Who is it!?!

So I am Andrew Maneri , 25, independent game developer and technical artist at Fishbeat.  I’m one of those jack-of-all-trades types,  doing programming professionally with art/cartooning and music as a hobby.  My professional focus is divided between technical art duties and gameplay programming (the fun!)  I’m also the one who makes the big boss battles in the Fishbeat titles.

As far back as my memory goes I’ve wanted to make games, and for almost as long I’ve been doing just that in some capacity.  I’ve been coding and making art from a very early age, self-taught for most of it until college.  I cut my teeth technically on things like QBasic, and gameplay with programs like Klik n’ Play.  Later during middle school I moved from these to C++ and DirectX.   During this period I was driven mostly to make 2D clones of Sonic and Megaman.

This is me. I am wearing many hats.

This is me. I am wearing many hats.

After experiencing first-hand the amount of work that goes into even smaller games, I swore off doing fan-projects as once they’re done, that’s it.  You can’t legally make any money off the projects, and even the glory more goes to the original creators than anyone else.  It has been my goal since then to make original projects and titles that influence others as much as the titles of my childhood influenced me.

Spinning my wheels at the wrong school and trying to go it alone for a year and a half, I (supported by my awesome parents) made a life-changing choice: Go to the DigiPen Institute of Technology.  This is one of the premiere game-making schools in the world (I rank USC up there too as they have also produced award winners and professional companies).  Moving from everything I knew in Ohio to the other side of the country was a big deal, but in the end it was the right choice.

The school is extremely challenging but filled with brilliant people in all the areas of game development.  And while the workload is brutal, it is also the environment in which self-motivated/self-taught people thrive most.  I made a lot of invaluable contacts in both students (those whom don’t work at Fishbeat now still play a valuable role with us), and teachers like Chris Erhardt and Ben Ellinger.  They became mentors, revealing what the industry is really like (the good and bad), and the work one has to do to not only make a good product, but get it shipped.  Both of them were instrumental when my teammates and I decided to form Fishbeat.

Every year at DigiPen programming students are required to make a complete game (on top of the school workload).  Because time is so precious at DigiPen, how awesome a game ends up being is based a lot on how much voluntary effort each team of students put in.  I was in the category of students who spent all their free-time (and then some) working on ‘the game’.  Freshman year I worked with four other talented students on a Master-of-Orion clone called “Project J.A.W.E.S.O.M.E”.  Sophomore year, with three of those individuals, came sandbox Metroidvania-clone “Redevilopment”.

The school requires its students to change teammates at least once every two years, so I began looking around among my other classmates/acquaintances for a junior year team.  It just so happened that I was at lunch with a few of them when the most talkative one of the group, Joe, began to tell us about his game idea for a music-based Geometry Wars/Diablo hybrid.  I was hooked and asked to join in.  A few other students were ahead of me on the list of people to bring on, but thankfully they all backed out for one reason or another.  Thus, junior year the four of us, Zach Aikman, Will Towns, Joseph Tkach, and myself formed Team Rolling without Slipping with the goal of making a game tentatively titled Synaesthete.  Incidentally, the first title a random reader on this site might have heard of.

My professor from freshman year, Christopher Erhardt had been expressing interest in a game team developing for an extra semester, instead of the usual two.  His reasoning was that the polish and real iteration on the game would occur then and make a much better product than otherwise.  He became our advisor and would be our game teacher for that third semester.  For the first two semesters, we would be under the tutelage of Benjamin Ellinger, game programmer at Microsoft and at the time, part-time teacher.  (He’s full-time at DigiPen now, thankfully for the school).  Ben loved our pitch and immediately suggested we develop the title with the Independent Game Festival contest in mind.  This would coincide perfectly with the polish we would be doing anyways for the third semester.  Thus, our roadmap for junior year became well established.

While no-longer quite newbies at developing games, we were still quite new to making a game that was actually complete and fun.  That is where Erhardt and Ellinger came in.  Whenever there was a gameplay issue with Synaesthete, Ben zeroed in on it and gave us direction to fix it (can you believe we almost made the player move, shoot to the music and aim?  Good lord.)  He taught us quite a bit about making games fun, even when that meant removing features.  And the third semester under Erhardt made the game just blossom.  He burned into us the mentality of constant focus and play testing of the title, finding out what was and wasn’t communicated to the player and also what just didn’t work.  He also enforced some strict deadlines that really helped us finish the title in time for IGF.  He also acted as a bodyguard of sorts, shielding us as a team from all sorts of bureaucracy (if you find someone that can do this, become their best friend!)

During this time we also started an internship for a company called Hourglass Games.  A start-up founded by a former Microsoft employee, who had heard of us through Ben Ellinger.  While doing an internship on top of preparing a title for IGF (and school) was even more difficult than DigiPen had been, the payoff was knowledge and connections that proved essential in making Fishbeat happen.  Besides learning even more about polishing a game, making it intuitive and fun, we started to gain insight into the realities of starting up a company.  Money would be tight, deadlines would be tough, and you would need to be as efficient/clever as possible.

GDC came along, and we got our first taste of the indie gaming community.  It tasted good.  Then we won student showcase and the rest of the week became a deliriously joyful blur.  The days brought a swarm of fans and companies wanting to do business with us.  The evenings were just hours and hours of celebration.  Whatever ideas we had of just getting jobs after college were completely destroyed; they would never be able to satisfy us like this one week experience had.  We needed to do this professionally.  And thus, Fishbeat was born.

The next eight months were tough.  We hoped for a pickup/absorption from some publisher, like Valve had done with Narbacular Drop.  We handled various job and business opportunities for Fishbeat (some quite frustrating).  Eventually we all came to the conclusion that our best and only chance of doing this professionally was to do it ourselves: we would need to found a company.  Aware of the difficulties, we leaned heavily on our mentors.  With Rich’s guidance we gained a brilliant lawyer in Tom Buscaglia, the type of guy you want on your side (and would hate to have against).  Thankfully for us, he has a soft spot for small independent startups.

We shopped our new title around to publishers, with the foolish idea that we would sign this quickly (you can sign a deal quickly, but it won’t be a good one).  We got to contract negotiations soon enough.  Then everything slowed to a crawl.  This was easily the most maddening part of the process.  Fishbeat and the various potential publishers basically entered a staring contest.  We had to ‘grow a pair’ and make demands all while having no money, rent to pay, and student loans piling up.  Each side would continually call the other’s bluff, seeing who would give into what, and when.  Without Tom’s experience and vigor to push us through and protect us during this process, Fishbeat would have been screwed.

The day finally did come that we got our contract (sorry, can’t reveal details on that yet guys), and Fishbeat officially began business.  We’ve had our ups and downs since then (every time I think we’re no longer naïve I discover the exact opposite), and it’s somehow been even more work than DigiPen, but I’ve never been so happy, or so satisfied with my life.

Funny how an ‘about me’ section turned into a ‘about my friends’ post.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply