Developers Cubed: Celebrating Aussie Developers

Developers! Developers! Developers! Steve Ballmer's favourite sweat-laden catchcry is a reminder that all those great apps we spend so much time using on our phones and PCs are made by someone, somewhere. Developers Cubed looks to get a behind the scenes look at some of Australia's up and coming development scene. This week, we speak to Neil Rennison, Creative Director for Melbourne studio Tin Man Games.

Who are you and where do you work? My name is Neil Rennison, Creative Director for Tin Man Games. We're a core two-man independent games developer based in Melbourne.

Why do we know you? What have you created? Personally I've been in the game industry for about 10 years and have worked on countless racing titles through my small art outsourcing company, Fraction StudiosI've been involved with the creation of a lot of the handheld and low-end console ports of game series such as Need For Speend, Nascar and Tiger Woods. More recently we've been involved creating art for titles such as The Sims 3.

As for my work with Tin Man Games (www.tinmangames.com.au), I'm one of the original founders and started it up because I had a need to create my own games and develop IP. It's great working for companies like EA, but at the end of the day you're bringing someone else's idea to life and I felt I wanted to create something original of my own. As a small independent game studio, I wear lots of hats. My roles involve being an artist, writer, editor, tester, marketeer, businessman as well as acting as a producer on our games, managing many of the people that come together to create the wonderful elements of our games. Basically I do everything apart from coding, which is handled by the other half of our core two-man team, Technical Director, Ben Britten Smith.

What platforms do you develop for? With Tin Man Games, we currently develop for the iOS platforms, but will be moving into Kindle and Android later this year. I'm also doing some work-for-hire art outsourcing on a Nintendo 3DS project too at the moment.

What are you working on right now? Here at Tin Man Games we're currently in beta for our sixth Gamebook Adventures title, The Wizard from Tarnath Tor, for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Gamebook Adventures is our series of interactive adventure gamebooks for digital platforms that is cross between Choose Your Own Adventure style gamebooks and RPGs. We're also in pre-development on about another 6 GA titles too.

How did you get into development? I graduated from university in 1999 with a BA in Product Design. I was never actually very interested in the "product design" side of my degree, but the course did introduce me to lots of 3D CAD modelling. As I was a huge games and animation fan, I got my first job working for a multimedia company in the UK building 3D models and animations for multimedia applications from anything from a nuclear power station to reconstructing the Rose Theatre as seen in the film, Shakespeare in Love. After that job I got my first games job, building environments for a number of PS2 and Xbox racing games. After 3 years of that I went freelance and landed my first gigs working on ports of SSX3 and Need For Speed Underground 2. Shortly after I started Fraction Studios.

What do you think about the rise and rise of App Stores? How has it influenced your titles? For me, the rise of the App Store was perfect timing. I was getting the itch to develop my own ideas and all of a sudden there were platforms sprouting up everywhere with low barriers for entry. In the past, if you wanted to do your own stuff, you had limited options. Developing on Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft consoles required huge investment and it was extremely hard to even be approved. With Apple, all I needed was $100 to sign up and I was capable of creating my own titles independently!

In just the last couple of years many more development platforms have now appeared giving us independent types, lots of opportunities. For Tin Man Games it now means we can look to port our iOS titles to other mobile platforms, thus expanding our user base and very importantly of us smaller companies, increase our revenues.

The App Store revolution isn't without it's pitfalls though and it is no longer the gold rush that many thought it was. Very quickly an eco-system as arisen and as I'm finding, I am having to learn how to wear lots of new hats all the time. 18 months ago, I knew very little about marketing, but very quickly had to adapt to this new landscape (on top of actually creating the product too that I am marketing!) or go out of business. I know lots of great devs, who went independent and failed. Not because their games were rubbish, but because no-one knew those games existed. Just making a great game isn't enough.

What's your favourite app that you didn't create? I'm a huge fan of retro gaming and retro stylisation. For that reason I really love some of the more obscure games out there. For that reason I'm a big fan of the work of Nyarlu Labs here in Melbourne or old school veterans, such as Jeff Minter. I've also recently been addicted to League of Evil by Ravenous Games and The Blocks Cometh by Halfbot.

What phone do you use? Why? iPhone 3GS. Mainly because I make games for it. It's a useful test device. I've been tempted to upgrade, but we need all variety of Apple devices we can and Ben upgraded to an iPhone 4 when it came out, so seemed sensible to stick with it.

What advice do you have for budding Aussie developers out there? If you're currently in a full-time job here in Australia and feel like leaving to do your own thing, really take time to consider your situation. With many of the studios having closed in the last year or so, if you are in employment then that's a good thing! Going independent is not a "get rich quick" and require immense amounts of investment, both in time and money.

If you are trying to build up an indie business then try and focus on the business as much as your killer game idea. Always look at the long-term plan of where you want to be and place down building blocks now to help you later on. You also need to be ultra-realistic about what you're doing. I had a long-term goal with Gamebook Adventures and 18 months on, I'm probably only about 25% closer to that goal. If I asked most people what they thought my goal was, they would probably say "to make lots of money", but the reality is that that goal is simply to get the company to a sustainable level where I can simply pay myself a monthly wage!

My last bit of advice is make use of your local industry. Talk to other devs and get involved with events such as IGDA meets, Freeplay or the Global Game Jam. Also investigate funding options as there is money out there available to help you out if your serious and have a realistic business plan. Overall, always stay optimistic, but remain realistic!

[Tin Man Games]

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