Smudged Cat Games fulfilling lifelong dream
When growing up, little kids want to be firefighters, basketball stars or even the President of the Free World. Yet, somewhere along the way, most kids give up on those dreams.
David Johnston wanted to make video games.
“I started messing around with coding and little games as soon as I could reach a keyboard,” said Johnston, founder of Smudged Cat Games. “I had a game for the BBC Micro published in a listings magazine when I was 11 so I really did start early.”
That early start led to the development and release of the Indie Playstation title Timeslip in the late 90s, as well as a job at the previously
independent Rare Studios, who developed the Banjo-Kazooie series and Goldeneye for the N64. However, Johnston’s dream was about to hit a bump in the road.
“I hated it,” Johnston said of his time at Rare. “I got stuck doing tools development rather than games and had to work really long hours. After that I decided I didn’t want to work in the games industry and went between a few different non-games jobs.”
Luckily, Microsoft’s announcement of XNA rekindled Johnston’s interest in game development, and he released the Xbox arcade game The Adventures of Shuggy last year as well as several indie games.
“I formed the company in 2007 after The Adventures of Shuggy reached the top 20 of the Dream Build Play competition,” Johnston said. “I had started to negotiate with publishers, and they needed to deal with a properly formed company rather than an individual.”
From that point, Johnston has released four games on the Xbox indie market. Although Shuggy was the first game Johnston worked on as Smudged Cat Games, it was not actually the first release. He said the original Shuggy had mini-games that the publisher cut from the game. “I thought they had potential so they were re-skinned and released as A Bomb’s Way and The Tower: A Bomb’s Climb on the Xbox Indie Games channel, both of which were actually released before Shuggy.” Since Shuggy was released Smudged Cat Games has released TimeSlip and Growing Pains on XBLIG as well.
A few years after Johnston’s return to game development, he knows both good and bad days are ahead of him.
“It can difficult when things aren’t going so well, and there’s no guarantee of money coming in,” Johnston said. “But I really love the freedom. My son is about a year old now, and it’s great to be working from home and getting to see him grow up rather than only seeing him briefly after work and at weekends.”
That freedom is the driving force behind Smudged Cat Games, as even with the success Johnston had with Shuggy, he has no intentions to drastically expand his studio.
“I’m quite happy developing with just myself and a couple of other people doing artwork and music as I have done for my previous games,” he said. “I don’t have any grand plans to turn into a massive studio with lots of employees. I think at that point it becomes a bit too much like having a 9-5 job again, only probably much harder work.”
He said he just hopes he “can make enough from Gateways to work full time on making another game.” Smudged Cat Games’ fifth title, Gateways, is being released as part of Uprising III. The game draws form the hit puzzle game Portal, but Gateways “goes a few steps beyond Portal though, by adding the different gateway types that let you change size, walk on walls and travel in time.”