Ask Me Anything Skullbot Games - A 3-Man Team based out of LA! AMA!

AG-Moosey

Registered Developer
Sep 6, 2020
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Hello! Firstly, Thank you PC Gamer for the opportunity to connect with all of you - we're honored!

We're Skullbot Games and we're comprised of Jeremy Gaffney, Doug Koup, and Andrew Klimas.

We come from a variety of backgrounds in the AAA space - we've worked on titles like Wildstar, Guild Wars, Overwatch, and City of Heroes and collectively found ourselves in a place where we wanted to start something together for the indie space and start something that was close to our hearts and through this adventure, our hack n slash roguelite, Gone Viral started to sprout its wings.

We wanted to keep this AMA pretty open! Because we all come from different walks the industry - so here are some short notes on each member:
  • Jeremy Gaffney (Lead Programmer, Design)
    • Co-Founder Destination Games (now NCsoft West) & Turbine Entertainment (modern day WB Boston)
    • Executive Producer of Wildstar, City of Heroes, Guild Wars, and more
    • President of Carbine Studios
  • Doug Koup (Scripting, AI, UI)
    • Lead Scripter for Wildstar
    • QA for Bandai
    • Specialist GM for Blizzard Entertainment
  • Andrew Klimas (Artwork, Creative Direction)
    • Environment Design for Overwatch
    • Characters, props, weapons, architecture, lighting and world-building for Wildstar
If you have any questions from our professional progression to what a day in the life of a 3-man team looks like - We're excited to connect and answer any of your questions!

Lay it on us!
 
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Zloth

Community Contributor
Jan 13, 2020
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Wow, dropping some pretty big names there! Would Turbine actually go all the way back to Asheron's Call?

I'm not really into that particular kind of game but there is something interesting I see: Epic MegaGrant. The interesting bit being that I'm reading that on the Steam soon-to-be-early-access page. I presume the game is planning to go straight from early access to release on Steam? It would be exceedingly weird to do EA on Steam then shut it down for months to be sold exclusively on Epic.
 

Gaffer

Staff member
Sep 10, 2020
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skullbotgames.com
> Wow, dropping some pretty big names there! Would Turbine actually go all the way back to Asheron's Call?

Me and a few buddies founded Turbine back in '93 or so - Asheron's Call was our first game!

Tons of fun to work on and we were insane to try to make an MMO as our first game, heh.

We're on Steam rather than the Epic Store! We're not big fans of exclusives so might well show up anywhere but as a tiny team wanted to support one platform's achievements/etc.

Having said all that Epic's been a great dev partner - really love using UE4 as well
 

Gaffer

Staff member
Sep 10, 2020
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skullbotgames.com
The Godbunny!
I actually really liked some of the emergent gameplay in AC - one thing that amused me was that we were trying to solve the "how do you randomly spawn monsters in places that they could reasonably get to so they aren't camped at their spawn spot?" question*.

So we spawned invisible monkeys in fixed locations, sized them to the same size as the thing they would be spawning, and let their AI wander around the area - so the spawns would happen only in places monsters could reasonably walk to.

However, in god mode, you could clearly see the giant, invisible, invulnerable monkeys that were the true overloads of AC, pooping out ulthoi and monsters and demons whereever they willed. A little surreal behind the scenes...


*it turns out the proper spawning answer (done by all our competitors to this day) was "just spawn them in fixed locations, players will camp them if they care, who cares if it's unrealistic/imbalanced/a bit boring, and don't overengineer stuff and ship faster"

Kinda the same thing as how we had dynamically loadbalanced, invisible shifting server boundaries (a super pain to code/maintain/debug, especially in the 90's hardware era) so we wouldn't have giant walls of loading between zones - and just making damn zones and shipping sooner worked just fine for EverQuest (and later games, including Turbine games). Easy to overthink stuff when there hadn't been a lot of MMOs out yet to know what was reasonable!
 
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Zloth

Community Contributor
Jan 13, 2020
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Godbunny? More like Beezle'bunny! I got other screenshots where somebody managed to get the thing to follow them all the way into town. (Never had so much fun at a bloodbath!) It was really dark, though, so its hard to see.

*it turns out the proper spawning answer (done by all our competitors to this day) was "just spawn them in fixed locations, players will camp them if they care, who cares if it's unrealistic/imbalanced/a bit boring, and don't overengineer stuff and ship faster"
Bah, humbug! I liked that way better. Seemed a lot more real! City of Heroes' instancing worked even better, at least for me, as it let the game change according to who was in the party.

There were a lot of firsts, at least for me, in AC. It was my first proper MMO for one (unless you count Air Warrior from the ancient times). It did wonderful things with the sky: great sunsets, really interesting moons, and even a giant demon that showed up in the sky when lightning struck! Fire weapons actually burned and left a really cool smoke trail. Enemies would level up if they killed your party a few times. And letting us wield Lugian maces - I had a lot of fun with that!

OK OK, back to this decade... where did the name "Skullbot" come from?
 
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Gaffer

Staff member
Sep 10, 2020
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skullbotgames.com
I miss AC - it was a fantastic time!

The name "Skullbot" came from an odd place - we were knocking names around (NOT my strong suit, in case company names like "Turbine" and "Carbine" in the past didn't make that obvious) - and our lead artist sketched out this little robot-skulled fellow on a pad of paper and bellowed "Skullbot!" and suddenly all of us were on board.

Naming companies is always interesting times - Turbine was one vote away from being Sleepless Geeks, Incorporated (our lawyer said we'd never get investment named like that) and Turbine actually started life as Cyberspace, Inc (I have stock certificate #001 with that name on it around here somewhere) and went through a phase as Second Nature, Inc (until we universally decided it sounded a little too hygiene-producty, I don't know what we were thinking). The saving grace for Turbine (which didn't really have a raison d'etre as a name) was Toby coming up with the tag line "Powered By Our Fans" which made it finally click for me.

I actually really liked Destination Games as a name - it was when Richard and Robert Garriott and I (and eventually most of the Ultima Online 2 team) had left Origin Systems, and moving from Origin to Destination just felt right. However, we ended up becoming part of NCsoft within ~45 days of starting the company - I'm not sure we ever finished the actual incorporation process!
 
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MHaag

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Jan 3, 2020
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Thanks for joining us on the PCG forums!! 😃

My daughter (17) is a digital artist and has really gotten into gaming more over the last few years. She's mentioned a few times having an interest in possibly pursuing a career that combines those interests, and I'd love to encourage her to do that.
How does one do that, exactly? 😅 Like, do you need a specific degree to do video game art? Can you get hired on skill or talent alone? Any advice for young artists that want to get into that field?
 

Gaffer

Staff member
Sep 10, 2020
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skullbotgames.com
<QUOTE>She's mentioned a few times having an interest in possibly pursuing a career that combines those interests, and I'd love to encourage her to do that. </QUOTE>

That sounds like a great idea! And go you for supporting her, you rock.

My personal opinion - I've known excellent artists with a variety of degrees (or lack of 'em) - I'm not sure there's a perfect path. The things I'd suggest aren't just about getting a position, but also doing everything you can to be a better artist:

Know what you love! Is it drawing, making 3D models, texturing, animation, or a combo? Some of these specializations are easier to be hired at than others in the industry - some (concept art for instance) are hard to break into since there are a lot of folks doing it! So find the area you're likely to go into and focus on that as you...

Make things for fun - always! Practice makes perfect, and more than any degree a portfolio that wows will open more doors than anywhere else - so that IMO is the best bet.

It's hard to attract attention in the early stages - it is the toughest bit to find a path through. That will be a tricky stage to get through, and proving that you're good at what you do is the best way to do it - but do realize even then it isn't easy to break in! When we started Turbine, in part it was so we could get a game on our resumes so we could go get "real jobs" later because it was hard to stand out in the flood of folks trying to get into the industry.

Watch folks you respect in the industry - I follow a friend of mine who is an amazing animator. Oddly enough, almost all of HIS buddies are amazing animators - and I started following them too,until my twitter feed is full of people doing animations at Riot, Blizzard, etc. who completely knock my socks off. It's not even about the networking aspect; it's about seeing in real time folks who love what they do and are constantly improving and challenging themselves, and using that as inspiration and learning. Works great in the art and design side in particular (I write a bit of server code and it's tough to show off on twitter)

Constantly self-improve! Being at that stage is a wonderful time to learn lots, absorb everything, and try your hand at everything.

A question - where does she WANT to be?
  • If she wants to get on a big team someday, then focusing to be GREAT in one area is key - after all, if you were hiring a big team, would you rather have two folks "pretty good" at animating and texturing who might be the weakest on their respective teams, or one fantastic animator and one fantastic texturer who could each only do the one thang?
  • Alternatively, small teams love generalists! After all, you might not be able to hire or need 5 fulltime specialists - but if you could hire one really skilled person who can handle a bunch of modeling, VFX, etc. and then get some assistance occasionally in the area they are weakest in, that'd be tremendous.
  • Another argument to branch out early before specializing - it's a great time to find what you enjoy/are good at! We were always really stoked to find artists who knew the whole process enough so that they could make a new character from concept to model to texture to animation to VFX - knowing the pipeline meant that they could make a smartly vertexed model with efficient U/Ving even if they weren't doing the texturing itself (or many other variants). And those kinds of folks who know a bit about it all a) are showing they're the folks with a love of learning and curiosity that are fun to work with and b) are the ones who might be managing an art team someday.
Anyways, my TL;DR: Make stuff! Learn lots! Have fun! Grab friends and do little projects, and be proud of successes and happily seek out the bits that turned out funny/bad/weird/not as you expected, because finding that out is a key part of it all to tackle on the next thang. And keep an eye on what folks are doing in the industry and use that to challenge yourself while realizing they were just like you not too long ago.

Worst case, you'll end up becoming a better artist with lots of little projects under your belt, a better understanding of yourself, and an eye on what folks are doing in the industry - not so bad!
 
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Sep 16, 2020
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I know most of the titles mentioned in your description are in the role play/mmorpg/rpg genre iirc. So at this point it has become your specialty? What genre of game would you love to work in if you haven't already? ( like fighting games, puzzle games etc.)
 
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Sep 16, 2020
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Wow such an amazing background you all come from. I know that in the gaming industry, working with teams is such a huge part in getting things done efficiently. Now that it is just the 3 of you, do you find that there is more hours of work to be done on one aspect of the game? Or do you still have a few more people working with you?
 
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Gaffer

Staff member
Sep 10, 2020
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I know most of the titles mentioned in your description are in the role play/mmorpg/rpg genre iirc. So at this point it has become your specialty? What genre of game would you love to work in if you haven't already? ( like fighting games, puzzle games etc.)
Oh, for me MMO/online has been what I've done since the very start in 1992. It's definitely odd to do a tiny-team single player game - but I LOOVE this genre and have been playing roguelikes since it was just, well, rogue (no -like!)

Other genres - I'd love to do a full on RPG (though they're soo hard to make) - and XCom (old school) as a hybrid-strategy-tactics genre I love. And world sims. And a picture-taking game ala Flight Wings or Pokemon snaps. And an evolution-based game. Ooh and a hive-mind game where a large community plays communally.

Not enough time in the day!
 
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Sep 16, 2020
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Congrats on the new game coming out. Gone Viral is coming out so soon!!! Any expectations you have for the game? Any nerves at all? Depending on how the game does what other games did you plan on making?
 
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Gaffer

Staff member
Sep 10, 2020
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skullbotgames.com
I know that in the gaming industry, working with teams is such a huge part in getting things done efficiently. Now that it is just the 3 of you, do you find that there is more hours of work to be done on one aspect of the game? Or do you still have a few more people working with you?
We work with 10-12 different folks on a rotating basis - contractors, though often the contracting is pretty casual since it's often just buddies we've worked with in the AAA space. Jeff Kurtenacker (Wildstar, WoW, etc.) does our music for instance, and localization is other groups - and audio, animations, environments and more have all had people come in and help out for bits and pieces, especially if it's an area we haven't done ourselves yet (at this point we have at least junior-level knowledge of about everything, which in the indie space is sometimes enough and sometimes not!)

I will note that there's a reason you see tiny-team games in 2D most of the time - making a new creature in 2D means drawing a bunch of new attack, death, etc. frames. In 3D, it's modelling the creature, U/Ving it, texturing it, rigging it for animating, and then animating walking, death, attacks, get-hit, idle, yadda yadda. It's not like drawing the 2D sprites isn't hard as well, but there are a lot more areas of knowledge needed doing it in 3D (unless you cheat, which I highly recommend! Making one boss something nonstandard like a giant sphere that bowls into things might be really fun and cool, and wooo you just saved a bunch of steps - as long as it doesn't suck. Similarly, stylized games like minecraft can skip a bunch of things your team might not be good at as well if you are clever about your stylization)
 
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Gaffer

Staff member
Sep 10, 2020
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skullbotgames.com
Congrats on the new game coming out. Gone Viral is coming out so soon!!! Any expectations you have for the game? Any nerves at all? Depending on how the game does what other games did you plan on making?
Ooh, good question. Expectations? I don't know, this is new for us! We're in a relatively smaller genre (roguelikes) with REALLY passionate fans - so great roguelikes can do really well and bad ones hear about it! We're confident based on our beta folks being positive - but it's always nervous-making letting your baby start waddling off into traffic (is that a good analogy? Eesh)

Our plans for the next year are really all about doubling down on Gone Viral through full launch - we think we have a really solid core with the physics combat, current levels, 100+ mutations, 300+ rooms, 7 difficulty levels - but it's all about making sure we have content down the road that you have new stuff constantly surprising you through synergies, unlocks, and new combos you haven't seen. So that's really our focus - for instance we quite like our 2 classes, and the 3rd in the works excites us, but it's all about building on that solid foundation until we're reallly deep in the content.

That's Early Access for us! As a thanks to those who help guide us with playing/feedback along the way, our Evil Dev Plans are basically to unlock a permanent cosmetic for folks helping us during each major update - so folks playing during the first bit after EA starts get a cosmetic as thanks for being early. On the first major update, we retire that and grant access to a new one any players active in EA while we're working on the second update, and so on!

Ooh on the "thank you" front - one other thing to check out: we give a lot of shoutouts in our Tips and in our patch notes to folks who give feedback, so thanks for the input beta folks and we wanna keep that up as we crank through early access.

Man I rambled there - so TL;DR - yes, excited, yes, a bit nervous, and sleep deprived but happy.

After Gone Viral we'll probably make more Gone Viral! I have a big list of other games I want to make too though - so if we do well we can grow to start working on multiple projects. When I started Turbine it was 4 of us and we were...200-300 peeps by the time we sold to Warner? When we founded Destination Games it was 4 of us as well and NCWest grew to....a few thousand before I left?

So we'll really see what we'd like to do as we go - get big, stay small, I'm easy. Our goal is to be fiercely independent, and work on games we love. Everything else is open.
 
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