This is Frank DiCola of Game Revenant, here with another post on our blog. Typically we use this space to chronicle the development of Where Shadows Slumber, a mobile puzzle adventure coming to iOS and Android later this year. However, this week things will be different. We’re going to take some time to brag about how great we are, both as game developers and as Renaissance men.
Yes, you read that correctly. This blog is about the personal skills that accompany independent game development, and why we have them and you don’t.
We’ll get a chance to talk about how Jack and I first met, the importance of acting and public speaking classes, and how indies become inseparable from their games.
FRANK: “Where are my EGGS???” / JACK: “Here, here are your EGGS!!”
Where It All Began – Off Center
This blog post is a good opportunity to answer some questions that people ask us.
How did you meet? Did you always know you wanted to work on games?
Jack and I both went to Stevens Institute of Technology, graduating just a few years apart. We actually met in the comedy troupe known as “Off Center” (pronounced “off-chenter”) that performed sketch comedy and improv shows. I had just gotten rejected from the main stage fall play Noises Off, which was a new experience for me. Coming from high school, I was used to being the big fish in a small pond. I felt really confused, and Off Center was there for me. I started going to their show planning meetings.
The club focused on running short, free comedy shows twice a semester. They would usually be in the largest lecture hall we could find on campus. It wasn’t exactly a stage, since the seats were raised in an amphitheater style. It was more like a Colosseum.
I remember being really impressed during the meeting where we were casting everyone into the various sketches for the show. Jack took on like, 12 roles or something insane. Just because the show needed him! His stage presence was (and is) undeniable as well. Whenever the director told people they needed to be louder, they would just say “try to be as loud as Jack.”
Of course, we didn’t realize we both wanted to make video games until we found ourselves in an Intro to Game Design class a few years later. By then, we were already friends. But we’re not here to talk about game development. Let’s talk about the skills acting provides and why you, an indie developer, absolutely need them.
The Only Thing You Have To Fear Is Public Speaking
You never know when opportunity is going to strike. Often times, as an indie developer, you’ll be given the rare chance to “pitch” your game to someone important. It could be a potential publisher who doesn’t have time to play your demo but can spare 30 seconds to hear a quick description. Maybe it’s a spur of the moment pitching contest, like the one I got 3rd place in at GDC last year, where you have to come up with a verbal presentation with no prep time and deliver it five times in a crowded bar. Heaven forbid, it could be an actual stage presentation where you need to pitch your game in front of an actual audience with nothing but your own PowerPoint presentation to save you.
Are your palms getting sweaty yet? Now imagine you’re at a booth at a show like PAX East demonstrating your game. About a hundred people will walk by the booth every hour. Do you have what it takes to attract them to your game? Could you handle talking to that many strangers for such a long period of time?
If these “opportunities” feel more like nightmares, you aren’t alone. Public speaking is something that people rarely get to experience for themselves. As a result, when you’re “put on the spot”, you panic. It’s perfectly normal. Public speaking is a skill you have not honed, and now you need to do it for the first time ever in front of a real audience?! No fair!
The skills you need for the examples above are all things that Jack and I exposed ourselves to during the Off Center years. After performing more than 15 shows over the course of a few years, with a few main-stage productions thrown in there, you get the hang of it. You learn how to:
- Speak slowly, confidently, and audibly
- Be comfortable making up a script and then deviating from it if necessary
- Say what you need to say without going over the time allotted
- Communicate your message non-verbally with your body
It’s normal to be afraid of acting in a play, giving a speech, or improvising a scene. But as independent developers, you are the public face of your game! Like it or not, there’s no one else that can wear this marketing hat for you. You have to do it. And you can’t ignore important opportunities to win prizes or glory just because you neglected to put points into your Speechcraft skill. Should your game really suffer because you never learned how to project your voice? What if the future of your game depended on knowing what to do with your hands while you stand up on stage nervously? (Hint: don’t put them in your pockets)
We live right near Manhattan, where the UCB has a few teaching theaters.
3 Ways To Level Your Speechcraft Skill
Let’s get nerdy for a moment. Imagine this is nothing more than a role-playing game like Morrowind, and you’re a character with various skills and abilities. You have a Speechcraft skill, but it’s low. Very low. High enough that you can talk to your friends and family, but not much higher than that. You’re super nervous for the first 10 minutes you’re with a stranger, such as on a job interview. As for getting up on a stage and talking to a crowd, you’re level restricted from even trying that. What do you do?
If you were trying to level your Sword skill, you’d take fencing classes. If you wanted to level Lockpicking, you’d probably join a hobbyist group of (ethical) lockpicks who have a passion for locks and love to crack them for fun. To level your Speechcraft in real life, you need to make an actual plan to expose yourself to public speaking. It won’t just happen on its own. This is a skill, after all. Skills don’t just magically level with no effort on your part. Here are three things you can do:
Join the club: If you’re still in high school or college, I really encourage you to try out for the play or join any kind of drama club your school has. Larger schools may have a wide range of acting stuff – the most helpful thing will be improv. Improvisation is a school of comedy where the actors go on stage without a script and make everything up on the spot. You don’t need to learn how to be a hilarious comedian. What you need is the ability to go out on stage without a plan and do more than just survive — thrive!
Join a community theater: If you’re out of school, it would be weird to hang around your school like a weirdo. I would never do that. <_< So instead, see if your town has a local theater that puts on a few plays a year. Don’t worry about the competition, just audition and see what happens. Remember, you’re not training for Broadway. You just need to become a competent enough speaker to feel comfortable in your own skin.
Take improv classes: This one will cost money, but if you live near a city (especially a hip cool city where all the people are hip and cool and do hip, cool things) you should be able to find a comedy club that also offers classes. The best part about doing this is that they’ll treat you like a beginner instead of expecting you to already be good. Some of these classes also do shows at the end as a final exam / graduation. It’s a good way to test your skill. After all, if you can make up a bunch of silly jokes, you can certainly talk about something you know very well – your game!
The next time I see you at a convention, you better look me in the eye and shake my hand! Then, you better beat me for first prize in the game pitching contest.
See you in the Colosseum.
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Get out there and start acting! If you have any other questions about Where Shadows Slumber, feel free to contact us! You can always find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebook, itch.io, or Twitch, join the Game Revenant Discord, and feel free to email us directly with any questions or feedback at contact@GameRevenant.com.
Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.