“A self-motivated, hard working artist who will learn whatever he needs in order to accomplish every goal towards a major dream.”
Andrew, thanks for joining me today.
“Thanks for having me.”
Can you tell me what is your current job title? You have your own company right?
“Right now, I am basically working solo on a project under Notion Games. So, I am doing the art, logic/programming, and design for a game called Team Notion. When I do work with others, I generally take the role of Creative Director and lead artist.”
Is Notion Games your own studio?
“Yes, Notion Games is my own studio. The team sizes vary depending on the project and funding available.”
What are some of the titles you’ve worked on in your career?
“I have worked on The Sims 3: Pets for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 as the character designer and a world builder. I have also worked on Up Up Ubie, Up Up Ubie Remix, Astro Vault, Super Ubie Land, Super Ubie Island Remix, Sushizoo, and Team Notion as the creative director, programmer, and designer.”
Wow, that’s a lot of titles with a lot of different roles you’ve held.
“Yes, each one on different platforms. From console to mobile to PC. But each project was fun and challenged me to constantly step out of my comfort zone and learn new skills.”
What would you say is your primary trade? Artist? Or do you see yourself as a jack of all trades?
“My passion lies in art. But over the years, I feel like I’m becoming more and more a jack of all trades. There’s just way too many hats that you have to wear when trying to create projects with 1-3 man teams, especially with little to no funding.”
“To be honest, I just want to feel like I’m not wasting my life… It has to be something because I refuse to be 40-years old and look back wondering what I have done with my life.”
“A typical workday as an indie developer is pretty much all over the place. For me, I try to plan out the week and what it is that I want to accomplish and work at it day by day until the particular task is complete. Solo, I’m pretty random on what I work on. It just depends on what I feel like doing that day. I generally think that as long as I’m making progress, then I’m doing fine. But on a team, I make sure to have tasks assigned to each person with deadlines.
To paint a better picture though, I usually head to the studio and play a bunch of music on YouTube or watch a bunch of game walkthroughs to get inspiration and I start to work on various tasks from creating new assets, to creating layouts for new menus, updating the design document, all the way to implementing the ideas into the game. I rarely sleep, especially having two children. So I tend to nap for a couple of hours and either get back to work (in bed sometimes) or do whatever it is I need to do for my children. So it’s a really mixed bag since my schedule generally consists of doing what I want to get the project(s) finished.”
So, you like to consider your workload in week long chunks?
“For the most part, yes. It keeps things small enough for me to complete and allows for enough flexibility to update and create new tasks for the next week.”
How do you stay motivated? As an indie with varying team sizes, I’m sure you have to be self motivating in most cases. What works for you?
“To be honest, I just want to feel like I’m not wasting my life. I have been drawing since I was a child and I always wanted to create things that people could enjoy and grow up watching, reading, and/or playing. The motivation really comes from me knowing that time passes regardless and when it does, I always like to feel like I have accomplished something. There’s been plenty of times where I have set out to do something by a particular date and the date passes and I’m stuck with a bunch of excuses. I hate that feeling and have molded my way of thinking to where I need to make sure that I am progressing no matter what. If it isn’t progress in finishing a game, then it better be with networking. If not networking, then it must be school. It has to be something because I refuse to be 40-years old and look back wondering what I have done with my life.”
That’s real talk. You started as an artist and moved into other areas. Did you have a formal education in art or other field of interest? Did you attend a school?
“I am a self-taught artist, programmer, and designer. I did get a full scholarship to attend the Denius-Sams Academy at the University of Texas at Austin to learn about team management in all roles including Creative Director, Producer, and Art Director.”
What were your primary resources to teach yourself what you know now? YouTube vids? Specific websites? Tutorials?
“I looked around for tutorials but didn’t really find much, besides teaching the basics. A big tool for me was YouTube. I learned by looking closely to gameplay videos. I would watch how characters interacted with enemies, items, environments, etc. I would listen to how sound was implemented and just paid close attention to many things that most players don’t realize are there but greatly impact the overall feel of a game. I still have a lot of learning to do though.”
How did you come about your first game job? Did you get paid to make games before you went indie?
“I was attending a community college for a semester and met some artists there who were going for game art specialization. So I would try to get to know them and befriend them. I dropped out from the school and about a year later, one of my friends from the college called me up telling me he was working for Electronic Arts and that he remembers my work and mentioned me to the Art and Creative Director. I soon got an interview and started working on the Sims.”
Where did you grow up?
“Born in Mt Vernon, NY but I grew up in Austin, TX.”
Where do you live now?
“I am pretty proud of getting on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. I never saw myself being able to accomplish something like that especially after being in the industry for 3 years.”
When did you decide to pursue game creation as a profession? How did you come to that decision?
“After I got hired and worked on The Sims, I really saw it as something I loved to do. Prior to that, I didn’t really have a true direction that I wanted to go. I was doing comics before as Notion Comics and once I worked on The Sims, I immediately thought to start learning how to create my own games.”
What is your favorite program or plugin to use?
I’ve heard Construct2 is pretty good. I’ve yet to look at it. I’ve done a fair amount of things in GameMaker myself. I like it well enough. What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
“I am pretty proud of getting on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. I never saw myself being able to accomplish something like that especially after being in the industry for 3 years. It definitely blew me away and is something that I will forever be proud of.”
That is an amazing accomplishment. I didn’t know that you made that list. Amazing.
“Thank you. I was fortunate enough to make various lists and be featured in an assortment of magazines. I always wanted Notion to get noticed but didn’t think I could do it with 3 or less people and almost no funds to create the projects.”
I’m sure it feels good to know that someone noticed your hard work. Hard to see the potential results when you are knee deep in code and the build is crashing and all the textures aren’t rendering correctly.
“I remember working on Super Ubie Island and wondering when I would ever finish it. It felt like a never ending journey. It took about 14 months, but around month 7 of putting 6-14 hours a day on it, it just felt like it would never get finished.”
Super Ubie Island recently released on Steam, right? What was one of the most challenging parts of creating Super Ubie Island? Were there tech challenges? Design challenges?
“The most challenging part of Super Ubie Island was the entire thing. I never made a game on my own before. So everything from learning to draw art for games to getting it functioning was a brand new thing for me. Ubie Island represents my first full dive into games and I think it shows when it comes to the simplicity of the gameplay. I didn’t give him any power ups, or any sort of melee attacks or things to shoot. I had plenty of ideas for various abilities and game mechanics but since I was making something like this for the first time, I decided the best course of action was to scale back to the core mechanics of what makes Ubie Island ‘Ubie Island’.”
That was a very smart decision to keep the complexity down and focus on completion. Big ideas can be a rabbit hole of unfinished ideas.
“A ton of new developers jump into an idea that they’re not experienced enough to bring to fruition.”
Even with keeping complexity down, I assume you must have had to cut some things. What is the one thing that got cut during production that you wish you could have saved?
“Ubie uses a balloon to glide and slow fall as a way of extending his mobility. I wanted to give Ubie different balloons that would allow him to do different things. One of them being a water balloon that could destroy fire enemies and a helium balloon to allow him to float up in certain levels. I also wanted to give him the ability to spawn a balloon under him to keep him bouncing in the air for a short amount of time before popping and sending him falling to his demise or a platform below. There were many more ideas, especially with bosses but I couldn’t do those things at the time and I didn’t want to make it a 3 year project.”
The industry is constantly changing. Are there currently any new trends or new tech that interests you?
“I am interested in the VR space but not interested in developing for it. I’m still pretty new to game development and I am working my way up with the ideas I’ve had set to attempt. I want to create a horror game similar to Clock Tower from SNES. One of my favorite games is Resident Evil and for the longest, I’ve wanted to see if I could make something scary. I think it would be a serious challenge and would make me feel extremely accomplished if I pull it off properly. I also want to create a game around love but not in the way you may think. I’m actually writing the game right now with a couple friends and I think it will surprise people. It’s almost like my first step in the horror game genre but not the traditional horror that people expect.”
I’m very interested to see how the “love game” comes about. Make sure you let me know when you are farther along.
“I can tell you now that the working title for it at the moment is Paramour. Part of me is afraid to create this project because I’m not sure how people will take the major twist. But I also feel, some will appreciate the taboo nature of it.”
You have to create something before people will know if they really like it. I don’t believe people really understand a game until they play the game. “Create it and they will come.” What one game inspires you the most?
It’s like trying to choose between your children. You just don’t. I get it.
“Streets of Rage has the great music and cool combat that I loved as a child. Metal Gear Solid had the great voice action, movie style cinematics, and great story. I just can’t choose [Laugh].”
If you could go back in your career, would you have done anything differently?
“I don’t think I would redo anything. I have loved the journey thus far. I’ve had to put in a lot of work to get where I am and I still have a long way to go. The struggles and the successes seem to come at the right times and always challenge me when I’m getting too comfortable.”
What advice would you give someone wanting to pursue game development as a career?
“Don’t. [Laugh], no seriously. You have to really give it your all when working on games. The final days until completion may seem forever away, but it will come. Being proficient in one skill in my opinion is an outdated way of thinking. The internet and all of the resources available to everyone for FREE is absolutely there for you to take advantage of. I love to say that I attended Google University. I seriously have learned so much from the net that I think with the right amount of dedication, you can learn more than you can in school… again, for free.”
“Networking is probably the second best thing you can do. You will find yourself in many amazing opportunities by going out and meeting people in the industry. There are so many people willing to help you and want to see you succeed.”
Yeah, when I try to tell someone it’s hard work, they sometimes look at you crazy. “You just play games all day, right?” If people wanted to find you, where would they look? Twitter? Instagram? Website?
How do you stay up on the latest news and trends?
“I read a lot of the gaming news on various websites and I listen to a ton of gaming podcasts and watch a million shows related to gaming on YouTube.”
How would you describe yourself in one sentence? What is your tagline?
“A self-motivated, hard working artist who will learn whatever he needs in order to accomplish every goal towards a major dream.”
Thanks Andrew. I really enjoyed chatting with you. I can’t wait to see Team Notion come together and what is next for Notion Games.
“Thanks for having me [looks at the camera] #Dab”