Zachtronic Industries are the developers behind the critically acclaimed indie hit, Spacechem. They’re in the spotlight for this Tuesday’s developers insight and talk to us about getting into the industry, crucial skills for game design, programming, art and story writing.
Q) How did you get into game development?
ZACH (Design): I’ve always been interested in creating games, but it wasn’t until I learned how to program that I was able to create my own video games. With the release of SpaceChem, I was able to transform my hobby into a career.
DEREK (Art): My entire life, I have been obsessed with art and video games, so it was natural for me to want to combine the two as a career.
STEFFANI (Art): I’ve always wanted to make video games since I was a child, so I have always actively pursued this path. I was lucky enough to get my first job in the game development industry.
COLLIN (Programming): By accident – I was working with Zach in my free time on a programming project just for fun, which eventually turned into SpaceChem. After that, Zach hired me on to work with him full time.
KEITH (Programming): What are you going to make when you are in high school and just learning to program? Productivity software? No! Terrible clones of arcade games!
HILLARY (Writing): I have always enjoyed playing games, particularly those with a story focus. I got involved in game development by writing the story for SpaceChem.
Q) Where would you advise people who want to become game developers to start?
ZACH: The great thing about game design is that you can practice it without any art or programming skills. Board games, card games, and playground games are all perfectly acceptable forms of games and must be designed in the same way that video games must be.
DEREK: It starts with your own personal passion for games, and the artistry that goes into them, on both the creative and programmatic sides. Once you have the passion, all you need to do is acquire the skills and knowledge.
STEFFANI: Get involved in the game development community (GDC, PAX, etc) and take courses that are related to what you want to do in the game industry.
COLLIN: Keen observation of game you enjoy; make note of what you do and don’t like about them and start learning technical details behind the production of games.
KEITH: Start making a game, finish it, and ship it. Don’t forget that last step!
HILLARY: If you want to make games, just do it. Piggyback off your friends’ projects or start your own.
Q) What is the most essential skill to a game developer?
ZACH: Managing scope. If you can’t set goals that you can actually reach, you’ll never ship a game. If you never ship a game, you’re going to have a hard time being a game developer!
DEREK: For me, it’s a toss-up between flexibility and patience: the flexibility to completely throw away something you love if it doesn’t work, and the patience to start over and complete the task at hand.
COLLIN: “Finding the fun” as Zach always points out, and not sweating effort spent on features that flop.
KEITH: Prioritization. There are an unlimited number of things that you could put in your game. You have to be able to weigh the costs and benefits of each, and only add those that are worth it.
HILLARY: It’s trite, but knowing how to work with different personalities in a team environment is critical. Be flexible when it comes to discussions and learn not to take things personally. Nobody wants to see a precious character or level cut, but it happens.
Q )How did you come up with the idea for Spacechem?
ZACH: SpaceChem is inspired by a previous game I made, The Codex of Alchemical Engineering. That game, in turn, was inspired by a previous game, Manufactoid, which was inspired by watching the television show How It’s Made and wanting to make a game about designing factories.
Q) What engine would you recommend someone starting out to use?
COLLIN: PyGame for hobbyists, Unity for those more serious. In both you are exposed to some technical details underlying game production but not required to master them to produce a working game.
Q) What engine did you use for Spacechem?
COLLIN: We rolled our own OpenGL-based engine in C# on top of Tao/SDL to support the cross-platform distribution of SpaceChem.
Q) What limitations did you find using that engine?
COLLIN: Neither Tao nor SDL are under active development any longer and we had some awkward issues with input handling and platform-related issues we had to work around.
Q) How did you combat those limitations?
COLLIN: For the most part, we worked around them, though in some cases we just bit the bullet and accepted them rather than put development resources into fixing them or switching engines. We’ve switched to OpenTK for our newer projects and to support mobile platforms which has helped.
Q) How long did it take you to make Spacechem?
ZACH: It took us a year of working nights and weekends to create SpaceChem.
Zachtronics were also kind enough to offer us a Steam key for Spacechem, which you can win! All you have to do is comment in the comment section below! The closing date for entries is Friday 7th December 2012. Please read our terms and conditions before entering.