I graduated with a degree in Animation from Savannah College of Art and Design. Still, I found I needed context for what I was animating, so I fell strongly into illustration and backgrounds. That paved the way for my first job in game development, crafting hidden object games for social audiences. A combined love of Illustration and Animation drew me into Art Direction and eventually into Game Design and Math once I moved to the slot world. That was where I met through mutual contacts our future partners, and we decided it was a great idea and time to start a brand new venture.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with inspiring projects, people, and even clientele over the years, working with Microsoft, Disney, Aristocrat, and even NASA. I met my wife Emily while both working in the slot industry and eventually moved to Las Vegas, where we now have a hilariously social one-year-old boy.
What methodologies or frameworks do you use to oversee the development of Munition Mine from concept to completion?
A unique amalgamation of Agile and Waterfall has been my principal direction. It’s tough because successful games always have one central experience that drives the fun, but you can’t develop those elements in a bubble. Add in the human equation, and it’s nearly impossible to predict exactly when something is ‘done.’ We build a schedule with enough buffer to explore certain avenues and allow for flexibility around the myriad of unknowns that come with building slot machines.
How do you stay creative and innovative in an industry that’s constantly evolving?
Surprisingly, it’s quite easy; I love being a part of the slot industry. It’s not where I may have intended my career to go, but once I fell into it, I don’t see myself ever leaving.
Many other industries have productions that span 3-4 years, and that can be hard for a variety of reasons. Because the slot landscape is always evolving, it’s nice to have the ability to respond to market changes and needs. The slot world is much more forgiving in that we can test interesting combinations of themes and mechanics inspired by anything from pop culture, music, our own life travels, etc.
It doesn’t hurt that the momentum of the industry is evolutionary as a whole. You can be inspired by all of the new content, mechanics, or combinations of gameplay and theme, traditional or innovative.
All in all, slot games are much like how we choose what we eat. Sometimes, you just want a comforting home-cooked meal you’ve had 1000 times, and sometimes, you want to try a new restaurant. As game-makers, we get to craft all sorts of recipes for players to try.
What are some of the unique or innovative features you’ve implemented in Munition Mine?
Hold and Spin has been a huge part of the industry for nearly ten years. It was important that our inaugural launch title address this, not just because it’s wildly popular but because it’s a great foundation for us to start building in our own little sandbox.
One of the limitations of current design trends is that Hold and Spin symbols tend to be fixed prizes; many new games are trying ways to evolve that with collectors or other instant pay mechanics. I wanted to try something just a bit new where every spot has the potential to either continue time in the feature or improve to monstrous proportions. So, as a player, it doesn’t matter if I have one value symbol or an entire field of them; it creates a different experience naturally with each configuration.
How do you balance creative innovation with market trends and player expectations?
Not easily, I’ll say that much. Market trends can be a red herring or a tsunami we need to swim with. Ultimately, it boils down to whether the player can understand how a game functions. Slot players have a wealth of games to play with and experience, so being new isn’t a guarantee of success, just as being predictable isn’t a guarantee of failure.
For me, it starts with the team. We try our best to foster a place where all ideas are welcome and actively encouraged. We have so much fun crafting ideas as a team at our weekly meeting, where we brainstorm a tidal wave of themes and mechanics. Some of those have potential, and some just make us laugh at the outrageousness of it. Either way, we can’t wait to share both with our players.
In regards to gameplay, synergy in mechanics and theme help to anticipate natural gameplay evolutions and present questions that create an engaging back-and-forth experience as they explore each feature or bonus.
When we create new mechanics, they go through tons of iteration and polish to ensure it really is clear to the player how the feature works and what is important to track. Sometimes, a new theme is enough, something the player hasn’t seen before, but we have to balance that against the mechanics it’s paired with. In the end, new themes and new mechanics can be an overwhelming experience.
Ultimately, some of our ideas have to be put on the shelf for later dates or never leave the workshop. It’s just the nature of being creative.
How do you approach designing games that not only attract players but also keep them engaged over the long term?
I’m obsessed with making it clear where a game’s potential is. It’s not enough to put jackpots on top of a game, so there’s the promise of a good win somewhere. If we can craft some synergy of mechanics, it becomes possible for the player to understand when explosive payouts come.
I generally start by figuring out the experience we want to craft. Is it a challenging experience that’s very hit or miss or a long, slow ride where it pays out consistently but in small increments? We then determine if we need to steer into the skid and amplify the experience or dial it back. For me, this frequently comes when we pair the theme alongside a design or math model we are confident in. Visually, the game can promise an aggressive experience or, on the other side of the spectrum, a fun, light-hearted, and more predictable experience.
Just like a writer creating characters, eventually, it takes a life of its own, and the game or our game starts to tell you what it needs. As long as players are having fun playing, we’ve done our jobs well.
What are the upcoming trends or technologies in the gaming industry, and how might they impact the creative direction of future projects?
I think the biggest impact on our industry will be the wide accessibility of gambling and, more specifically, mobile gaming as it opens in more and more US jurisdictions. Mechanically, we’ve not seen huge changes since the widespread success of Hold and Spin features or Cash Value symbols. That’s not to say the industry is stagnating, but I think many are feeling like the next big thing is just around the corner.
So that starts at home, playing slots and finding inspiration from every avenue of the entertainment landscape. Following your internal compass is more likely to lead you to something new than following the crowd.
What is next for Powderkeg Studios?
We have two games going into certification this week: a tumbling reels-style game and a traditional style lines game. With another seven more titles in various stages of production. In short, a lot. Our team is adding new minds and, importantly, new viewpoints every couple of weeks. But I can say I’ve never been more excited to collaborate with such a hungry, fun, and creative team!