Interview with the CEO of Forever Humble PDX: Raising Stars and Making Stories
Whether you’re a teenager or someone who already has teenagers of your own, age means nothing when you’re a developer. Funny thing is we recently interviewed veterans of game development and now we’re going to write about guys from Forever Humble PDX, whose lead programmer is just 14 years old! We spoke to Nicholas Cunningham, President and CEO of the company, to find out how he manages such a diverse team and how they created Galagan’s Island: Reprymian Rising.
Galagan’s Island is an Arcade style Space Shooter paying loving homage to classic arcade style and difficulty. Watch the game’s trailer:
Nicholas has a fresh eye on team management for Forever Humble PDX, not being biased about giving a chance to self-taught guys and what is more exciting, to very young people. Talent doesn’t depend on age or gender and Nicholas has created an atmosphere of a truly diverse startup, where their lead programmer Jonathan Cunningham is only 14 years old. He’s self taught and has been making video games in a multitude of languages since he was nine. Their game designer is also self taught but has been around since Pong and has numerous mentors to turn to for advice. The other programmers that have joined their team are all formally trained and have design degrees as well. “Forever Humble PDX is still a very new company, so at this time, the artists available to us are limited and usually come from other studios”- says Nicholas.
We initially created Galagan’s Island for Otronicon Game Jam in 36 hours. It was the first project together for my son and I…we didn’t want to quit…and then we just couldn’t.
They choose the projects they take on carefully, for the most part though it’s simply for their love of video games and the enjoyment they create for others. Nicholas says they often find games to be thematically similar to most games in the industry and it’s almost impossible to find a theme that’s never been touched on. However, they do try to not take on a project that is completely saturating the market, such as first person zombie shooters. “But if the mood strikes we would”- he adds.
Life is the biggest inspiration for anything Nicholas and his team at Forever Humble PDX does. He is convinced that life experience goes a long way in coming up with their ideas: “I’d like to think that every game we’ve ever played inspires our work, whether it be things we want to try, improve upon or completely avoid”.
Their first release is currently in Early Access, as they are putting quite a bit more content into it, including an in-depth storyline. “I can say that I’ve been a writer my whole life and story is extremely important to us”- says Nicholas. The storyline they’ve created for Galagan’s Island will have 6 chapters. Because they are in Early Access with their first game, it allows them to make necessary adjustments as well as add additional content to help improve and expand the game. Nicholas assures us they constantly evolve their game by paying great attention to their current players feedback, watching people play the game and playing it themselves. “You think something might work really well, but you just never really know until the controller is in your hand” – he sighs. In spite of that, Nicholas doesn’t consider any changes they had to make or choose to make as real “problems”, and adds: “It’s part of the enjoyment of making games, it should always be a learning process”.
Nicholas shared some essential tips with us on what is important when making a good quality design:
- The ability to teach the player how to play in gameplay itself;
- The use of music and sound to help immerse the player;
- Replayability, game juice or all the things that make the game pop/shake/bust and react;
- Finally if the game is fun, because so many of us forget that games are meant to be fun to play, something to cherish and enjoy.
Resources of Their Own
Galagan’s Island was created by 2 dedicated game developers, one artist and one superman who’s a designer/musician/project manager. The four of them managed to get the game in Early Access in approximately 3 months. They still work on it both updating and expanding it regularly.
To create their games, they’ve used most of the engines available on the current market. “It’s best to find what suits your team for each project you take on. Just remember it’s never the engine that makes the game, it’s the team behind it.” -smiles Nicholas. He says they are very attentive to details and are documenting everything very well. However, most of that they are keeping private and don’t plan to make public until later down the road.
Despite being so fast in developing Galagan’s Island, Nicholas grumbles that artists are their biggest hurdle to date. As a new studio, they’ve really needed to find artists that were willing to work for revenue share. “Anyone can tell you in this industry, that is one hell of a feat to overcome. So far we are getting by, so we just keep driving forward”- he stays optimistic regardless of issues with finding artists. “We kept on using subpar art to create prototypes that we could shop around. It’s worked so far” -he adds. Mixing and mastering of all their music productions were done by their Gold, Platinum and GRAMMY Award Winning studios.
There were no significant issues with communication with the rest of the team; although sometimes someone may misunderstand the meaning of someone’s words, Nicholas proves that constant communication helps keep problems from arising.
Nicholas didn’t use any specific tools for project management apart from being a scrupulous manager himself: “I created deadlines for ourselves and drove the team to always try to not just reach them but surpass them”. According to Nicholas, all it takes to cut down on the cost and time to develop game components is simply hard work and dedication.
Following their policy of dedication and determination they regularly test the product in public by use of conventions. Early Access has really helped them to accomplish that as well. Nicholas says: “If testing and the results of that testing don’t impact your game, you aren’t in the right business”.
They also had no funding, as they work for a profit share and strive to make their company revenue, however their priority is consistently making good games. They’ve used both social media and public conventions to create awareness for Galagan’s Island: ”We don’t think it’s popular yet. It’s a tough market out there. We are just keeping at it”.
For us it’s about keep making games and getting better at doing so.
Pure, plain and simple.
About Forever Humble PDX
Forever Humble PDX is an indie game and music publisher and creator. This is their first release under Skinny Jean Death Studios- a video game development company founded by teen programmer Jonathan Cunningham that strives to allow the opportunity for child programmers around the world to come together as one.
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