After working eight years in the mainstream games industry as a 3-D artist, Jason Godbey grew creatively frustrated with simply being another cog in a gigantic, multi-million dollar wheel. Modeling environments and props for big-name titles like Resistance 3, Twisted Metal and God of War: Ghost of Sparta, Godbey became used to the alienating workflow of major AAA studios. He says some of those games were so restrictive that he started to feel creatively stagnant:
“I’ve worked on projects before where you feel like because there’s so much micromanaging and control, there’s little place for you as an artist to contribute your ideas."
But amidst his heavily dictated work, Godbey kept the kernel of an original vision in the back of his mind: an artistic, psychological adventure game inspired by the PC classic Myst. This idea would become The Search, Godbey’s upcoming project that he’s designing entirely by himself.
Watch our video interview with Jason Godbey below:
Defining The Search
At the surface level, The Search is a point-and-click game about the player discovering who they are and what they’re doing in a mysterious place. But thematically, The Search is about art and creativity, with the environment being the primary driver of the story.
Godbey says this is what he thinks will separate The Search from other indie point-and-clicks:
“With my background in psychology, using the symbolism, (puzzles) and metaphor to help tell the story, I think that’s where it’s unique. I don’t think you see too many games telling their story through symbolism and metaphor… I’m more focused on telling the story through art and through the environment, and letting the world around tell the story instead of just being words on paper.”
While mainstream environmental art design typically has to tell a one-dimensional story (such as having a room housing a dead body show signs of a struggle), Godbey says he wants to create “a deeper, meaningful kind of narrative” with the environment in The Search.
Perks of a Solo Game Developer
As an artist first, Godbey only knew a bit of programming. However, with the help of the Unity engine, he saw an opportunity to try his luck at creating a game of his own. With the advent of user-friendly engines, that's when he says he decided to turn his dream into a reality:
“When I saw (with Unity) that I could do all of it pretty much on my own now, I thought ‘Okay, let’s give it a shot."
To bring his original vision to life, Godbey braced himself for six months of hard work. But to his surprise, that six-month estimate evolved into two years of development. He quickly learned that for his pet project, he needed to do things the right way instead of the fast way:
“It became one of those things where I thought, ‘If I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it right.’ I don’t want to take any shortcuts. This is something I want to be able to look back on five, ten years from now and say, ‘Yeah, I gave it my all.'"
Another important decision in The Search’s creation was Godbey’s choice to maintain his day job as an environmental artist. According to Godbey, this was to make sure the final product could stay as unbridled as possible:
“When you’re depending on one project to pay your bills, you begin sacrificing your vision a little bit. The money becomes more of what you base your decisions on rather than, ‘What can I bring to the table that’s creative and innovative that’s really myself?’”
But on the bright side, despite having to take the full brunt of the workload, Godbey says the total independence that comes with getting to design an entire game is a major benefit:
“For me and I know a lot of other indies, just having the freedom to explore your own ideas, that’s just really liberating"
It’s that feeling that drives him in the face of the monumental task of creating a game alone:
“Ever since I learned how to do 3-D art, it’s kind of something that I’ve always been tinkering with, and as an artist, I sort of feel really inspired and alive just by doing art. And so that’s a big motivation for me just to do this.”
The Prospect of Indie Development
While he sees the mainstream video game industry headed in the same micromanaged direction it's currently in, Godbey points to some breakout hits in recent years as evidence that artistic game design is not dead:
“It’s kind of interesting and encouraging to see adventure or these ‘walking simulator’ types of games coming out. Because when Dear Esther first came out there was a lot of criticism about it not being a game… but you basically saw a new genre being created.
I think that’s pretty exciting and encouraging that more is being brought to the table in the game dev world where we can create new genres like that. Maybe it’s not a game in a traditional sense, but I think it’s still art that can touch people and inspire people. And I think that’s what it’s about at the end of the day.”
As for the advice he’d give to developers looking to finally breathe life into their own pet projects, Godbey says that “refining and refining until you get it right” and “knowing things will always take longer than you think” are key to getting that dream game realized.
“Failing fast” and “being wrong as fast as possible” are also important for independent game design, according to Godbey.
“I would say work on the smallest possible (product) that you can and build out from there,” he said. “Just focus on the essential for whatever it is that you’re making. Get it out there, show it to people, get feedback, and then just keep refining and iterating.”
Near the end of his own journey, Godbey expects The Search to finally be ready for release by this April. And after months of loving labor, Godbey says getting to see his completed vision is its own reward:
“It’s something that really makes me feel alive. And if you have any kind of passion or drive to do something, it’s so much easier now than ever before to make your own game or make your own app. I think it’s an exciting time to do it because there’s so much support, there are so many resources out there. I’d say anybody thinking about doing it, go for it.”