Have a Good Indie Game Dev Story? A Podcast Awaits

Since we got the news out a month ago that BosBattle is over and we’re starting a new narrative nonfiction podcast in its place about indie game development, I wanted to make a clear call to action: We are looking for indie game developers who want to share the ins and outs of how they made a game, through the magic of audio storytelling.

We have been working with a couple of developers for the first two episodes, so I wanted to more clearly outline our intentions with this podcast and what we hope to achieve. The elevator pitch: We want to demystify the act of making games and tell the stories of their creators with a compelling and intimate storytelling experience.

Podcasts that use narrative nonfiction formats like This American Life, ReplyAll, Serial and StartUp have all influenced my desire to make a podcast that brings radio storytelling to the world of video games. But I’ve also been encouraged by the reception to Danny Dwyer’s Noclip series of video game documentaries and Jason Schreier’s Blood, Sweat, and Pixels book about what game development is really like. I also have good memories of reading David Kushner’s Masters of Doom back when I was a teen.

As I’ve stated before, we aim to focus on individuals and small teams, ideally 10 people or fewer, for our first slate of episodes — a focus that will continue until we feel we have the resources to expand the podcast’s scope. And unlike BosBattle, there are no geographic boundaries, so we expect to look well beyond Boston and even outside of the United States, as long as recording schedules can work across different time zones.

I’ve also stated the importance of diversity for the podcast. To us, that means that we want to do our best to feature people of different race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. When I look back on the first 10 episodes of the podcast, I want this intention to be reflected, though I know the success of this depends on our ability to convince people of different backgrounds to tell their stories in a true and respectful way.

For those interested, here’s one important thing to know: This is more involved than a typical interview show, where you do a 30-minute to hour-long interview and that’s it. We expect we will need at least two one-hour interviews per episode, and we will likely ask very granular questions about the nature of your work and business.

If you think you have a good story to tell or want to point us to someone who does, send me an email at dylanmartin89 [at] gmail [dot] com.

And just in case it wasn’t clear, when I say “us” and “we,” that means me and my wife, Stephanie MacDonald, who was my co-host for BosBattle and will be my co-host and collaborator for this new podcast. I don’t think I could do this without her.

But hey, that’s all we have to share for now. We’re looking forward to sharing our progress with the new podcast later this year.

Stephanie and Dylan at the Empire State Building in New York during the last vacation we had in the U.S. before the pandemic.

What Happened to BosBattle and What Happens Next

It’s been nearly two years since we published an episode of BosBattle, a podcast that was dedicated to Boston’s video game industry, and we kind of just disappeared without saying goodbye or explaining why we stopped.

The explanation ultimately isn’t that exciting, but the reason we’re back now should be: We are continuing the work we started with BosBattle and are working on a new podcast, a narrative nonfiction show about how indie games get made, with a much broader geographical focus.

After we published our previous episode of BosBattle in November of 2018, life started to get busy. The holidays were around the corner, I had a lot of business travel, and it got increasingly difficult to find the time or energy to drive from Malden to Allston in Massachusetts to record new episodes. We also just didn’t have the wherewithal to build a home studio. Then, in March of 2019, Stephanie and I moved back to our home state of Maine, which threw into question the idea of us doing a podcast dedicated to the Boston area. We did consider doing a New England show, but it was hard to find as much excitement for that — or a good name.

The thing is, I had one final episode of BosBattle to edit and publish (which you can listen to here), and I kept finding reasons to not finish it. With no good idea for a show to continue where we left off, I felt discouraged. Plus, I was traveling a lot for work, so free time was becoming precious.

We all know what happened next. A pandemic was declared, and all of a sudden my business travel came to a halt. Stephanie and I were already working from home, so we quickly found ourselves with much more free time. Then, a couple months ago, I started thinking about what many people in lockdown have pondered: making a podcast!

It took me a month or two to settle on an idea that I loved. Initially, I thought about doing a podcast that would do an episode-by-episode cultural analysis of Rocko’s Modern Life (and who knows, maybe it will still happen). But then I kept thinking about BosBattle over and over again and how much Stephanie and I loved covering a community, one dedicated to video games in particular. It kind of stung to think about because if we had continued living in the Boston area, we might have found a way to keep it going. But our hearts ultimately belonged up in Maine.

So I started to think about ideas for a different video game podcast. I decided against doing the interview show or talk show format again, because without some kind of unique focus like geography, there just wasn’t a good way we could differentiate from all the great podcasts already out there.

Then I arrived at something I’ve been thinking about for probably more than 10 years: narrative nonfiction. I got hooked on podcasts in the late aughts — This American Life being one of the first. There was just something captivating about hearing a story told in a neatly and cleverly edited way that brought audio to the forefront. Luckily enough, while I was taking my media studies degree, I had the chance to take an audio production class with Rob Rosenthal, a nationally renowned radio storytelling teacher who validated my love for the medium. (My portfolio is still up on Soundcloud.)

Despite this passion I felt, I put it off for several years. I was fortunate, however, that I was able to feed my passion for journalism, first by working for a weekly newspaper covering two coastal Maine towns. I then followed the opportunities that were available to me, serving as the online editor for Maine’s only business journal, covering the Boston tech ecosystem, and, what I’m doing now, writing about semiconductor companies and the Internet of Things for an IT publication. It’s been a satisfying career so far, but I do sometimes experience a mix of imposter syndrome and survivor’s guilt for never having lost a job in these eight years.

What I’m feeling in life now is that I need to be a little more deliberate about what I want to do in the next 10 years, which is why I’ve decided to start working on a narrative nonfiction podcast, something that definitely isn’t easy but something that I can’t stop thinking about all the same. As she was for BosBattle, Stephanie will be my co-pilot for this project, and I have already purchased the base level of equipment (Yeti microphones, pop filters, microphone stands, Studiofoam wedges!) I need to get started.

Now we need to identify and ultimately convince indie game developers that we are capable of telling their stories. If you think you know someone, you can email me at dylanmartin89@gmail.com. To start off, we are looking for individuals or small teams, ideally 10 people or fewer, and we want to make sure our stories reflect a diversity of voices in the industry.

This is something that will take much more time than any single episode of BosBattle, so it may take at least a couple of months until we have something to share with the community. But my hope is that it can become sustainable this time — and something that can help game developers who need to hear someone’s story about how they made it through and created a game everybody could play.

A screenshot from the 2017 narrative thriller video game Perception, developed by The Deep End Games.

#6: The Deep End Games’ Bill and Amanda Gardner on the Trials of Creating a Narrative Thriller

It’s been nearly two years since we published an episode, so we’re back with the sixth and final episode of BosBattle. But don’t worry, we’re working on a new podcast, a non-fiction narrative show that’s all about how indie games get made, and the geographical focus will go way beyond Boston. Read more about that here.

Bill and Amanda Gardner of The Deep End Games
Bill and Amanda Gardner of The Deep End Games

For this final episode of BosBattle, we interviewed Bill and Amanda Gardner of The Deep End Games about the trials they went through developing Perception, a 2017 narrative thriller about a blind woman who uncovers the secrets of a mansion in Massachusetts using the core game mechanic of echolocation. This interview was recorded in November of 2018, so we’ve been sitting on this one for a while.

Here are some things we talked about:

  • How Bill’s background in designing levels for BioShock and BioShock Infinite complemented Amanda’s bona fides as a fantasy writer and former English teacher
  • How a love of horror movies, and Stanley Kubrick films in particular, informed the idea for Perception
  • Why they eschewed the typical development cycle to bring high-quality audio to the forefront of Perception
  • How Bill and Amanda coped with crunch

Listen on RadioPublic | iTunesSpotify | Google | StitcherTuneInRSS

Related links:

Hosted by Dylan Martin and Stephanie MacDonald.

Music by Jesse Gertz.

Recorded at PRX’s Podcast Garage in Allston, Mass. (before the pandemic).

MIT Professor T.L. Taylor and her book, Watch Me Play, Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming, now available from Princeton University Press.

#5: MIT’s T.L. Taylor Talks About Studying Esports & Streaming For a Living

If you enjoyed our conversation with Proletariat Inc.’s CEO about the intersection of video games and live streaming last episode, we have a treat for you today.

For BosBattle’s fifth episode, we interviewed T.L. Taylor, a professor of comparative media studies at MIT who studies video games, esports and streaming for a living. She recently released her fourth book, Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming. She is also co-founder and director of research at AnyKey, an organization dedicated to supporting diversity in esports.

Listen on RadioPublic | iTunes | Spotify | Google | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Related links:

Hosted by Dylan Martin and Stephanie MacDonald.

Music by Jesse Gertz. Mastering by Kegan Zema.

Recorded at PRX’s Podcast Garage in Allston, Mass.

A screenshot of Proletariat Inc.'s battle royale RPG, Spellbreak.

#4: Proletariat Inc.’s Seth Sivak Discusses Making a Battle Royale RPG

Remember when we briefly talked about venture capital-backed video game studios in Episode No. 2 with The Molasses Flood? For episode four, we talked to one! More specifically, Seth Sivak, who is CEO and co-founder of Boston-based Proletariat Inc.

Listen on RadioPublic | iTunes | Spotify | Google | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS


Seth Sivak, CEO and co-founder of Proletariat Inc.

Here are some things we talked about:

  • Why Proletariat decided to enter the crowded battle royale space with juggernauts like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
  • How Proletariat plans to use RPG and spellcasting elements to differentiate its battle royale game, Spellbreak, from the competition
  • What Proletariat learned from their first two titles: mobile strategy game World Zombination and “stream first” multiplayer action game Streamline
  • How streaming influenced the design and distribution strategy of Proletariat’s games
  • How the closure of Zynga’s Boston office led Seth and his co-founders to start Proletariat
  • Why Proletariat decided to pursue venture capital versus bootstrapping

Related links:

Hosted by Dylan Martin and Stephanie MacDonald.

Music by Jesse Gertz. Mastering by Kegan Zema.

Recorded at PRX’s Podcast Garage in Allston, Mass.

#3: BostonFIG’s Caroline Murphy & Oleg Brodskiy on Building Indie Game Communities

Ahead of BostonFIG Fest 2018, Boston’s premier indie game festival that happens on Saturday, Sept. 29, we talked to Caroline Murphy and Oleg Brodskiy, two organizers of BostonFIG, which originally stood for Boston Festival of Indie Games.

Listen on RadioPublic | iTunes | Spotify | Google | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Here are some things we talked about:

  • How BostonFIG started from a local meetup group out of a frustration with a much larger indie game event
  • New initiatives for education and improving access for underrepresented communities
  • What has changed at BostonFIG over the years
  • How Boston’s indie game scene is doing at diversity and what can be done to improve that
  • Favorite memories from previous BostonFIG events
  • What makes BostonFIG different from PAX East

Related links:

Music by Jesse Gertz. Mastering by Kegan Zema.

Recorded at PRX’s Podcast Garage in Allston, Mass.

#2: The Molasses Flood’s Gwen Frey & Forrest Dowling Talk Life After BioShock

Joining BosBattle for episode No. 2 are Gwen Frey and Forrest Dowling, former Irrational Games employees who started The Molasses Flood, a Boston-based indie game studio behind the wilderness survival game The Flame in the Flood.

Listen on RadioPublic | iTunes | Spotify | Google | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Here are a few of the things we talked about:

  • How working on BioShock influenced the development of The Flame in the Flood
  • The reception of their first game and whether it met their expectations
  • What it took to start an indie game studio and keep it running, even when things got a little bleak
  • How they got singer/songwriter Chuck Ragan to write The Flame in the Flood’s soundtrack
  • Lessons The Molasses Flood is taking from The Flame in the Flood for their second, unannounced game

Related links:

Music by Jesse Gertz. Mastering by Kegan Zema.

Recorded at PRX’s Podcast Garage in Allston, Mass.

#1: Earplay’s Jon Myers Talks About Alexa Development, Mr. Robot

For the inaugural episode of BosBattle, we talked to Jon Myers, CEO and co-founder of Earplay, a Boston-based developer of interactive audio experiences.

Listen on RadioPublic | iTunes | Spotify | Google | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Here are some of the things we talked about in BosBattle #1:

  • How Earplay ended up working with the team behind USA Network’s popular show Mr. Robot for a narrative-driven Alexa skill set in the same world
  • The unique user interface challenges associated with interactive audio
  • What’s it like to release titles for a new platform like Alexa
  • How a love for theatre and narrative storytelling in games led Myers to start Earplay

Prior to starting Earplay, Myers was a writer and narrative designer for Disruptor Beam, Owlchemy Labs and Zynga Boston.

Related links:

Music by Jesse Gertz. Mastering by Kegan Zema.

Recorded at PRX’s Podcast Garage in Allston, Mass.