About Dave

A foreword just about Dave, and how he came to found his own studio Mechanist Games in China.

I've never been a blogger. Never had any aspiration to tell my story in any form to others. Actually, never even written a diary of any sort.

But here I am, logging everything down.

I left New Zealand in 2003 and arrived in China, overwhelmed by the excitement of moving to such a strong and deeply rooted culture, and determined (secretly) to pursue a dream and never leave. Why China? Hell, I don't actually know! There was just something so ancient and appealing about the culture, I can't even explain it. I just knew I had to embark on a journey.

Almost ten years later, here I am as founder, GM and lead designer of Mechanist Games.

What inspired me? Just an idea.

1. Writing the Books

Maybe the idea was bigger than me. Okay, it was definitely bigger than me. It was so stupidly naively big that I couldn't even see it. I wanted to create and document an entire mechanical world. One that actually worked, not by magic, by science. And if there was magic, it would also be science.

So where does one start with such an idea? Well, for me, I started with books.

Maybe coming to China was the escape I needed to disengage from my social responsibilities? Whatever the case, it worked.

I started in 2003 and had a first draft ready in 2004. Almost tirelessly, I wrote night after night, setting monthly milestones to finish a dice-rolling mechanic and test it, or complete a chunk of history. But it was my first creation, and flawed because I really didn't plan anything out.

The second iteration of this mechanical world began in 2005 and was finished in 2006. It was a 400 page tome that was very informative, but not a very good roleplaying system at all. I never published it, but the book served me well in interviews for game design positions at local Chinese companies.

I neglect to add, learning Chinese was not easy. Actually, starting off it was easy, but I soon realized that almost nobody truly masters the language, not even Chinese people themselves. Perfect Chinese is almost unheard of, as the pronunciation and character radicals have such intricate and particular requirements.

2. Learning About Games

I worked in a Chinese game studios from 2005 to 2008. At first I localized games into English, acting as the last line of defense to prevent horrendous grammar and spelling mistakes from making it into the final launch build.

This really didn't work so well, as the dependency on outdated code and MySQL 3.0 database limitations didn't let me use characters such as apostrophes, quotations or sometimes even periods. Because the game had first been created in Chinese language, there were a lot of GUI oversights that made western conversion impossible. For example, item names could be no longer than 8 characters, or in their later games, no longer than 12 characters.

Just imagine.... "Power Sword" became PwrSword, "Health Potion" became hpPotion, and "Resurrection Feather" became ResFeath. It was really an awkward position and I took a lot of criticism for doing a poor job.

Anyway, I learned a lot, especially at home during those times. I'd go home and study 3dsMax, Photoshop, trial versions of game developer environments, and just play a lot more varied games than I would otherwise try.

3. Going it Solo

After leaving my former company, I started a small indoe basement studio working on City of Steam. We started with 3 and immediately went to full capacity... 6!

Actually, the books came in really handy landing funding from our very early angel investors. It was something to show, something for them to see and it really was the deciding factor in getting funding or not.

I can honestly say, the first 6 months were spend trying to deal with business paperwork and learn the tools we needed to create the game. There were a lot of heated discussions on how we should create the game assets and the server technology we would use to create City of Steam.

Eventually, we chose Unity3d and went with our own ground-up server structure. It took 2 years for us to get the first playable that we could show to others. And by some sort of miracle, investment found us. Well, okay, it wasn't a miracle: It was 6 months of striving to get more funding, followed by a long period of no replies and then suddenly a call out of the blue from a company that we had not even applied for funding to.

4. Pimping the Game

The funding allowed us to do a lot of awesome stuff we could never have done before. We moved office, we expanded and we re-designed and rebuilt the game from the ground up.

It was nothing short of amazing that we managed to get a Tech Demo ready for GDC San Fransisco. Most of us didn't sleep for 40 hours leading up to our deadline. Crazy crazy stuff.

So, in the following blog entries I hope to tell you all about the interesting design choices we made, how they affected the design and how we solved various problems. Most of these blog posts will be based on the dev diaries I post on our game site City of Steam, and the feedback that our fans give us on the forums.

Feel free to ask me about any of the techniques we used in the game -I'm very willing to share our methods and some of our secrets too :-) 

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