Hello everyone, and thank you for joining us for another Learner Success Story! Today we have Joshua Adam Villarreal with us, an experienced game developer with Continuum Studio and his own indie studio PSI Games.
We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us, Joshua. You have studied and worked with games for several years, so can you tell us what first drew you to game development?
Thank you for your time as well! I got started with game development at a young age. I can vaguely remember making up my own pen and paper type of games and playing them with friends. Even when video games came out, I tried making things related to what I would play and do my best to translate it to paper. That was the start of it, but it didn’t really hit me until middle school during an after school program where we were taught how to program and how to use Flash. The first game I made was a brick break out clone, and it blew my mind and opened a long hallway of doors that I’m still running through.
With all the experience you have, we’re humbled that our courses helped out with your career and passion. Can you tell us more specifically about how the courses here at Zenva helped you, especially in terms of supplementing what you studied in school?
With how many courses there were to go through and choose from, not only was I able to reinforce the things I’ve learned either myself of through school, but I was also able to immediately apply those learned skills to something tangible to keep me going and stay motivated. When it comes to other skills that I’ve learned through Zenva, such as modeling for example, it has helped me work better with the 3D artists that I’m working or worked with. It really helped me understand what they go through and how to identify the format and dimensions needed for a project.
Let’s talk a bit about your work with Continuum Studio. Can you tell us a bit about the projects you’ve worked on with them and what sort of insights you’ve gained from working on the projects?
Working with Continuum Studio has been the greatest experience I’ve had as far as working with an indie game studio. What brought me to work with them is their stance on fusing fun and learning in video games. We would generally focus on the gameplay and enjoyability of the game and then inject some learning into it.
The first project that was started was a couch co-op shoot ‘em up called Produce Panic. It was a game where you take control of a potato named Sargent Spud as you traverse your world combating zombified vegetables. The goal that Continuum wanted to hit with this game was to get people thinking about GMOs and take it to an extreme to make it seem entertaining.
The next project was Chromagic, a puzzle platformer that helps with color theory by having the player mix and match colors to solve puzzles as they paint the levels they are currently playing. We’re also considering implementing a color-blind mode where you can turn on a filter for a type of color blindness and still be able to play the game, as well as show others what being color blind could mean and how it affects things.
Then, the latest project I’ve worked on is a racing game that was designed to help stroke victims regain some of their motor skills in their lower arms and wrists by using a proprietary controller.
It’s clear that Continuum Studio’s projects involve some aspects of gamification, which we know you’re quite passionate about. Can you tell us what you like about the concept and why you think it’s important to game development?
Gamification first struck me as very interesting when I learned about it from the internet show, Extra Credits, and then later experienced it for myself in college during a programming course and another time when I was applying for Red Cross certification. I feel like the best application of gamification would be towards learning – or as a sort of supplement – to physical therapy. With what I experienced with the Red Cross, everything was portrayed like minigames. The most prominent one I remember is the one used for CPR where it was a sort of Dance Dance Revolution type of minigame to help you memorize the correct rhythm you need when resuscitating someone.
Gamification is also the main reason why I joined up with Continuum Studio, I wanted to make something that could show people the benefit of making learning more interactive and engaging. I feel like with gamification we can have people learn skills while having an easier time doing it. So really, long story short, I believe it can help learn and retain information if done correctly and as a supplement to additional courses of action.
We appreciate your insights into the matter and hope your work with Continuum Studio goes well! Of course, besides their studio, you also have your own studio, PSI Games, through which you’re making a 2D stealth Platformer. Can you tell us more about this project and the sorts of challenges your studio has had as an indie developer?
The game we’re making is named Agent Silhouette. It’s a 2D stealth platformer where the player takes control of Agent Silhouette as he traverses the world obtaining knowledge and fighting the evil organization that is trying to take control of the world. This is our first passion project that we’re always talking about and checking various ways we can improve upon the initial idea. The original idea actually started out as a student project and now has evolved into becoming a fully-fledged project.
The main challenge we faced as a studio is obtaining feedback on what we’re working on. This is the reason why we started looking into going to various conventions, streaming online, and spreading the demo of the game around as much as we can. We love the small audience we have obtained since we started the project and are always asking for ways to improve our project and implement said feedback as soon as we are able to.
We’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on Agent Silhouette, as we can’t wait to see it released!
In the wake of all your game development projects, you also teach game design at ID Tech every summer, stream on Twitch, and even participate in game jams. How do all these things help you personally as a game developer?
When it comes to teaching, It helps me keep up with current development practices and engines. There were a few times where I was asked to teach a subject that I hadn’t touched in a while, so it sort of forces me to continue doing research on various things.
Twitch and game jams are what I use to strengthen my current abilities, obtain feedback, or build relationships within the community. Streaming is the best way I find to get opinions or feedback on what you’re currently working on, whether it’s a standard project or a game jam game. It feels great to hear from others as you are developing.
It’s almost the same for game jams. I find them great for taking your mind off of any current project problems and to just let loose and have some fun making something short and sweet. I also use them to test out newly learned skills, like if I want to see how I’ve improved on the art side of things without having to touch or worry about code. Game jams are also a great way to make friends in the industry.
It looks like we’re running out of time, Joshua, so let’s finish this interview off with one last question. What is your advice to other indie game developers in general for developing games, getting into the industry, or adapting to concepts like gamification?
Embrace the dreams you have, whether you’re just entering, or you have been working on a passion project for however long. We all need a dream or future goal to keep us going along whatever path we decide to take. Another thing if you’re starting out is to keep your first few projects small. It’ll help you learn a lot about the development process. I’m also free to answer questions and give advice on my Twitter or you can catch me on my stream (I stream Tuesdays, Thursdays, and the weekend), and I’ll be more than glad to help in any way I can.
That’s all the time we have for this Learner Success Story. A huge thank you to Joshua for taking the time to interview with us and share a wealth of game development experience and information!