Here is part 2 of my reflections on my experiences at Wahoo Studios in Utah. You can find Part 1 here. Please read, enjoy, comment, complain, whatever moves you.
As of now, the NinjaBee game-making Hydra has three announced projects: Band of Bugs (for Xbox Live Arcade), Saga (for the PC), and Space Station Tycoon (for the Wii). In addition to that they are always looking for their next Wahoo project and simultaneously trying to decide which of their own crazy ideas they would like to use for the next NinjaBee game. They are extraordinarily busy right now, but they are not invincible. Like all game developers they have their share of cancellations and setbacks.
Let me expand the Hydra metaphor even further (don’t you hate it when I do that?). If you know anything about Hercules and his twelve labors, you might remember that he faced the many-headed Learnaean Hydra. Upon drawing the Hydra from its lair, Hercules lopped off one of the Hydra’s many heads but was dismayed to discover two growing back in its place. And it is this irrepressible spirit that can be found in the mythical NinjaBee Hydra as well.
With each canceled game and with each certification delay (XBLA cert is not nearly as easy as most forum trolls would have you believe), the Hydra grows two more ideas, two more reasons to move forward. Of course, it is never easy for them to swallow these setbacks. I even get a strong protective sense from Steve about his employees. He would hate for them to suffer if NinjaBee stumbled. But there is no time for agonizing over what might happen. New ideas must be imagined. Projects must be fostered. Work must continue. And continue it does.
As I was introduced around the office I felt a focused calm about the place. Tests were run, bugs were fixed, sketches were made, models were built, design choices were tweaked, but missing was that frenetic energy or the insane crunch hours you hear described in development horror stories.
In talking to people around the office I began to grasp a certain humanity among all the computers and wires. Wahoo lacks the cold hardness of a major publisher. These people contribute to the creation process actively and not as mere cogs in a great machine. In meetings they quickly offer to collaborate with each other to move their projects forward. They get excited by the progress of individual members of the team (you should’ve heard the team buzz in a meeting when Shawn Boyles dropped the name of a Space Station Tycoon character he was finally set to sketch that day). They work sane hours as a rule. Of course, there might be an occasional, necessary exception but I never spotted any shackles at the workstations. This company lives and breathes and succeeds not despite this humanity but because of it.