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  • Without a Specialty: The 前ther' Skills Needed to Make Games

    - staff
  •  In college, at the University of Michigan, Eduardo Baraf was incredulous that there was no dedicated game development organization on campus. So he started one. It was called Wolverine Soft, and it's still alive at the university today.

    However, when he started the group, Baraf didn't necessarily know what his contribution might be, because he wasn't a natural artist and didn't really see himself as a programmer either. But he wanted to make games and this would be the start of it. Since then, he's grown through a number of roles, from QA lead, to designer, to producer, to studio head.

    In this interview, he talks about how his path through the industry came to be, particularly as a person who was initially worried that he didn't have a proven skill or talent. He shares his advice with other aspiring game developers who are as yet unclear about where they will best fit into the profession. I was hoping you'd tell the story of how Wolverine Soft came to be. How did it start?

    Eduardo Baraf: As a kid, video games were my passion. I played games, followed the industry, and dreamed of making my own games. Unfortunately, since I wasn't an artist or an engineer, the best I thought I could do was sit around with other gamer friends and design hypothetical, impossible, best-game-of-all-time games.

    When I was accepted to the University of Michigan, I was thrilled. I figured there would be tons of people making games on campus (30,000 students) and a bunch of organizations dedicated to creating games. To my surprise, the only video game related club was the Dr. Mario Club, which literally was a group of people who got together and played Dr. Mario. There were a few engineering groups on campus, but none of them were focused on video games.

    Again, lacking any demonstrated skill toward creating a video game, I decided the only thing I could do was start my own group and find designers, artists, engineers, audio designers, and other gamers like myself to make games. At the U of M, you need five people to start a group, so I recruited a range of friends with different skill sets and filled out the paperwork.

    We flyered the campus and our first mass meeting brought in 20 or 30 people. It turned out I wasn't the only one looking for a chance to jump into the game industry.

    GCG: With Wolverine Soft, you developed a PC game -- tell us about it. Was that the first title you developed or had you worked on independent or hobby projects before then?

    EB: Creating a video game from scratch is not an easy process especially with a group of first-time developers. It is even harder with a group of students who have classes, mid-term exams, and other activities. Development at Wolverine Soft was challenging the first few years until we really understood the process as an institution.

    One of the key components to the success of the organization during those years was a focus on development, but also embracing the group's love of games. We posted reviews, ran tournaments, brought in industry speakers, and generally did everything we could that related to games outside of development.

    Our first project was a 2D, top-down, RPG called Crisis Wolverine: Insurrection Green, which was based on campus life. Evil MSU students were trying to take over the U of M, and a group of campus stereotypes (jocks, druggies, sorority girls, nerds, etcetera) needed to stop them. Imagine Revenge of the Nerds meets Final Fantasy on your Super Nintendo. Concepting the game was easy, but the engineering came slowly. The team was large (about 15), but none of us really knew what we were doing. Progress was slow.

    At the same time, there was also a large group in W.Soft who wanted to work on 3D games. After some group discussions Crisis Wolverine was shelved (for the time being), and we moved to 3D Scorched Earth, renamed to Burnt Planet after Wendell Hicken sent a cease and desist. As we already had a prototype actively being downloaded from, we made a lot more progress. Still, with the departure of the lead engineer, who graduated, this title stalled, too.

    At this point, I was in Japan for a year, and the group focused on a few small prototype-like projects and worked on further strengthening the organization. When I returned, I was energized and started up work on Crisis Wolverine again. We were using RPG Maker and had a group of dedicated developers. We still suffered some of the same problems from year one, but the team was weathered and motivated to complete.

    We completed the title the following spring and distributed it throughout campus. The game was a hit, is still actively downloaded, and has since spawned a sequel.


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