Robert Curry — Dinosaur Polo Club
Game designer and programmer of Mini Metro, and now — studio director.
Wellington, New Zealand.
What led you to the game dev industry and how did you become a game designer?
I have always been interested in games and started to write some with my brother at university. I got a job at a game studio straight after graduating with a degree in Computer Science, worked there for a few years as a programmer, then left to go indie. That first stint didn’t last long – less than two years – so I worked in the web industry for a while. Then my brother and I took part in a Ludum Dare game jam in 2013 where we came up with the concept for Mini Metro.
What does a typical day look like?
Nowadays I spent most of in my inbox. Exchanging emails with publishing partners, platform holders, other developers, press, etc. I also spend a lot of time looking at how everyone’s work is tracking. Sometimes I actually get to test things like new maps, or on very rare occasions I get to implement something myself – so far this year I’m averaging just over one commit per month!
What's your setup?
MacBook Pro, with a 27″ external monitor for extra screenspace.
Which apps and services do you use most to complete your main tasks?
Gmail and Google Calendar for the most part. Development is done with Unity, Sublime Text, and the Git command line.
Where do you gain inspiration from?
Everyday occurrences. Mini Metro was formed by looking at an element of the world that many people are familiar with and thinking about how we could make it interactive. I think there are countless other ideas like that out there, we just need to find them and see how to make them into compelling experiences.
When and how do you start working on a new feature? Could you describe the process?
First up, we try to just think of all the interesting new interactions that a new feature would allow. This is the fun part, as you can let your mind wander and come up with all the out-there ideas. Then we need to get serious and start thinking of the repercussions on the existing systems. Mini Metro is a very delicate game that thrives due to its simplicity, so we can’t just add more and more and more and expect the game to remain as enjoyable! So often our lofty goals are pared down to a very simple set of tweaks which, if we’ve done our job right, have created a large new space for the player to explore without making the game too much more complicated. Every feature we add we have to communicate to the player, and this is often much more difficult that the feature itself.
Which games have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
Spelunky and Hoplite. Also the boardgame Tigris & Euphrates. I honestly don’t get a huge amount of time to play the latest games – something I’m trying to work on!
What achievements in your career are you most proud of?
Winning an IGF award, and being nominated for three others and a BAFTA, were all incredible moments.
If you could change one thing about your career, what would it be?
I’ve had a lot of failures which I used to regret, but now I look back on them all as learning experiences. My brother and I wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in now, running our own indie studio, if those mistakes hadn’t have been made. But, if I could wind back to when we first went indie in 2006 and make Mini Metro right then, things would have gone a lot more smoothly! 😉
Which recent task turned out to be much difficult than you expected?
Growing the company from just my brother and I to eight of us.
How are the disputes about variants of feature design solved in your company?
A lot of meetings, and quick mockups to see the impact. It doesn’t take a long amount of time to test something in Mini Metro – the time comes from tuning, balancing, and polishing. So we can compare things quite easily.
What do you do to self-improve in game design?
Don’t be precious about anything that you’ve done, be open to feedback and look at it with a critical eye. Also letting other people play your work even if they’re too early and non ready for the general public.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Depends what mood I’m in or what work I’m doing. If it’s mundane tasks that I don’t have to concentrate on, such as creating maps, I listen to podcasts. If not, then instrumental synth or videogame soundtracks (I don’t really care what, it just becomes white noise).
If a game designer would want to apply to your company, what would you advise him?
Not to use gendered pronouns.
Any advice for game designers in general?
Play boardgames. Good boardgames are masterclasses in succinct and elegant design, and can often only communicate through mechanics.