Breaking Into Making Games: Matthew Hall

Today’s guest post comes from KlickTock founder Matthew Hall, creator of Doodle Find and Little Things.

I can identify with Matt’s feeling that he came to the industry too late — that the “golden age of the bedroom coder” had passed him by. That’s exactly how I felt in 1982, when I’d had my Apple II for four years — since age 14 — and still hadn’t managed to get a game published. While other programmers produced hits like Space Eggs and Alien Rain, I could feel the window of opportunity closing, and kicked myself for having taken so long to get my act together.

As Matt and I can both attest, the brass ring comes around more than once.

Matthew Hall established KlickTock in 2009 from a sheep farm in rural Australia. A veteran of the Australian game development industry, Matthew started programming games at the age of seven.

I met Jordan at GDC earlier this year. I’d recently attended his postmortem of Prince of Persia and ran into him in the halls. We talked about developing games at that time and our own game development histories. However, given Jordan is quite famous and you probably have never heard of me before — what went wrong?

I am only a few years younger than Jordan. Just like he received his first computer, an Apple II in 1978, I received my Commodore 64 in 1983. I programmed games throughout my childhood, but by the time I was able to produce a professional quality game — the golden age of the bedroom coder was over. My 8-bit heroes had moved onto 16-bit and found themselves struggling. The industry had passed to the hands of those with big cheques and bigger teams.

Instead of producing a hit title in my bedroom — as I was always hoping to — I developed homebrew titles for the newly released Game Boy Advance. Nintendo would never allow garage developers like myself access to their development kits, so I used one of the many “flash-kit” solutions available on the black market. As an unlicensed developer I had to release all my titles for free; hardly untold riches! Regardless, I am proud of my titles even if only a handful of people were ever able to enjoy them.

My portfolio of titles and expertise in new hardware allowed me to get a professional game development job. But after 8 years of doing thankless work-for-hire, I eventually came to the conclusion that I had to leave my paid jobs and strike out on my own if I ever wanted to make a game I was truly proud of. I left my job just as the App Store was launching, though I had no idea it was going to change my life.

Little Things was released a year later. Though it was initially a failure on PC, it was featured by Apple as the iPad App of the Week and I’ve had similar chart-topping success with my other iOS games.

Finally the games industry had come full circle, once again empowering a lone developer with a stable platform, low cost of entry, excellent engines and tools available on the market, and a direct line to customers hungry for more games.

So I have a few pieces of advice for those with a passion for games and a notebook full of game ideas:

1. Head out to the store and pick yourself up a Macbook and an iPod. You’ve now got the top of the line development system used by every iOS developer in the world! No need to call a console manufacturer and beg them to allow you to drop thousands of dollars on a single dev kit.

2. Now, for the game engine! From popular open-source solutions like Cocos2D to powerful 3D engines like Unity 3D the choice is yours. If learning to code is too much at first, there’s even Stencyl, which allows you to develop games with a visual interface.

3. When I was a kid, if I got stuck on a problem, I got STUCK. I was a 14 year old kid programming games from a farm in rural Australia. Who was I going to call? Jordan Mechner? I may as well just call Steven Spielberg for film-making advice. The Internet has completely changed programming and if you find yourself with a problem you can’t seem to solve, most likely someone has already solved it for you. With Google around, programming is much less scary.

The most amazing part of this new golden age is that you don’t have to be #1 to be successful. Everyone knows that Angry Birds has had over 200,000,000 downloads. You may not have ever heard of my games, but Doodle Find has had over 2,000,000 downloads and Little Things has sold over 125,000 units. I’m ecstatic with the success I’ve had so far and I hope the best is yet to come. Most importantly, I only need to support myself — not a large company renting an expensive office in a central business district.

I’m beyond grateful to have found myself in the right place at the right time… finally.

Posted on Sep 15, 2011 in Blog, Games, Guest Post, Making Games | 6 comments


  1. 9-15-2011

    The first game I ever wrote was a text adventure in BASIC on a TRS-80 that my dad threw at me because he couldn’t figure it out. My career in game design ended there as other interests like sports and music stole my attention. But, I’ve always managed to keep a design “journal” of sorts, cataloging my ideas and fleshing out the rules and flow. In my opinion, the biggest barrier is not coding but art.

    • 9-17-2011

      Artwork *rubs chin* – that’s a fascinating issue. I’d never done art professionally before I bought myself a Wacom to start on Little Things. I mean, I’d drawn when I was a kid, but just doodles here and there. The 10 mosaics I put together for Little Things are my first published works. Looking back, I’m pretty shocked at what I was able to achieve, and I think – picking up a pen and drawing – isn’t quite so scary a proposition. If I can do it, probably everyone can.

      In addition have many instances in my game development career where I’d tried to contribute artwork to projects and was told not to. In one work-for-hire horror story, I was deliberately not invited to art meetings for fear I’d “contribute”.

      • 9-20-2011

        Thanks for sharing that, Matthew – gives me some hope!

  2. 9-15-2011

    Glad to hear your persistence paid off, Matt. Congratulations! Within the last year and a half, I finally got around to reviving my own indie game development efforts. I can totally relate to getting stuck on coding problems and giving up when I was younger. Now, thanks to the web, school, and experience, I’m finally on the verge of finally finishing a project I started over 10 years ago. Maybe the current indie renaissance can partially be explained by a cohort of driven-but-only-recently-becoming-skilled-enough developers :)

  3. 10-20-2011

    I just want to let you know that your story inspired me even more. I’m in a similar situation as you were during your younger years. Just like you, I’m a budding game developer in a world where technology seems to be moving forward faster than I could handle them. Actually, I’ve been out of the computer industry for over a decade, ever since I graduated from college due to real life horrible situations.

    I had no money to further pursue education in game development. Game development to me is something that I always wanted to do as a child. The very first moment I held a Famicom (the Japanese version of NES) controller and an Atari joystick and made things move on the screen, I already knew that it was something that I wanted to do when I grow up. My friends and I would dream of becoming “President of Nintendo” to make all sorts of games. As kids, we had no idea what really happens behind the creation of a game.

    Just a couple of months back, after being quite unhappy with how life was going and with all the horrible economic situations we’re having here in the US, I decided to re-educate myself on my own. I realized that in the internet age, we can just try to learn by ourselves. It’s not the same as going to school, but then again there are lots of resources and experienced veteran game developers who give out great advice in the digital world.

    Fortunately, just like you pointed out in your article, I found out about the Unity engine. I studied C# programming right away and learned it (well not yet at pro level but I’m continuing to learn) since according to experienced Unity game developers, C# is the most powerful language to use in C# (Unity always takes in javascript and Boo).

    I actually almost lost all hope in pursuing a career as a game developer when the 3D era of games began. Without the internet, I probably wouldn’t know how to model and animate things, I definitely agree that the internet has changed how accessible game development has become for everyone.

    About the Mac and Iphones, yeah, they are something that any game developer would like to sell games on. I really admire those accomplished game developers who have been able to release games for the PC, Mac, and Iphone and earned positive response to their games. Too bad I can’t afford to buy a Mac or an Iphone. If ever I get to sell my games, I’m definitely going to invest in buying the Mac and Iphone so that my games wouldn’t be limited for the PC only. I’m lucky that a special friend of mine already took care of an audio device that I need to compose music and sound effects :)

    I’m very happy that you finally found success in your game development career! You inspire me to keep on learning and trying to make that awesome game that I want everyone in the world to love and play. I hope your story empowers those who truly love creating games and pull them up and away from that horrible darkness of helplessness.

    • 2-15-2012

      Thanks Adeno! Since writing the article I’ve moved to Unity 3D (and C#) myself. I feel like I’m having to relearn everything all over again… C’est la vie.

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