How does one Sad IHOP?

Sad IHOP is a tradition I've tried to keep over the past few years of conference-hopping, which I'll start on again in less than 9 hours. The idea is really simple: conferences are full of life, people, interesting ideas, thoughts, inspiration, chaos and just all-around good things. One of my conference rules is to try and never have food alone. Always find other friendly developers, be they old friends or people you just met, for every meal at a conference - whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner. Sad IHOP is none of those meals, but it adheres to that same rule.

The International House Of Pancakes - which in full American tradition is named International despite being a North-American chain that only opened its first non-North American store in 2013 - is a cheap fast-food breakfast chain that tends to be open very late. It's not very good food, and it's not a very good atmosphere.

What IHOP is, though, is a great way to slow down after a long day and night, chat about the day with some friends, reset your expectations down to 'what am I doing with my life' and make sure no matter how terrible you feel when waking up after too little sleep, it's at least better than the lukewarm pancake you half-ate at 3:50AM.

I'm a first time indiedev with an opportunity (maybe) to work with a respected publisher in the indie scene. Besides giving up a share of royalty and having to commit to a schedule are there any downsides I'm not thinking of? Would you recommend it generally or is it better to try on my own?

- Are you keeping your IP?
- Are they signing up for marketing support, and if so, what kind and how much?
- Is the share at least 70% for you, 30% for them? If not, what are they offering to ask for those rates?

You are a true inspiration, keep up the great work! ( yes this is a question. )

Thanks for the kinds words <3

I recently lost a very large chunk of work (Project files became corrupted on 6 month long project) - Have you ever had an experience like this and how did/would you handle it?

I'm super sorry! Yes, that did happen to me too - I think it happens to almost everybody - I remember it really clearly: the day it happened was the day I learned to use version control on literally anything I make that takes more than 2 hours to make.

If anything, any thing you've made before is easier to make the second time around. You'll be able to avoid mistakes, and having some time to take some distance and getting back to it will probably improve the final product.

Think of it as six months of really, really painful R&D.

How do you come back from being burnt out from crunch time? I've been working on a game by myself for a few years and the end is in sight, but my motivation is gone and even taking 2 weeks off hasn't restored it.

This might be a combination of burn out and cold feet for release. Whichever way it is, the best way I've found to deal with it is to set a work schedule and actually keep to it. Six hours a day seems to be good at getting it across the finish line, don't work more, and don't work less.

Slow and steady helps with this kind of situation.

Any advice for an aspiring game developer in Middle School, High School, or whatever is before university/college?

Make stuff! Make games, write stories, write poetry, learn to draw, play an instrument, program something silly, get into theatre, pick up a camera and do photography, take debating class, anything - anything that is something you make. You never know what works out for you until you try.

So do all of it, practice each of them for a month or two, find the things that still feel fun after that time, the things that 'mesh' with you, that feel like you can express yourself through, and just never stop practicing those.

When you hear that little disappointed voice that what you made isn't good, tell it that you know. That voice will become a good but slightly too honest friend later on. Don't worry too much about what you make being good, or professional, or quality - it's not going to be - and that's fine. Just make.

Make without hesitation, without judgement. I own hundreds of pieces of shit I made, and I remember thousands more. Don't throw away any idea, just go. Make. Find people that make that thing, too, and ask them what they think. Feel proud when they say it's good. Make more things. Grow more determined to improve when they tell you it's not. Make more things. Give people feedback on what they make if they ask for feedback, even if you feel your opinion isn't worthwhile. Make more things.

Also spend time consuming things, gaining knowledge, searching for interesting experiences. Creativity is all the knowledge you have in a blender. Creativity is a muscle that needs practice, but also rest.

I wrote this answer without pauses and without hitting backspace once. That's how you should make things, for as long as you can. One day, time will catch up with you, and you have to make a choice about what to do to pay for your family. If you've fucked up enough by that time, you'll have a much better understanding of what to make, and what not to make.

Hey, man. That may sound kinda irresponsible, but what do you think is the best way to stop imagining and starting stuff and start finishing and releasing stuff? Been stack on the former for the last few years and it's getting pretty irritating. And you release a tonn of cool stuff. : ) Ryan Ash

Imagine the tiniest thing you can think of, and make that. Release it.
Then make something slightly bigger, and make that. Release it.
Keep doing that until you fail to finish something, write down what went wrong. and then start a new thing of a scale like that, make it. Release it.

Rinse and repeat. Good luck!

Do you have any advice for a games design student, focused on art, looking to get into the industry?

Yeah, find your favorite artist, and send them this same question. I'm a programmer and a producer and marketing, but I'm not an artist by any stretch of the imagination. If I have to draw a owl like in the meme, I get to the part of drawing two circles, and then I put an arrow above it with the word 'owl'.

Their advice will be far more valuable and useful than mine. All I can tell you is learn to identify what you want to do (3D, 2D, concept, in-game, animation, props, characters, environments, whatever???) and then practice outside of school hours.

School will get you exactly as far as all your peers, and if you want to stand out, you'll want to end up ahead of them in the thing that sets you apart. That doesn't have to be competitive per sé. Learn from each other.

Of all the countries you visited, which did you like the most & which the least? Alexandru Nechita

Oh jeez, that's a tough one. I think I tend to be more impressed by countries we don't traditionally consider 'game dev countries', usually out of pure ignorance. Lebanon, Uruguay, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil - but also talking to people from Chile, or Singapore, or Vietnam - is super fascinating.

Least favorite? No idea. Every country offers something, a perspective or tought or culture. I guess the countries I spent most of my life in are the countries where I feel I can learn less - so those'd be Egypt and the Netherlands - but I have so much love and pride for those countries that I could never consider them my least favorite.

How do I go about networking at game conferences? I'll be attending this year's GDC and I've started contacting people who I'd like to meet. As someone whom 100s of attendees will want to speak to, what do I need to keep in mind? Any specific pointers would really help. Abhay Ramakrishnan

Hey Abhay,

The honest truth is basically exactly what you're doing now. Explain to people you'd love to chat with them, give them a reason why you specifically want to talk to them (love their game, inspired by their writing, interested in their perspectives, have questions for them, would just love to grab lunch/say hi) and see what happens.

I'd also recommend keeping a close eye out for parties or less formal events. They tend to be good places to network, if you can behave like a decent human being in less formal circumstances (I'm adding that qualifier not because of you, but because of some incidents I've seen happen in the past). Don't forget: it's a huge tiny industry, this games industry.

Say 'hi' to people you run into if you see a good opening, try to meet up with people for lunch or dinner, and spend some time in Yerba Buena Gardens on top of Moscone.

And if you want to hang out with me, feel free to send me a message when you're there. You'll find my contact information on my website. It'd be a pleasure to meet you!

What is your favorite type of tiger? What is your favorite type of lynx? Lisa Brown

I liked the tiger in Rise of the Tomb Raider, but I've yet to find a lynx.

100 years from now, Ubisoft announces they are setting the next Assassins Creed game in the year 2015. What region would you want them to set it in?

Depending on whether the global superpowered indeed moved to China, the obvious choice would be the United States, the Rome of the 20th century. Assassins Creed has always focused on the powerful countries of their age, empires at the top of their influence or at the end of their power. There's more than enough intrigue, political backstabbing, conspiracy theories and scandals to write a good story with in the US, too.

(It's also one of the rare developed countries in which walking with small-to-medium weapons is actually legal in a lot of places, and murder by weapon is sadly a common enough thing, so that'd help with making a game simulation that's half about about murdering people too)

Alternatively, a country like China or India would be fascinating. They also deal with their fair share of problems, and as growth economies, a lot of things are changing rapidly, and that might make for a great setting. It'd be interesting to see an Assassins Creed in a country that isn't at the top of it's power yet.

What is your favorite fish to eat? What is your favorite fish to look at?


I have no idea, there are so many gorgeous and horrendous fish I've seen, and they're all equally fascinating creaturs.

Hi Rami. What do you feel about games using other games to describe it? Saying "inspired by [insert game here]" or something similar. I'm currently making a game heavily inspired by the early tomb raider games and can't think of a quick and easy way to describe it without using its inspirations.

If that's a genuine representation of the game, then go for it. Try to find something to describe what's different about your game, too, though.

As a side note, I feel 'a game inspired by Tomb Raider' isn't interesting, but a game inspired by 'this specific thing/feeling from Tomb Raider' is already more interesting as a story, and more intriguing. It feels more thought out.

What's something really nice or thoughtful someone did for you recently?

Oof, this might sound depressing, but it's not really since I always try to present myself as someone who tries to be useful. It's probably simply people sincerely asking how I'm doing before hinting at what they need from me.

Usually, people feel they're already taking too much of my time, and as such skip the 'pleasantries' straight to the business/topic at hand.

There's a fun lesson there about assumptions and intentions, and how your default state should probably just be to 'assume less and ask more'.

VR - will it really be the Next Big Leap in gaming or turns out to be just another gimmick? Zsolt Lusztig

It'll turn out to be a stepping stone to AR, which is still rather far away. For now, VR will allow for some interesting stuff, and it clearly has a reach - I'm just unsure it's with consumers.

I love the VR stuff I own - a Gear VR, an HTC Vive, an Oculus devkit - and I love messing around with them (I tend to see if I can make people nauseous with prototypes) - but I don't think I've used them 'as a consumer' quite often. I know a lot of people that own the same devices, and they seem to have the same attitude. The use for VR seems far more obvious in medical, science, technology, production, architecture - enterprise applications.

There's something magical about VR the first times you use it, but then there's a reason the HTC Vive feels far more magical compared to the others. There's something about pulling the digital more and more into 'our' world, and ultimately, I feel that is where this is headed: augmented reality with an option to lock out the 'real world' for 'traditional VR'.

Favourite character of the Mass Effect saga? Personally, I think Mordin's the best.

Had to be Mordin.

Are there any tips that you could give to a guy that wants to get deeper into game design (and actually finish his games)?

The best answer I know is to practice finishing games. Make smaller games, so you have more chances at learning how to wrap up. Make smaller games, so you can experiment with more ideas, and learn to focus on a single idea. I generally recommend a game a week.

Challenge yourself to make something radically different from what you've already made for each game, and don't spend enough time on a game to make it a 'big thing'. Make things you care about, but that are still disposable. Release them publicly, and 'aggressively' seek feedback. Write down how you felt throughout, what you learned, what you liked and didn't like. Don't forget to evaluate your soft skills (communication, emotional self-awareness), besides the obvious skills of programming and art and sound.

As soon as you learn to identify design choices you like, feelings you have when things go right or wrong, the mistakes you make that bite you later in the process, as soon as you gain the ability to 'kill your darlings', feel more comfortable with receiving criticism (when your first response stops being 'but...' or any other form of defense, and turns into 'oh cheers') and have learned to pace yourself, you'll be in a better spot to make bigger things.

I wrote a bit more about those ideas here:

I can also recommend reading up on design. It's a rather abstract and formless discipline, but it's applications are extremely concrete. Game Feel is a great book, and Rules of Play is great too. Any book about HCI or Interaction Design is great too.

Good luck, and make games!

If tomorrow you woke up and were no longer working in games, what sort of field would you want to be in?


The nature of consciousness and the seemingly thin line between man and machine was a big theme in 2015 (Soma, Fallout 4, Ex Machina), Do you have any thoughts on that?

Entertainment always mirrors our contemporary worldview, be it subtle or not, and I think 2015 was no difference. In a lot of ways, the big media of this decade will explore themes of technology backfiring or spiraling out of control, climate change, privilege, and global war.

We're at an odd crossroads in history, where for the first time our progress might also turned out to have been or become a weakness. As we send (and land) things from space, we're also affecting our planet to the point a winter day on the North Pole is warmer than the same day in Chicago.

What it means to be human, what it means to be part of humanity, what it means to progress, whether progress is always a net positive - all of these questions are millenias old - because they're all core questions to being human. I think that just, for a little while the last few decades, the majority of people weren't asking them in popular media. They were worried about government censorship and global war.

I guess global war is kind of a constant since we've achieved the ability to fight one.

But I think it's also important to look at the reverse relationship, the impact media can have on our worldview. I'm getting really tired of all the 'humanity stands on the brink and our hero needs to fix it' stories. The reality is that if we're going to fix the issues we're dealing with, it's going to take more than a hero, relativity, and a Hans Zimmer soundtrack.

Today, I read an article about scientists mapping a nematode's brain and analysing how many neurons (and which ones) fire for basic movement. Did you know there's something called the openWorm project, which is trying to create that exact same type of worm digitally? It's painstaking work, and apparently progress is slow, but those lines might be getting a lot thinner sooner rather than later.

Then it might be good to re-evaluate our progress on that, too. I think that's kind of where I am right now. "Progress" hasn't turned out to be an absolute positive, and in light of that understanding, we might need to re-approach our definitions of and views on "progress".

Favorite gun in destiny/favorite gun of all time from any game?

In Destiny, that'd be the Telesto. It's an exotic Fusion Rifle that takes a clear cue from Halo's Needler. Small purple projectiles shoot out in a burst after a short charge, fire with a tiny stagger, and explode a few moments later, dealing high damage.

The design is futuristic, and the charge up effect, kickback and sound effect make for something that feels powerful, despite the initial impact being low. The Telesto is decidedly versatile, having good application both in PvE and PvP. In PvE, the fact that the Telesto offers Orbs for multikills makes it great for any skirmish in which a lot of adds appear.

My favorite gun ever? Phew, I'm probably forgetting dozens. RAGE's shotguns were amazing. The Railgun in Quake was great. Halo's Sword was great. The BFG holds a special place in my heart. Any reasonable Earth Defense Force weapon could work.

But if I had to pick, it might be Gears of Wars' Lancer. It's one thing to have a defining weapon in a game, but Gears of War *is* the Lancer. It summarizes the dance between cover, flanking and closing distance that is at the heart of the gameplay loop.

It's also why Gears 3 is still my least favorite in the series, because the Lambent self-detonating in close range made the Lancer's chainsaw (and thus half of the game 'dance') irrelevant.

Still, for me, the Lancer carried an entire game series, and I don't know any other weapon that I can say that for.

Is Vlambeer thinking in a new game since NT is almost finished? Ian Campos

Vlambeer isn't - but Jan Willem has some ideas. As soon as we launched Nuclear Throne, he told me he wanted to pitch some new ideas - I told him to wait as I fixed the remaining issues with the game and wrapped up post-production.

Regardless, over the past few weeks, he's mentioned a few of those ideas in passing, because he just can't help himself being excited about new ideas. He's a creative force, and when his brain locks onto something, it has to get out of there in some way or form. I'm sure he's prototyping already.

That doesn't mean the design he might be working on now, or any of the other ideas he has, will turn into actual Vlambeer games or products. Until we reach agreement about an idea, a game remains a prototype. Whereas J.W. gets really excited, I tend to get really analytical of a project if I think it's a good idea. Learning those 'signs' of my own enthusiasm for a project turned out rather invaluable - even your gut feelings take training.

So we'll see. If I get overly analytical about one of the things J.W. sends me after I'm done tinkering on Nuclear Throne, we'll have an announcement. If not, we'll see what happens. Besides the Nuclear Throne fixes, we're not in a hurry at the moment.

Do you have also interesse in making 3D games. No? Why not?

Yes, I just have an interest in making things. I'm currently enjoying this direction a lot, so as long as I feel there's more interesting stuff to be done there than elsewhere, I'll keep doing this.

How do I get make friends in the online Indie community?

Honest answer is that they're just people like any other, but you have a easy starting point: a shared interest in games, making games and having a creative tendency.

Any indie games that stick out in your mind as overlooked by the public despite being great this year?



Ask @tha_rami:

About Rami Ismail:

Chief Executive Business & Development Guy at indie game studio Vlambeer. Creator of presskit(). Drinks only real cane sugar coke.

Hilversum, Netherlands