Interview with Six Shooter Games on Sprocket Junkie

We caught up with Dave Loyd, co-founder of Six Shooter Games, which he formed together with Dwayne Knight and Jonathan Hagewood. Dave is a programmer by training, but like most developers in a start-up, he wears many hats. Currently Dave is the lead engineer on one project, while also taking on the role of producer for the same project and for Six Shooter Games’ debut title: Sprocket Junkie. So what are the new indie studio and their debut title all about? Let’s find out!

What got you into game development and how was Six Shooter Games formed?

I have been an avid gamer my entire life. In 2003 I was working as an engineer for a company that provides performance monitoring solutions for IT users. I worked with our customers to tailor the tool to their needs, primarily through a scripting interface to the monitoring engine. I knew that I wanted to be a serious software developer, but not on that kind of software. One day, out of the blue, it occurred to me that video games are, in fact, software. This conclusion is what other people call “obvious”, but it was a revelation for me! I immediately updated my five year plan and outlined the steps necessary to achieve what was clearly my Purpose in Life.

I enrolled in college to get a formal Computer Science degree; however, I quickly realized that in order to get into game development, I was going to need a targeted education. I moved to Dallas, TX and transferred to Southern Methodist University (SMU). After the undergraduate program, I applied and was accepted to SMU Guildhall, where I went from Zero to Hero, at least in terms of game development knowledge and experience. I entered the program with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and some unrelated professional experience. When I left the Guildhall, I obtained a Master’s degree in Interactive Technology, Digital Game Development. During the program, I became a seasoned game developer, having written my own 2D and 3D engines, as well as having developed games with various teams using both the Unreal Engine and Valve’s Source SDK. It was an amazing experience that I recommend for anyone who wants to break into this industry.

The last studio I worked at closed in November 2010. Dwayne, Jonathan, and I were among the casualties. We knew that we could achieve success together and we had some great ideas, so we started up! For the first few months, we worked out of a room in Dwayne’s house (it’s like starting up in a garage, except we had air conditioning!). We moved into our new office in June 2011 and started looking for more people to join our team. Luckily, we found a couple of great artists and a designer, so development of Sprocket Junkie commenced!

Where did the name Six Shooter Games come from, how did you go about choosing it as the name of your studio?

Like a lot of geeks, when I build a new PC for myself I come up with a “cool name” that embodies the machine and gives it character. I used an AMD Phenom II X6 in a rig I built last year and since it is a 6-core processor, I decided to call the machine “Six Shooter”. When thinking about a studio name, that immediately struck me as a good choice. I ran the idea past Dwayne and Jonathan and they both liked it. I checked online to make sure sixshootergames.com was available and here we are!

When you guys aren’t developing indie games, what do you get up to?

In addition to developing our own titles, Six Shooter Games provides contract engineering and outsourced art services for game development projects. Essentially, we try to pay for our own game development by… doing more game development! It is quite the ingenious plan. Unfortunately, it isn’t foolproof. On top of paying for computers, equipment, the office rent, and salaries (we have to eat!), we also have to pay for some stuff we can’t produce in-house for Sprocket Junkie, like sound, tools, and marketing. That’s why we launched a Kickstarter project (http://kck.st/p8iFQW), to get the community to help fund the completion of Sprocket Junkie. So I guess another thing we do outside of developing indie games is try to get the word out about our indie games, which is not easy!

Could you tell us a little about Sprocket Junkie, your debut title? What inspired you to make this game?

Sprocket Junkie is a fun, fast-paced racing game with a twist. Imagine strapping a saddle to a huge jet engine and racing at full throttle around a course. The catch is that your engine, as you might imagine, is very hard to control! That’s why it is equipped with dual grappling hooks. You use these to latch onto poles in order to make sharp turns around the track. Of course, you also race against opponents, so you can imagine what else the grappling hooks are used for! You also grab bonus pickups and perform aerial tricks when launching over big jumps to get more Praise from the crowd, which increases your payout, IF you survive the race.

Sprocket Junkie is the “spiritual successor” to the classic 1996 PC game Rocket Jockey. Sprocket Junkie was originally Ben’s idea (Ben was the first artist to join our team). Rocket Jockey came up in conversation and Ben mentioned really wanting to make something like it. Little did he know, but we had already been working on a grappling hook mechanic for an unrelated game idea. Ben and Steven (our level designer) came up with a pitch for the project within a week after that and sold us on it, so now we are making the game. That’s part of our culture at Six Shooter Games. Anyone can pitch an idea and in fact we encourage people to spend part of their time at work thinking about and working on their own ideas. When we finish this project, everyone will have a chance to pitch his/her own idea for the next project and the best one will win!

What is your main vision of the game, why will gamers fall in love with Sprocket Junkie over any other game in its genre?

At its core, Sprocket Junkie is about moving fast. Whether racing against opponents, friends, or the clock, you are always moving. More than that, it is a personal challenge to learn the tracks and master the unique grappling mechanic to move efficiently and fend off or take down other riders.

Gamers love to personalize their experiences and our game feeds that need through customizable rocket engines. For instance, we have the Shark Engine, which looks pretty mean and has unique animations that make it really stand out on the course. Each engine has nine different parts locations where you can swap in and out different pieces to make the whole engine look the way you want.

In addition to customizable engines, the Sprocket Junkie racing team includes eight unique characters that you can choose from. We have announced two of these characters on the website (www.sprocketjunkie.com), Letita Piper and Zachariah Gasket, plus The Chef (but we haven’t said much about him yet). Each of these characters brings a unique style to the game, including different tricks and signature moves on the track, which adds to the personality of the game.

Why did you decide to launch on iOS devices first?

First, I want to point out that we are using Epic’s UDK for the development of Sprocket Junkie. It will allow us to release across multiple platforms during the lifetime of the title. That said, we decided to launch first on iOS for a few reasons. Number one is economical. PC games simply have a higher rate of piracy. That’s the same reason we didn’t want to release on Android first. Another reason is logistical. Fewer barriers exist to getting the game out for iOS devices than other platforms like XBLA and Steam. Yet another reason is a combination of development speed and content. We want to release on iOS early to get the game out to all the fans as soon as possible. We can charge a pretty low price for the game and then support it with free updates as we add new characters, tracks, rockets, and game modes. When we have a great offering with more content that is highly polished after lots of user feedback, then we can do the original Rocket Jockey justice and release the full PC version of Sprocket Junkie!

How are you guys finding the indie developer life so far? The biggest discussion we always have with indie developers is how hard it can be from a financial point of view. What is your solution?

We love livin’ the life, but it’s not for the faint of heart. We have a great team and we get to work on this awesome game that we all want to make. Of course, that freedom comes at a price. We feel the financial pressure all the time. We all take really low salaries (just ask my wife!) and put everything else toward development. As I pointed out, Six Shooter Games provides contract game development services to help fund the studio, which is also a lot of fun. We work with some really cool clients on some really awesome games that haven’t been announced yet, but I wish I could tell you about!

The downside is that contract development doesn’t pay for everything. As I mentioned earlier, we have the Kickstarter project (http://kck.st/p8iFQW) to help raise money to finish Sprocket Junkie. The idea is that after a successful Kickstarter campaign, we will be able to finish and ship the iOS version, which will pay for ongoing development of the game, the PC version, and ultimately help fund the next title. We are hoping to get into this kind of positive feedback loop that lets us make bigger and better games over time, turning all of the cool ideas we have into fun experiences we can share with our fans and friends!

Have you got any other projects in the pipeline you can tell us about – either in production or at the ideas stage?

We do have some cool ideas that we are kicking around. As I said, at Six Shooter Games, everyone has a voice and a part in shaping the direction and creative vision of the studio and our games. As some of those ideas begin to take shape, we dream up the worlds and prototype some of the mechanics to find the fun factor first! Once an idea gets through that phase and is chosen by the team after a successful pitch, then it becomes our next project. It is an exciting, energetic, creative process, worth all of the hardships of the indie life to experience!

If time and money were no object, what kind of game would you see yourselves producing?

We dare to dream big! We have one such huge project in mind and that was definitely a motivating factor when we originally formed Six Shooter Games. After the closing of the last studio where we worked, however, we learned the importance of developing the fundamentals first. We need a solid foundation on which to build. We need processes in place and experience as a team taking projects from Concept to Completion. We will build on our early successes in order to accomplish larger goals. Eventually we will get to The Big Project, but right now we are really excited to be working on getting our first game, Sprocket Junkie, to the finish line!

Thank you very much for your time, we’d like to wish you the best of luck and hope we’ll see your studio deliver some great games!

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.

the author

Managing Editor of ManaPool, Peter lives in York, UK and is a great fan and master of turn-based strategy games. If he isn't playing one of those, you'll probably find him in a role-playing game instead. He's definitely not afraid to provide a straight up opinion on any game and has a strong like for indie developers. We all start small, after all.