Houston Game Dev

Interview: Adam Saltsman

February 8, 2013
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Adam Saltsman is a renowned indie game developer hailing from, admittedly, our much more prolific sister city Austin, Texas. We are honored that he took some of his valuable time out of his demanding development schedules to answer some of our questions. Developers from all over the world, not just Houston, can benefit from listening to the experiences of Adam Saltsman.



Do you come from a corporate gaming background? And if not, what experience did you have in game dev before you were involved in Indie Games?


I don’t actually come from a corporate gaming background, though not for lack of trying. We actually moved to Austin about 9 years ago now in fervent, naive hope of getting a job at Retro Studios… suffice it to say I couldn’t hack it. I ended up getting a more pedestrian job in software, but it was a strangely broad and good experience. I racked up a few years of C++ experience there before working for a few years as a freelance programmer and artist (formerly just a hobby). Eventually I started programming game-making libraries and full games for clients, and then sort of fell into building iOS games through a rock climbing buddy. Pretty much the normal career arc right??




How did you get involved with Flixel?


Making Flixel was just one of those things where like… so right out of college (10 years ago now?) I really wanted to make something like Flixel, but it was actually a pretty big hassle at the time. I started building a really… cumbersome C++/OpenGL 2D game framework, but it was that classic scenario where I spent all my time making a game engine, and not much time at all making a game. The cumbersome nature of platform-specific executables bugged me, so I started experimenting with Javascript, but it couldn’t hack it at the time. Flash was interesting, but at the time it was lacking a lot of features. I actually built something quite similar to Flixel in Silverlight of all things… but fortunately Flash was updated around the same time (2008-ish?) with the features I’d been wanting. But I’d learned my lesson from earlier projects, and rather than building a game engine, I started just building games. I looked for tasks that were repetitive or shared between each of my little prototypes, and started abstracting those tasks and routines into a shared library, which eventually became Flixel.

The motivation for making something like Flixel was purely selfish, I should add – I knew that if I was going to be making games for myself, I would be bootstrapping, which means I’d only be working nights and weekends on my own games, which meant I needed a platform where I could develop very rapidly if I was going to have any hope at all of ever making anything.



What was different about working on a ‘licensed’ product such as Hunger Games:Girl on Fire versus the past products you have created?


For me the big differences are generally this big shift or tradeoff in resources versus oversight. Generally I have basically no resources to call on when making a game, just whatever I am able to bring to the table personally. I also have no oversight whatsoever, which has its own pros and cons. Licensed work is really the flipside – the resources I get access to are unbelievable and amazing, but the oversight can complicate things that normally aren’t something I would usually get hung up on. Ultimately I enjoy both challenges though!




Deservedly, your game Hundreds has been released to iOS with great acclaim. Are you planning on taking your creations to some kind of ‘next level’ of expensive development, staff, etc. or do you still feel there is a lot to do in the game development sector of small micro teams?


The idea of leading a large team basically fills me with paralyzing, crippling fear haha. I am not expecting that to happen anytime soon. I just don’t have what it takes to do that. I am looking forward to collaborating with other designers though – working with Greg Wohlwend on Hundreds was fantastic. And yeah, I think there is still a huge audience for games made by pretty small teams.



Austin has seen a fair share of lay offs in the corporate video game sector over the last months. Also Austin has a vibrant scene of independent developers. What advice would you have for someone pursuing the indie side of game development, experienced or not? Are there any resources available for these people in your area?


Oh man, I wish I could answer that in a couple of concise sentences. I think my main advice is just to approach things with a kind of passionate humility… or some other such zen mindset. Running a small studio is the most amazing thing, but you need to be ready to learn new things every day, you need to be ready to wear a lot of different hats, you need to be ready to compromise and collaborate, you need to reach out to other small studios for advice and war stories, you need to think really hard sometimes about stuff you really wish you didn’t have to think about (like MARKETING, ugh).

SHAMELESS PLUG: In response to this most recent wave of layoffs, our austin indie game collective Juegos Rancheros is hosting a free workshop this Sunday [ Feb.10th, 2013] called NATION OF INDIES – we’ll be doing a rundown on all these things (lots of hats, lots of war stories) with some of Austin’s most dynamic indies (Stoic, White Whale, Tiger Style, Gl33k), and SXSW is buying everybody pizza. Studios folding and rising from the ashes is nothing new to Austin, but it’s rough seeing all these studios fold at once – the risk of talented folks having to leave Austin in order to find some more stable work and provide for their families is a very real risk. We’re hopeful that this workshop can provide a possible alternative to either leaving Austin or diving back into our relatively turbulent AAA scene.

[ The event website ]

[ Important note on the event, READ THIS if you plan to attend  ]



We know you are busy, so Thank you so much for taking the time to reach out to game developers in Houston and the world. We look forward to continue following your work!


My pleasure, thank you for the opportunity!






you can follow Adam Saltsman on twitter @ADAMATOMIC




Bill Stiernberg of Zeybod Games

September 7, 2012
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Zeboyd Games has emerged in the RPG space as one of the top RPG game creators around.  Their game announcements have been nothing short of exciting, generating buzz and creating fans all over the world. Zeboyd Games has had great coverage and rave reviews from sites such as PC Gamer, Joystiq, and  EuroGames.  We are lucky to have 50% of Zeboyd, right here developing in Houston.  Let us all recognize and enjoy the fantastic work of Bill Steinberg shall we?

HGD:Have you always wanted to get into game development on a professional level, or just a hobby level?

Bill Stiernberg: It’s always been kind of a dream of mine to work in game development. However, I wasn’t sure what avenue would be the best route for me to take. Ultimately I figured I’d start out getting an engineering degree and then decide where to go from there, since a B.S. in engineering is always a good thing. I tried making a few indie games/mods and working with a number of teams over the internet during college, but nothing really came out. It did, however, give me a lot of perspective and experience in working with people over the net, and was informative about what does and doesn’t work. Anyway, I decided to go to law school in hopes of pursuing a career in IP law, and perhaps entering the games industry by that route (copyright, trademark, patent law, licensing, etc.). I focused my time in law school on these subjects, however my interest in the indie game industry actually grew once I had heard about the increasing opportunities for small teams (iOS, XBLIG, Steam, XBLA, etc etc). I created a few games in my spare time, and fortunately around that time Robert Boyd had obtained some experience with Xbox Live Indie Games. We’d known each other through the Penny Arcade web forums, and he’s seen some of my work and I’d seen his, so we decided to work together to make an RPG for the platform – Breath of Death VII. Ultimately I finished law school (was working on CSTW while studying for the Bar Exam), passed it and got licensed, started as an attorney, and finally once we were able to get our games on Steam, our little 2-man company had been doing well enough that I decided I could finally pursue this dream. Thus I left my job as a lawyer and started working on our games full time. I guess you could say it’s one of those things I always wanted to do full time as a career, but was always worried that it could do no better than a hobbyist activity. Thanks to digital distribution, I’ve found that it’s quite possible to become successful and support a business and family with income generated through successful indie development.

HGD: Your games have a traditional JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) look and style. Was this your inspiration and/or favorite game genre to play?

Bill Stiernberg I’ve always been a fan of RPGs from the 16-bit era, and Robert is a hardcore RPG fan. Some of my favorite RPGs are from the 16-bit era, among them Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV, V, VI, Illusion of Gaia, as well as games like Lunar and Phantasy Star. You could definitely say that these games, among others, have inspired us quite a bit in our games’ look and designs, although we have applied our own design mentality to the basic systems. We’re a two-person team and our games are still fairly modest, but we’re constantly trying to take steps to push ourselves with each new release both on a visual, (game) mechanical, and engine standpoint.

HGD: Your team-mate at Zeboyd Games lives in California. How is it working online from a distance?

Bill Stiernberg Working on projects such as these over the internet has a lot of positives and a lot of drawbacks. However, I’ve found that if you can become accustomed to working this way, there are a number of good advantages of working through the internet. In the past, I had noticed that most indie dev projects that operated entirely over the ‘net had fallen apart mostly due to a lack of communication between team members, and a misunderstanding over how much work was involved. What I’d usually see is that as soon as the project became tedious, team members would slowly start dropping their communication as they prioritized other things in their lives (understandably), until one day they realize that they had kind of stopped working on the project all together and then called it quits. If you have the determination, enthusiasm, and dedication to build a game from start to finish, it can be extremely rewarding regardless of how the task was accomplished. In our case, Robert and I work extremely well together, and we have discovered many ways that the web actually helps us stay in touch and on top of tasks, and keep each other motivated. We’re both online, on gchat, pretty much all day during our “working hours” (so to speak) and we constantly share progress with one another. That’s great for motivation and keeps the ball rolling. It’s also nice that as a side effect of working over the web, everything you do is essentially “backed up” on the web every time you share it, be it via email or dropbox or other means. It’s rather nice knowing that if my PC crashes, I have my data backed up on DropBox or in my Gmail’s sent box such that I can pick back up from where I left off if anything gets lost or destroyed. It also helps keeping track of things. So I guess these are the benefits generally.. it’s also nice not having to pay a great deal in office rent and electricity too, hahah.



HGD: And of course, how do you like working on games in Houston?

Bill Stiernberg: Working in Houston is great. It’s a large city and there’s plenty of options as far as where to live, depending on your style. There’s the bustling city, there’s midtown which is kind of a younger crowd, there’s the Heights and places where young professionals are starting to move, there’s certain suburbs which are kinda the nice but more expensive suburb type places that are still sort of close to the busy parts of the city, and then as you get further out you can get some great homes at seriously reasonable prices.. So there’s lots of options. For me as an indie dev who works entirely via the internet, my physical location is not restricted by an office, so I can kind of choose where to live to an extent. Right now I’m living in Bellaire which is not in the midst of downtown but is still located around a lot of great stuff in Houston. What I’ve found when talking to people / devs from other cities is that despite the sweltering heat (who goes outside anyway?) Houston is pretty good for cost of living. Unlike some areas on the West coast, for example, we don’t have any city or state income taxes, which is great for indie devs (often formed in partnership arrangements) because it means less taxes / more to save or spend on your quality of life. That’s something I’ve really come to appreciate about Texas and Houston.


Otherwise in general it’s just nice that I live in a city that is fairly modern, I can go to the latest movies or the Galleria and it has a lot of the great tech stores (like three locations of Fry’s Electronics, or MicroCenter) as well as wholesalers (Directron), so that’s great for me as a game dev / tech guy / gamer. Food is great; it’s one of the best cities in the USA to find any type of food or place to hang out.Coffee and/or Tea houses are everywhere for devs who like to sit in such places and write code / docs / artwork / etc while maintaining a precise level of caffeination. So yeah I think it’s great being in a large, modern city with plenty of stuff to do while not (at least in my case) necessarily being tied to a specific location to have to physically drive to for work every day!


HGD:Can you explain how Penny Arcade Precipice of Darkness Episode 3 came about?

Bill Stiernberg 

Well, like I mentioned earlier, Robert and I got to know each other via the Penny Arcade web forums, and we still use them regularly. So after the Rainslick series had been officially canceled, and around the time we were working on Cthulhu Saves the World, a Rainslick fan put up a post on the Penny Arcade forums suggesting to PA that maybe they could continue the series in the form of a retro-RPG if they brought Zeboyd in to work with. We thought it was a great idea, so Robert replied and said yeah we’d be interested, but we weren’t expecting PA to contact us about it or anything, plus we had CSTW to finish. Sure enough, however, a few weeks later Robert Khoo (from PA) contacted us to talk about bringing the Rainslick series back from the dead! We were extremely excited, of course, to work with PA and work on their game series. We also discovered later that the PA guys are big fans of the 16-bit era of RPGs and had been considering doing the Rainslick series in 8 or 16-bit for a while, they were just looking for a team to work with them on it!


HGD: What do you consider your proudest accomplishment in the area of game development?

Bill Stiernberg: That’s a tough question to answer. It’s a broad question. I guess generally every game release is my proudest accomplishment, because we work so hard to improve our skills and games and putting it all together into a final product each time is usually the proudest moment; and each game eclipses the last. I guess that means working with Penny Arcade and launching Precipice 3 and getting great reviews is currently my proudest moment. I’d also say that being able to go and meet other developers in the industry and talk about games and the fact that they have sometimes heard of Cthulhu or Rainslick3 or Zeboyd is always a proud moment (and surreal). I guess more generally just meeting people and other developers and members of the gaming press, it’s just an incredible feeling because I know I’m *in* the industry now, I’m involved in it, and it’s an excellent and invigorating feeling.


HGD:Can you tell us about what you guys have planned next for Zeboyd games? Any hints, clues or links to follow for more news?

Bill Stiernberg: Heheh, well for one we’re working on some final bonus (free) DLC content for Rainslick3. The next bonus pack will be a new and interesting dungeon, and the final DLC pack will add quite a lot of new content and some story bits not seen until then. So that’s been fun, and afterwards, we’ll begin full time work on Rainslick4. We’ve done some preliminary planning to that end, but the real work on RS4 will begin after we finish the Rainslick3 bonus content. As far as what we do *after* Rainslick4, well, we have about a trillion different ideas that we’ve batted around and we’re pretty enthusiastic about all of them. But since it’s all still in the sort of brainstorming phase, that’s about all I can say!


Posted in Features, Interviews

Houston Leveled Up with Extra Life

August 23, 2012
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Extra Life – Play Games Heal Kids!

For the last four years, thousands of gamers have joined together annually to play for 24 hours for Extra Life – a gaming marathon in support of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals®. Gamers rally friends and family members to sponsor their play. The funds they raise go to help save and improve the lives of kids at the CMN Hospital in their community. Houston Game Dev is delighted to have an exclusive interview with Allen Ragasa the Ambassador of Extra Life Houston.

houstongamedev: Can you tell us, Mr. Ragasa, what is Extra Life Houston? And how did it come about?

Allen Ragasa: Extra Life Houston is a group of Houstonians who have come together to promote Extra Life. Down to our core, we are gamers who play games and raise funds to help the patients at Texas Children’s Hospital. All of the funds raised by Extra Life Houston supports charity care, community outreach and financial assistance to help children who otherwise might not receive the care they need and deserve. Last year, Extra Life Houston
raised over $50,000 for Texas Children’s Hospital. The idea of forming a Houston team came from when I participated in Extra Life in its first year. In the summer of 2008, I had at the time raised money running marathons and got hurt during my training. I was listening to the Sarcastic Gamer Podcast and heard the founder of the charity, Jeromy “Doc” Adams talk about Extra Life. They had the idea of a fundraiser aimed towards gamers and that was to play games for 24 hours straight and get your friends and family to donate money to the cause. At the time, we had gamers all over the world participate and money went to the cancer center at Texas Children’s Hospital. The way I spent my 24 hours during the event was playing games at home but later moving it to Dave and Busters. My friend, Ryan Cayari, had donated money to my efforts and joined me there. We sat at the bar talking about how we could take this further, how can we make more of an impact for those kids at TCH. In the summer of 09, we later met up with Doc’s wife Leslie and talked about forming the Extra Life Houston Team. I’m proud to say that our team is now on our fourth year and has done marvelous things since.

houstongamedev: Can you tell us about some past events?

Allen Ragasa: We’ve had three over night marathon events during every Extra Life day but we have held fundraisers and awareness all over the Houston area. We’ve done things at coffee shops to benefit dinners at P.F Changs to barcrawls to game nights at the Houston Twestival and at Joystix Arcade. We even participated at conventions such as A-kon in Dallas and Oni-Con and Compicpalooza here in Houston.

houstongamedev: What is your Role in Extra Life Houston as Ambassador?

Allen Ragasa: My role as an ambassador is to bring recognition and awareness to not only Extra Life, but to Texas Children’s Hospital and Children’s Miracle Network. My successes include guest starring on podcasts talking about Extra Life, speaking at anime conventions and using social networking like Twitter and Facebook to bring more people who want to help enrich other kids’ lives. I’ve had contact with volunteers and teams spring up from various cities like Greensboro, North Carolina, Columbus, Ohio, Los Angeles, California, Seattle, Washington, Austin, Texas and most recently NYC and New Jersey. We are all a dedicated group of volunteers and in many ways ambassadors in our own right. We want to help the kids at the hospital in some way and if we can bring more people in to help, the better it is for everyone involved.

houstongamedev: How can parents, family and friends get involved?

Allen Ragasa: You can find more information about our events on our Facebook page Extra Life Houston or follow us on Twitter @ExtraLifeHOU. I recommend signing up for your own fundraising page at www.extra-life.org and get started on collecting donations. If you are playing for Houston, we would love for everyone to join the Extra Life Houston Team. We are always looking for more volunteers to help out and promote our events.


Houston Game Dev realizes what a valuable asset this is to children and our community. We will keep you updated on the upcoming October event and encourage participation. Thank you Allen Ragasa and all those involved with Extra Life Houston!


Great rewards for great work. Exclusive interview with Allen Ragasa (center).

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