Goals for Company and Journal

2007, October 12th 10:17 PM

I've been involved in video games since I was three years old.

I obviously have no memory of this. I'm told it was Rocky's Boots on a computer at the Seattle Science Center. Apparently I spent two hours going through the tutorial.

That got me started in games – or rather, got my parents started in showing me games. I played a large number of Learning Company games, including the classic Oregon Trail. My first action game was Beast. But the most important game in my early history was likely ZZT, a text-mode game that included a powerful editor to make your own levels.

I quickly got involved in ZZT level editing. In retrospect, my efforts were, frankly, abysmal. I made levels that you could only solve if you'd designed them, quests that never ended but instead branched into more and more subquests (and sub-subquests, and sub-sub-subquests), and rooms that charitably be described as ugly. But this is where it all started.

Many years later I got a job at Snowblind Studios and was involved in the development of Everquest: Champions of Norrath. From there I went to work at Google for two and a half years. Now I'm starting Mandible Games, my own studio, producing my own games.

Through the entire thing, I've been playing all the games I could get my hands on. I played many games now considered classics on release. I've played popular games, obscure games, independent games, and games that basically nobody has heard of.

The one thing that seems to be very inconsistent is fun. There are always games stressing the latest graphical advances, whether those are real-time terrain deformation or simply "hey look, graphics". There are always games trying to be more epic than the last one. But it seems most companies are trying to be more, trying to be better in one particular area than anyone else on the planet.

Mandible, of course, isn't an exception. What we intend to do is make fun games. Our focus is solely on good games – the kind of game that you rave about to your friends, the kind that might not be hailed as a Breakthrough in the Field of Gaming on its release day but will be remembered for years as a solid, fun game. We want to make the next Super Metroid. The next X-COM. The next System Shock 2 or the next Portal.

Fundamentally, I feel that if our games get five-star reviews, and everyone raves solely about how marvelous our graphics are, we have failed. However, if our games get three-star reviews and the best feature is that our games are simply fun . . . well, that's more what I'm looking for.

Obviously, of course, I'd prefer five-star fun games.

Our games may not be for everyone. I'm not sure it's possible to make games for everyone – I know people who hate every one of those games listed above. Our games are primarily for ourselves, built to be the kind of games we've always wanted to play. We're simply hoping that enough other people will want to play them that we can keep making them.

This journal is for commentary on game design and the game industry in general. I can't promise insightful posts every week, but I'll do my best. I don't intend for this to be a soapbox where I personally rant to the world on how I feel games should be built – the comment areas and forums are open for everyone. Fundamentally, Mandible is about making good games, and that means getting feedback from gamers.

I'm the creator and currently the sole employee of Mandible Games. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.

  • Bejoscha

    2007, October 23rd 7:54 AM

    Hi,
    I came to your side because I just visited the Worth1000 Logo-contest. (I'm not an artist, but at the moment interested in how to get a good logo and like the idea of doing a Worth1000 competition.) Well, what I wanted to say is, that I wish you all look and success. We (the people in the world) need good games :c)
    I am neither a programmer nor a full-time PC gamer (wish I could though *g*), but every now and then I do have some _ideas_ on new games. So, would your company be the place to "place" such ideas as well? Is there any major category/genre you want to develop your games in? (Because I would only hand in my ideas if they would fit at least generally…)
    You also stated that you are currently the sole employee of Mandible Games – this is to be changed, isn't it? Or do you think you will be able to produce a good game in a one-man-show? (Might be possible…)
    Anyway, good look and best regards.

  • Zorba

    2007, October 23rd 8:13 AM

    Well, thanks for the encouragement :)

    The problem with ideas is that literally everyone has them. I've got a text file containing vague notes on ideas that I thought were worth writing down – it's 22 kilobytes (text, remember, not msword or anything) and even if I never had another idea for my entire life, I'd never get through it. On top of that, the best ideas usually end up largely controlled by the person who had them, and end up mutating constantly throughout the idea's lifetime.

    At some point I'm going to post an entry about the history of d-net. It shall be long and hilarious.

    And then on top of that there are the legal issues, which are complicated. :D

    I'd honestly say, keep your ideas to yourself – they're probably more useful to you, and also more valuable to you. Perhaps someday you'll end up in a situation where you can do them. If you really wanted to give me full license to 'em, I'd take 'em, but they'd probably never end up manifesting as actual games, and if they did they would likely end up completely different from what you'd intended.

    I will at some point be hiring employees. Right now I don't have either the need or the money, so I don't. At some point I'll need music and sound for this one, so I'll be hiring for that (though probably contract work in that case), and my next game will require actual 2d artists and so I'll be hiring those. We'll see how it goes. It'll be interesting.

  • Ryan

    2007, October 26th 4:30 PM

    I'm also from worth1000.com, I'll definitely be entering your contest. I'll also keep a look out for your games! :)

  • Lancemaker

    2007, November 4th 5:21 AM

    If u make things just as fun as X-com series i will be your fun for ever.

  • Lancemaker

    2007, November 4th 5:22 AM

    i mean Fan … lol

  • Webjourneyman

    2007, December 12th 8:04 PM

    This is a really interesting website, especially since it's not commercial and not a personal rant box either, just an interesting journal. I realize you probably don't need a great logo but that thing on the top left side really doesn't qualify. Not trying to be cruel or sarcastic but if you are satisfied with this logo of your's you really need some help in the visual art's department. But that's the only thing I don't like about this site, the rest is really interesting without trying to, if you catch my drift. I wish you luck on your journey.

  • Zorba

    2007, December 12th 8:08 PM

    Oh, I'm well aware it's not a good logo. I actually went through Worth1000 to get a good logo, which I now have – however I wanted some tweaks done to it, and those were only finished two days ago.

    Guess who's been in Ohio for the last week, away from all his standard tools that he'd use to get that logo on this site.

    But in a few days I'll be updating it, and likely making another post about all the annoying little details of making a game studio.

  • Chris

    2008, January 31st 4:09 PM

    If there's anyone who can save us from the dark age of gaming we've entered, I believe it to be you.

  • Zorba

    2008, January 31st 4:19 PM

    I am hoping. :)

    I don't actually think games are in much of a dark age right now, though. A lot of classic genres have been forgotten, and that's sad, but there's no shortage of innovative and interesting new games showing up. (I'm playing Mario Galaxy right now, as an example.)

    Still, there's a lot of room for the classics to be revitalized. That's probably the single thing I'm hoping to do most.

  • Kaolin Fire

    2008, May 27th 3:20 PM

    Just played the current demo for about 30 minutes. You've definitely got something. And yeah, it definitely needs real people to play against.

    Separately, I really wanted to be able to save my progress and quit.

    Did you ever play Mail Order Monsters? That's the closest analog I've got for this. I loved that game to death :)

    The "upgrade" scheme really invests the player, and (to a point) allows a certain personality. I find myself leaning towards lasers and EMPs at first, then went more heavily with missiles.

    Oh, and I love that the environment is destructive. :D

    I'm also on a quest to revitalize the classics–though I think I'm going to be taking the longer and possibly less interesting route as I go as it's, at best, one hobby among many, and I'm not as conscious of the field of games. :/

  • Zorba

    2008, June 1st 3:12 PM

    Thanks :)

    I'd probably put saving in if I added a real singleplayer mode – I'm not sure I'll get to the point where I'm making that mode however. And yeah, you're meant to end up specializing in one way or another. Can't buy everything, and if you try, you end up with crummy versions of everything :)

    I have not tried Mail Order Monsters but I'll add it to my list of things to check out.

  • Prasanna

    2008, November 2nd 7:45 PM

    Hi Zorba,

    I like the Devastation.
    What games are you working on nowadays?
    What's the source of income for mandible.net. Are you doing it part-time?
    [off the topic, do u have a family? ;) ]

  • Zorba

    2008, November 5th 8:46 PM

    Finishing up some stuff on Devastation, then moving on to one of several possible projects. I'll be posting about them eventually :)

    I'm basically financing it off my savings right now, though I'm considering a part-time job to give myself a little more income. We'll see. No family, it's just me :)

  • Erik

    2010, November 11th 4:02 PM

    Just got to the site from reading the QuestHelper changelog; just wanted to say thanks for all of the excellent work that you've done! I'm looking forward to trying some of the games & want to offer sincere gratitude and encouragement.

    Good luck!

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