IGDA Interview Series: Ben Kane17 Oct 2015
Jillian Mood kicks off a new interview series this month. Starting off the series is a fantastic indie success story!
Ben Kane is a independent “jack-of-most-trades” game developer and co-founder of Steel Crate Games. Ben is known for creating minor hit “DLC Quest” and more recently for his work co-creating the virtual reality bomb-defusing game “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes”. Ben is a software engineer by training but has balanced all aspects of running an independent business for the past five years, sharing much of that experience in a year-long series on YouTube called Indie Chatter. These days, Ben is focused on wrapping up development on “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” and keeping up with the wild ride of virtual reality technology.
I recommend watching this video first to check out this intensely suspenseful game!
And now, onto the interview…
Jillian Mood, IGDA: Hello Ben!
Ben Kane, Steel Crate Games: Thank you!
JM: You have had such an interesting career path, could you describe how it led you to co-founding Steel Crate Games?
BK: I’ve been a game developer for a little over six years now. I cut my teeth in the AAA industry with Electronic Arts before throwing caution to the wind and becoming a full-time, solo game developer. There were a few years of learning the ropes as an “indie” but I eventually hit my stride with a game called “DLC Quest”. I had intended on sticking with my own solo projects, so starting up Steel Crate Games was never something I had considered. When our team came up with the idea for Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes at the Global Game Jam however, it seemed like the logical choice was to drop everything else and see how far we could run with it. That turned out to be a pretty significant event in my career path to say the least.
JM: It’s so exciting that KTANE came from the Global Game Jam in Ottawa! What was the game jam theme and describe the brainstorming process leading to developing a game about defusing a bomb in VR?
BK: The theme of the jam was, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” It was a difficult one to wrap our heads around. The only thing we knew for sure was that we were going to make a virtual reality game. At the jam, we had other developers come up to us and ask to try out the VR headsets we had brought with us. We obliged, and pretty soon there was a crowd of people watching one person wearing a headset, looking around on a virtual roller coaster that only they could see. We looked at the absurdity of the scene and decided to make a game where all of the passive onlookers could instead be involved in the same game as the person in VR. From there, it was just a case of coming up with a scenario where different views, different sets of information, could be fun. Bomb defusing seemed like a simple enough thing to tackle in the 48 hour jam.
JM: Tell us about the fantastic team working with you. What is the team dynamic like? What are you plans for the studio’s future and will you stay focused on VR?
BK: The core team is made up of Brian Fetter, Allen Pestaluky, and myself (with fantastic music and art provided by Liam Sauve and Chris Taylor respectively). The three of us are all programmers, so it’s not an ideal spread of skills, but we managed to identify our weaknesses and find help to fill those gaps. Functionally, we’re all pretty good at splitting up the work and maintaining an even allocation of responsibility. If we had a hierarchy, it would be totally flat. Our studio’s future is a conversation we’ll be having over the coming weeks. For a while now, it’s all been about preparing for Keep Talking’s launch. Now that it’s out the door and being well received, any plans we had might need to be revised a bit. We certainly have lots of hopes and ideas for VR, but Keep Talking might occupy a bit more of our time yet.
JM: There is so much attention and press on VR now in the industry. Do you see it continue to grow rapidly?
BK: Virtual Reality is fantastic tech with some never-before-seen-experiences and some very hefty barriers to entry to go along with it. Much of the hype right now is around the potential of VR and while we’ve seen a lot of promise, it’s getting close to the point where VR will need to deliver more than just demos. It’s exciting to know that they’re just around the corner. I just hope that expectations haven’t become, pardon the term, unrealistic.
JM: Congratulations on speaking at the Montreal International Game Summit (MIGS) in November. Your talk title looks very interesting “Making a game nobody can play for a market that doesn’t exist (yet): Lessons from Virtual Reality.”
What do you think the audience will learn from your session and what do you hope to convey to keen developers?
BK: It’s been a fascinating and challenging ride over the past year and half trying to develop a virtual reality game. I hope to be able to share some of what we learned making a VR game when nobody knows how to properly use VR yet, and how we demoed it to an audience that has wildly varying expectations of the technology. Hopefully it’ll be an inspirational talk about how we managed to stay afloat during the early days of virtual reality gaming.
JM: You’ve successfully started a studio and created a game for a market that doesn’t exist. Do you have any advice for indie developers looking to start their own studio for a market that clearly now exists?
BK: Staying flexible has been key to our development. Our initial schedule, and even some plans for launching on VR hardware, are laughable now in retrospect but we made them with the best information we had at the time. Try to be aware of anything you are completely banking on, and then ask yourself what you would do if that aspect suddenly didn’t work out the way you need it to.
JM: Lastly, you were married last month, so congratulations! Do you and your wife play video games together?
BK: Thank you! We’re actually still working our way through New Super Mario Bros. on Wii, so we’ve got a bit of a backlog. We tend to play board games more often however, and those are some of the biggest influences on Keep Talking’s design.
Join the interview series!
If you would like to send a proposal on a subject you would like to hear about, be interviewed yourself, or nominate someone, we’d love to hear from you! Send thoughts to Jillian -AT- IGDA -DOT- org.