Yes And Games: A Fairy tale About Two Pals

Hey everyone, I’m Wes Rockholz. This is my blog, though you’ve probably never seen it before, because I haven’t used it in a while. That’s okay, I’ve been busy. I’ve been working on a game called Adventure Guild for about a year now, and it’s been a long, wild, unending ride. We’re in the middle of a Kickstarter right now (check it out!) but I’ve decided that it’s about time I share the story of Yes And Games with the world. At least, the story so far.

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Last summer I was working on a game that’s still in development called Hearplay for Music Social, LLC (a little shpeel on my portfolio). Around that time I was going through an angsty little turn in my life and I reconnected with my good pal and fellow RIT student, Nick Rabb. We hung out, played video games, played tennis, worked out together, and chatted about our dreams of starting and indie game studio. Pretty typical for a group of budding young game developers. Anyways, Nick was president of RIT Improv, and I had taken a workshop or two on improvisation skills for business development, so he convinced me to start practicing, and it changed my perspective on a lot of things, from relationships to self-improvement, from community to brainstorming, from acting to game development.

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Nick (flannel on the left) and I (black sweater on the chair) improvising on stage together with Amateur Sqwad in Spring 2015

Now, I’ve been making games for over ten years. And I mean really making my own games since summer of 2005 (I was going into fifth grade); I started modding in engines like the Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos World Editor and the Neverwinter Nights Aurora editor. But I realized that, going into my junior year of my Game Design and Development major at RIT, all my games were just personal or small team projects. I didn’t have a game on the market that I could point to and say, “this is my game, I made this thing. Download it and play it right now.” I brought this up with Nick, and we decided that now was as good a time as any to fix that problem.

Nick and I sat down together towards the end of the summer of 2014 in the center of the outdoor track at RIT and used the improv technique called Yes, And to brainstorm our first game, Exoterra. “Yes, And” is a social interfacing technique where you always agree with your partners, and add to what they create. So if I say we’re going to design a game about pigs with swords, then everybody’s on board with pigs with swords, and you can bet your ass that those swords will be flaming with pig-wrath, and the pigs will have pig-armor, and the quest will be for the Holy Trough. You add to the very extent of the initial idea to find something unique at the intersection of your minds that no one could ever imagine alone, locked in the cycles of their own captured experiences.

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Exoterra: play as science-infused Planet Earth, defending itself against an army of alien invaders

Nick and I worked with our long-time Game Designer and occasional illustrator Jackie Wiley on Exoterra for the fall semester of the 2014-2015 school year at RIT, and we undoubtedly learned an immense amount. We built Exoterra in Unity using C#, and tested it on Windows Phone to void the massive learning curve of distributing the game on the iOS and Google Play app services that we were entirely unfamiliar with. We stumbled over all the stupid mistakes: over-scoping, improperly configuring build settings, trying to do everything ourselves, not following the fun aspects of the game, etc. We did a massive overhaul to the original design of the game halfway through the semester. It became more and more clear as we got closer to finals that this game was more a learning experience than a commercial opportunity, and though it was draining and disheartening, that was okay.

The next semester, Nick was on co-op at Thomson Reuters, so was unavailable, and I was busy with classes and filling my spare time by playing Trivia Crack with my friends. One day, sitting down and chatting with my friend Ian Hampson about how neither of us had the time to play World of Warcraft anymore, we wondered: why isn’t there an RPG that I can play at the pace of Trivia Crack, but still feel the same progression, attachment, and community that the traditional multiplayer RPG evokes? So began Adventure Guild (originally entitled “Adventure With Friends” which had obvious issues). We paper prototyped an initial design for the game, pitched it to Professor of Interactive Games and Media at RIT, David Simkins, and started working on an initial prototype in a Production Studio class. Our biggest challenge: implementing an enormous, scalable server with all the necessary features without over-scoping the project.

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Adventure Guild prototype, around April of 2015

I contacted an old friend of mine who I had worked with on student projects in the past, Ryan Rule-Hoffman, who I knew was experienced in server-side development. And he’s really damn good at it. He developed an open-source Java server engine called the Sapphire Engine that implemented a custom TCP protocol that scaled really effectively. He could even prove it: he uses the engine in his popular Runescape port, RuneRebels, which has impressive stress test results. Ryan still works with us on Adventure Guild today.

Towards the end of the summer, we heard from Professor Simkins that MAGIC Spell Studios at RIT was offering a grant to student teams interested in developing a game or innovative technology with them over the summer. We applied Adventure Guild for the grant, and I got an email while ordering my coffee one morning that MAGIC was interested in granting us $10,000 to fund production of Adventure Guild. I almost freaked, and Nick jumped ship at the end of his co-op term to rejoin me. It was the start of a major theme for Adventure Guild’s growth: we take every opportunity that presents itself to us and hope for the best, and it tends to work out.

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Nick and I working in the MAGIC Lab, Summer 2015

Nick and I funded ourselves to work full-time on minimum wage for ten weeks throughout the summer. It was more work than full-time, but that’s just part of the deal. We hired Ryan part time, and illustrator Shin Yi Tan, visual designer Jill Petersen, and audio producer/composer Isaac Wang joined us for the summer. MAGIC was a great connection and partner. They helped manage our funds, promote the project, and connect us with awesome local developers like Workinman Interactive, Darkwind Media, and Second Avenue Learning. News 8 Rochester ran a feature on the MAGIC Center while we were there, The Research at RIT magazine ran an article featuring our work and MAGIC, and we found a lot of great connections. We also made an absurd amount of progress on the game, finishing combat mechanics, implementing social features, character customization, items, custom skills, adding editor tools, overhauling all of the visuals, and more.

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Adventure Guild after our summer at MAGIC

Since then, we’ve worked on the game in our spare time without pay while working on classes for the semester. It’s been a serious struggle, but we’ve made a lot of progress polishing, playtesting, and promoting the game. We’ve demoed the game at the RIT President’s Alumni Ball, the Rochester Mini Maker Faire, the Rochester Game Dev Meetup, and ran monthly playtests at the MAGIC Center. This past Tuesday, we launched the Adventure Guild Kickstarter, and have been promoting that full-time since. That’s a story for another time, but it’s where our story ends, because it’s unfolding right now. It’s an ever-developing story about how hard work, dedication, improv, and my team have changed my life. We have a solid following of friends, family, RIT, and local Rochester supporters, and we love them all wholeheartedly. The smiles we see when people play the game keep us working.

Thanks much for reading, I love you all.

Please consider supporting and/or sharing our Kickstarter.

Weslo at Yes And Games

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Nick and I at the RIT President’s Alumni Ball
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Adventure Guild at the Rochester Mini Maker Faire
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Adventure Guild playtest at MAGIC at RIT
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