Brendon Chung (Blendo Games) – Interview
Brendon Chung developed the games Flotilla and Gravity Bone for his own company Blendo Games following the closure of, previous employer, Pandemic Studios in 2009.
SquareGo took some time to catch up with Brendon and chew the fat about Flotilla, Gravity Bone his, as yet unnamed upcoming product and what it’s like working as a small independent in the industry
SquareGo (SG): What brought you into the industry?
Brendon Chung (BC) : I started making maps and mods as a hobby during elementary school, for games like Wolf3D and Doom. I really enjoyed it, and wanted to make a living off of it.
I worked for five years at Pandemic Studios as a designer. I was lucky to work with an extremely talented bunch of programmers, artists, and designers during my time there. The studio was shut down late last year, and I decided to start Blendo Games.
SG: How many people work at Blendo Games and do you hope to expand or are you happy with the direction you’re going?
BC: I do all the development work right now but I play-test a lot with friends and family. I’ll likely ramp up to bigger projects with more people at some point in time, but at the moment I’m doing alright.
SG: Is that caution because of the global recession? And if so when would you see the safety of expanding?
BC: It’s more to do with learning the ropes. Flotilla was the first title I’ve sold myself and right now I’m working on my second title. I’ll likely expand once I manage to wrap my head around how this all works.
SG: Talking Flotilla, where did the concept come from?
BC: It was a combination of sci-fi like Star Wars and submarine movies. I figured there was enough games about little fighter jets – what I wanted was a jumbo battleship floating in space.
And cats, of course.
SG: Yes the animal motif was great. Who’d have thought that deer were next down from Yeti’s on the animal chain – well for space fleets commanders anyway. Was there any influence from board games or roleplaying games there too?
BC: One of the designers at Pandemic was a big fan of board games, so he’d bring in various games, like Axis and Allies and Arkham Horror, for a group of us to play at lunchtime. There’s certainly a board game influence on Flotilla.
SG: In my review I criticised the limited length adventure of the solo mode. Don’t get me wrong it hasn’t stopped me playing it but I wondered why it was so short?
BC: Flotilla is my little experiment in making a short-story generator. I wanted one entire adventure to be started and completed in about thirty minutes. The hard time limit was my attempt at doing that.
It got a rather “strong” response. I ended up making a patch that added a “hardcore” mode that basically removed the time limit.
SG: At what point in a games development do you feel (know) it is going to work and are you the type of person to abandon a project wholly and start something new if it isn’t working or see if something is salvageable?
BC: An earlier project, Gravity Bone, was scrapped a couple of times before I got something I liked but I didn’t really see it as abandoning the project. My hard drive is full of god-awful prototypes and bad ideas. I feel you learn a great deal from your failures, and that it’s the only way to eventually make something that works.
Deciding when that is always boils down to the play-testing. As the creator of the project, I can’t really evaluate it myself. I need a pair of fresh eyes. And there’s really no better motivation than seeing your pal stuck in the same beginning tutorial screen for twenty minutes.
SG: Can you talk at all about your next project and what it’s going to entail?
BC: I’m not completely done yet, but the game is largely about mathematics. I’ll likely be making an announcement about it soon.
SG: You have my interest piqued. As a designer of games how do you handle negative criticism of what is effectively “your baby”?
BC: I love getting feedback. Part of the charm of indie games is that, dependent on feedback you receive, you can develop and publish a patch later that afternoon. There’s no approval process or certification to go through.
SG: Do you think ratings are pointless in games reviews as larger titles tend to get more leniency and Indie developers can easily get a kicking?
BC: I’ve been pretty lucky so far. I do think it’s somewhat peculiar to compare a 40 million dollar blockbuster to something some guy made in his living room, but I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
SG: Can I ask which game you’ve made you’re particularly proud of and why?
BC: I’m pretty happy with Gravity Bone. It does a good job at getting a reaction out of people, and I like that.
SG: When Atari almost destroyed the videogame world with their ET The Extra-Terrestrial game we saw an age of bedroom (indie) coders which reignited the genre. Do you feel that this is becoming another period of high indie development with media such as the iPhone being so accessible?
BC: First of all, I happened to have ET as a youngster. That game was brutal.
There’s certainly been a strong surge of indie games. I think some part of it is because we’re just starting to see the first generation of people who’ve been living with computers and games since the day they were born. It’s a really exciting time to be making indie games – it’s a fairly accessible field to get into, and there’s just so much unexplored territory.
SG: Do you plan to continue to develop for multiple consoles and if you could create any game without limitation of technology what would it be?
BC: My upcoming game will be available for Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, and Xbox360.
There was an interview with Warren Spector a while ago and he mentioned an abandoned game idea that sounded fascinating. It was about a game that took place on just one small city block, but every interaction and object would be hyper-detailed and account for anything the player chose to do. I’d love to see something like that created.
SG: Is there anything else you want to say?
BC: Thanks for the chat! And a big thanks to you and everyone supporting the indie games. I’ve been humbled by the support for small guys like me.
We would just like to thank Brendon for taking the time to speak with us and wish him all the best for any projects in the future and Blendo Games continued success.
If you’re a small independent games developer or studio then SquareGo would be interested to hear from you and you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.