I thought I’d start off the new year — wait, tomorrow is March? uh
I thought I’d start off March by starting a gamedev blog! And I thought I’d start that off with a personal intro, so here goes.
I’m Dave and I’m the sole developer behind the Unity-powered indie game Cheer and Track! I’ve been a game developer since 1995, getting my start in big-time game development at the legendary Westwood Studios. I joined them as a CGI artist/animator about a month before the original Command & Conquer hit store shelves and changed the world. I first made several cinematics for C&C: Red Alert and later made smaller art contributions to Lands of Lore: Guardians of Destiny and C&C: Tiberian Sun.
After a couple of years, I left Westwood to join a friend’s new indie game studio. It was my first opportunity to join a game company from the ground floor, and I also thought there might be a chance to do some game design. As a near-lifelong fan of video games (I can remember being practically hypnotized by Taito’s Space Invaders when it was new), I had always been interested in game design, and doodled some cartoonish paper designs and made some simple games on the Commodore 64 as a kid. But like most small businesses, my friend’s studio didn’t survive its first year, and our work was largely unseen.
I then became an artist at another well-known game company of the past, the once-massive (for its time) developer and publisher Interplay. I joined the team for Star Trek: Starfleet Command, where I did a lot of the grunt work on the UI art. Part of that team left Interplay (on good terms) to form indie game developer Taldren, and I joined them as employee #5. We continued to work on the Starfleet Command series for Interplay, and later Activision, while trying to get our own IPs off the ground. First and foremost of those was the futuristic action-RPG Black9, which was only seen in a few very early previews. The development deal for Black9 eventually fell through and Taldren was forced to lay off most of its staff, including me. The studio would shut down entirely about a year later.
You may wonder why the graphics in Cheer and Track aren’t so hot, to put it mildly, if I used to make a living as an artist! Several
excuses reasons — first and foremost, back in the day my skills as an artist just didn’t grow as I had hoped. So, while working on Taldren’s Black9, when the opportunity presented itself, I finally did move away from art into game design. I felt I could become a better game designer than artist. Since then, I’ve worked as a game designer and a gameplay scripter, leaving me pretty rusty with art.
Also, Cheer and Track is in early access and its artwork isn’t finished, not even close! For example, the environments are almost entirely untextured collision, the only textures so far being primitive things to indicate climbable grass surfaces or (what’s supposed to be) lava glass or some such. The UI is also at its most basic and plain. The character animation is very first-pass and sandpaper rough. The game’s art is almost all function, no aesthetic, yet.
And when it comes to art more akin to traditional media, like the super-simple animatics in the intro and outro movies or the character art on the front page of the web site, right now I’m just an amateur cartoonist working to get better.
Finally, as a professional CGI artist I was never tasked with creating CGI characters or in-game environments, which Cheer and Track is all about, so I didn’t build that work experience then. I shoulda made an indie game about tanks and exploding tanks and watching movies about tanks exploding! With a million buttons!
But instead, I wanted something closer to my heart. The last time I ended up again unemployed by big-time game development — more on that later — I came up with around 30 ideas for indie games. Like the saying goes, “ideas are easy, execution is hard.” I decided my best idea was for a co-op 3D platformer featuring two female leads with different strengths and weaknesses, tossed into danger and becoming lifelong friends as they work together to survive and escape. So I started making Cheer and Track, and now it’s in early access, go buy it! seriously go buy it
So all I have to do to keep moving forward is shake off the rust, keep learning new things, and keep improving the art. …and the scripting and the music etc. etc. etc.
Back to my work experience, after Taldren I joined indie developer 7 Studios as a game designer. I contributed to a series of, sadly but honestly, poorly-received at best licensed games, including Fantastic 4 (2005), Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow, and Space Camp. 7 Studios was eventually purchased by Activision and later shut down. Some 7 Studios folks went to other Activision Blizzard studios, but many were laid off, including me.
I think at least in part due to my weak game design portfolio, I had trouble finding a new game design job. Instead I landed a position as a gameplay programmer / Lua scripter at the original Telltale Games, contributing mostly to The Walking Dead seasons 1 and 2, The Walking Dead: 400 Days, and Poker Night 2. Most game design work requires a lot of scripting, and this experience, along with a strong recommendation from a friend at Telltale, got me in the door. I had hoped to finally make a permanent gamedev career there and grow into a “real” programmer. But while I thought I was working towards that for almost two years, one day I was basically told I just wasn’t good enough, and I was fired.
That hurt, a lot. I never expected to be fired in my life.
I finally lost a lot of faith in big-time game development as a career after that, although I think my overall experience was still more positive than most. It was often very demanding and difficult, but I also met a lot of great people who are still my friends today. Why, I could make an indie game out of that notion! and you could buy it, like, right now
So I became an indie game developer, partly to grow a better game design showcase should I ever seek to return to big-time game development. But some additional personal challenges surfaced shortly after losing my job. My aging mother’s already declining health started getting worse, and she was diagnosed with cancer. Between now and then, she did much better for about a year in the middle, but it didn’t last. She died in early 2019.
We did get to play Cheer and Track together a couple of times over the course of its development, although she didn’t really understand 3D platformers or how to use a modern game controller. But she said she liked it, she always supported me and loved me very much. She was a fan of Pac-Man when I was a kid, and thanks to the Nintendo Switch and Namco’s re-releases, we also played that together shortly before she passed away.
Late last year, I finally launched Cheer and Track in early access and dedicated it to my mom in the credits. And I continue to work on it, although it hasn’t come along as fast as I’d hoped, maybe like most things. But I’ll keep at it
if as long as you guys start keep buying it!
That’s me I guess! Now go buy Cheer and Track! It’s only *$5!* (MSRP)
“makes a great gift”
“Always Be Closing”