Mat@MDickie.com
Jacob Bowmaster Interview














 


~ March 2012 ~
As a former student of game design myself, I was happy to field a few questions from
Jacob Bowmaster - a student of 3D animation who will be hoping to enter this industry:

What originally inspired you to become an independent game developer?
I've always believed that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself! Every concept I've ever tackled has arisen from the fact that I wasn't satisfied with what currently existed (if it existed at all). That has been especially true of the wrestling games. We all have passionate opinions about how things should be, and I'm a pragmatist who does something about it. I'm not big on whining to other people about what I want from life. I prefer to take the controller into my own hands...

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as a game developer and why?
The fondest memory I have was when the first boxed product I released landed on my doorstep. I was holding something in my hands that I had seen through from start to finish without the help another soul, and it would soon be in the hands of thousands of others all over the world. I felt like I had "arrived" - that this was my job now when it had previously only ever been a hobby...

What is the reason you chose to develop your games alone?
It has never been a conscious decision so much as the natural state of things. I'm capable of creating each component, and so I found myself doing as much within seconds of having an idea. I've been making games holistically for so long that I have no concept of what the alternative is! I can't imagine calling up an artist or sound engineer, explaining what I want, waiting for them to do as I asked, and then rectifying any problems with it. In my world, that entire process would take place in seconds. Of course, the results aren't always pretty - but there's something instinctive about my work that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts...

What are the perks and problems with going it alone as a developer?
The main advantage is that you obviously get your own way at all times, which means you stay faithful to the original vision. That's very important for any creative individual. I couldn't bear to have a great idea and then watch it fall by the wayside. A publisher once told me to cut the backstage stuff out of my wrestling games, which would have been a huge loss! My work wouldn't be half as interesting if I was in a team. There would be too many compromises. And as I mentioned, the process is surprisingly quick when you have no one else to answer to. There are definite downsides though. Critics never fail to point out that the quality of the work tends to be lower - especially without dedicated artists such as yourself. On a personal level, I've always envied the camaraderie of a team or company as well. I'm a solitary individual, but even I missed having people to share the highs and lows with. A lot of social interactions stem from your job, so I've had to sacrifice a normal life in a lot of ways. There are also fewer surprises when you're self-employed because nothing happens unless you make it happen!

What was your goal for your game The You Testament? What did you want to accomplish?
Again, my main motivation for that project was that it had never been done before - and wasn't likely to be done by anybody else anytime soon. In those situations I often find myself asking, "If I don't do this, who will? If not now, when?" That's the most exciting thing for me, but it's also a huge responsibility because you're constantly tempting fate. Being different isn't always seen as a virtue, and you invariably become an antennae that attracts criticism. Of course, with The You Testament I also got the opportunity to convey a message. It's not as explicit as some people assume - half of the gimmicks are there simply to make it function as a coherent gaming experience. However, as a student of all the world's religions, I am big on the connections between them and wanted to bring that to the fore...

What game had the best reception? Which game caused the most controversy?
I want to say Wrestling MPire 2008, but that got a somewhat lukewarm reception back in 2008! People seemed to appreciate that more over time once they realized that nothing else was coming. The wrestling games are also tied up with how popular the actual sport is, so you have to go along for the ride. Expectations are very hard to meet - let alone surpass - so I constantly feel as though I'm disappointing people. Fans create their own game in their heads, and nothing you do can compete with it. I dread the 24 hours after releasing a new game - waiting to see whether all the effort was worthwhile or a waste of time. The most controversial release was definitely The You Testament again, because it offended absolutely everybody. Cynics instinctively despise anything remotely spiritual, whereas devout people complained that it wasn't spiritual in the right way and didn't match their own narrow vision of what such a game should be. Fairly predictable stuff, but the latter was more disappointing because it's obvious that the project was a sincere attempt to bring a spiritual dimension to gaming...

If you could go back and do anything over again, what would you change?
I'm keenly aware that "everything happens for a reason", so I'm not big on regrets. You can't hate your past if you love your present. Every little project I embarked on was a stepping stone to others - in ways that even I could not foresee. The same goes for the attitude with which I made them. That passion is what made me jump out of bed every morning and do the work that needed to be done. It was all part of the story, and my career wouldn't have been half as eventful without it. It was a fire that burned a lot of people but also fuelled a lot of things! Although I don't regret the past, I do reserve the right change my attitude and set a new tone going forward. I have the opportunity to re-live my career all over again through new technology, and of course lessons have been learnt that I will benefit from second time around. Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards. It may seem like you're going round in circles, but you're actually spiralling upwards...

How did you distribute and fund your games? Was it effective?
The first games I ever published were through a legitimate 3rd party, which was all very exciting and is what everybody hopes for - but it didn't satisfy me creatively. Once the Internet made it viable for people to make their own arrangements, I jumped at the chance to manufacture my own discs. It added even more tasks to the workload, but it was worth it to have the games released as I wanted, when I wanted - and more profitably to boot. Around the same time, it also became viable to sell software electronically - which was a major development because there were no manufacturing costs! Profit margins were higher than they had ever been, so with the backing of a loyal audience I was able to make a living from something that would otherwise remain a hobby. And that business model has now evolved into how people download apps, which is a win-win situation if you can get larger audiences paying lower prices. I've never been convinced by advertizing because the chances of it being relevant are pretty small. I'd rather promote my own website than somebody else's! The best promotion is self-promotion...

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome developing games?
The greatest obstacle has been attempting to run a gaming empire from my laptop! Home computing and the Internet open up infinite possibilities, but then once you set off down that road there are certain limitations that you have to overcome. The independent developer is essentially trying to cram an entire games studio onto one PC. You constantly need to search out the ideal software - and the ideal hardware to run it. I'd say the latter is the biggest hurdle that nobody sees. I created the thousands of animations for Wrestling MPire 2008 on an installation of 3D Studio MAX that crashed every 30 minutes! I've lost a lot of work to software errors and hardware failures. Wrestling MPire Remix was almost lost forever in 2011 due to a virus that came from the fan site, which would have been quite ironic! You just have to suck it up and do the work all over again. I rarely abandon a project no matter what happens. Perversely, it often turns out for the best. Sometimes I've lost an animation or piece of artwork and then recreated it better than it was before. I figure those setbacks are designed to test how committed you are to the project. I get tested more than my own games!

What is your next project and goal?
I'm currently working flat-out to produce mobile gaming's biggest and most playable wrestling experience. It's a huge undertaking, but I've had a glimpse of what the finished project will look like and I know it deserves to exist. It's like I've been given a map to some buried treasure and all that remains is to walk a thousand miles to get there! I was actually hoping to build up to it gradually, but I felt compelled to dive in at the deep end and make a big impact. My first major project for mobile devices will be the best one that I'm capable of. No preludes or warm-up acts. I constantly feel as though I'm racing to meet some imaginary deadline! I've literally got enough ideas to last a lifetime, but there are only so many that you can bring to realization in the few years that your work is relevant. That would be my only regret - having an idea for a game that never saw the light of day. It's better to regret the things you do than the things you don't...

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