On the heels of the release of his first PSN title, Dyad, Shawn McGrath has learned quite a few lessons about making a game that one can only find out about after having lived through it. He traveled a long road to get Dyad out the door, from dealing with funding, to publishing paperwork, to actually getting it released. A bit of an anomaly in the games industry, McGrath, who released the game almost entirely on his own, doesn’t see himself as part of the machine, and encourages any ambitious, like-minded individuals to make games if they want to make games.
If there’s one thing you take away from this interview, try to always retain McGrath’s outlook on life, “I'm dying; we all are. I don't have time to sit around and waste. I want to create as much stuff as possible in my life.” Those are great words of advice from a dedicated developer who has already begun work on his next project, and starting the process all over again.
Read on for some insight into the mind behind one of this summer’s most critically acclaimed games.
MTV Multiplayer: Where did you begin with Dyad, and how did the concept of the game evolve over the course of development?
Shawn McGrath: It started when I played Torus Trooper and didn't like it. I liked everything else Kenta Cho made and I couldn't figure out why I didn't like Torus Trooper. I set out to figure out what was wrong with it, and fix it. I thought it'd be a short project.
MTV Multiplayer: When you began working on the game, did you think it was going to take so long to finally be released?
McGrath: Definitely not. I thought it'd be a few weeks, maybe a month. It turns out that racing games are inherently broken ;) -- I'll elaborate a little: I mean the primary function of a racing game is to go fast. Speed and difficulty are directly proportional. I've never seen a racing game that really explores the relationship between speed and difficulty, which is what I mean by "broken" -- the most interesting thing is forgotten about! Deeply exploring the relationship of speed and difficulty and designing a game around it is actually a very complex and difficult task; it took me a long time to figure out how to make a game out of it.
MTV Multiplayer: What was the biggest hurdle that you had to overcome to finally get the game out?
McGrath: I don't really know about "biggest" -- there were lots of big ones. By far the most annoying and frustrating was the publishing paperwork. I like making stuff, not filling out forms. The rest of the development, while difficult and intense was always rewarding in the end and mostly fun... the paperwork was incredibly stupid and unnecessary.
MTV Multiplayer: Was there any particularly reason that you chose to develop for the PlayStation platform over Xbox, Wii or PC?
McGrath: There's no market for a game like Dyad on the Wii, plus the hardware is nowhere near capable of running it. I never even showed the game to anyone at Microsoft because Sony liked it from the get-go. I have friends that dealt with Sony and everyone had good experiences, plus I had a few inside connections so it was pretty natural working with them. I don't regret it at all, and will work with them again.
MTV Multiplayer: Do you think developing a game like this by yourself is a good way to get into the industry, or is it something that should only be attempted development veteran?
McGrath: I think "the industry" is the wrong way to look at it. If you want to make games, then yes, you should just make a game. If you want to texture rocks, or program a UI, then you should probably not make a game on your own and apply for a job in "the industry" -- but I don't find that to be any more rewarding than programming accounting software or something like that.
I'm not trying to belittle what other people do; I'm glad that people do those jobs and take great pride in their work. It really shows when someone just fucking loves texturing rocks. It's just that's what "the industry" is, and making a game on your own is something completely separate from "the industry."
MTV Multiplayer: What does it feel like to take such a personal risk on a video game?
McGrath: It's pretty scary. I didn't realize it'd be this big of a risk when I started to be honest. It's actually crazy now that I think about it -- I can't believe I did it! I think being surrounded by people who live this way made me never really realize how big of a risk it actually is in the grand scheme of things! I definitely couldn't have done it without seeing people like Metanet or Jon Mak doing it first... how they did it without following someone else I'll never understand!
MTV Multiplayer: Is it something that you would want to do again?
McGrath: I'm definitely going to continue doing it! I'm taking a little break, gonna help some friends out. I have a lot of friends working on lots of cool projects that I can probably be of value to, so I'm going to help out on a few different things. I've already started working on the technology for my next game, and I'll continue working on that in conjunction with other projects I find myself helping out on.
MTV Multiplayer: What's the biggest thing you learned in this process?
McGrath: I don't really know ;) How much work goes into making stuff I guess? That's a tough question, I don't do enough self-reflection in that way I suppose.
MTV Multiplayer: When you started working on Dyad Kickstarter wasn't the independent funding beast that it is today – if you were to start on a new game, do you think that is a route you would take to raise funds?
McGrath: No, I'm not interested in Kickstarter. With Kickstart you owe people. People invest in a project and that project, in many ways, belongs to them. That's the complete antithesis to how I work. I want to make something for myself, and hopefully it resonates with other people.
MTV Multiplayer: How do you feel about the other games that have used Kickstarter?
McGrath: I don't really know. I'm not a huge gamer to be honest. I backed the Doublefine adventure game because I really liked Day of the Tentacle and I think Tim Schafer is hilarious and Greg Rice was really nice to me a couple of times, but that's about as far as I thought it through ;)
MTV Multiplayer: Dyad defies genre classification – do you think that will work for or against the game as consumers try to wrap their heads around it?
McGrath: Definitely against it in the short term! In the long term, I don't know. I hope it can inspire other people to try ideas that can only be expressed in videogames. I think videogames have a LONG way to go as a form, and discovering what can only be done within the videogame
medium is part of that growth. I think Dyad is a step in the direction of exploring things unique to videogames.
MTV Multiplayer: What is the one thing you hope people take away from playing your game?
McGrath: I hope everyone has a different experience and the game means something different to everyone. It's interactive, it's not supposed to have an authorial meaning.
MTV Multiplayer: Have you started thinking about what's next or you taking some time off to enjoy the game's release?
McGrath: I'm not one to relax. I'm dying; we all are. I don't have time to sit around and waste. I want to create as much stuff as possible in my life. I've already started on the next game, but I'm having trouble wrapping my head around it right now.