest to just get involved. Find a group that is making a game and join in. Learn what you can with some people who might be more knowledgeable than you. Join communities and game jams.

If you want to make your own game start small. Really small! Find an idea or mechanic that you really want to learn. Explore and develop that idea. Make sure you finish it. You’ll learn more from making a finished product, no matter how lame you may feel it is. Doing this will also boost your confidence and you’ll know better what to do next time.

Q: Any shout outs that you’d like to mention?

A: I really want to thank my beautiful wife who inspired me to pursue my life choices. Same goes to my mom, who is always eager to give a word of encouragement. And, of course, the Troop 13 team. They continue to mold me as a developer.

Q: What’s your website, Twitter handle, or other links about your games?

For my personal game: fleetcalamity.blogspot.com

Previous game site: qd3game.com

My personal games Twitter, most active: @HalfHeartgames

My personal Twitter: @Impisus

Previous game Twitter: @QD3game

Q: Any question(s) for me, the interviewer (Chris DeLeon)?

Matthew’s question for Chris, 1 of 2: What’s your favorite game that you’ve worked on and why?

DeLeon’s reply: My favorite games to play that I worked on are either Zylatov Sisters: Degamified (Flash link to play in-browser) or Battleship 88 (video).

As for my favorite game to work on that was probably Burn 2. Creating it involved figuring out some real-time destroyable terrain, per-pixel 2D colored lighting effects, procedural setting generation, and some of the first heuristics-driven AI that I worked on.

Matthew’s question for Chris, 2 of 2: What kind of things would you like to see in the future of games?

DeLeon’s reply: As not-so-subtly hinted by the title of this blog, for many years what I wished to see more of was people creating their own computer games as an engaging and enriching hobby. I’d love to see more games made by people who find doing it inherently valuable as an outlet for imagination, expression, math, and social bonding, without needing to always frame it mainly as a business activity or as a step assumed toward doing it as a business to feel that it’s worth doing.

I’m not in any way opposed to it being done as a business. However just like poetry, recreational sports, painting, dancing, martial arts, and singing it’s something I’d love to see touch many more lives in many more ways than the consumer market is going to sustain. People should not feel as though they need to (a.) bet their savings on it or redirect their whole educational/career tracks just to participate in it, or (b.) feel as though their game creation is invalid or illegitimate if it isn’t commercial in nature.

With the tremendous improvements in tools like Unity and better, cheaper means of sharing games it’s clear that this is already going on more today than it was only 5-10 years ago. However thanks to a rapid growth of new and even partial funding models (Patreon, Kickstarter, streaming, balances of freelancing with indie projects, etc.) there is a far richer and more diverse range of game development contexts than there used to be. That includes a massive amount of gray area on the continuum between full commercial studio and hobbyist. My interest in hearing, learning from, and sharing more about the diversity of game development experiences today is what led to these Game Developers Like You interviews.

I find hearing these perspective so valuable that going forward I will be shifting entirely from HobbyGameDev.com to continue on with more interviews in other formats as an upcoming podcast and more at GameDevsLikeYou.com



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