Podcast

052 - Game development with Thomas Winkley

October 27, 2020

With new consoles on the horizon and the holidays approaching, we sat down with Thomas Winkley to discuss all things video games. Thomas is a Unity certified instructor and developer as well as a Pluralsight author.

In this casual conversation, we discuss the games that most impacted our childhoods, what we’re playing now, and what the future of game development might look like.


If you enjoy this episode, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

Please send any questions or comments to [email protected].

Transcript

[00:00:00.000]

Hello and welcome to All Hands on Tech, where today's leaders talk tomorrow's technology. I'm Daniel Blaser. With new consoles on the horizon and the holidays approaching, we figured that the time was right to talk about video games. Jeremy Morgan and I connected with Thomas Winkley to tackled all thing game development. Thomas is a Unity-certified instructor and developer, as well as a Pluralsight author. In this casual conversation, we discuss the games that most impacted our childhood, what we're playing now, and what the future of game development might look like.

[00:00:40.499]

So how are you doing today, Thomas?

[00:00:42.804]

I mean, pretty good. We're going to talk about gaming, so no complaints here.

[00:00:47.790]

Always something cool. So tell us a little bit about yourself.

[00:00:51.439]

Sure, so yeah, I'm a Unity-certified instructor, Unity-certified developer. Spend a lot of time on the education side as well helping small studios to large studios figure out how to use the engine and do things like that, and then also participating in like games jams, teaching basic code concepts. Always been a pretty avid gamer. There's a small break there. I call those the dark years where I just didn't really play a lot of games. And then Halo came out, and it all came rushing back. Suddenly gaming was really important again, once that killer app hit. Yeah, live in Utah, and a big Pluralsight fan and user.

[00:01:32.888]

Awesome. So Unity is a game platform for C# and .NET?

[00:01:38.363]

Yeah, so it's a game engine, and it's actually built on C++, but all the scripting is based on .NET and C#. So you write everything in that way, and then it has a, not to get too nerdy, but it has a serialization layer that serializes everything down to your C++. But the great thing about game engines is all the stuff that's been solved millions of times, it kind of handles for you. So you're not worrying about physics because physics has been solved by multiple companies. Lighting is another one. It's very complex, but there's a lot of solutions out there for lighting and ray tracing. So it handles that stuff for you. So really you're more worried about implementing functions, features, things like that, inventory systems, character interactions, using the systems they have provided to you. 

[00:02:23.005]

Awesome. So this is a question for everybody. What was the first video game you ever loved?

[00:02:33.072]

I'm going to let Daniel go first. I'm going to go last.

[00:02:35.009]

Okay, cool. I'm probably going to go with Tetris for the Game Boy. I'm basically like a Nintendo fanboy for most of my life. I've had other systems and played other things, but the Game Boy was the first time that it was like, this is my system that I can sit down and play. And it came with Tetris, and I immediately was hooked. And something about that original Game Boy was just super special. Hat tip to Pokémon Red, which was the next---it's like I really, really loved Tetris, and then Pokémon was amazing for me. Especially, I was 10 or something when I started playing that. So those are probably my two.

[00:03:20.648]

There's something super special about Pokémon. Even to this day when a new one comes out, guaranteed 150 hours of my life is missing. That game is something special. So for me, I think Super Mario World on the SNES is probably the first game I fell in love with. This was a game I actually played with my dad a lot. So my mom would go Christmas shopping, and my dad would have to watch us. And instead of doing stuff with us, he was like, hey, let's just sit down and play this Mario game. And he would actually pay us to find secrets. So I remember getting $2 for the first time I found the 3-Up Moon, and was a really cool experience for me. And then from there Street Fighter. Going to the grocery with my mom and playing Street Fighter II on the arcade with a quarter or two was a huge influencer. And I don't think this is on video, but a wall of arcade sits behind me now because that has become a very ingrained part of my life. So yeah, I think Street Fighter and Mario.

[00:04:12.440]

Nice. Well, since Daniel already took away Tetris from me---that was probably one of my very first loves. And now we'll know who the old guy of the group is because the very first game that I really, really liked was on the Atari 2600, and we got one of those. It was a hand-me-down from my uncle so it was already ancient. It was like the late 80s, and we got an Atari. And it had Barnstorming and Frogger and all these different games that I would just play for hours on end until we got the 8-bit Nintendo system. And then the Atari was long forgotten. I was pretty hooked. And I remember those console games. As a kid, those were amazing. Going into a 7-11 or a grocery store or something, and it was always like, I gotta play! I gotta play! And then parents are dragging you out by your shirt. 

[00:05:05.399]

It's super rare now too. I mean, thinking about Utah, there's a couple small pizza places I've been to have an old machine they've put up or whatever, but that is definitely the exception to the rule now. And those machines are not cheap. They're $2500, $3000 if you can find an old restored one. 

[00:05:20.779]

Yeah, here in Oregon, we do have a couple of arcades. We've got one in downtown Portland that has those, and then some specialty ones. And what's kind of funny is they were the biggest thing in the 80s and 90s and then they died out. And you didn't see a console game anywhere. And now they're starting to pop back up for this retro-type thing. And so it's kind of cool. We have this place called Wunderland that's close to my house, and it's been open since I was kid. And Wunderland was where we went as teenagers to go play video games. Coolest place ever. And I want to say it did close down for a certain amount of time, but I'm not even sure. But for a while it was like a ghost town. And then now Wunderland is cool again with 13-year-olds going there.

[00:06:05.389]

And I think, I might be misquoting, but I think a lot of the Portland fighting game community actually runs events at Wunderland. That name sound really familiar to me.

[00:06:13.861]

Yeah, it's huge now.

[00:06:15.479]

We've seen a similar thing here at home. We have Quarters Arcade Bar now, which has been open for about two years. It's a very super cool retro underground place with tons of old restored games. And the mix of some whiskey never hurt anybody. So it's pretty good, yeah. 

[00:06:29.180]

This is not exactly like an arcade, but it just got me thinking about when I was a kid, I would plan trips to the local Target store to actually play the demo games. And the controller is all locked into place so it's not very comfortable. And the screen is super smeared and gross. But at least once a week I would try to finagle a ride or something. And that was kind of I guess a form of an arcade also, just to play the demo mode in whatever console or system was being demoed at that time. So, I don't know.

[00:07:08.098]

No, that was absolutely right. And then you finally get a system but not have enough money to buy games so you just play the demo. I played the demo disk of PlayStation for like 2 months while I saved up money to buy an actual full title.

[00:07:20.640]

Yep, yep.

[00:07:21.603]

Those demo systems were great.

[00:07:23.799]

Totally did that. And Duck Hunt and Super Mario Brothers. Played those for months. And it's like, Mom, Dad, get me a video game. We need new video games. And they're like, we just got you a video game.

[00:07:35.978]

And you're like, great, I guess I'm a Duck Hunt master then. That's what's going to happen here. 

[00:07:40.020]

Yep, exactly. So what do you think made those old games so fun and playable? I mean, obviously graphics were pretty horrible back then, so it seemed like they really had to focus on playability, more so than today. Or maybe I'm wrong.

[00:07:56.192]

I think it's a blend. I think playability was definitely a big factor. I also think a lot of those things, some games really nailed it and some games really failed. But it's what you had. It's an economy of desperation, almost, in some of the early gaming stuff. I mean, like the E.T. game. I don't know if you've watched the documentary on that, where literally the game was basically just dumped in a landfill because it was unplayable. But it released and it kind of sold. So I think it really was that economy of there's nothing here, and so what you put out we will tolerate. And also gaming was a newer field. It wasn't something---now people talk about having, I mean, there are people that write PhD dissertations on the science of game development and all that kind of fun stuff. Whereas back then, it didn't even happen. And before, I can't remember the time, but this would've been, I think this was right before Super Nintendo, there was even a crash of the gaming market before Atari and Super NES I think is when that happened, or maybe before NES. But yeah, I think it was like there was so much more experimentation to do, and they also had so little to work with that they could really focus in on those experiences. There was so much less to think about. Because real-time lighting wasn't a thing. You weren't lighting---like in Castlevania, yeah, sure you were lighting a scene. But you were realistically just like, when the windows flashed, that's not like actual lights coming through and rays bouncing. The texture is turning white and flickering. You're just working with 16-bit or 8-bit color, so it's a little bit different.

[00:09:27.557]

Yeah, definitely. And the technical challenges for developers back then were insane as well because they had one fixed processor, for consoles at least, it was one fixed processor, hardly any memory. Like the PlayStation, that was one of the things I remember developers were really upset about with the PlayStation. It had 4 MB of RAM. It had this super processor that could process anything. It had a video card that did fantastic, but they had 4 MB of memory to swap things in and out all the time.

[00:09:57.088]

Right, that's was a big challenge there.

[00:10:00.122]

What was a revolutionary gaming moment for you guys? I could start with mine. For me, I think Quake was probably, for me, I think was revolutionary. Because Quake, all of a sudden you could play it online against other people. And the first time you played it you're like, this is how video games are going to be forever. It was like nobody said this was a silly idea to play against your friends on a LAN or on the internet. And so I think that for me probably in my lifetime was one of the most revolutionary things other than like a mobile phone being pretty obvious also. But what about you guys?

[00:10:42.440]

There's quite a few, thinking back. But one that was like really just a cool moment in my childhood I guess is, me and all my friends, we all had Game Boy Advance systems, and Nintendo rereleased The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. And it came with this little mini side game called Four Swords, where it's like you're all playing as a little Link, and you're exploring dungeons together. And it was like the perfect mix of kind of cooperative but also still competitive because you had to use each other to solve puzzles. But then you were also competing to see who could get the most number of Rupees. And anyway, in order to do this, everyone had to have a Game Boy Advance, you had to have this cloogy link cable system, and it was just a mess to get it all set up and get everyone playing. But then that experience, when it was everyone on their own system, and it was this perfect combination of collaborative and competitive, like I said. Anyway, we played the hell out of that. We played that for a couple of years. That was our go-to. And anyway, that was just a really, really fun experience. 

[00:12:00.664]

Man, remember when they released a new version of Game Boy, I'm pretty sure they started changing the port for the link cables, so you had to start getting adaptors? Oh, man, Nintendo was brilliant. They were geniuses with marketing.

[00:12:12.771]

Oh, yeah, yeah, but it was a mess. It was a messy thing to figure out as a kid. 

[00:12:17.459]

So I think for mine, I'm going to kill some of my OG cred. I think for me the first transitional massive moment was actually Xbox One Halo 2 on Xbox Live. And there's a couple reasons for this. I had played online game before. I had played Warcraft III, as an example, online over dial-up. And then your mom picks up the phone and suddenly your game session crashes. I had been through that. And I think Halo 2 was the first time where I started to see the technology available to just play with your friends online in a pretty straightforward fashion. We didn't have Discord. We didn't have Ventrilo or TeamSpeak. If you wanted to have a voice call with your friend, you were on the phone. And at that time, cell phones were still, they were pretty common, but they weren't rampant like they are now. They were, if you had a phone, you may not have had unlimited minutes or unlimited texts. All that stuff was relatively new. And so for me to be able to get into a game, boot it up, the internet worked well enough for it to be super laggy, you had a voice chat, you had a lobby system, you could meet up with your buddies on an active friends list, all of that tech coming together. So for me, that was very revolutionary to be like, wow, this one thing is taking care of my needs. And honestly, full disclosure, I don't believe we've actually seen a game be able to do that since Halo 2. I don't think in-game lobby systems have been, for whatever reason, nobody has made an in-game lobby system as good as Halo 2. And maybe I have a lot of memory back on that. But whenever I try to play a new shooter and user lobby system, I'm like, this isn't good. Why can't I just send my friend a message, get in the lobby, and go? So yeah, that for me was very transformational and like, wow, this is the potential of online gaming. This is why I could have fun playing games online. It was massive for me.

[00:14:02.609]

Yeah, I never really thought about that. But that was a super easy way to connect with your friends and like, hey let's go do something together and join together. It does seem like it was much easier back then than it would be today.

[00:14:18.195]

And now most of us gamers are in a Discord server somewhere, so it's a quick voice call away on Discord to get to that. But it's been piecemealed out where for whatever reason, Halo 2 just had all that magic, all of it together in one beautiful clump that just worked.

[00:14:34.654]

I think for me, I mentioned with the Four Swords example, it was a very local multi-player experience. And I actually personally wasn't really into online gaming for a while because I loved the local multi-player experience so much. And I felt like it just wasn't as good to do online for a while. And it took some time, and so I think maybe that's kind of what you're touching on. Once they were able to smooth out that process and it got to the point where it was a similar enough experience to make it good, it wasn't like you had to jump through all these hoops and you got kind of a reduced experience. So anyway, I feel like that was important. There was a period of time where it was like online was eh, eh, I just was not into it. So it had to kind of clear that hurdle or something.

[00:15:25.614]

Yeah, and I think Nintendo, not to disparage brands, but that has been one of their lower points as a company. Their online experience has always sort of been a little bit behind the others. And that doesn't change that I am a Nintendo fan. My Nintendo Switch gets like 4 hours a day of runtime. I love that thing. But that is something they've always seemed to struggle with. When you talk about it, Nintendo makes really amazing, really fun games, super dope experiences, but their online is always just a little bit behind because the other console manufacturers seem to focus more on that. So yeah, I think that matches your story of like, yeah, well if I play Nintendo too, the online was probably even more rough at that time. 

[00:16:01.945]

Yeah, totally. It seems like Nintendo has always done a fairly good job at the game development itself. But then as this service component of gaming took off, that's where they've just kind of been scrambling. And I'm right there with you. It's still not a great experience in 2020, which is kind of a headscratcher.

[00:16:22.148]

It's kind of weird. Yeah, even the games they have that are really good online experiences, they're not actually taking care of the servers, like your Fortnites and your Spellbreakers, those are running on Epic servers, or whoever the developer is.

[00:16:35.742]

Yep, that's pretty interesting. So what is your current favorite game? Another question for everybody.

[00:16:44.502]

My answer is really vanilla, but it's Street Fighter V. I could argue it's any other game, but I have thousands of hours into it. I've traveled to play it competitively with people in person in other states and countries. And when Street Fighter 6 comes out, that'll be my next favorite game. Fighting games are a wonderful, magical thing that have absorbed my soul.

[00:17:09.743]

Awesome. What about you, Daniel?

[00:17:11.562]

We're just going to keep namedropping Nintendo titles, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons is definitely my favorite game of the year. I've seen this meme going around a lot that it was just basically, it's like 2020 was like January, February, and then Animal Crossing. It's kind of become just like people's actual life this year. I have a daughter who's 5, and at the beginning, she kind of didn't get it because she was used to playing platformers. But she's really started to love that game, and so playing that with her has been really cool. And I've been an Animal Crossing fan since the original on GameCube. So having an Animal Crossing game look that good on a handheld system is literally every dream I ever had when I was a kid. 

[00:18:03.000]

And the online for that, I know we were kind of knocking Nintendo before, is actually really pretty solid. Visiting other people's islands is cool.

[00:18:10.799]

Yeah, once you get there. You have to put in a little bit of time to sync everything up, but yeah, once you're there it's pretty reliable and it is really fun to just kind of mess around, go fishing, all the rando stuff you do on Animal Crossing.

[00:18:26.373]

Yeah, that one's been huge this year. My favorite one is probably a surprise to nobody. It's a racing game. Anyone who knows me, Assetto Corsa, I play that. I don't have a lot of time for gaming these days, but when I play it's either like old-school NES, like Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! I still know all the codes. Double dragon. But Assetto Corsa's one of my favorites because it's got all my dream cars in there. I can take them and tune them and tweak them and crash them. And then go online and get smeared by everybody because I'm just not that good at it. But I love it. I don't care.

[00:19:06.933]

It's about the experience, not winning. It's about the experience of driving these super rad cars and seeing---

[00:19:13.623]

Exactly. And when I'm in last place, I can do whatever I want. I don't have to worry about etiquette. Smash a guardrail, spin around, whatever. But what do you guys think makes Animal Crossing so successful? Because I know that one's been huge, and I still haven't played it.

[00:19:30.043]

I mean, it is a streak of luck, but the launch timing could not have been more perfect for Nintendo. I also think that the game is very escapist, and it's good escapism. You're just on this joyful island with joyful creatures doing joyful stuff, which is super cool. To me, that's the biggest thing. The timing it hit in, the ability to have it, and also I think the prevalence of the Switch as well. All of that was just this really solid, perfect storm for this title.

[00:20:00.293]

Yeah, I definitely agree with all those. I've heard Animal Crossing be compared to a zen garden before, where you just go in there and you're just kind of zoning out. And at the end of the session of 20 minutes, whatever it is, if someone were like, what did you on Animal Crossing, you probably are like, uh, I don't remember. You go in there, you have the little tasks that you're doing. But yeah, I agree, the timing has been just unreal. Honestly, I've heard conspiracy theories that somehow Nintendo planned the whole pandemic just so---

[00:20:37.444]

I've heard that.

[00:20:37.439]

Because it just doesn't make sense how that could've happened so perfectly, but it did.

[00:20:44.224]

And I think, too, people want to express creativity. And I think going along with that, this game gives you that option. My Twitter feed for months, and even sometimes today is full of these really cool creations. I have a buddy who has an entire island that's like the heavy metal island. He's got skull pits and lava pits and weird witchcraft stuff in the woods. And my wife's is actually very similar. But they're sharing that and sharing those codes. And there's a lot of collaboration to just do a cool thing. And think that's another, that small amount of collaboration they offer is just enough to keep people pushing and create that like FOMO, like, oh, man, I want that, I want that. And so then people dive in.

[00:21:24.552]

Yeah, I can see that. That's similar to Minecraft. I got involved with Minecraft with my kids, and it was kind of like, oh, you're not going to like it, you're not going to like it. And then I got in there and I'm like, this is like an unlimited Lego set. Are you kidding me? This is amazing.

[00:21:39.897]

Right? And also, they learn how to host their own local server. 

[00:21:45.121]

Yep. That's pretty cool. Actually, I was talking to my daughter today who's an avid gamer, and so I wanted to get her input, basically. Because I'm like, yeah, we're a bunch of adults that are going to be talking like games. What are the kids playing right now? And she mentioned Among Us, Minecraft.

[00:22:00.570]

That game is so amazing.

[00:22:01.675]

Among Us is?

[00:22:03.021]

Yeah, it's amazing.

[00:22:04.433]

That's the one she's playing right now quite a bit. And Fall Guys, GTA, Fortnite, and Terraria.

[00:22:12.820]

It's interesting to hear Terraria on that list. That game's been---I bought Terraria years ago. Talk about longevity. It's an older, it's a good title. It's just been around for a long time.

[00:22:23.399]

Yeah, and I looked at that one and I was like, oh, it's 2D, a 2D side-scroller. That's my kind of thing. I love those things.

[00:22:32.199]

What about you, Daniel? Have you played any of those?

[00:22:34.577]

So the main one that you mentioned is like, the beginning of this year-ish, there was like almost any evening where my wife and I and then her brother, my brother-in-law, would sit down and play Fortnite. And it was like clockwork. We would play it for a couple of hours. And I'd played Fortnite off and on over the last few years, but for some reason we just got into that routine and we would just play it. And Fortnite, it's kind of dorky. I feel like the entire time I play it I'm always complaining about how stupid it is. But it is just fun. Every time a round is over, you're like, uh, one more, one more, one more. Because it's that reset factor where you're like, okay, here we go again, and you kind of get your routine, and you collect all the loot as quickly as you can. And you have kind of your little strategy that you get to play out over and over and over again. I'll tell something that I felt at the same time really old but it was really cool is when they did the Travis Scott concert inside Fortnite. And it was like a---

[00:23:39.226]

I heard that was amazing.

[00:23:40.248]

Yeah, it was my wife's cousin who's like 14. He was like, you've got to see this. It's going to be so cool. And I was like, this sounds so strange to attend a concert inside Fortnite. But he really twisted my arm, so I was like, okay, let's attend this concert together in Fortnite. It was so incredible. It was unreal the way that they synchronized kind of these crazy experiences in the game. The beat would drop and then all of a sudden everyone would get blasted up into the air, and there's colors changing. And I do not know Travis Scott, I don't listen to his music, but that experience, I was like, okay, wow, I just experienced the future in some way. And I was completely floored by it. It was really cool.

[00:24:26.258]

Yeah, and the technological advance of that is incredible from a technologist's perspective. You start to think about how they were syncing everybody up, server latency, all of those users sitting in one position, the music going out. There's so much to that. And yeah, it was just Fortnite, but it was Fortnite pushing the boundaries of something, which is so cool, so cool.

[00:24:46.678]

Yeah, we have talked about that off and on as we were playing. Like, okay, we're in one game that started with a hundred players and now it's down to five or whatever. How many of these worlds are existing right at this moment? It's mindboggling.

[00:25:01.301]

This is a question for Thomas. What's it's like to be an independent game developer today, in 2020?

[00:25:09.299]

Interesting. So full disclosure, I've shipped for money not very many games. Most of the games I develop are small, quick prototypes to teach a specific topic or prove to myself I can do it or figure out how a new function works. Maybe I'm looking at Shader Graph and I'm like, okay, I don't really understand how node-based stuff works because I'm a programmer so I'll make like a really cool cloaking effect or things like that. But I would say it's a lot of things. I mean, gaming is more popular than ever. I think that's a true statement that you can just say every year. Because like any industry, they keep growing it and marketing it and making cool stuff. I would say that it is more accessible to get into than ever, but I would also say that it's also probably harder to make a lot of money on your own IP than ever as well because of how accessible it is. The last time I looked at stats, for example, so Steam had, man, I want to say it was like 100% growth in the titles published, I think, in 2019 and only like a 10% revenue bump. So if you think about that, that means the other 90% are just taking a small piece of that 10% growth pie or maybe a little bit of the Fortnite revenue or whatever. Fortnite's not on Steam, but whatever their massive titles are, they're just taking a little bit of that revenue away. So I think it's a hard industry to survive in as an indie dev, but I think it's also super rewarding because you can pursue really cool, fun ideas, and there's a really supportive community around that, and that's what's I really like about it. You know, if you find like a $2 game but it's just does some really cool ideas, most of the people like myself that are playing those games, I'm not expecting a AAA title. Thinking about some of the games that have indie I've really dug, I'm trying to remember the name of it. There's a Switch one that just came out that was like a very, very Gothic, super pixelated, gory Metroidvania game. Blasphemous was the name of it. Very indie. Kickstarted pretty well, but some of the stuff they did really well; some of the other stuff they didn't do really well. But the fact that, because it was indie, they were able to explore some really dark, pretty heavy themes and really give you a really fun, game play was really cool. So I think that's really kind of what it's like. You get to explore a lot of really cool, interesting stuff, and every once in a while you will hit a vein that just happens to pop up and go crazy and give people a lot of excitement. You'll blow up. Yeah, it's think it's super cool, super rewarding. The community's amazing. If you've ever been to like GDC or Day of the Devs, any of the game jams, any of the indie meetups, everybody is super encouraging, super uplifting. And honestly, the people that are super competitive and not in it to uplift each other and help grow generally start to weed themselves out. Because most people that doing this are like, look, I don't have an interest in tearing others down. I have an interest in helping others do cool stuff. And if somebody does a really cool thing, I want to support that and maybe also get some of the ideas from that cool thing and help build it up and grow it. Another game I think of that got to do that and was very successful was Untitled Goose Game. I don't know if you all got to play that one on the Switch and PC, but that game was amazing. And if you find---there's a tweet here, I'd have to find it from House House of how the game came to be, it was literally a Slack message of like, man, geese are jerks. And someone was like, yeah, man, they're the worst. And it was like, ah, man, could you imagine a world just full of jerk geese? And suddenly we have this incredibly fun experience. But realistically, it wasn't pushing any boundaries from a technical perspective. It was literally control character, pick up stuff, run, but it was so fun. And the textures weren't---the art style was really cool, but, again, there's nothing technically masterful about the art style. It was flat colors, single textures. It was just assembled in such a way that made it enjoyable and fun. So that's kind of my long rant on what it's like to be, but I think it's a hard industry, honestly. I think it's tough, but I think it is also very rewarding and very cool. 

[00:28:59.885]

Do you think it's had a big effect on gaming? I think back, and I believe PlayStation was probably the first console that allowed independent developers. Because before that, I know Atari and NES and Sega, they had hired groups and a couple of independent really big companies, but Sony was the first one to be like, we'll sell you this, and I don't even remember what it's called now. I think was like the Yaroze or something, where it was a PlayStation that you could plug into a PC and push code to it. And then now, like 10 years after that or whatever, mobile phones came out. And they're like, here, we're going to let you guys build all the games and stuff. So do you think that independent developers have made a big dent?

[00:29:45.300]

Oh, absolutely. I think, if you think about it, the exclusivity wars are not as major as they used to be. They're still important, but at the same time, indie developers are pushing the bleeding edge all the time because they have that freedom. And I can't remember, it was a quote from, I can't remember if it was an Electronic Arts executive or if it was one of the Crysis executives from CryEngine, but they basically made the statement of the reason why you get so many sequential titles and so many repeat updates from AAA studios is because they have shareholders and a board and profit margins to meet, where indie developers don't. And so they can be really creative, really exciting. And you start seeing really cool stuff. Because I think you're right. Sony started really pushing that. I can't remember, because they had [email protected], which came out on Xbox 360 pretty early, and they actually had their own engine. But then Sony PlayStation also had their own engine, and I can't remember how they went---but now there's actual teams that are searching for indie titles to put on their platform and help them get lifted. But yeah, I would absolutely say they're pushing it. They're doing cool stuff, like I said, always exploring cool themes because there isn't that fear. Depending on the developer, if they fail, like, oh, well, I can still go back to my day job. I'm just doing this on the back end. So yeah, I think indie devs are absolutely pushing that forward, and it's pretty apparent when you look at new features. I mean, look at Fortnite. That was an indie dev that sort of got ripped off, PUBG. PUBG was the first arena ­­­­­shooter and Epic saw its success, because they were using Unreal Engine, we don't talk about that, but they saw that and they said, well, we can make our own. And they turned it around and made something similar. And now we're seeing all of these different arena battler clones coming out. League of Legends is a very similar thing. That was a DotA mod. Or I'm sorry, DotA was the mod and then League of Legends was the clone of the mod. So much cool stuff happening from people getting neat ideas and trying stuff, and here we are.

[00:31:48.888]

I just want to call out, along those lines, Cuphead was one of the those most amazing games I've played over the last couple years.

[00:31:56.334]

Wonderful.

[00:31:57.227]

To me, the whole perspective of that is, let's do all this hand-drawn illustration, kind of classic Disney animation style. That seems like something that would've never gotten approved by a major game studio. It was just a passion project.

[00:32:13.946]

Well, think about the product risks there. The game is prohibitively challenging. It is a hard game. The art style is very unique and very specific, and it also looks really beautiful. But, I mean, we're in the year 2020, I used to watch cartoons from the '20s and '30s as a kid. I've seen those. I had Looney Tunes on TV, but some of these kids didn't, so there's a risk there. Do kids still like platformers? I think they do. But there's so many what-ifs about a title like that. That's also made with Unity, which is pretty cool, I think.

[00:32:48.207]

Definitely. So if someone wants to get started in game development today, which direction would you point them? If they said I just want to build video games, what's the easiest way to get there?

[00:33:01.565]

Honestly, go with what you like. This is the same as learning, in my opinion, the same as learning an instrument, the same as picking up a fighting game. If someone picks up a fighting game, at first they're like, which character should I play? And the right---a lot of people are like, well, this character explains most the basics of footsies. No, it's the character that you're drawn to. Same with an instrument. If you're going to learn the guitar, get a guitar that you enjoy playing because then you'll keep playing it. And game dev is the same way. Do a thing you like to do. If Unreal Engine's your jam, then start learning Unreal Engine. Epic has a ton of free learning resources. If Unity's your jam, learn.unity.com has literally hundreds of hours of training content for beginners, including a seminar, which I actually just helped doing, called Create with Code, where every week you sat for an hour with people that develop and learned a topic and then made your own games through it and learned processes and coding. There's a bunch of Pluralsight, wink, wink, content licensed by Unity that is on that with a game that we worked on with them for a while. There's a ton of really good stuff. So do what you enjoy to do. But know that the cool thing about gaming, I think, is during the time we have to be at home, educational companies and people that are educating have stepped up to create these really great experiences. So yeah, honestly, it's about, do you have time and do you have the motivation? Because it's out there, and there's learning resources everywhere. There's incredible YouTube series as well. If you want to learn Unity, Brackeys is one of my favorite YouTube people. He actually just stepped out of the game, but he still has like 6 years' worth of incredible tutorials to go look at. Unity's YouTube is good. Shameless plug, Pluralsight's website has game dev content. Yeah, there's a lot. And honestly, learn what you like. For me, I'm not an artist. I like art, but I can't do it, so I learned to code. And that has given me a lot of reward. If you are an artist, Maya, 3ds Max, ZBrush, Photoshop. Blender is free and an incredible tool. There's so much that you can learn. If you just want to paint 2D stuff, become a texture artist and start---Adobe just bought Alembic, I'm going to get this name wrong, but anyway, the Substance Painter and Substance Suite, Substance Painter, the Substance world builder, all stuff. Use those. Those are incredible texturing tools. There's a lot of stuff out there.

[00:35:19.121]

Thomas, a follow-up question to that, because a lot of what you're talking about is kind of on the technology side and kind of making that choice. If I were interested in making a game and I was just trying to decide which platform, or which devices to make it available for, in my mind, I would be like, uh, I'd probably go mobile if the game can handle mobile because it's such a huge audience. But is that the right way to think about it?

[00:35:45.115]

I think it depends on how you're approaching the game. Do you have a story that you just want to tell, or are you approaching it from a business perspective? I think mobile dev is really cool, actually. And it's weird because I'm classified as a hardcore gamer, but I think mobile gaming is really neat. And all the engines, again, have thoughts about that. They have varying rendering pipelines to help optimize your game for definitely technologies. I would say that, in my opinion, if you just want to be shipping games and working and learning, I think console in my opinion should be your last option. Because getting onto a console is highly vetted and really hard. To even pitch a game for Nintendo Switch, for an example, you actually have to get accepted into their dev program, which means you have to have storyboard, solid game pitch, prototype. Honestly, I would start building Android tech, building fun little Android games to learn all the different things and then start building on those different pieces. Build a little 2D platformer level, and now you understand how to move characters around. Oh, cool, now you want to move people in 3D space. Well, now instead of using Vector2 values, you're using Vector3 values. Instead of RectTransforms you're using normal transforms. There's stuff you can change, but then you'll start kind of growing and expanding that skill set. And then from there, it's just where you want to publish. But I think if I was going to make an app that I wanted to ship in the next 3 weeks, it would be like a standalone PC title, or it would be like something that you play on like a WebGL browser or a mobile, because that's where the tech is moving right now, and then learning skills to eventually get to like a console. 

[00:37:12.169]

Yeah, that's interesting. 

[00:37:14.467]

That was going to be my final question, actually, was, what does the future of gaming look like to you guys?

[00:37:21.884]

I don't want to be the guy that stands on his chair and screams VR, but I recently just bought an Oculus Quest and I've been doing some dev in VR, and, man, VR's super cool. I think there's a lot to explore there. But I think the future is a lot of content and a lot to try and a lot of varying experiences. And I think there's a lot of really cool unexplored fronts. There's a lot of like empathy training you go through in gaming because it can make you feel emotions that other experiences may or may not make you feel. I still remember this crazy VR experience I had. I was at a conference. It was at Unite 2017 maybe in Austin, Texas. And we were at a mixer, and they had a bunch of VR experiences. And somebody for an empathy training had recreated a holocaust train experience in VR, along with survivors to put you through that. And it was insanely traumatic but insanely eye-opening. And what better empathy training can a human get than experiencing it? And when that headset goes on, you're in there. So I think there's just like this really open, bright future of really cool, unique experiences. And I think the idea of gaming surpasses just sitting down holding a controller and hitting stuff. I think that's definitely gaming, but I think there's a lot of gamification of our lives, gamification of checklists, virtual reality, all kinds of stuff. And then of course I think competitive gaming has a long way to go before it's ever survivable and viable, but I think that's something that we're going to see a lot of as well continue to grow.

[00:38:53.201]

Yeah, that would've been my answer, probably VR for that immersive experience. And there's even useful things for that like you were saying, the empathy training, super useful. Like in firefighting, because I'm a volunteer firefighter, and we're constantly talking about, we can't wait till we're not going into an actual burning structure for practice, as much as we're just putting on a headset and going on. And then it's like, okay, you messed up and you made the wrong choice and you died. But we'll hit reset and we'll start it again.

[00:39:25.499]

Right, and you can practice those skills and learn, and it can give you feedback. Same thing for like, they're using it for tower climbing, people who climb huge telephone poles and things and do work there. They use VR for that. Medical training, yeah, there's a lot of really cool grounds that technically gaming but technically not.

[00:39:43.910]

Yeah, what do you think, Daniel?

[00:39:46.157]

Probably just kind of echoing what's already been said a little bit. I think we've mentioned Untitled Goose Game, which I really loved. Once again, that's kind of an approach to a game that could give you all sorts of experiences. I'm also thinking of the game from a few years back called Papers, Please---

[00:40:07.919]

Oh, yeah.

[00:40:08.922]

Which is like you're basically a bureaucrat checking people's identification at a border crossing, which sounds hilarious and if kind of is. But I came away from that experience like, man, the layers and layers of bureaucracy to try to restrict someone's freedom to cross a border. It did kind of leave a lasting impact on me, which is kind of interesting. So I'd love to see more of those types of things like both of you have mentioned, the empathy training. I've also, to go on the VR side, I had a couple of experiences with the VR in-real-person experience of The Void.

[00:40:53.399]

I have done that as well, yeah.

[00:40:54.662]

Yeah, and that, I got done with that, and I felt like I was in a Black Mirror episode. I was like, oh, my gosh, is this reality that we're even living in? But I'm like, all of sudden I could understand, you know, we see in sci-fi movies and stuff this future where people prefer to live in a virtual reality rather than in reality. And all of a sudden I kind of started to understand that, which freaked me out. It seemed so far away, and I experienced that, and there was, you know, there were bugs and there were things about it that didn't work. But for those who might not know, The Void is basically, it's VR experiences that are mapped to a physical room, so as you're walking through a doorway in the game, there's a physical doorway and you can reach out and feel that doorway. And you kind of are walking through this physical maze-type experience, but it's all mapped to the game. And so anyway, to me, that was really, really cool, and I hope we get more of those type of experiences as well.

[00:41:56.361]

I totally agree. So I did the one here in Utah. I also did the one in, so there's one at Disneyland in California. It's the Star Wars experience, which is done with ILM, which is really cool. And there's a horror one in Vegas I still want to do. But every time I walk out of one of those I'm like a VR salesperson at that point. I'm like, this is the future. This is it.

[00:42:17.038]

I did the Star Wars one, and when Darth Vader appeared, I lost my mind.

[00:42:21.857]

Yes, so cool. 

[00:42:25.714]

Quest has the Vader Immortal app. Same experience because you get that scale. I'm 6', 280 lbs. I'm not a small person. But in the app, Vader's like 7'. He's a big dude. And when he's standing in front of me, I had to lean my head up to look at him. It changes the scale of the experience. It's really cool.

[00:42:47.404]

Yeah, I've been holding off buying a home VR rig, but I don't know how much longer I can avoid that. 

[00:42:54.168]

You should at least wait for Quest 2.

[00:42:56.254]

Yeah, okay, I'll wait for that. Maybe that will be the moment I pull the trigger.

[00:43:00.321]

I think they announced it like Tuesday.

[00:43:03.529]

That's pretty cool. Thank you very much, you guys, for doing this. It's been very interesting.

[00:43:09.733]

Yeah, any time you guys want to get in a Zoom call and work on video games like this. You let me know. I'm here.

[00:43:22.349]

Thank you for listening to All Hands on Tech. To see show notes and more info, visit pluralsight.com/podcast. Thanks for listening, and have a great week.