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SXSW interview with AAA Game Pitch Contestant Sam Combs

SXSW Interactive Game Design Competition finalist Sam Combs
SXSW Interactive Game Design Competition finalist Sam Combs
Sam Combs

How do you break into the video game industry while still managing a full time student schedule? Win game pitch competitions. Sam Combs, who is a finalist at Screen Burn's Triple A Game Design Competition, took the time to answer some questions about the art of pitching video games. 

CT: Tell me about Robot Revolution and how you conceptualized this game. Where did the inspiration come from?

SC: Robot Revolution is a third person action game where you play a highly customizable robot fighting to free his fellow robots from being forced to slave away for an evil robot dictator. What makes it different is being able to swap out any of your parts. Any of the parts you see on another robot or in the world, you can bolt on and use, everything from the chassis, your sensors, weapons, treads... everything can be customized. The high level of customization means you can tackle challenges in the game in almost whatever way you want to - blasting your way through, using stealth, etc. Inspirations included Deus Ex, the MechWarrior series, and WALL-E, to name a few.

CT: I know that you pitched it for EGaDS pitch competition, how long ago was that and did that experience help prepare you for SXSW?

SC: It was about a year ago, I only presented it in one of the practice presentations where we had a couple industry judges give some feedback. But their feedback was very helpful, they told us what to avoid. Walls of text in your slides are bad, it's better to show than tell, general stuff like that. It was certainly helpful to practice presenting in front of others, I'm glad I had the opportunity.

CT: What were the events leading up to this final round like? Do you feel as if you've pitched it so much you can do it blindfolded?

SC: Everything so far has been done online. The preliminaries were submitting a 150 word summary of the idea, then the semi-finalist stage was submitting a five minute PowerPoint presentation, and then the four finalists in each category were chosen just going off the PowerPoint, without presenting it. Even though it's all been online, I've still had some practice pitching, my girlfriend has listened to me give the presentation more than a couple of times, and I'll still be practicing up until Sunday.

CT: What's going to separate Robot Revolution from the other entries?

SC: Hopefully the earlier mentioned customizability of the robot the player plays, I haven't seen a game give you that many choices before. I'm actually really interested in seeing the other ideas, especially since one of my fellow finalists has two games that he's presenting in the AAA category.

CT: Are you nervous to do this in front of a big crowd? How will the final round differ from other times you've pitched RR?

SC: I'm absolutely nervous, I don't think I've been in front of such a big crowd by myself before. But I'm looking forward to it too, it's a great opportunity to get my ideas in front of a lot of people and hopefully get some honest critiques.

CT: I heard you also pitched a casual title, what was it about and why do you think RR went on while that one didn't?

SC: I did, it was about reclaiming a polluted industrial wasteland by planting and caring for plants to transform the land into a park. That was what I pitched first, I sent in RR as an afterthought. But I think the plant growing game didn't get as far because it's harder to visualize how you would play it, I wasn't completely sure how it would be played myself. RR is just more immediate, easier to sell in a sentence or two.

CT: What other involvement have you had in gaming development?

SC: I've done some level design, I recently released a short single player level for Half-Life 2 called 'A Brief Detour'. I actually want to work as a level designer in the game industry, I've always enjoyed sketching out spaces, making new worlds. I have more fun making levels for games than I do playing them sometimes.

CT: Any longterm goals with RR? Do you hope to publish it eventually or just using it as a concept model for now?

SC: It will probably stay as a concept for now, but I keep going back to it and tweaking it here and there. It might get made someday, we'll have to see how it does at the competition first!

You can watch Combs' pitch Robot Revolution this Sunday at 3:30 in room 6AB. Examples of his level design (and trust me, it's worth checking out) may be found on his blog

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