No Support: The Developers of Indie Minion Master Go It Alone
Minion Master was the result of that thinking, and it was through iterating the tabletop version of the game that the BitFlip team managed to get the rules of Minion Master to a point that they all liked. The result is part card game, part board game, with tons of different rules and actions. But for all its complexity, it makes sense as the game is moving with a computer handling all the tiny details behind the scenes. Players summon “minions” by playing cards each turn, and those minions act automatically according to their artificial intelligence programming. The minions work to destroy each other, and once a player loses enough minions, they lose the game.
Deck-building comes into play with a number of support cards that allow users to alter the AI and capabilities of their minions. So for example, you can summon a mess of weak, generally skittish Kobolds, and then play a card that amps each individual Kobold based on the number on the board — suddenly turning them into a vicious swarm that acts more aggressively than Kobolds might under normal circumstances.
Minion Master is the fifth game BitFlip has taken on, but the first title never left the ground, and the intervening three were mobile games. After those three games, the team decided to make something more substantial. But to even get to the point where they could make the attempt, and in order to form the studio in the first place, they had to quit their jobs and take a big risk. Executive Producer David Steinwedel said the guys discussed striking out on their own, saved some money, and left their jobs to form the company. It’s been a rollercoaster he describes as “scary awesome” ever since.
“It’s scary and also really fun at the same time,” Steinwedel said. “It’s kind of like walking a tightrope. Coming from an audio background, I’m now a programmer, the marketing guy, the business dev guy, I kind of herd Guy and Delaney and make sure we’re all on task — that’s sort of like herding cats. And really it’s just, you know, being able to walk into the office in the morning and figuring out what needs to get done that day, and no matter whether or not that’s the skill set that you know, that’s the skill set that you’re going to be doing, so you better figure it out quick. And so, in that respect, it’s just been a great learning experience and a lot of fun, because whenever you’re doing new things and growing and learning, that makes coming to work really worthwhile.”
It’s a struggle as well, though. Steinwedel, Somberg and Gillilan saved money before making the transition, but for a group that is relatively unestablished, money hasn’t been rolling in. Somberg and Gillilan met while working on slot machines, before Steinwedel moved on to be audio director at Flaghsip Studios and worked on Hellgate: London, and then to a job at 2K Games to work on BioShock 2 and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Steinwedel previously was an audio designer for both film and games, meeting Somberg at Flagship. Gillilan, after leaving slot machines, did all kinds of work, including foley (sound effect recording) for Hellgate: London, and circus performance.
“I did a one-man Western show, so I did trick roping, whip-cracking, gun-spinning, knife-throwing, all those kind of Westerny things on horseback,” Gillilan said. “I was at Circus Smirkus, where I spent a good amount of time, which is a circus up in New England. But basically, I had a one-man Western show and I won the World Championships when I was 16. At the time I was the youngest to ever do it, and I did all kinds of crazy cowboy stuff, and I started to pick up more circus skills over the years, but that was kind of my forte, and that’s what I did in Vegas.”
The three make up the core team on Minion Master, along with help from part timers Peter Inouye and Raul Arbeloa Santos. But every day with Minion Master remains a struggle, Steinwedel said, because their only support is themselves. As Gillilan put it, Minion Master has a “bus factor” of one — if any member of the team is hit by a bus (or otherwise put out of commission), that’s it for the project. And that’s a lot of pressure.
And that’s to say nothing of the wives that have to be faced at the end of the day, who have supported the guys in their attempts to make something of their own, but who also are dependent on the three to find success to support families and pay bills.