Road Not Taken, Part 2: An Interview with Spry Fox’s Daniel Cook

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Last week, I spoke with Spry Fox CEO David Edery about his twisty, turn-y, 7-year journey to his first job in the games industry. This week, I have the good fortune to chat with David’s colleague and Spry Fox CCO Daniel Cook about his own path into games. I have to say, these guys give fantastic interviews. The advice they give for those hoping to break into the games industry (or take another road less travelled) is pretty terrific. Bonus: behind the cut there is a gif of a goat pooping. – Marie


Howdy, Danc! For those who don’t know you, could you provide a little background?

I’m Daniel Cook. I’m a game designer. I’ve been doing this for 18 or 19 years now. I’ve worked on games like Triple Town and Realm of the Mad God and SteamBirds. I got my start way back in the day on a game called Tyrian with a company called Epic MegaGames (which is no longer mega, apparently). I focus a lot on systems design, efficient design.  I run a website called Lost Garden that has all sorts of game design essays. That’s the basics of who I am.

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Road Not Taken: An Interview with Spry Fox’s David Edery

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Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken is one of America’s most beloved (i.e., most frequently assigned high-school reading) and most misunderstood poems (i.e., guess we didn’t read hard enough). Nearly a century after its first publication, the poem is now lending its name and themes to an upcoming game release by indie-dev darling Spry Fox. I thought it would be super interesting to chat with the folks at Spry Fox about their own paths, choices, and roads less traveled by. In the first of this two-part series, I interview Spry Fox CEO David Edery about his own twisty, turn-y path to the games industry, and ask what advice he might have for those looking to follow in his footsteps. Next week, we’ll talk to Spry Fox CCO Daniel Cook. – Marie


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E3 2014: Horrible Trends and Great Games

E3 is a curiosity in the age of omnipresent information. We’ve grown accustomed to having an army of video game bloggers churning out content and around-the-clock development updates about projects we’ve backed on Kickstarter. Crunching hundreds of “big reveals” into the span of a few press conferences has the curious effect of answering few questions about individual games while simultaneously feeling way too long.

Which press conference is this, again?

Press conferences at E3 worship spectacle. Deafening explosions, stage lasers, gargantuan screens that pour smoke — these are base components of an E3 presentation. Fortunately, both press conferences and Nintendo’s digital presentation centered the efforts of their bombast on the most important thing in this industry: the games themselves. With the empty one-upmanship of hardware announcements from prior years out of the way, we were fed an undiluted stream of games.

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Wolfenstein: The New Order Was Amazing and You Should Play It

I had fairly limited expectations of Wolfenstein: The New Order going into the game. I was familiar with Castle Wolfenstein and Wolfenstein 3D, but knew almost nothing about this installment. I had heard it was decent. A few reputable video games websites were giving it high marks. But, otherwise, it had largely floated beneath my radar. I picked it up only because I needed a pleasant and blood-spattered diversion during some time off from work. I figured I’d get to shoot a bunch of Nazis, stab a bunch of Nazis, and maybe explode a bunch of Nazis, all the while basking in the glory of my own ginormous noggin.*

Look at the size of that thing. It's like a steely-eyed ham.

C’mere and get your noogies, you magnificent bastard.

It would be a frank and productive way to spend my vacation.

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“I started hallucinating Doom demons…”

As realistic as graphics are these days, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for games to bleed into our realities. I totally catch myself thinking “Wasn’t this stripper in GTA V?” all the time. (Not really. They didn’t have male strippers in GTA V.) But, even back in the 8-bit days of yore, I found games could make the trip from TV screen to waking life fairly easily. It isn’t the quality of the graphics, but the quality of the experience that triggers this effect. Games can be so completely immersive that their atmospheres (and their terrors) become inescapable. – Marie


 

mike_REDIn the mid-late 90s I lived with some friends in a converted bowling alley in Wellington, New Zealand. The building was about four floors high. We lived on the third floor. To get there, you could either take this rickety old freight elevator, that eventually broke down, or several flights of concrete stairs, usually half in the dark, because the lights didn’t always work. 

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Games aren’t just a momentary distraction. They help us through tough times, or bolster our confidence when the world has worn us down. The experiences we have in games, the memories we create, stick with us throughout our lives, whether we realize it or not. –Marie


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I grew up playing video games. It all started with an Odyssey 4000. It had 8 variations of Pong – just monochrome lines and dots on the screen – and it was amazing. My brother and I always played against each other because back then it was all about high score. But, Atari 2600, NES, SNES and Genesis were my glory days of gaming. Each system brought a new world to me and my brother. We would spend endless hours trying to figure out every aspect of every game, finding secrets, bugs and hopefully getting to the end. When stores started renting games it was like a buffet for us. We had one goal: beat the game before it was due back! When sports games started getting better (mainly with SNES and Genesis) it became a nightly ritual to play Madden or some Baseball title. In our heads we knew who was leading between us and it was always a blast as he would stomp me and then eventually I would do the same back.

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“My mom was in the zone…”

What’s your earliest memory of a video game? Where were you? Who were you with? Reader Dan Skelton shares a pretty remarkable story of his earliest memory of games. His came with a really convenient (well, not exactly “convenient”) annual reminder. –Marie


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I remember sitting next to my mother on our typical 80s living room floor (more shades of brown and orange than should be legal in the color wheel), watching her play a perfect game of Pac-Man. Literally, a perfect game. My mom was in the zone and had everything maxed out – maxed score, screen full of fruit, and ghosts on hyperdrive. In the midst of this perfect game she starts to have strange sharp pains in her back. Nobody in the room would take over her game, so she had to abandon it because she realized the back pain were odd contractions. That’s when she went into labor with my younger brother. I was 4.

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A Dish Best Served Cold

Put your helmet on, Samus!

Super Metroid was a genre-defining smash hit of a game. The lessons, themes, and mechanics it presented on release 20 years ago are still influencing the industry today. Dozens of games pay homage to it, and it has spawned a long and healthy legacy.

I was 11 when Super Metroid hit shelves, and I played the hell out of it. Games of its caliber were rare back then, and while I would play anything I could get my hands on, I knew quality when I saw it. It’s a deeply immersive, dark little game, filled with a surprising sense of atmosphere and world building.

Things get tense rather quickly, and for a sprite-based sidescroller, the game creates a surprisingly strong sense of isolation and danger. It’s just you, in the armored boots of Samus Aran, against a planet of vicious foes and natural hazards.

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Permission to Play

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Social, artistic and scientific progress as well as technological advance are most evident where the ruling culture and ideology give men and women permission to play, whether with ideas, beliefs, principles or materials. And where playful science changes people’s understanding of the way the physical world works, political change, even revolution, is rarely far behind.

― Paul Kriwaczek, Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization

 

[Image: Civilization Revolution]

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