TheIndieJar: Quitting School To Make Games – An Interview With Brett Chalupa
We all have those moments in our lives, those “what ifs”. It’s sad to think that many of us let those opportunities slip by; we know we shouldn’t and that we should follow our hearts. The problem is that the head more than often wins in these situations. Having the guts to do what you heart wants even when it comes to the small things can be hard; do I ask the pretty girl out? Should I apply for that job? Am I good enough to play on the football team? We hesitate and before we know it the moment’s passed; they picked the other guy for the team, the jobs gone to somebody else and the pretty girl is out of sight.
Now what if you had got into a good college studying the thing you really want to do with your life? What if you were really good at it? What if you had worked apprenticeships with large companies that could have been the foundations of a successful professional career…?
… and what if one day you woke up and decided that you wanted to make video games for a living? It’d take some guts to make that decision to follow your heart and Brett Chalupa, the founder of indie studio Hokori Interactive, is one of those fearless few who made such a choice. In this, the first of my interviews with Brett, I wanted to find out how he got to that moment.
Over on your portfolio/development blog, in the first post dated 15th May last year, you talk about how you’re looking forward to starting your second year of college to major in Electronic Game Programming. What was it that lit the creative fire and made you want to get into video game development?
I grew up playing video games from a young age, and I never really stopped playing. When I was in high school, I took a Computer Science course because I was interested in computers and programming. This year long course was initially lead me to pursuing an understanding of how games were made. After that year of high school, I took a two week summer course that was specifically for game programming. That was when I knew I wanted to make games. The more I learned about how games are made, the more I realized it is the ultimate creative medium. Making a game requires skills from a variety of disciplines. This includes artistic talent, an ability to do math and program, writing an interesting narrative and understanding when something is fun. That’s what drew me to making games.
Anybody who is of our (by that I mean mine and yours – despite the age gap) generation could easily understand and be quite supportive of a friend who wanted to break into video game development, but what was it like explaining that to your parents? Would they rather you went into a more traditional industry or were they to quite supportive?
Before I left to go to school, I knew I wanted to make indie games. I was open about what I wanted to do and made it clear to those who were close to me. I thought that I would have to work in the industry for a few years before I was able to do it. After a year at college, I started to realize that I have the skills needed to make games but not the time to commit to making them.
I talked to my parents about what options I had before I made my decision, and they understood. They have been really supportive, and that means a lot to me. They never once doubted going into making games, since I could always fall back on traditional software development if needed. They definitely see there is an opportunity for me making games now, and that returning formal education is always an option in the future.
Just touching on that, in January this year you then decided to quit college in order to pursue your dream, which can be seen as quite drastic step and contrary to the reason you first started doing your major. What lead you to make that rather bold decision?
Before starting my degree at college, I had a good amount of experience programming. When I first started college, I knew I wasn’t ready to make games on my own, as I knew there was a lot I still didn’t know about the process of making games. That’s why I chose to attend school in the first place, to learn more about how to make games.
It wasn’t until I was at school that I realized that the most effective (and fun) way for me to learn is through experience. At college I had some really awesome opportunities, where I got to work two apprenticeships while taking classes. I learned more than I could have ever imagined at those apprenticeships. Neither were directly related to making games, but I was able to learn a lot of important skills and see the different ways businesses are run.
As I said, I knew I wanted to make games on my own, but I knew I wasn’t ready. After thinking about it for over a year and continuing to learn inside and outside of the classroom, I felt like I was ready to make the decision. There is so much for me to still learn and lots that I don’t know. That doesn’t scare me though, it really excites me. Once I felt comfortable with my ability to learn on my own, I made the decision to leave school.
So what is it you’ve been working on since leaving college?
Since leaving college, I started my own business, Hokori Interactive. I wanted to get the business stuff out of the way right off the bat. This way starting the business wouldn’t hold anything up in the future.
I have also been working on Hokori Interactive’s first game, a dream to fly. It’s currently in development for iOS, and it’s about surviving in space by collecting oxygen and avoiding hazards. The gameplay is simple, and is focused around rotating around stars to shoot the player off in different directions. It’s meant to be accessible, with only a single input (tapping the screen). It should be out in the upcoming months.
I’ve also started working on a second game called fauna. fauna has a much larger scope than a dream to fly, and I am looking forward to getting into the actual development of the game. Right now, I am planning to release fauna on Windows, OS X, and Linux in the autumn.
Looking back on it now after a few months to let the dust settle do you feel like you made the right choice?
I really like to spend time reflecting and trying to understand how I feel, and this question is one that I think about often. It’s been two months since I left school, and there isn’t a single doubt in my mind that I made the right decision. I am much more happy now because I get to spend most days doing what I love. There isn’t much more I could ask for. Around the time that I left, quite a few people told me that only I will know whether or not this feels right. After two months, it definitely feels right.
I’ll be catching up with Brett again soon to talk to him about the games he’s creating, the sacrifices he’s had to make and what life is really like as an indie dev. For now check out Brett’s developer site hokori-interactive.com and follow him on Twitter.
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