22 year-old Dan Pearce's CV will make many developers weep with jealousy.
In 2010, at the age of just 16, he was awarded the BAFTA Young Game Designer prize; just three years later he was chosen as one of the organisation's Breakthrough Brits.
It was really strange,” Pearce says. Every single time I did anything with BAFTA I kept thinking ‘okay, this is the last time so I'll make the most of it' so I'd always talk to everyone and try and take advantage of the opportunity as best I could. I keep being involved with BAFTA and I'm terrified of the day that they go: ‘nope, we're done with you now'.”
Part of Pearce's prize for winning the BAFTA Young Game Designer was spending a week with EA's now-defunct Bright Light studio, which was then developing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. And his experience there put him off the triple-A scene.
Everyone there was happy and treated me quite nicely but no-one was making what they wanted to make,” Pearce explains.
The people making that game went on straight afterwards to make Alien Isolation and absolutely nailed it. That's what that team can do when they were given the time and the budget to do it. It was heartbreaking to see all that talent go to waste by being given such short development times and such small budgets. It terrified me that I could be doing my absolute best and still put out a really bad game because someone higher up didn't do their job properly. That terrified me.”
After finishing school, Pearce attended a Game Design course at the University of Westminster. But by this point he was close to finishing two video games – Ten Second Ninja and Castles in the Sky – so opted to leave and go indie. But that sector has changed a lot in the last few years.
The indie dream of going it alone, working right down to the last penny, putting your work out there and doing it all alone is not possible anymore,” Pearce explains. You could have done that in 2012 or 2013, but unless you have a lot of experience that is tremendously difficult now.”
He continues: There's been a big surge of people who decided to go indie after [2012 documentary] Indie Game: The Movie. A lot of that seems to be people who saw the movie and thought ‘I can do that'. That movie came out when the indie movement was having the biggest peak it will ever have, this massive surge of developers making cool and interesting games on a budget. And it didn't even need to be hugely polished, people were buying it anyways. People are moaning about the indieapocalypse because that was what indie was and they weren't recognising it for what it was: the biggest peak that style of game development has ever had. The truth of the matter is this is exactly what indie is most of the time. This is why publishers exist.”
"It terrified me that I could be doing my absolute best and still put out a really bad game because someone higher up didn't do their job properly."
Since leaving university, Pearce has released the two aforementioned games. And right now he is working on a new and updated version of Ten Second Ninja entitled Ten Second Ninja X.
I got into the indie scene around 2012/2013, when you could release something that was a little bit rough around the edges, but so long as it had a good core then it was fine and people were accepting of that,” he explains. I feel like around the start of 2014 when Ten Second Ninja came out, that was starting to go away and you were starting getting indies releasing their second games that were a lot more polished. On a narrative level we were a little bit cheap with our ideas. I don't want to make good games; I want to make great games. Ten Second Ninja was a great game and I couldn't let that go just because it was the most visible game that I have yet published. And I want Ten Second Ninja X to take its place because we're only a few months out from releasing it and I genuinely believe it's a great game."
I'm so proud of it and it feels like what the first game should have been.”