Making an Indie Game: The Pixels and Polygons Documentary & Interview with Richard Cook

A raw close up look at the ups and downs of an indie developer
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We met Richard Cook on the floor at PAX East 2013, where he chatted with us about his game, Pro Janitor Police. What was a bit unusual about the encounter was that he also wanted a video of us to include in his upcoming documentary about the real life of an indie developer.

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Early mornings, second jobs, empty refrigerators and empty bank accounts are all unflinchingly captured as the now finished Pixels and Polygon documentary depicts the day to day struggles of a man creating games because he’s compelled to, not because he’s compensated for it. (Be warned, there’s a lot of cursing. If you can’t handle a veritable minefield of F bombs, you’ll want to get the censored version.)

The video covers Richard’s personal experiences interspersed with interviews from folks like John Holmes of Destructoid, Amy White (yep, that’s me – check out my sweet ALOT mug at 12:30 in) of GameSkinny, Anthony Drummond and Daniel Worley. 

We caught up with Richard after release to discuss a few key questions about his creation, and about the industry at large.


What do you think is the most important factor in determining whether or not someone will create a successful game?

Richard: I think [there’s an] idea that you have to simply work hard all the time to succeed, which I rarely have seen any progression in my own career from. I’m more of the mindset that working smart is a way to… make less rigorous, but more calculated decisions that help you get to places faster and with broader appeal instead of droning in the same direction, just “hoping” someone will notice how hard you’re working.

As far as the game goes, the most important factor to it’s success is the branding. In the sense that this is more than just a game, the characters, and the atmosphere of the game need to expand beyond what’s on the screen. When you have that, it doesn’t leave a players mind even after the game is over.


If you could say one thing to the head of the major game studios, what would it be?

Richard: Pay attention to the little guy. It’s as simple as that. The fact that indie games have risen up rapidly needs to be acknowledged, because these are the same guys who had to deal with the glass ceiling when making an attempt at a AAA position. [Indie devs] have talent, and they deserve to be recognized as [talented], and not as a “hiring risk.” The big guys have the pull, but they have come a long ways from many of their “humble beginnings.” That needs to change.


What advice would you give to someone who wants to make games?

Richard: On my YouTube channel Gamestarr Arts, I actually provide free ZBrush training videos, and free industry advice videos for aspiring developers. I did this because it was my understanding that I needed to expand my creativity into something more than just a single role. I’ve seen a lot of people get locked into a specific role and get trapped in the thinking that there is only one road to success. I started out as a 3D character artist, and I struggled with that for almost 5 years before realizing that I could apply my creativity in many different ways, and that I could get myself in front of those important decision makers that way, and the last year has been nothing short of amazing as far as my self improvement.

The point being, always keep your mind open to different paths. You can still do what you love and find many ways to make it work.


What lead you to create Pixels and Polygons?

Richard: I came up with the idea to the film when I starting making a developer diary around December 2012. At this point, I had seen the success of “Indie Game: The Movie”, and noticed the interest in gaming was coming from a much broader standpoint now and that in the documentary film world, it was a largely untapped genre. That led me to chronicle my teams journey to PAX, as with it being one of gaming’s biggest stages, I knew it would be an opportunity to tell a story about the unwavering “starving artist” who won’t stop fighting for what he wants. I feel like I captured a lot of what people outside games do not see typically, when they think of us “game designers” as always having a “lucrative career”. It’s tough to be in a position where you have every ambition to succeed, but no one really knows how bad it can be, except you. I strive to show that in this film.


The Pixels and Polygons site has a lot of free options for viewing the video, as well as some special editions that Richard is selling to help fund his game development efforts.

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Amy White
Former Editor in Chief at GameSkinny. I am the Gray Fox. Questions, comments, feedback? Bring it. Amy.White (at)