~ May 2007 ~
Having reviewed my games on their site
and extolled the virtues of my work in their
newsletter, my affiliation with
Game Shark culminates in this revealing tête-à-tête.
Ahead of Reach's release, I contemplate what the future holds and
the pros and cons of the methods that got me this far...
Mat - Is developing games your main occupation? Do you have a day job? Do you
do other work on the side to support yourself?
I probably should, but I don't! I got into all of this by accident when I was
18, so I've never really known any better. I've pretty much adapted to this
being the way life is, so I'm not aware of what I'm missing out on by not
having a stable job. Let's face it, I'm probably not missing out on much.
Things do get a little risky from time to time though, and I have to ask
myself what I'm doing. If I don't make a game this year that thousands of
people buy then I'm dead?! Better get to work! People assume I'm quite
courageous for starting my own business, but there's actually a lot of
cowardice involved. I'm just as scared of NOT achieving something as other
people are about going out and doing it. The same emotion just drives us in
different directions. I must admit that I'm working on my exit strategy
though. I'm branching out into other things so that my eggs aren't all in one
basket as it were. Hopefully, that will evolve from the games instead
of replacing them...
How many games have you made altogether starting from
the beginning of your career to the present?
Too many to mention - not least because it all depends on what you count as a
"game". I've made hundreds of interactive programs, only a fraction of which I
would describe as complete, playable games. It's best that players trawl
through the History section of my site and make their own minds up! If
you ask me, my career goes back to the first time I rolled the dice on a
homemade board-game or the first ball I potted on a homemade crazy golf
Of those games how many were commercially viable?
Boxer's Story and Federation Wrestling were the first games I
ever had published way back in 2002, and they've since been joined by 13 of my
own releases and a further 3 compilations. Although trivia fans may like to
note that the first game I ever got "paid" for was the original 2D Big
Bumps, for which I received a replica wrestling belt!
What's your benchmark for a successful title? Is it
strictly a monetary amount?
The romantic answer is to say that it's all about "living the dream" and
"doing what you feel", but I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about the
sales and downloads. Not necessarily for financial reasons, but simply because
that's a measure of how popular a game is. It's no fun seeing the sales
trickle in slowly when you've just spent 3 months of your life working on a
project. It's always good when someone genuinely considers a game you've made
to be their "best ever" though. That can sometimes be worth a thousand sales -
to know that you've created the one game that a kid goes back to time and time
again. You get to thinking of all the games that meant that much to you when
you were a kid, and then realize you're now that to somebody else. Money can't
buy that kind of connection. As an independent developer still learning his
craft, I also tend to have different criteria for what was or wasn't
worthwhile. If a game like Wrecked or Grass Roots bravely takes
a shot at a difficult new genre then I consider that to be a successful
exercise - especially if their efforts laid the foundations for other games
and taught me a few things...
are the top three in the long list of games you've created?
As far as the sales are concerned, it's any given wrestling game, followed
by any given Popscene style industry simulation, followed by any given
Hard Time style action adventure. Rather controversially, my own
personal list would rank Grass Roots and Sure Shot 3D in there
amongst the wrestling games! Reach is definitely going to barge its way
up there though, and I'd even be tempted to ignore Wrestling Encore
because I know what it's going to be replaced with...
Tell us about some of the challenges of being an
indie - in particular not fitting in with many of your very own peers? What is
it about Mat Dickie and his games that rub people the wrong way?
Well, let's point out that we're talking about a minority here - a very loud
minority, but a minority nonetheless. 90% of people that come into contact
with my work take it the right way and are perfectly inspired. As for the
others, if I'm being honest it's partly my fault and partly theirs. They're
guilty of being bitter and insecure, and I'm guilty of taunting that
insecurity with my brash, assertive attitude. Fundamentally, the problem is
that I come from a sporting background where confidence isn't such a dirty
word. I represent a new era of game development where any guy off the street
can crack open a laptop and make an impact in this business. That frightens a
lot of people that see the world of computing as their sanctuary - the one
place where they can pretend to be powerful from behind a keyboard. At the end
of the day, I'm an agent for change in this business and that's always going
to threaten those that don't want things to change. After all, turkeys don't
vote for Christmas! It's like R. Buckminster Fuller once said - you don't
change things by adjusting the existing model, you change things by making it
obsolete. That's my agenda here - to replace scientists with artists, to
replace weakness with strength, to replace negativity with positivity, and to
replace $50 price tags with $15 ones. If you want those things, I'm your hero.
If you don't, I'm your worst nightmare. Simple as that...
us about your publishing model. How does self-publishing work for you? In your
opinion what are the pluses and minuses of handling everything from developing
the game to publishing it?
Yeah, publishing myself is both the greatest thing I've got going and the
worst. The greatest because I can have a game in people's hands within 2 weeks
of completing it. I sidestep all the bureaucracy that keeps a game tied up for
months (or even years) while publishers figure out what they want to do. I
know what I want to do from day one, so no time is lost in the decision-making
process. That also means I get to release what I wanted to release, and don't
have to worry about censorship or doubts about a crazy concept. The glaring
downside is that nothing happens unless I make it happen, which often means
there are no surprises. I'm never going to get that excited phone call from a
publisher saying "We're in stores!" or "We sold 10'000 copies on day one!". If
either of those things happened, it would be because I made them happen and
saw it all pan out in slow motion. Let's face it, they're not likely to happen
anyway because there are enormous limitations on my current methods. At the
end of the day, I publish myself out of necessity rather than choice and would
prefer to be taken under the wing of someone that knows what they're
doing. I'll still be doing my thing either way though, and that pretty much
sums up my whole philosophy. If something isn't given to me, I'll create it
for myself. If there's no wind, I'm happy to row...
How do you market and promote your games? Do you have
a core base of players that you rely on? And how do you move beyond your core
Promotion used to be my strong suit. I could make my one-man show sound like
great copy to any journalist on the planet, and regularly received the kind of
media coverage that most independents can only dream of. It dries up
eventually though, because the angle changes from "This guy's gonna be great!"
to "Shouldn't this guy be great by now?!". Like a freshly
elected politician, the stakes are raised and you have to start delivering on
some of those rather extravagant promises. So far I haven't done that, but
this year's games look set to take us there. In the meantime, the word of
mouth from that brief stint in the sun has been enough to keep me afloat.
Hundreds of thousands of people know who I am, and of those tens of
thousands have stayed to watch my career unfold with great interest - so I'll
always have more to work with than the average independent developer. It's the
one thing I've never had to worry about really. It helps that I make the kind
of games that people get excited about too. If you look at most independent
releases, they're all quaint "retro" concepts that are aimed at their
fellow programmers - whereas mine are aimed at the outside world. I fly a
little closer to the mainstream, so I have a better chance of inheriting
that calibre of success...
tools. You have been using the same engine to create games for a long time but
it is becoming apparent that it is getting harder and harder for that
technology to handle what you need to accomplish? Is it time for you to move
onto big and better technology like XNA?
I came to that conclusion myself towards the end of last year and began
looking at alternatives, but it turns out that Blitz 3D isn't as
antiquated as you'd think. Certainly not in terms of performance. I was
sitting there with products like XNA and Torque and realized
there wasn't all that much waiting for me at the end of the rainbow. I saw no
evidence of improved visuals. Models were showing up as grainy, shaky
Playstation One style creatures rather than the thick, cartoony N64
look I have going on right now. Nor did the games on those platforms run
particularly well, and the interface certainly wasn't as easy to use. My
verdict was that I would be breaking my back to make games that aren't
even as good as what I'm doing now, and that's obviously a no-brainer! I don't
say that out of spite or because of some blind loyalty to Blitz. I want
XNA to succeed and I'll be keeping a close eye on its progress, but at
the moment it simply doesn't work for me. I've got my fingers crossed for a
natural successor to Blitz 3D, but until then I've got everything I
need to make any concept that comes to mind. I haven't yet reached the point
where Blitz has held me back from achieving something. The games have
always been as good as I'm capable of making them, and as long as that's true
I've got nothing to complain about...
Have you thought about bringing your games to other
platforms like Xbox Live Arcade or GameTap? Are you capable of
censoring yourself to create a game that could fit into the games rating
systems in North America and Europe?
I already censor myself quite a lot! My style is supposed to veer into Quentin
Tarantino territory, but it all gets lost in translation. You get to thinking
of the hundreds of thousands of hits you'll miss if you're not hosted on
download sites, or the thousands of young fans you'll lose if a game isn't
accessible - and before you know it, you're cutting out the bad language
and distasteful behaviour. My younger self would be ashamed if he saw me
selling out like that, but there really is no other way in this profession -
at least not at my independent level. None of us can afford to throw away
business. It would be career suicide to limit the appeal and exposure of my
games. So, yeah, practically every game I've made in the past few years
already is eligible for the opportunities you mention. It's just a question of
getting their attention. Hard Time has done a good job of that. I'm
fielding more exciting offers than I have done in years, so you can bet the
playing field will have changed by the time 2008 rolls around. Reach
and the new wrestling game will be redefining the boundaries of what an
independent developer can achieve...
end this by giving you a chance to talk about Reach. What are some of
the big things that Long time MDickie.com fans are going to go bonkers
over? What new gameplay elements are really going to make fans want to buy
This really is the most exciting time to be fan of my work because the games
are finally starting to live up to their potential. Up until now, people have
been sucked in by the concepts and they've put up with the graphics - either
that or they've been put OFF by them! With games like Reach, we're
finally going to get the whole package and there'll be no more need for
excuses. They'll be the biggest independent games on the market, the most
involving and playable, and now also among the best looking. You'll have
to reach for a console for a better gaming experience, and that's a phenomenal
thing to contemplate when you're talking about a game made my one man. It
won't stop people complaining or criticizing, but it will make them think
twice before doing so! We're rapidly reaching the point where negativity about
my work will fall on deaf ears, and I've been waiting for that for a very long
Copyright © MDickie 2000 - 2007