I had the chance to have a conversation with indie developer Stew Heckenberg this week and he was happy to share his thoughts on GamerGate as well as shed some light on the indie developer community. Heckenberg is an ardent supporter of aspiring indie developers and enjoys offering help to new game creators.
Heckenberg graciously offered us here at TechRaptor an insight into the video game industry, we thank him greatly for offering his voice on the recent events of GamerGate. I would like to personally thank Heckenberg on behalf of TechRaptor for taking the time out of his day to respond to our queries.
Before the beginning of the interview I would like to express to readers that the views shared in this piece are that of the interviewee and not necessarily shared by myself or any other member of TechRaptor.
For those people who are unfamiliar with your work where did you get your start in being a games developer and what projects have you worked on?
I’ve been playing games since the days of the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64, and I’ve had a life-long yearning to make games. After getting my Honours in Computer Science at university, I set forth on a PhD about game design, however I became jaded with a life of academia and quit in order to pursue a career in web development, my other passion. Since then I’ve managed to achieve the goal of working 100% remotely, running my own business as a freelance, consulting and developing for various advertising and web agencies, as well as dealing with direct clients. Business is now going well enough that I’ve been able to finance a transition into indie game development.
While I’ve developed my own mods for games like Quake and Unreal over the years, and dabbled with game frameworks for the web (see http://webcoder.com.au/disc-doom/), I’m currently developing my first commercial game, Recovery, a team-based competitive FPS. I’ve spent years playing games like Enemy Territory and Call of Duty 4 via online ladders like GameArena and CyberGamer, running my own teams and making many friends along the way. I love team games where players have a particular role and the camaraderie I’ve encountered playing multiplayer games online can only be matched by team sports (I play in 3 different basketball teams every week IRL).
With Recovery I’m hoping to capture the spirit of teamwork that makes popular team-based FPS games popular. With the rise of esports I’ve seen friends win real money and prizes, and witnessed the boom in international competition. I would love to make a game for that market, because I believe that competitive gaming is a beautiful spectacle, for both players and fans alike. It’s a lot more accessible than sports for many, while requiring as a high level of dedication and skill.
From when you began working in the video game industry how do you feel the environment has changed? Are there any major good or bad changes?
I think the biggest change has been the Internet. Gaming is no longer something restricted to your physical location, and you can play against people from across the country (or the world if you don’t mind high ping). Apart from bringing players closer together in a virtual arena, the net has also given aspiring game developers greater access to the information and tools needed to make games. Anyone can now make a game, the net provides true equality in creativity.
A computer doesn’t know whether you’re a man or a woman, whether you’re young or old, what your race or religion is, and it doesn’t tell you that you can’t make games. People still do that, but you can ignore them and make games.
Do you believe that the state of video game journalism is as bad as GamerGate is making it seem? What steps do you think could be taken to try to repair this lost trust?
Given today’s revelations regarding collusion amongst writers for the popular gaming news sites, I’d say that they’re not engaging in journalism — actual journalism has a code of ethics and strives to be as objective as possible.
I think the way to repair lost trust is to drop the controversial op-ed articles and try to appeal more to gaming enthusiasts. If you look at the movie industry and other niche interest groups, usually you’ll find articles that are about the technical details of how something was made, or a breakdown of the mechanics or the techniques used to implement the final product. Instead, controversial or divisive topics rule, because they get more clicks, and these websites make money through advertising. While some of the writers truly believe in what they’re writing about (some probably pretend to) it seems that the audience isn’t reading because they like the content, they’re just click-baited into it.
I’d love to see more interviews with game developers about their craft instead of opinion pieces by writers with no technical insight.
On Twitter you have shown great support for smaller indie developers, what are your thoughts on how they are being treated? How can gamers and other indie developers show their support for indie developers better?
I see on Twitter a clear divide between what’s been described as the indie clique hug box and developers who do good work and share it. I had an upsetting encounter with the former group when I defended another gamedev for expressing his opinion that men and women have equal opportunity to make games. Both of us were set upon by a number of people you would label with the pejorative “SJW”. These included prominent members of the aforementioned indie clique as well as a writer who described themselves as a megaphone that could end careers. A gamedev I once admired even chimed in with a joke, attempting to belittle myself and the other developer.
The problem is that if you question the narrative that some of these indie gamedevs push, you will be dogpiled, and have your career threatened. The beauty of being an indie though is you make your own career. The facade that many readers can’t see past is that indie gamedevs don’t need to belong to a clique. They don’t need gaming news sites to push their games. Sure it helps, but it’s not necessary. The best marketing for an indie gamedev is social media. Twitter lets me talk with gamers directly and get feedback about my ideas as well as listen to suggestions for features that gamers want to see in the game I’m making. There’s no need for the gaming media to insert themselves as a middleman. The media should be an observer that provides reviews and news about upcoming games and insight into the craft of game development, as well as interviews with both gamers and game developers — like TechRaptor is aspiring to do Technology now allows gamers and gamedevs to connect directly and it’s a beautiful thing.
Will the events of GamerGate change the way you create games in the future? Will you feel less inclined to put something into a game or neglect to add something?
I think GamerGate has opened the eyes of many consumers with regards to censorship and restricting conversation about games. Games are a creative pursuit. I want to make games and gamers want to play games. It’s that simple. I don’t think my approach will change. I’ve always wanted to connect with gamers and get feedback about what they’d like to play, and this current movement has been a wonderful time for me because gamers are just as keen to chat.
What advice would you give to aspiring gamers who wish to get into the industry and start getting their own game ideas out there?
Just start learning and doing. There are wonderful sites out there like Digital Tutors where you can learn all the different aspects of how to make the bits and pieces that go into a game. YouTube is a great learning tool as most people are aware. The web in general is the best thing to happen to gamedev. It’s not like the “olden days” when you had to go to a library to get a book about a particular programming language or read a manual for a graphics program. You can now watch people making things and copy their techniques in real time, and rewind and rewatch until you understand. I’m currently using Unreal Engine and I can’t thank them enough for their support of indie gamedev. They know what the future is and they’re doing a great job of providing the tools and the learning resources that allow anyone to get started with game development. So my advice for aspiring gamer gamedevs is to start making your own games.
What do you think will be the conclusion of GamerGate? Do you think that it will be beneficial for indie developers? How would you like it to end?
I think the sentiment of GamerGate will live on even after the current drama dies down. Gamers have realised that they should be sceptical of gaming news in its current form, and there will be a shift toward content that is less controversial and more informative and interesting. As I mentioned, the benefits for both gamer and gamedev alike stem from the realisation that technologies like social media allow them to communicate to each other without a proxy, and this can only lead to better gameplay experiences being designed and game development becoming a more accessible career option. The hardest part will be putting down the controller or mouse to do some actual work!
I see good things for gamers and game developers alike. Gaming media will shift to cater to enthusiasts with relevant content, and the medium will see what could only be described as a Recovery (full disclosure: shameless plug for my game). I’d love for any gamers reading this who want to get into programming or game development in general to please get in touch with me. Especially if you’re into competitive team-based FPS which is my current passion. Peace.
I want to thank Heckenberg again for taking the time to answer these questions and I wish him the best in the development of his game. For anyone who would like to get in contact with Heckenberg to show support or to ask any questions about making a start in the industry then you can find him on Twitter via @Youdaman or you can stay up to date on his game Recovery by finding them on Twitter via @RecoveryFPS.