David Koontz is a faculty member at the Phoenix Art Institute and an enthusiastic game developer with some sage advice for other independent, solo game developers.
We sat down with Koontz and asked him for his personal insight as he embarks on his own development of “Star.Ship.Story”, his personal game creation; Koontz quickly took us back to his own gaming beginning
“I was not going to be happy in the mainstream triple a gaming industry. There were things that I wanted to do that were very incompatible with what I was hearing and seeing from people working in that capacity.” Koontz said, and added, “The games I wanted to make were always pretty ambitious from a technical standpoint, so I always find myself doing a lot of learning in any project I undertake.”
As the lead programmer for an educational game Koontz also worked on through ASU, Koontz believes that even though it may not be a universal "truth"-he subscribes to the notion that someone can either make "tech" or make a game, but can rarely make both. He admitted that if someone has enough people that both can be done but if you are planning on going solo it would be very difficult.
Koontz went on to say, “Right now especially is an amazingly good time for independent game development because you can get almost everything you need off the shelf to start. The amount of time you would have had to spend on developing tech is so much smaller than it ever has been. That is very encouraging because I see the interests of more and more people who traditionally would have been shut out of game development.”
Koontz is a bit perplexed by one notion that seems to permeate the gaming industry as well as his classroom when he explains, “Almost every single student I get is here because they like playing video games. There is pretty much no connection between making video games and liking to play video games. How often do you hear people say, you like reading books you should write books, or, you like watching movies you should go be a director. There is no automatic connection in other media. It is very strange to me that the video game industry has had this idea.”
Koontz often repeats a statement to his students that, “If you want to make games, there is no excuse, make games.” Koontz went on to explain, “If you go to a school, any school, and expect to do exactly what your teachers tell you and come out the other end employable you are sorely mistaken about how the world works. There are way too many people who are really good at what they do for you to do the minimum and expect anything. The world does not owe you a thing and you will be beaten out by people more motivated than you. So I beat a pretty consistent drum with my students which are, what side project are you working on, what did you do during summer break, and the answer is almost always Nothing.”
Koontz's own development of his game "Star.Ship.Story" began while searching for a good seven plus player game which yielded few satisfying results.
“I was on this quest to find this game and I can’t find anything. I’m a designer, I should probably make it. I wanted a game that does not exclude people that is still a skill based games, which means it’s going to have a very low dexterity component. So I looked to board games," said Koontz.
Board games? Yes, board games, and from there Koontz described his step by step unfolding of using a short form game experience that generates an amount of content appropriate for the amount of time players have to spend playing the game.
Koontz added, “Many of us have kids and saying I’ve only got 40 minutes and then I have to go bed is a very real consideration, so we support that. We can also include our friends, family, and significant others that maybe can’t play first person shooters or something like that.”
Finally, Koontz wanted to make sure he tweaked everything leaving only the necessary components to create the game he wanted to play. Koontz began with what he didn't want and says, “Then of course I want to exclude all the things I dislike in games, like skills and levels, pay to win, and it is not designed to be a power fantasy. I feel like when your screw up in a game you should be allowed to die and learn from that and be better to gain some sense of mastery over time.”
Koontz may be an instructor in the classroom-but his blueprint for beginning solo game developers takes interested students well beyond the academic walls.
“People in creative fields often say “Don’t be afraid to kill your baby,” and that is absolutely true because you can’t get attached to an idea. That idea was formed with a certain amount of perspective on the project you’re doing and your perspective always changes.”