The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild sounds like an organization where scientists might gather to stare into telescopes. In fact, Quantum is a 6-year-old Seattle video game company — a shining star, if you will, among small independent studios.
Ty Taylor, our latest Geek of the Week, is the founder and creator responsible for the success of the studio, which has put out two of the most award-winning and highly rated independent video games in the world: “The Bridge” and “Tumblestone.”
Taylor graduated from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, earning both a BS and MS in Computer Science in only four years.
“After university I immediately started working at Microsoft as an engineer on the Xbox One speech recognition team,” Taylor said. “But while working my 40-hour weekdays at Microsoft, I was also working 40-hour night and weekends to create my own games on the side.”
Taylor kept that up for three years, eventually shipping his first game, “The Bridge,” in 2013 while still at Microsoft.
“I was immediately making more money from the sales of this game than my Microsoft salary, so I decided to leave that company to grow my own,” Taylor said.
“In just the three years since leaving, Quantum has earned over a million dollars in gross revenue and has grown from just me to over a dozen contributors to the projects, selling copies of our games in every country in the world digitally, as well as creating physical discs that have been sold in Toys R Us, Target, and Best Buy.”
The latest creation is the action-puzzle game “Tumblestone,” which just had it’s mobile launch on Monday.
Learn more abut this week’s Geek of the Week, Ty Taylor:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “I make independent video games. Unlike major “AAA” games like “Call of Duty” or “Skyrim,” which have millions of dollars of budget and hundreds of people working on them, independent games are created by very small teams with very limited budgets. Like most indie game developers, I started creating them as passion projects. Playing video games was always a hobby of mine growing up, and I’ve always enjoyed building things, so creating games is something that I naturally gravitated towards. But starting out, I didn’t view making independent games to be a sustainable job, especially with AAA competitors who have more marketing budget to spend on a single commercial than an entire indie game’s budget. But once Steam (Valve’s digital PC game distribution platform) started to become popular, the ability to make money on a game that I created by myself in my living room on evenings and weekends suddenly became possible. And that’s exactly what I did when I released “The Bridge” early in 2013. That enabled me to leave Microsoft and grow my own company. We’ve recently released our second game, “Tumblestone,” which is one of the highest-rated independent games on Metacritic.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “A big misconception is that game developers spend all day playing video games. In fact, it’s quite the opposite — over the past 12 years that I’ve been making games, my desire to regularly play them has dropped significantly. As a designer, I will play my own game, but only very specific sections of it as I’m designing, developing, and testing the product. There are so many people whose response when I tell them that I’m a game developer is ‘that must be the most fun job ever.’ Well, it might be a cool and interesting job, but with over 80 hours a week put into the job, spending years on the same project, and sacrificing sleep and sanity at times to finish a project, the job transitions from ‘fun’ to ‘obsession’ very quickly.
Where do you find your inspiration? “For game ideas, I find much more inspiration in art and the world around me than I do from other games. I like all of my creations to be very original — since with so many games releasing every year, it’s important to stand out from the crowd. With that said, I prefer to look outside of the world of video games for inspiration. For my first successful game, ‘The Bridge,’ I looked to the works of M.C. Escher. I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘impossible’ realities that he had created, and I’ve always imagined what it would be like to walk around inside of one of his drawings. I created a game that allowed people to do just that, and because I looked towards a medium far removed from video games, I was able to create a unique and somewhat groundbreaking game out of the concept.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “A computer — a device I require to program and produce video games. While I would still be able to answer emails from a smartphone, there’s no way I could create games without a computer. Since that’s my livelihood, I literally could not live without one!”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “I work out of a Seattle-based co-working space called the Indies Workshop, where independent game developers come together to work on their own projects. There are about 25 people in an open office working on their own projects or in small teams — it’s incredibly inspiring and helpful to surround myself with creative and talented people, and even though we’re not working on the same projects, we learn quite a bit from each other just from the lunches and other interactions that we have in the workspace. Plus, it’s in an incredible location in Capitol Hill, near almost all of the game industry events that happen in the Seattle area.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “I used to think that the trick to this was to physically separate my work and my home, only to realize that if I put too much of a workload on myself, I won’t be able to escape it no matter where I am. I’ve found the best way to manage a work/life balance is to not enforce deadlines or other pressures for finishing a task within a certain timeframe. If you don’t feel like working on something at a particular point in time, then don’t, and if you do, then do, regardless of the number of hours you’ve put in that day or week already. This somewhat hedonistic work schedule has allowed me to let go of the stresses of finishing tasks in particular orders or by particular times, and has made me happier, allowed me to work from anywhere and at any time, and made me overall more productive when I am at work.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “While Mac is beautiful and Linux is versatile, Windows is a necessity. When developing games for dozens of systems and using nearly a hundred tools programs in the process, Windows is the only system that really makes sense — plus, as a PC gamer, a large portion of my Steam library is unplayable on anything except for Windows.”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Han Solo. Was I supposed to name a captain from ‘Star Trek?’ I’d rather go to a galaxy far, far away than just within our own.”
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “With a time machine, you could go into the future when a transporter and cloak of invisibility have already been invented, then come back to have all three — easy decision if you blissfully ignore all the paradoxes.”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “This is basically my situation now, minus being given the money in advance. But if tomorrow I were given an additional million, I’d keep doing what I’m doing now, just at a faster and bigger scale. I write down every idea I’ve ever had in a Google Doc, regardless of how good, interesting, or feasible the idea is — I write down everything. And this document is nearly 50 pages of one-paragraph game and app ideas. By myself, I’ll never be able to create everything that I invent, but with a large enough team to delegate to, the dream of bringing all of my ideas to life would be a possibility.”
I once waited in line for … “Before I started creating games full-time, I was a pretty avid console gamer. I’ve definitely waited in line outside of GameStop for midnight releases of a ‘Halo’ or ‘Elder Scrolls’ game.”
Your role models: “I look up to game industry veterans who have started with a vision for a game, built up a company around it, executed well on the idea and design to bring it to life, and have created impactful experiences that have shaped the state of video games. This includes people like Todd Howard, John Carmack, and Jonathan Blow.”
Greatest game in history: “‘Tumblestone!’ … But, I may be biased in that answer, so to name a game that I did not create, I’d have to go with ‘Tetris’ — one of the most-played and most-influential games in the history of computer gaming.”
Best gadget ever: “Smartphones in general. We live in a pretty awesome future with the ability to browse the web, Google something, answer emails, send texts, and play games — all from a relatively small device that fits in your pocket.”
First computer: “A TI-83 calculator, which is technically a computer for how I used it. When I was only 11, before having my own computer at home, I had this calculator for school, and I quickly discovered the ability to program on it and taught myself how to do so. My first video games were created on that little device, before I learned C++ and started coding on real computers years later.”
Current phone: “The Nexus 5X — it’s a great phone for a reasonable price. The best part is that it works with Google Fi, one of the best cell phone plans I’ve ever seen and would highly recommend to anyone.”
Favorite app: “Wabbitemu — a bit of a hidden gem on Android, this allows you to have a fully operational TI-83 calculator in your pocket, giving you the ability to do anything from basic math, to graphing, to programming on your phone. As a software engineer, I use this app almost every day.”
Favorite cause: “There’s a Seattle-based charity called Child’s Play, whose goal is to provide games and toys to sick children in hospitals. Some of the most emotionally impactful emails that I’ve ever received have been from people with serious or painful illnesses who find escapism through games, thanking me for a wonderful distraction. Being able to use video games for so much good, distracting children in hospitals all over the country from their illnesses, is such a rewarding and satisfying feeling.”
Most important technology of 2016: “Advancements in clean energy sources. I think the planet is on a pivoting point for when it’s too late to recover from impacts of burning fossil fuels, and I was happy to see the price of solar panels drop so much in 2016, as well as the more widespread availability of all-electric cars and charging stations.”
Most important technology of 2018: “Advances in self-driving car technology. While it still isn’t perfect, and still won’t quite be in 2018, having completely autonomous vehicles on all the roads will be one of the most impactful ways that computer science and artificial intelligence will have ever helped mankind. Tens of thousands of automobile deaths happen every year, caused by human error, which can be nearly completely avoided in the future with self-driving car technology.”
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “From a creativity and invention standpoint — write down every idea. Even if you have hundreds of ideas that you might never get around to creating. And, as much as possible, prototype those ideas. Build quick proof-of-concepts for your inventions, because when something has potential, you’ll likely know it right away, or you’ll know to abandon the idea and move on to the next one.”
Website: Ty Taylor
LinkedIn: Ty Taylor