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I heard about Podunk Studioz a few months ago whilst looking for some female gamer related news. For some reason a post of theirs was flagged to me, so I went and read it and I thought, I like what these guys are trying to do. Essentially 19 year old Dusty had decided to get into indie game programming with his friends and was giving a percentage of all sales to an MS charity, because his mom had succumbed to the disease some years ago. Podunk struck me as one of those old-skool bedroom programmers and I like that there is still this sort of grassroots movement in gaming, for without the likes of Jeff Minter, Jon Ritman and that ilk, we wouldn’t have the games we have today.
I decided to throw Podunk Studioz an interview op and they grabbed on with both hands. This is a bit of an insight into what it’s like to try and get your indie game studio off the ground and it has a nice ‘mom’ tie-in.
Q: Who are the Podunk team?
Podunk: The Podunk team is made up of 3 guys, Dusty (age 19) is our Game Director, Lead Programmer and Founder, Jake (age 21) is our Art Director and Co-Founder. Finally there’s Paul (age 19), he is our Music Director as well as our Community Manager.
Q: Where are you based?
Podunk: We are currently based out of two locations actually, Jake and Dusty are currently working out of Menomonie, Wisconsin, whilst Paul – who is still in high school – is currently still working out of Grantsburg, Wisconsin. The hope is to move Paul down with the rest of the team.
Q: If studying, is it game dev related?
Podunk: Dusty and Jake are currently enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Stout in the Game Design and Development program, while it is currently unknown where Paul intends to go to school, it is believed he will be going to school for music.
Q: How / Why did you get started?
Dusty: Well, the why is the easy part, I have known what I have wanted to do since I was ten. I always knew I wanted to make video games and Jake and I knew we always wanted to work for ourselves.
Now for when we got started. The reason behind that was my mom, she passed away five years ago from complications due to multiple sclerosis and when that happened something in me changed. I had always talked about starting a studio in like ten years or so after I had my degree and some industry experience, but after watching my mom struggle and fight her illness, I knew I couldn’t let anything hold me back. My mom was the first and only person who was really a champion of myself and Jake, saying that we could do anything, if we were willing to work for it, so I took the idea for starting the studio two years ago.
The how we got started is actually t-shirt related. When we had the idea that we wanted to start the studio, we knew that we needed some start up cash, then one day I said something to Jake along the lines of ‘that should be on a t-shirt’. Often as things do around here, that snowballed into something bigger and bigger until it got to the point where we realized we needed to make a website so people could see our shirts and buy them. We even had a whole different company planned out. We were going to be Shamrock Shirts and we had a whole business model worked out, and for about half a year that was what our plan was.
The actual game studio still didn’t have a name, it wasn’t until one night I got the idea for the name Podunk, and I told Jake I had come up with the name and then I thought about it and I realized that if we were going to have a website, why not sell our games right on that. I already had a game that I had been working on in my spare time, so we already had a product and we actually started the game studio sooner than we had even planned.
We launched the site on January 4, 2010, at the time we had like two videos. People needed to buy our game with a PayPal button and I would email them the full game file, it was not a well thought out business plan, the first year was kind of rough, but that’s how all first years are. We learned from our mistakes and started getting in contact with the right people re-launched the site, started producing our own original content in a seasonal format and then late this past summer we released our first game and it’s now just snowballing from there.
Q: What are your plans?
Podunk: We aren’t a big planning company, we are firm believers in the idea that ‘yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery’, the plan for the time being is to keep doing what we are doing. We enjoy what we do, we enjoy making our show “Gamer’s Classroom” and writing our 8-Bit Podunk Comics, as well as doing our Freewired podcast. We also really enjoy making games, we are a much more goal minded company instead of a planning one, our short term goals are to expand to our games beyond the PC. Right now we are targeting moving to the iPhone, but we are also looking into XBLA. We also would really like to see one of our games get reviewed by a gaming site, a longer term goal is within the next five years have one of our games win an award, then our biggest goal is one for our ‘Get something for Giving Something’ program which is the charity program we started in honor of the late Lynn Ryan to help raise money for Multiple sclerosis treatment and research. We do this by donating a portion of each sale of every one of our games to the National MS Society, our goal is – for over the lifetime of this program – to try and raise 10 million dollars for multiple sclerosis research and treatment,
Q: Do you intend for Podunk to be a career?
Podunk: Absolutely, it was always planned to be a career. In the past year it has gone from being a side project to being our main career.
Q: Any new projects on the cards?
Podunk: The Newest project we have announced is going to be a point and click adventure game based on characters from our 8-bit Podunk series. The game is going to be called “Jay and Dee: Gone in a Flash” and it is set to be around a 60-90 minute long game that we are going to be releasing as a flash game. While that is the only one we have formally announced, we are always working on smaller projects some of which may turn into much larger games.
Q: What are your views on gender equality in the game space?
Podunk: We firmly believe that anyone can do what anyone else can no matter their gender, race, creed or color. No matter what aspect of gaming – whether making or playing games – the only thing that can determine skill level is how much time a person spends playing a game or working on a game. Anyone can be successful and who they are shouldn’t matter.
Q: What is the Podunk team’s favorite games of all time (pick 3-5 each on ANY format, NOT a Podunk game
Ratchet & Clank 1
God of War 2
Assassins Creed 2
Star Wars Battlefront 2
Sly Cooper 1
“Ratchet & Clank” was actually the game that made me start thinking of game design as a career. The first game I ever actually designed was a game a lot like “Ratchet & Clank”, it may yet see life someday. “God of War 2″ is – to me – the perfect game, it is the perfect mix of great gameplay, story, puzzles and made the Director Cory Barlog my hero. The story of “Assassins Creed 2″ always gets me and it was such a vast improvement over the first game. I don’t know how many hours Jake and I spent playing “Battlefront 2″. Lastly “Sly Cooper” is on this list for a couple reasons, because it’s a great game and it was the first one I ever beat, also because it was a Christmas present from my mom.
Super Mario Bros
Mortal Kombat 2
Dragon Age Origins
“Super Mario Bros.” because it was the first game I ever got, “MK 2″ because me, Dusty and all our cousins would spend every family get together crammed into this tiny room and play it for hours and hours and everytime, someone would get a ‘finish him’, they would throw the controller to one of our older cousins because they could do the fatality moves. “Doom 2″ because it was the game that got me into first person shooters and I blame it for my obsession with “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield”. “Dragon Age Origins” was the first RPG I could stand playing for more than a few minutes because it allowed me to feel like I was in control and not at the mercy of some angry programmer. Lastly ‘Sports Games’ because I go insane when I can’t play them physically because it gets too cold up here they give me an outlet to play them when they are not in season.
Elder Scrolls IV
Street fighter 2
“Fallout”, “Elder Scrolls” and “Borderlands” because I love being able to make my character a bad ass and then just dominating. I also love the look and feel of these games and the fantastic worlds they create. “Sunset Riders” and “Street fighter 2″ are games I grew up with and love.
Q: What advice would you give to other people wanting to start their own indie game studio?
Podunk: Our advice is you have to be fearless and be unafraid to try things, whether it is a game idea or trying to get in contact with gaming sites or publishers. The worst thing you are going to hear is “no” and while no stinks, it has never killed anyone. If you’re going to start a studio, have an idea for a product and go for it, there is a good chance some people won’t like your idea, but there will be people who do like it and will support it. Every game has an audience, your job is to find your game’s audience. Also get in contact with and bring in the right people, let them take care of the headaches you don’t want to, you don’t have to do everything yourself.
One final piece of advice if you are an indie studio or starting one, it is a great idea to get in contact with the people at GameStreamers they are one of the best online distributors and they are some of the nicest people to work with. They will walk you step by step through the process of getting you on their network and they really care about the indie developers on their network. Also get in contact with other studios, they can help you out, we invite anyone starting a studio to get in contact with us and we will do our best to help you out.
Q: What titles have you made and where are they available?
Podunk: Our titles include “Rainbow Ball” a fun strategic twist on the brick breaking genre and it is available through any GameStreamer online store for the PC.
Thumb Bandits would like to thank Podunk Studioz for their time. Good luck guys, keep up the good work.
Podunk Studios “Rainbow Ball” game is available HERE. Or via their website.
You can also connect with the guys on Twitter (Dusty and Jake, though Jake doesn’t appear to use Twitter much) and the Podunk Facebook page.