Going indie: Why 5 devs left their day jobs for creative independence (part one)

Cannon Brawl

Above: Turtle Sandbox’s Cannon Brawl

Image Credit: Pete Angstadt

Pete Angstadt, Turtle Sandbox

Why he left

Pete Angstadt became discouraged from game development after his last studio job at the Electronic Arts-owned Maxis. While he was there, he worked as a programmer on an expansion pack to Spore, a game where players create and raise their own alien lifeforms. Though the project was complete, it never saw the light of day.

“[I] was just like, ‘My time is not being used very well here,’” Angstadt said. “As a person who wants to make games, you also want to have people play the games. If you spend a year and a half on something and nobody ever plays it, it’s kind of stinky.”

After the cancellation, Angstadt wasn’t even sure he wanted to make games anymore. So he took up a job at Havok, the company behind the titular physics engine widely used by game developers.

“While I was doing that, I was also making games on the side and entering them into as many contests as possible,” he said. “And one of those contests was Activision’s first independent games competition back in 2011. I entered that and forgot about it. Then months and months later, they wrote back to me and said, ‘Hey, you won first prize and you get $175,000, no strings attached.’ So I was like, ‘Alright, it’s time to quit and try and make this game.”

Realizing that he needed some help with the art, he joined up with his old Maxis coworker Theresa Duringer to form Turtle Sandbox.

Turtle Sandbox’s first game: Cannon Brawl

Known as Dstroyd back when Angstadt first submitted his prototype for the competition, Cannon Brawl is a 2D action strategy game for the PC. Angstadt describes it as the “next evolution of the artillery genre” that follows in the footsteps of games like Worms and Gunbound. Battles take place in real-time as you build mines, cannons, and shields to protect and fund your base (the castles) while attacking the enemy’s compound.

Turtle Sandbox

Above: Pete Angstadt and Theresa Duringer

Image Credit: Pete Angstadt

Even in the early version I played, it’s a lot of fun. Matches are hectic, especially as your weapons destroy portions of the map, leaving you with precious little room to build more towers and buildings. Cannon Brawl will have a single-player campaign as well as multiplayer options (online and local) when it launches some time this summer for PC.

Unexpected challenges

“On one hand, when you’re at a big company and someone says, ‘Do this thing!’ You think, ‘Oh, that’s a terrible idea, why would I do that?’” Angstadt said. “But you have to do it anyway because it’s your job. And then at the end of the day, when maybe it didn’t work out, you kind of have like a way to protect your ego, like, ‘Oh I knew that was a bad decision. If I was in charge, I would have never done that.’

“And one of the scary parts of being indie is now I am in charge. And if my decisions are terrible, then it’s only me I have to blame.”

On the rise of indie developers

“I feel like the audience for games is getting a little bit tired of your standard triple-A game,” Angstadt said. “They also don’t want to pay $60 for another sports simulator or shooting simulator. Maybe they want to try five new interesting games for the same price. And at the same time, you have these triple-A companies with a lot of talent that they’re maybe not utilizing as well as they could. Those talented people are going to try and strike off on their own, basically.”

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