Mat@MDickie.com
Tom The Dude's Interview














 


~ December 2008 ~
As the release of my book gets people talking about my career once more,
I put it all in perspective by fielding a few final questions from Tom The Dude...

Did you have any ideas for your last game before you decided on The You Testament?
Yes, there were 2 concepts I had always wanted to make. I wanted to make an industry sim about the games industry itself - where people could effectively step into my shoes and see the kind of decisions I have to make. There would then be components from all the different games which you could mix and match to create your own projects. I had some decent ideas in place, but it wouldn't have been much better than Popscene or Popcorn. It still would have been deeply symbolic. The other big ambition was to make a game about a game character who doesn't know he's a game character! I would then have lots of fun with exposing how a game is made and how it would screw with your mind if you were part of a creation - kind of like a gaming version of The Truman Show. When I sat down to make it, though, it turned out the best way to impart that message was to add a religious element by following in the footsteps of a guy like Jesus who knows how life really works. That's how The You Testament came about...

Has your career been as successful as you have wanted it to be?
I've been more popular than any other independent and I've made a living at something that most people consider a hobby, so I can't really complain. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't more that I wanted to achieve though. I had MASSIVE ambitions for this industry and I fell far short of them. I wanted to reach millions of people instead of mere thousands. That sounds ambitious, but when you think about how many people are out there consuming entertainment, it's not really a lot to ask. It's like 0.1% of the gaming population! People 10 times less talented than me have received 10 times more attention. Somebody recently made that observation on YouTube - "a Hannah Montana game sells millions and MDickie doesn't?!", etc. The mainstream wrestling games are a prime example. That crappy TNA game was played by 100 times as many people as Wrestling MPire 2008. Can we honestly say that game was 100 times more entertaining? No, it's all about having the right product at the right time in the right place. I never really had any of the above. I was always an underground oddity that had to fight for crumbs. It was my ambition to become a household name. Not necessarily for egotistical reasons, but just to make a change. To make independent game development THAT relevant. To make every kid in the world realize they can try their hand at this stuff...

When did you decide to bring an end to your career?
Reach was the biggest turning point. When that failed to change the way people looked at my games, I knew I was in trouble because that's as good as it gets for an independent. You don't make a game bigger or better than that unless you employ hundreds of highly trained professionals and work them all year round. That got me "thinking" the end was near, and then when people shrugged their shoulders at Wrestling MPire 2008 I was 100% done. If Wrestling MPire 2008 isn't a breathtaking achievement then there's nothing I can do for you. That really is as good as it gets. The only reason it gets overlooked is because wrestling is a niche genre. As popular as that made me with the public, journalists and industry folk never got it at all. They were recently talking about the 100 "greatest games" made in the Blitz programming language and none of mine got a mention! Really? One of the biggest and best wrestling games of all time isn't as good as that little 2D game about a balloon? I'm afraid I have to leave you to it when things are that backward. The games industry doesn't like me and I don't like it. It's like living in a parallel universe...

What was your favourite part of making games (i.e. music, publishing, etc)?
Chronologically, my favourite "times" were the very beginning and the very end of a project. At the beginning, you're all excited about how well things are progressing and how great the possibilities are. Then there's a lull in the middle where it's as good as it's gonna get and you're down to relentless hard work. Then it's great when it's all over and all you have to worry about is polishing it up and getting ready to release it, etc. That's the home straight that you just stroll down. I never had any one job that I liked the best because I nibbled away at all of them in equal measure. I suppose making music was the most special because that only came around once per project. Somewhere in the middle I would set aside a weekend and just bang out a decent tune. The music was never a gradual process like the others. It was just a case of thinking, "this game will have a theme tune by tomorrow". Same thing with the logos. I would just sit down one morning and say, "this game will have a logo by dinner time". I suppose they were my favourite jobs - giving a game its identity. Coming up with the name that will be on everybody's lips in a few months time...

Will you ever return to game making (or something else!)?
Part of me is worried about burning bridges, because this is what I was destined to do and I've still got an instinct for it. I'm at the peak of my powers and I've got enough ideas to last a lifetime. Ideas that you'll never see anywhere else. The appetite from the public just isn't there though. For one reason or another, the world simply isn't receptive to what I do. And that really is a deal breaker because I can't dedicate my life to something when that's the case. Making these games single-handedly is too hard to do it for a niche audience. Deep down, my heart isn't in it anymore anyway. I don't even play games for fun anymore, so I've got no business making them for a living. It's this strange situation where I'm capable of doing something but can't bring myself to do it! It's like I've got a sports car in my garage that I don't like driving anymore...

Have you ever been offered a job in the mainstream games business?
Yeah, I've had the full range of opportunities. I've been offered jobs outright by small companies and I've been told by people within major companies that I should be aiming higher. It never works out in practice though. I may be a jack of all trades but I'm the master of none! I don't do any one job well enough to contribute to a team environment - with the possible exception of design, and even then I've got my own way of doing things. At the end of the day, everything that's special about my work is down to me doing it single-handedly. It's all or nothing. I either make games on my own or I don't make them at all. The only real route to the big time would be if a major publisher got behind my work, but that never worked out either. Whenever those opportunities came along, they either wanted to change too much about the games or they wanted to take advantage of me. They figure my work is worthless just because I'm an independent. The irony is that I've got the highest earning power the games industry has ever known! I may have sold 10 times fewer copies than the average game, but I made 10 times more per sale so it all balanced out. For better or worse, my brand of game development simply wasn't for sale. Nobody could afford to play me...


Will you ever release the source code of your most successful games to the public?

No, the complete source code has to remain with me to protect my intellectual property rights and my business interests. Extracts of it are provided on some of the discs though, which gives you an insight into how I approach things. I doubt anybody else could make sense of it anyway!

As I read through the archives of MDickie.com, it seems that back in 2001 you saw development as more of a hobby (use of language and such). At what point (and why) did you start smartening up and being professional?
Yeah, all of this was a hobby that got out of hand! I was doing it for fun in the early years, and then by the time I finished university in 2003 I was at the point where I either did it for a living or I didn't do it at all. I started publishing my own games and the rest is history. You can get the full story on that, and many other issues raised in this interview, in the official book about my career which is available now at Amazon.com...

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