Bring Out Your Devs! Developer Spotlight: Patrick Traynor
Bring Out Your Devs!
Developer Spotlight: Patrick Traynor
We have awesome developers in our community, so we are starting a new blog series called Bring Out Your Devs! Out first developer is Patrick Traynor. He is currently making Patrick’s Parabox, an amazing mind-bending puzzler. It won Developer’s Choice at IndieCade 2019! Here’s our interview with Patrick:
So Patrick, tell us about yourself!
First I just want to say that I’m honored to be a part of this! Hi, I’m Patrick, and I’m a programmer and hobbyist game developer. I grew up in Irvine, CA, and then in 2012 went to UC San Diego for college, majoring in Computer Science and graduating in 2018. And very recently I just moved back to Irvine to live with family. I’m sad to leave, but Irvine’s not too far a drive, and I’m still coming to the monthly mixers at the very least!
I’ve been making games as a hobby since the end of high school, many of which are platformers, puzzle games, and 2D. My main strength is programming. I’ve also been enjoying streaming development and playing games on Twitch for the past few years.
What got you interested and started in game development?
My mom, brother, and I played a lot of Nintendo console games! I drew my own levels on paper for games like Sonic Adventure 2, Kirby, Pikmin, Crash Bandicoot, and Croc. When I had a laptop, around 6th grade, I made a game in Microsoft PowerPoint where you navigate a maze using your mouse cursor. My mom noticed, and bought a copy of Visual Basic on eBay, and together we learned to make applications like clicking a button to bounce a ball. I made about a dozen games in VB on my own, along with ventures into games with level editors, including some Flash games and Super Mario World romhacking. Then in high school, I discovered the I Wanna Be The Guy fangame community, which got me back into programming games, this time in GameMaker and Construct. And I haven’t stopped since! I’m very thankful to my parents for getting me that laptop, and to my mom for getting me started with programming and instilling a deep love of video games.
What game projects have you made in the past?
Lots and lots of small things! I’m part of the I Wanna Be The Guy fangame community, which makes these niche, charming precision platformers. Here’s a link to an introduction page: https://cwpat.me/fangames-intro/ I’ve made many IWBTG fangames with my friends in the community, and one called “I Wanna Run the Marathon” was featured in the speedrunning marathon AGDQ 2018! In 2014 my puzzle platformer Clockwork Cat came in 2nd place overall in Ludum Dare 27, which I’m also proud of! I’ve done lots of game jams with the game dev club VGDC at UCSD, and IGDA SD’s events. I’ve also made some game-related tools like a Twitch video browser, and some small projects for other niche online communities. Lots of small-ish things!
What projects are you working on these days? Are you working on them with a team or solo?
Right now I’m mainly focusing on two multi-year projects. (I’m still making prototypes and stuff on the side though.)
Patrick’s Parabox is a puzzle game with a unique mechanic: you push boxes around in a level, but each of those boxes contains its own mini-level which you can push boxes into and out of. I’ve been working on it solo since January 2018, and it’ll be my first commercial game.
I Wanna Maker is a precision platformer with a robust level editor and online level sharing, based on I Wanna Be The Guy fangames. Our team (of varying size, but with a core of about 3) has been working on it for a few years now, and we plan to release it as freeware.
Your in-progress game “Patrick’s Parabox” has a very unique and interesting puzzle mechanic, not to mention a simple and cute visual style!
Quick, how would you describe Parabox in ten words or less!?
(…you can cheat haha)
Play with recursion by nesting boxes into boxes into boxes!
Patrick’s Parabox is a puzzle game about boxes within boxes, and exploring its recursive, mind-bending consequences. I’ve been working on it for about a year and a half. I’m nervous and excited to start sharing it more publicly! #screenshotsaturday #gamedev pic.twitter.com/9qTVvY3kpu
— Patrick (@clockworkpat) May 17, 2019
How did you first come up with the idea for Parabox?
So this is kind of a fun story. In UCSD’s game dev club VGDC, my friends Jason, Jeff, and I started making a sokoban (block-pushing) puzzle game where you infiltrate a base and avoid being seen by robots. Then a year or so later I made a mockup reviving this idea, with an added mechanic of player 2 being small and able to crawl through walls and blocks, fitting with the infiltration theme. (Mockup here: https://twitter.com/clockworkpat/status/515916606602772480) I prorotyped it but got bored or something. 4 years later, on a whim I decided to open it again and clean up the code to show to friends at the club, to have something to do at an upcoming club meeting. Shortly after, I made the major breakthrough of being able to enter/exit to switch between the big and small layers. And later, my friend Steven in the club showed me the game Sokosoko by juner (https://juner.itch.io/sokosoko), from which I took the unique box-containing-itself mechanic.
So it’s a roundabout story, and so much of it happened by chance, and I owe a lot to VGDC and my friends! I’m glad that I put myself in places conducive to opportunities like this, “making my own luck” – being active in the club, online communities, and local community, and making lots of small games. And when the game idea came, I felt confident tackling it because of my past experience making puzzle games.
Where do you find Inspiration when developing the game?
I’m inspired by Steven’s Sausage Roll, which explores this elegant system of rolling sausages which turns out to have deep and beautiful consequences. It guides the player through moments of discovery and mastery of the system. My game very much follows this model, and SSR is one of the best examples of it. I’m also inspired by The Witness, in particular by the flow of the panel puzzles, which introduce new concepts and build upon them in a compelling way.
Did you come across any design challenges? If so what were they?
Oh yes! I’ll avoid specifics so I don’t go on forever. When making the mechanics, there were multiple instances of it not being clear what should happen in certain scenarios. Talking about it with game dev friends and with my Twitch viewers helped. Just giving myself time to mull it over also helped, and I developed a few principles, such as allowing maximum player agency in the scenario, and letting the system answer the question “naturally” and not imposing arbitrary rules on it.
There were a bunch of programming challenges for Parabox, naturally! It’s perhaps the most fun I’ve had programming something. There were a few problems that were real hold-ups, but instead of being held up too long, I worked around them, which was the right choice since I got to keep working, and many of the problems just worked themselves out later.
Making lots of puzzles, and sequencing them in a good order, were muscles I hadn’t flexed nearly as hard before this game. It was exhausting at times iterating on the individual puzzles, and on things like the puzzle order and the hub layout. But though persistence and time I feel like these things are in a good place now, and I’ve improved my skills and discipline here.
And now, the sometimes-dreaded question… what are the plans for release of the game?
Ahhh, of course you’d ask this, haha! I plan to release on PC and mobile, and potentially Switch but I haven’t started that process yet. As for the time, it’s really hard to estimate, since it’s my first commercial game. I’ve been working on it since January 2018, and I certainly don’t want to work on it for a whole nother year, so at least before that!
You also have another project in development that is quite different from Parabox, something more of a community based level building game.
Quick Again! Give me a 10 word mini sizzle pitch for I Wanna Maker… for the people!
Robust, powerful platformer level editor with global online level sharing!
What were your inspirations and motivations in creating I Wanna Maker?
One of my friends in the IWBTG fangame community, Pieceofcheese87, had the vision of “Mario Maker but for fangames,” and got a few of us on board to make it a reality. At that time I’d recently made Jtool, a more simplified level editor for fangames, and was enjoying seeing people use it. I love making useful game making tools, and Super Fangame Maker (the old name) seemed like a great one, as well as some very interesting technical challenges.
What are the Design challenges, and how do they compare with Parabox?
There are so many complex systems! Gameplay objects and their interactions, editor interface and tools, undo+redo, programmable object system, Browse Levels UI, SQL database structure, the whole server’s codebase, level replays, saving and loading levels, … there’s a lot. Structuring the code well, and reworking systems as they have problems and requirements change are certainly challenges. We also have to decide what features we do and don’t add, and make some design decisions, and we usually do so over text or voice chat. We have a Trello board to keep track of hundreds of tasks and bugs. Motivation and keeping up momentum has certainly been a development challenge, since there’s always so much left to do, especially for this kind of game.
And again, bum bum bum… do you have specific plans for release of this game?
Another one that’s hard to estimate, haha! Well, we plan for the game to be free, and it’ll be on PC, and we’re investigating releasing on Steam too (also for free). Not sure on the time frame, but we’ve been working for about 4 years and we hope to wrap up relatively soon!
You are a frequent attendee of many IGDA San Diego events, as well as a regular member of the larger San Diego Game Dev community.
How did you find out about the San Diego Game Dev Community, and how do you participate?
I found out about it through the game dev club VGDC at UCSD, and officers including Alex Ferbrache highly recommended us to get out of our comfort zone and go to a meetup! At the beginning of college I was pretty shy, but I’m very glad I went!
Why do you like spending time in the San Diego Community?
I love just hanging out and exchanging experiences with everyone in the community! I’ve made a bunch of friends here who I enjoy spending time with. Bouncing ideas off of people and showing my WIPs has given me some great discussions and insights. And on the flip side, I love seeing others’ work and helping out when I can! I enjoy just generally feeling like I belong, and being part of a community.
What do you get out of it and what would you maybe like to see more of?
I’m quite satisfied with the monthly mixers and occasional game jams. I enjoy the atmosphere and venue of all the mixers, and the game jams are well-organized. And I love the weekly Sunday workdays at the coffee shop with the Indie Creatives SD meetup group (So sad I moved away! Miss y’all!). And some talks and/or workshops seem to be coming up, which is great. I enjoyed the playtesting night we had a while ago, so more playtesting events might be nice. Overall though I’m very satisfied; keep it up organizers!
What do you recommend for people looking to get more involved, who may be a bit introverted?
Personally I’m introverted – being with others drains my battery, and I recharge when I’m alone. But going to the mixers, game jams, and other events is so worth it. Making friends, exchanging insight, having good discussions, laughing. Like I said earlier, at the beginning of college I was quite shy, and I took some convincing to go. But I hope what I said earlier convinced you that it’s worth a try! Plus, a lot of people I’ve met in the community are introverted too, haha.
Just a bit more about your unique experiences in and out of games.
How do approach being an indie developer, and what kinds of challenges do you face?
So, I really just fell into this indie developer thing by accident. I just happened to have this game with a lot of potential when I graduated, and I’m very thankful and lucky for my family being able to support me financially while I work on it. I intended to get a programming job and continue doing games as a hobby, but this just sort of happened.
So I don’t have much of an approach to being an indie developer specifically – I just make games like I’ve always done. Again, I’m very thankful to my family for supporting me financially- it takes away so much of the stress that in the past made me not want to try being an indie developer.
Being consistently productive and staying on-task has been challenging at times. I cut myself some slack since I wanted to take a break from working after school anyways. Deadlines like GDC, IndieCade, and IGF have been motivating to reach milestones for Parabox, and live demo and open beta deadlines have been motivating for I Wanna Maker. Streaming development of both has also been motivating – it gets me working, and also not alone.
Is there another aspect of Game Dev that you would like to explore down the line?
Nothing jumps out at me too much – maybe graphics programming, since I see a lot of creative shader-type stuff on game dev Twitter. For the near future I’m still very interested in exploring puzzle games, platformers, and tools!
What do you do besides game development?
Making games has been my main hobby for a very long time. I enjoy streaming on Twitch, though much of the time I’m streaming game development, haha. I play DDR regularly – I enjoy striving to get better, and it’s great getting a workout at the same time. And lastly, I like just taking walks outside and occasionally hiking.
Who do you main in Smash?
Mr. Game & Watch! I love the Judge attack (side-b).
What is your favorite video game?
The Witness. I just love it. If it looks like your thing, I highly recommend it!
Wisdom, Power, or Courage?
Wisdom. I think it’s the one I have the most of, haha.
As of this interview, we know that your game Patrick’s Parabox is a selected nominee for this year’s IndieCade International Festival of Games. Congrats!
What was the process like to get that far, and how are you feeling about it all?
Thank you! Well, to answer this, first I have to thank you Andrew, the question writer, for encouraging me to submit to IndieCade in the first place! The application was very in-depth, and I had to write a lot about my game and prepare screenshots and a video, but that was a good thing for me to start doing. It also pushed me to get the game in a showable state with all the mechanics present. If you plan to submit, start early!
I’m very happy and honored that my game was selected! It’s gonna feel surreal for a while. In a way I can’t take credit for the core idea, since it’s just a system that exists in the universe. But I can be proud of how I’ve refined the presentation of that system and manifested it into a game.
Do you have any plans specifically if you receive an award, or will development continue as planned?
I’m definitely not expecting an award or anything, I’ll just see what happens and be happy if I do. I don’t think my plans would change at all – I still want to make a good game, and I still know that people will like it!
Do you have plans to submit your games to other festivals?
I recently submitted to IGF! I’m not expecting anything, but may as well give myself the chance. And it was a great motivator to get the game playable from start to finish! I also plan to submit to GDC’s Experimental Gameplay Workshop, where experimental games give a short explanation/demo. I’d recommend watching past years on YouTube, there’s some interesting stuff!
Tell us about your hopes, goals, dreams, and more!
I’m grateful that I’m sort of living my dream right now with Parabox – making a unique and special game that I care about, and that others care about. And sort of the same with I Wanna Maker – making a tool which helps people be creative, make unique and special things, and share them. I also strive to improve my craftmanship, and recently I think I’ve been dong that too. So I’m grateful! I hope to continue to make these unique things and to help people somehow with tools. I’m sure my goals will change in the next 5 years, but that’s where I’m at now.
What is your dream project, games and/or otherwise?
I don’t really have a dream project, but I do have a bunch of prototypes and ideas and I’d like to explore some of them in the future. I certainly have no shortage of ideas! But no big dream project.
I appreciate animation, some of my favorites being Steven Universe, Pixar, and Studio Ghibli, as well as some music videos, but I’m not sure if I’d ever actually try to get into making that stuff.
Do you have any studio or company that you aim to work with somehow in the future?
It’d be a dream to work at Thekla, the studio who made The Witness, and where Jonathan Blow works. They’ve made and are making great things. I don’t think it’s very likely, since they’re a small group, but who knows!
Any advice to people making their own games, or advice you wish you had starting out?
I don’t know that I can give any non-personalized advice, since everyone making games is different and comes from a different background. One piece of advice I might give myself back then is that it’ll hurt when you receive harsh criticism, or little reaction at all, but with time it gets easier to take it in the right way. I wish everyone making games good luck in your endeavors!
And lastly, do you have anything you would like to share with the people out there, like ways to find you and follow what you are working on, or any other things to share that you are passionate about?
I would like to talk a little bit about my experience streaming on Twitch. I started out streaming IWBTG fangames to my friends in the community. It helped me get better at public speaking, and was also a nice activity to do since I was in a kind of dark place at the time. Gradually I added a facecam, and gradually started to stream development of my projects too.
Over the years I’ve gotten multiple things out of streaming. Hanging out with friends and giving me something to do can cheer up a dreary day. Streaming development pushes me to get work done, when otherwise I wouldn’t have done much that day. And many times when designing on stream, I’ve gotten great feedback and ideas from people watching.
Ok, time for links! You can keep up to date with Patrick’s Parabox development on my Twitter https://twitter.com/clockworkpat , and I Wanna Maker has a Twitter and Discord linked on its website https://www.iwannamakergame.com/ . My personal “about” page is https://cwpat.me/about/ if you want to contact me. I’m open to chat about stuff!
I’m honored to be a part of this, thanks for having me! It was fun answering all these questions about myself, haha. Looking forward to reading this and other people’s ones too!
Thanks one more time for taking the time to participate in our Bring Out Your Devs initiative, spotlighting unique and standout work from members of our awesome and talented San Diego Game Dev community.
— Patrick (@clockworkpat) October 13, 2019