The Life Of An #IndieDev: An Interview with Brandon Nobbs

The struggles of game development when outside the larger system of big studios is one that has produced many memorable and innovative titles. #IndieDev provides a way to highlight this struggle and, hopefully, to bring about much needed change in regards to the interaction and coverage provided to independent developers and their projects in the wider games press. 

APGNation spoke with Brandon Nobbs who not only works for 343 Industries on the Halo franchise but also released OreZom Trails Adventure for iOS and Android (backed by a Kickstarter project). He has a unique perspective in seeing both sides of the industry from not only a big budget bird’s-eye to the trench warfare that is independent development. 

Our interview with Mr. Nobbs can be found below: Thank you for taking the time to talk with APGNation today, Mr. Nobbs. So, to start us off, why not let our readers know a little about yourself and some of the games you’ve worked on.

Brandon Nobbs: Well lets see, my name is Brandon Nobbs and I have been a gamer as far back as I can remember. My first peek at gamedev was using the Starcraft editor to make Stargate and Starship Trooper maps. My first shipped game was called Glace, a 2d platformer that was released in 2004. I got my foot in the door because of Polycount, it’s where I really learned how to make game art. My first studio job was at Monolith where I mostly worked on FEAR 2, and Shadow of Mordor. Now I work at 343 where I shipped Halo 4 and have been working on Halo 5. After Halo 4 shipped I started a Kickstarter with my friend Alex Hogan on a pet project called OreZom Trails. You have worked on huge titles like Halo 4 along with Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and are, yourself, an indie dev. You’re also a parent. How are you managing to balance all that and still get to do the thing you love to do: make video games?

BN: Uhhhh I’m VERY good at multi tasking? I take the bus to and from work so that I have about an hour of PR/Twitter time everyday. At night I work on indiedev stuff while everyone is asleep. So on average I get about 6hrs of sleep a day. Would you mind talking a bit about your experience in helping bring OreZom Trails Adventure to life? What influenced you and Alex Hogan (your collaborator) to form aMess Games and work on OZT?

BN: Well I have been making zombie game art for years and never really had anyway to do anything with it. Alex

“You look at ways to trying to be friends with any press people”

and I started talking about what we wanted to make, then we started whittling down this idea from a MMORPG down to a iphone game. It needed to be something that we could make in “4 months”. Four Months being how long it would take if we had no day jobs. A major part of this was developing an art style that could fit into the time constraints of 1-2hrs a night. Both of us could only really work on the game 10hrs a week so a “4 month” game comes out to about 65 weeks of work. In reality OreZom Trails (OZT) took about a year and a half to make. The need for a Kickstarter came when we realised that we sucked at making music, and would need to pay someone to make it. It also opened doors in terms of marketing the game. What is next for you in terms of your work outside of 343 Industries? Any info you can share regarding your next project?

BN: Well the next game is a continuation of OZT but from a different view. The idea comes from watching my son play OZT and seeing what he enjoyed. We plan on doing a Kickstarter for this game too, but that’s a ways off. The struggles of maintaining a presence within the games journalism news cycle seems to be an uphill battle. #IndieDev is, as you’ve mentioned (via Twitter) a means to help build a bridge between someone like yourself and those who can shine a light on projects independent devs like yourself are working on. Would you mind expanding upon that for our readers?

BN: Happy to talk about this! I’ll use the example of OZT. We had no Twitter accounts and our network wasn’t big enough to fund a kickstarter. We only made it because we got lucky and the art style/design was a hit with the

“To see more fans take on the job of heralds for indie games”

Kickstarter staff.  Most all of our page hits came from the Staff pick link. Simply put no one knew who we were in the press world. The problem is that in order to be know you have to maintain your presence and that takes time. When you only have a few hours a day to do indie dev work any time used for marketing can really cut into your dev time just to keep relevant. As an indie dev then you have to start looking at what you can do to get the most exposure out the marketing time you put in. Sure you could spend money on ads, oh wait making ads takes time and money that you don’t have. So you look at ways to trying to be friends with any press people or big names that the press like to follow. The problem is that there are tons of other indie devs that are all trying to do this. That’s not even counting that most press is focused on AAA games. What, in your mind, is one of the biggest issues facing developers such as yourself in regards to media relations?

BN: For me the biggest issue is finding time to stay relevant and still do game dev work. Staying relevant is not easy when you’re strapped for time and money. What needs to change when it comes to the relationship between the press and the independent scene?

BN: Thats a very good question, one I wish I knew the answer to. The issues are simple the answer is not. For press you want to cover what you know people like. The best way to know what people like is to see what is trending. The only way to be trending is either to cause drama or to have a huge following. Sadly, [the] people’s love of drama will never die. If there was one thing I’d love to see change, is to see more fans take on the job of heralds for indie games. Retweeting info about them and talking about them makes a HUGE difference! This happens all the time with AAA games but not as much with indie games. Most of the heralds I see for indie games are other indie devs. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our followers?

BN: It’s important to remember that most indie devs don’t have a marketing department. Any marketing you see comes at a cost to the game’s development. So there are a lot of amazing indie games that will never get discovered because the developer didn’t have the time to do marketing and the dev work.

We would like to thank Mr. Nobbs, again, for his time and for answering our questions. #IndieDev helps give those fellow artists and coders, like Brandon Nobbs, a chance to highlight their work for a wider audience. There is still more work to be done but hopefully this is a step in the right direction.

What do you think, Nation? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow APGNation on Twitter for all the latest gaming news and information.

Jeff Pannell
Written by
"Nation! I face you! This is Jeff, resident horror aficionado and lifelong video-game addict, reporting for duty. I'm currently 30 years old, living in Texas (born and raised) and gaming is, well, more than just a thing I do. It is a passion. I love to write about it, talk about it, think about it and well.. GAME. I was but a young lad when I was introduced to the wonders of the Atari 2600 and, eventually every single console imaginable. Obsessed with RPGs and fighting games and binging on any and all video games he can. I serve as Lead Editor and member of the APGNation Editorial Board. I look forward to bringing you news, reviews and interviews for many years to come.

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