Since I have been a huge fan of Seth since my early gaming days I am very excited he agreed to talk with me. I want to thank Seth for taking the time to do this and wish him well with whatever awesomery comes next!
jdodson: Growtopia came out a little over a year now and has a pretty large following. As the game continues and more users join, how are things progressing? Experienced any pain points as the community has expanded and asked for new stuff?
Seth Able Robinson: It's been an incredible ride, co-creator Mike Hommel and I have been working basically full-time on it since release. I think the biggest adjustment for me personally is the volume of emails we get from players. I've always put myself out there and had a "you got a question about the game I made? just email me! I ain't some big time company suit that will ignore it" attitude and it's really no longer possible to do that because we have over a million user accounts now.
We get emails about everything from suicide threats if we don't give them free stuff to being told when a family pet dies. One person threatened to sue us because the game's addictive qualities were responsible for her chicken's death. We now have help answering emails and I feel like a jerk not responding to everybody personally like I used to, but it's just impossible.
The community is great overall but we do end up banning 100+ creeps a day to keep it as safe and clean as we can. Freemium + multiplayer + full text chat and allowing players to broadcast to 8,000 other online players at will = an incredible challenge. We've developed a lot of tools to keep things under control.
Growtopia has a real economy with player run stock markets that can be manipulated with rumors. You can collaboratively compose music, sneak up on someone sleeping in bed and do surgery on them, build a house with a 99 toilets and get 99 real people to help you flush them all at the same time. There is no other game out there like it and I have no idea how things will end.
jdodson: What was the reason you started making games? Was there any moment with a game where you thought “I need to start making stuff like this.”
Seth Able Robinson: I've loved games more than anything since I first played Donkey Kong with my dad. Pitfall on the Atari 2600 blew me away. I started programming on a Commodore 16 (yeah, 16k of ram) mostly because I only had three games and got bored of them.
If I was born today, I wonder if I would have been a programmer at all... or would I just be content to consume from the bottomless teat of today's gaming world. Thing is, after that initial push, once you've made a few games, it's quite intoxicating and you can't go back. What other hobby lets you create a living universe before lunch?!
jdodson: Did you ever anticipate that Legend of the Red Dragon would turn out to be as big as it was? At what point did you realize LORD was becoming very popular?
Seth Able Robinson: Not really. Truth is, I wrote the original version not intending to sell it at all so the seven copies or whatever I sold the first year were just gravy.
After the PC port things really started to liven up financially and it dawned on me.. I don't have to be a cabinet maker with my dad or get a job at the plant... I can JUST MAKE GAMES AND DO WHAT I LOVE! It's a great thing to know what you want to do with absolute certainty.
jdodson: What was the most memorable time you had building or playing one of you games?
Seth Able Robinson: One memorable moment happened while playing a recently released version of LORD. The (uncensored) words "HEY IT WORKS YA MOTHERF***ER!!" appeared every time I wrote a letter to another player. I owed this "feature" to forgetting to remove some of my debug code. Yeah, got a few emails about that one. Oops.
jdodson: Dink Smallwood is a classic game that came out in 1998, has a pretty large fan following and mod community including the GNU FreeDink project. You can get it on your Android, iPhone and everything else that matters. Since you have kept this classic alive for so many years will we see a new Dink game at some point in the future?
Seth Able Robinson: Despite creating the design doc for a Dink 2 I now sort of doubt it will ever happen. It seems unlikely that Justin Martin (the original artist) or myself will ever be able to commit years to working on a sequel of a game that only received a lukewarm commercial reception in the first place.
Because we stopped charging it was on a lot of magazine discs so there is a considerable nostalgia factor for many but honestly I think I might be better off with a completely new design.
Dink will always live on through the ports and various easter eggs in my other games though - for instance, you can get a framed picture of the dink Duck in Growtopia to put on the wall of your house. And I dare anyone to spell Dink in my word game Dungeon Scroll...
jdodson: I had aspirations to run a BBS but could never get my parents to spring for another phone line. That said, I tried running an after hours BBS with QuickBBS that didn’t quite work out but I did have a sweet ANSI intro I made with The Draw. I remember catching some flak from my friends that ran a reasonably popular local BBS for choosing QuickBBS instead of Wildcat. Did you have a preference as to which BBS Software you liked using and that was a bit easier to make games work with?
Seth Able Robinson: Personally I liked Renegade. It was free and could do multi-node (I think I had four phone lines with it) with some creative use of Desqview, a dos based task-switching app.
Once you started getting serious and wanted a 8+ node system then you had to upgrade to a system designed for that such as Worldgroup or later versions of Wildcat.
The downside was they required custom ports of each door game (they couldn't effectively use the standard drop-file dos fossil driver .exe doors) and those could be quite spendy.
jdodson: Love to hear your thoughts about another popular door game, Tradewars?
Seth Able Robinson: Huge fan. It's where I stole the idea of having NPCs write random quips in the daily log.
I would spend hours playing my 'turns' every day. In those days a single node system could give busy signals all day - it was very possible to miss your turns so you sometimes had to leave the auto-dialer on for hours to sneak in there. The stress of waiting!
I think what really made TWs special was the character imbued in it - little touches like the Stardock having a movie theater with real ansi "movies". (Debbie does Rigel 9 was one of them I believe)
jdodson: What is your process for building a game from the initial spark to launch?
Seth Able Robinson: Think it, see it, do it.
Think it: I write a paragraph that describes the game and some bullet points explaining how it works. If it looks stupid or boring on paper when you show it to someone else, it probably is.
See it: I try to envision the first few minutes of playing it in your mind's eye, where you click, what happens, what it sounds like.
Do it: Develop the mental picture into a real thing. This goes so much faster when you know exactly what you want at the end.
When I reach the point where I've programmed everything I'd previously seen mentally, things slow down and I have to start making lots of little decisions about where to take what I've got.
From there, I start the cycle again for each iteration, getting close and closer to the finished product.
Tons of ideas out there, but I'm rather annoyed that when I google my original ideas I find out someone already stole them and created them - via some sort of time travel machine, obviously.
jdodson: Recently you have started working with Unity 3D. This is a departure from your Proton SDK. Many indie developers as well as large companies such as Blizzard are using Unity 3D. I am curious what the reason for using Unity has been and if there is a possibility one of your future games will use it?
Seth Able Robinson: I think Unity has finally reached the point where you can write an entire game and not hit some horrible stupid limitation that has you throwing up your arms and switching back to C++ native stuff in frustration.
The downer is if Unity doesn't support a platform, you're just screwed. With my Proton SDK, you could just add your own target as the full source is there.
For example, no Unity game could ever run on the HP Touchpad because they (presciently, it turns out) chose not to support it - but I added it as a Proton target in a few days and my tank game (Tanked) still enjoys more downloads there than iOS or Android. (Maybe because freemium real-time multiplayer 3d battle games were so rare on Touchpad?)
I'm a little worried about the power this gives Unity Technologies as more games are developed using it (I think we've already hit a point where new phone platforms are dead in the water without Unity support) - while simultaneously feeling rapturous that I won't have to worry about manually supporting the gotchas of eight platforms and hundreds of chipsets anymore.
I want to work higher level, not lower, despite my work with Proton SDK.
jdodson: When the news that JJ Abrams would direct Star Wars Episode VII hit the internets, many nerds rejoiced including me. After seeing Star Trek Into Darkness in the theater and then watching it again, I have reservations. I love nearly all of JJ’s past work, but I am wondering if Star Wars can ever be as good as the original trilogy? WHAT IF JJ CROSSES EWOKS AND GUNGANS SETH, I DON’T KNOW IF I COULD HANDLE THAT KIND OF DISAPPOINTMENT! Then again, the Gunga-wok might be the only way to finally defeat the Empire once and for all. I am not sure this is a question.
Seth Able Robinson: I think JJ Abrams could probably cough up something better than the prequels so at least things can't get worse.
Never really seriously considered the details of ewok procreation but... ichiwawa. now I can't stop.
jdodson: What games are you playing right now?
Seth Able Robinson: Actual games played today:
- Assassins Creed 4, the only thing I have for the PS4
- Sos's Night Rider Turbo ( http://sos.gd/turbo/ )
- Lego Lord Of The Rings (steam sale!)
- Chris Deleon's Quit smoking - ( http://www.kongregate.com/games/deleongames/quit-smoking )
- Super Mario 3D World on the Wii-U
- Growtopia .. OF COURSE
Adym: When I was in high school, and playing LORD, I met a girl my age. We flirted in the tavern, then exchanged phone calls, and eventually had a date. Have you heard of many relationships started directly because of your games?
Seth Able Robinson: Yes! In fact, it's resulted in a few real-life marriages according to emails I've received.
I can also say it directly led to a few dates for this old bard back in the day as well, as fantastical and lecherous as that sounds!
Legend of Life Choices - Town Square
Life is full of many choices, but we all must push our way through the mob. What do you do?
(B) uy back the LORD franchise, make new version and retire on a yacht in space
(W) ork on a new game
(C) ontinue working on Dink Smallwood Time Travel Adventures On The Moon
(V) egas baby!
(S) laughter other players
(G) rowtopia 2
(Q) uit to the fields
Seth Able Robinson: Well, I tried B, no answer to my email. Will probably do W, C if the planets align, G is a real possibility if I don't do S on the bad kids, and hopefully I won't Q for a good long while.
and of course..
jdodson: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions Seth, really appreciate it. Anything you want to say before we wrap things up?
Seth Able Robinson: I had fun answering these questions, thanks!