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2012 March

GDC Scholar: Day Two — Three Rings and Double Fine

On the second day of the scholarship, we got the unbelievable opportunity to tour two studios much closer to my heart, Three Rings and Double Fine. These studios intrigued me more than Zynga and LucasArts the prior day, because they are smaller, more agile, and have a strong sense of artistic integrity. All in all, they demonstrated the environment I’d like to work in, or even run in a few years.

Three Rings was incredible for a few reasons. As I said prior, it is a smaller studio, running around 40 people, and produces some incredible titles: Puzzle Pirates, Spiral Knights, and the Dr. Who MMO. The president of the company, Daniel James, was a true gentleman, absolutely informative, gracious, and a pleasure to interact with. I learned an enormous amount from him about running an indie studio. Questions I asked included whether or not they had been able to subsist purely on their own IP (the answer was a resounding no,) and whether or not having been recently acquired by Sony was a difficult transition from having been an indie studio for so long. Apparently, they are largely hands off, which was encouraging.

Daniel James and Three Rings Studios


Beyond the incredible knowledge I gained from Daniel and just observing the inner workings of the studio, the internal aesthetic of the building made me feel very much at home — some strange coincidental hodge-podge of everything I love. Victorian steampunk, Dr. Who’s Tardis, a giant squid couch, secret rooms hidden behind library bookcases… truly incredible. Daniel was nice enough to let us take pictures of the inside of his studio, so I’ll share a few here.

Three Rings Nautilus Three Rings Squid Couch


Three Rings Secret Room


After Three Rings we had some lunch at Whole Foods and headed over to Double Fine. Double Fine has always been a studio I admired — headed by Tim Schafer, their artistic vision is strong and sound. Psychonauts was a titled I played through at least twice, and both Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer’s older adventure titles, like Day of the Tentacle and The Secret of Monkey Island, were childhood favorites of mine. In addition to getting a walk through of the studio, we got to pick the staff’s collective brains, including the indomitable Tim Schafer himself, who I am now convinced is incapable of saying anything that isn’t funny. Luckily, Design3 caught this Q&A with Tim Schafer as a video — I like to think we asked intelligent questions. Take a look!

IGDA 2012 Scholars Q&A with Tim Schafer at Double Fine

GDC Scholar: Day One — Zynga and LucasArts

I was somewhat curious about what this experience would be like — being an IGDA scholar. Day one was exhausting, but eye opening. Most of the scholars got together the night prior to have drinks, and I have to say it’s the most amazing group of people. Each one is remarkable, poised, sharp, and incredibly bright.

After a brief breakfast at The Grove in the morning, we boarded a shuttle to Zynga for a lengthy studio tour. The facilities at Zynga reminded me of the Best Buy campus I visited frequently when I was running Cobalt Flux — a city in a building. Gyms, gaming, food, masseuses, acupuncture, all provided in house, ostensibly so you never have to leave. It’s an impressive show of money, and all the benefits surrounding employment there form an enticing package. In the end though, creature comforts have never been enough to compel me or motivate me to achieve. In fact, I found the inside far too busy, a bit like being stuck inside a slot machine. I want to do great work, and analytics driven design has never struck me as artistically interesting or engaging. It invariably creates the least common denominator to reach the broadest audience.

This is not to disparage Zynga, but Zynga is very up front about being a finely tuned machine designed to extract money from the populace. It does what it does incredibly well, and it delivers an experience people value in the process. Nevertheless, the entire time I was at Zynga, I wanted to hear someone explain some ideology or goal for which they were aspiring that transcended money. I didn’t hear one. If I’m going to intern at a studio, or work with a company, I need to know and feel that money is the byproduct, not the goal.

After Zynga we drove to LucasArts, where we got to tour Industrial Light and Magic and the LucasArts Studio. This provided a stark, stark contrast to the atmosphere at Zynga. Everything was quiet — reverent almost. Long halls filled with endless film props were largely silent and empty. The grounds were surrounded by beautiful, well-tended gardens. In fact, the entire facility is a converted hospice, and it has that strong sense of serenity. I liked it more than I expected to. LucasArts felt like it had an artistic mission and identity. The panel who talked with us were genuine, kind, and hilarious — it never took on the dynamics of a sales pitch. Instead it was just a wholly informative experience.

The entire day landed us back in the IGDA booth where I got to meet an incredible games academic, Constance Steinkuehler Squire, who now works as an adviser to the white house on interactive media. What an honor. I plan on following up with her soon. This experience gets more and more incredible with every passing minute.

Interviewed on Joystiq about Catball Eats it All

I’m super honored to have been interviewed with my brother Tyson by Joystiq about our work with Broken Compass on Catball Eats it All. Our interview for the Indie Pitch section of Joystiq highlights both Broken Compass’ unique style, our views on being a part of the indie community, and the awesome process of working with gorgeous, hand-painted works of art as a starting point for a creative process. I have to admit, it’s tons of fun to be highlighted on gaming sites that I’ve been reading for years on end now — it feels like I’m a part of this community now, and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.

Read the interview here: