Dan Fedor here, founder of Blue Bottle Games. The fine people at Modern Wolf asked if I'd mind chatting a bit about my studio's origin story. So let's take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?
I was pretty familiar with computers as a kid. We always had one at home that I used for things like drawing, writing, music, and even some crude BASIC programming. At one point, my dad got a game-making toolkit called STOS, and I tried my darnedest to make something like the games I saw at arcades, or even the stuff we downloaded from BBSes.
But I wasn't quite there yet.
At school, we had Apple PCs. What's more, in middle school, we even had a programming class! I loved it. I still remember finishing my lessons early, and using the spare time to write a choose-your-own-adventure in BASIC. (A sign of things to come.) It was still a far cry from the games I hoped to make, but it was starting to make more sense.
Fast forward a few years, and I finally had an IBM compatible of my own at home. I was mostly playing games, but I remember getting a copy of Dark Reign, which supported modding. I think I spent the whole summer trying to make a total conversion mod for Rifts in that engine. Sprites rendered and animated from 3D models, data files with stats from the RPG book...it was as much an experiment as it was a love letter to that bonkers RPG.
Around this time, I was mid-university, majoring in physics. I liked science, but I was starting to realize my true love was making stuff for games. There wasn't a program at my university for that yet, though, and I didn't have a clear picture of what opportunities were out there. So I mostly muddled my way through tutorials and personal projects as I finished my degree.
After graduation, I was hardly qualified to get noticed by any game studios. And despite what you may think, physics degrees are not particularly lucrative.
But I had picked up another relatively unknown skill in my spare time: webpage development. And in 1999, anyone who could slap angle brackets around tags could write their own ticket into the job market. Which is just what I did. After a false start working on a local paper's webpage (without a desk or *computer*), I was hired into an IT team for a big publisher in New York.
It was good experience, and it satisfied at least some of my cravings for interactive development. I even attempted, at one point, to convince management to offer game development services to clients. They humored me, but few of their clients were interested in that sort of thing.
During this time, I was still plugging away at personal projects. Trying to hone my skills. And I'd apply to studios whenever something seemed like I had a long shot.
Bizarrely, my first job offer came from pretty much my top choice: BioWare Corp. They wanted me as a tech artist! And much like with web development before, it was a field with more jobs than candidates at the time, making me a shoe-in.
BioWare was a dream come true for me for a long time. (7 years, in fact!) Great people. Awesome games. (Sub-Mars surface temperatures.) But towards the end, I was starting to crave more creative freedom and hands-on time with game development. And that's a hard thing to have in a huge studio with huge projects.
So in October 2010, I announced my intentions to resign. I still worked another 6 months, to help smooth the transition. But on April 2011, I said my goodbyes.
And in May of that same year, I began work on what was to become my first game: NEO Scavenger.
It was originally meant to be a sponsored Flash game. Flash sponsorships were a big thing right around then. You could get a few hundred, a few thousand, or in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars if your game caught the right website's eye. And I was pretty handy with Flash, art, and even a bit of writing.
I expected to put something together in a few months. License it to a sponsor, then repeat. Enough to pay the bills, get some practice, and work towards a bigger project.
Six months later, I was still working away at it. And what's more, it was starting to look more like a premium game. (It certainly was starting to have the cost of one.) So I pivoted to a new plan. I'd aim to release the demo on my own website, and charge folks to access the full browser version.
Right around this time, kickstarting and beta-funding were starting to become a thing, too. So I aimed to have the demo show the customer what was on offer, and allow them to pay for access to all future updates. I'd also let buyers vote on future features, and in some cases, pay for special edition perks like a signed postcard.
As was the game! Over the course of development, it grew from a modest browser game, to a fully-downloadable Steam title. It received regular updates from early 2012 to its launch in December 2014, and a dozen updates beyond that. It was ported to both iOS and Android. And received a fair amount of both customer and critical acclaim, paving the way for what was next.
A note aside: A lot went on during that time. More than I could go into in any one post. So if this is something you want to know more about, here's a link to more than you'd ever want to know!
The NEO Scavenger mobile port is also where I met Fernando Rizo, now co-Founder and CEO of Modern Wolf, who helped with a last-minute marketing push during the game's release. Our partnership there was in no small way an influence on my studio's current partnership with Modern Wolf, though we'd work together once more before that happened.
With NEO Scavenger mostly stable, and approaching 4 years in development, I started to turn my attention to what was next. I needed a break from NEO Scavenger, and I was still harboring a flame for a game about building and captaining a spaceship. Some of my favorite sci-fi games and shows of years past included Firefly, Traveller RPG, RIFTS, Cowboy Bebop, and Alien(s), not to mention systems/simulation games like Sims, Dwarf Fortress, Starflight, Rimworld, and Prison Architect.
I had carefully left the door open to space colonization in the scraps and clues of NEO Scavenger. Maybe I could make a spaceship life sim, and keep it in the same world?