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Blood, Sweat, and Slam Bolts: 4 things I learned at the Boston Post Mortem meet-up

Do you ever wonder how a video game company feels about their own game? Meet Eitan Glinert of Fire Hose Games, the Cambridge-based developer that made the PSN game Slam Bolt Scrappers. Last Tuesday at The Skellig in Waltham, as part of the monthly Boston Post Mortem series, the beer-wielding Glinert revealed how the local company screwed up, got lucky, and made really difficult decisions in their two-and-a-half years making the multiplayer puzzle/brawler. Here are some of the things I learned about making indie games from his presentation:

1. Try, try, and try again. In middle school, I actually cried when Microsoft Word deleted my 4-page essay on ancient Egypt, knowing I had to redo the whole project. Fire Hose Games essentially had to do the same thing with Slam Bolt Scrappers, five times, except it was backtracking months of work from their team of programmers, designers, and artists. Glinert noted that, despite the sweat and tears, it was worth finally getting to that fifth iteration.

2. Cross your fingers. Yes, Fire Hose Games was royally screwed by the PSN outage. After getting the word out about Slam Bolt Scrappers via Sony Online Entertainment's promotion and nabbing a kiosk at PAX East 2010, the game came out with a great amount of hype. Two weeks later, PSN goes down and sales flatline, killing whatever momentum they had going for the game. You gotta give props to hack group LulzSec...

3. Innovation is not always good. At least, not if your independent game company wants to rake in the big bucks. As Glinert put it, gamers always say they want innovation, but what they actually want is the a game that they know (e.g., an FPS) sprinkled with a tiny, brilliant touch of innovation (e.g. portals). I loved how Slam Bolt Scrappers fused elements of Tetris, tower defense, and Super Smash Bros. all into one -- but Glinert acknowledged that the game's sales would have been much higher if they had instead presented a simpler, more familiar concept to gamers.

4. Network! I suppose this goes for anyone looking for a gig, but talking to the right people is a golden rule for local, independent game makers, even if you're just looking for advice on how to strike a deal with Sony or Microsoft. The Boston Post Mortem itself acted as a venue for getting the word out -- in attendance was Courtney Stanton of Women in Games Boston (whom Maddy Myers interviewed recently in "When Dickwolves attack"), as well as members of Turbine, Inc. (Lord of the Rings Online), who are apparently hiring a lot of people now.

As a first-timer at the Boston Post Mortem, I was pleased that the event was social and informal, but had real members of the video game industry giving real advice. The game programmers, visual artists, designers, and start-up founders (not to mention writers and musicians) crowded in the beer-filled back corner of the Skellig were rowdy and friendly. But when the obligatory mingling subsided, Glinert got down to business with a straight-to-the-point, downright honest presentation of the pros, cons and bittersweets of developing a video game.

And if you missed it, Glinert was kind enough to upload his entire talk and PowerPoint presentation onto his website. And Boston Post Mortem will be hitting the pubs again next month -- stay tuned to bostonpostmortem.org for updates.

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