Building the TP Team

el_bearduno's picture

I wanted to share a little bit about the Tiny Phoenix team with the community. My name is Mike. I've been involved in game development for a while now. I am a programmer and used to think wanting to be a game developer was like wanting to be a football player, only with less manliness on top. It wasn't until my junior year of college, when I was forced to make a game, that I fell in love.

I've failed a lot and I've made a lot of unfinished junk. What I've learned is that games, or really software products of any kind, are an incredible amount of work and to get all of the way through development it takes a lot more than most realize.

Right out of college I got a job as an embedded systems software engineer. Which sounds cool, right? Well, it was cool until I realized I never fell out of love with game development. I quit and tried to run a Kickstarter campaign that failed very significantly. Very, very significantly. After my Kickstarter failed I worked on random game development stuff that didn't find traction. About six months later, I was out of money and had started applying at different local game development companies. I started by just going down the list at Game Dev Maps. I ended up only getting an offer from Some Casino Company (SCC), where I worked for about a year. It wasn't my first choice and they lowballed me after agreeing to my asking salary. I had really put myself in a bad position and had to take anything I could get. At this point I decided I would never do full time game development until it could support me. After a year at SCC I got an offer to work in a research lab with an old professor at ASU. I did that as well as some contract work on the side for a year and a half. While I was at ASU I started Tiny Phoenix and have been using the money from there and my side work to fund the project. The professor, who was funding me, left three weeks ago for a job in Ohio. Now, as of last week I've transitioned to doing three days a week of contract work and the rest is Tiny Phoenix.

Jump forward to the present and with all the failure under my belt I must be better at not failing right? Well I don't really think so. At the very least least I believe it's important, even healthy, to have some doubt in yourself. That's why I wanted to talk about the Tiny Phoenix team. Building a team around myself has helped keep me honest and on track. I sincerely think our team is what is keeping us alive and our heads above water. Groundbreaking discovery, I know.

Part of what has been awesome about working in a team rather than solo is having people that depend on you. It's really hard to keep pushing week after week alone. While working alone I would search for feedback in friends and family and the feedback was positive but not actually productive. I would get a "Wowza! Nice work!" or "That is cool, what's it do?!" but never anything really constructive or ideas about where to aim going forward.

So when it was time to start the next project I knew there were some things I wanted to focus on when it came to building the team.

  • Like Everyone - I wanted to bring in people who are fun and I like to to be around. Growing up my dad worked at GameSpy and watching him and his group of coworkers develop life long friendships, something that has always been sitting in the back of my head. I don't know if we'll ever have an environment close to what they had but shoot for the moon, you know?
  • See Everyone - I wanted to do my best to find local developers. I think it's easier to keep people connected and excited when you can physically go see them. I also live in a pretty large city, Phoenix, which makes that a bit easier than it is for some.
  • Pay Everyone - I am an advocate of monetary compensation. I know there are a lot of people who will work for experience or profit share but not only would I feel like I'm taking advantage of anyone working for "free" but I think money is actually a good motivator. I know that sounds like I am a corporate scum but people have to eat.

Our team meets every week and we've now been consistently meeting for so long I have to look it up...eight months! For me, that is success in itself. Progress is slow but it's consistent. I know that by myself I would have never made it eight months on a project moving this slow. With the team that's been established, though, we motivate each other and keep the boat moving forward. Some weeks only a few people show to the meeting and it might be because they are busy or preoccupied or interest is low in general. It happens, and I understand that everyone is not going to be excited every week. But it's never like that for long. A post in slack catches your eye and you inspires you to go add a feature or work on a new asset and we pick each other back up. At this point no one who's joined the team has left, and I'm personally pretty proud of that.

Well, this post is getting a bit longer than I intended and I really did want to talk about our team structure and how we got to the point were at.


  • Ron - 2D Illustration and Concepts
  • Wes - 3D Modeling and Rigging
  • Evan - 3D Texturing and 2D Animation
  • Liz - Environments

It started with just me and a 3D Modeler, Wes, who I asked to create some joy sticks for a unity asset plugin. From there I told Wes I had a twin stick shooter prototype and Wes expressed interest. At the very same time I was working with an artist who Wes actually worked with named Ron. He was working on a company logo. Once the logo was completed Ron started working on some concepts for characters for Wes to later 3D model. Later the company they worked for had layoffs and one of the great artists, Evan, who was sadly let go joined the team as well. This resulted in an amazing workflow with Ron doing concepts, Wes modeling, and Evan texturing. Later, Wes and I were at a local IGDA meeting and met Liz who was a perfect fit to fill the hole in our environment.

So this is great, three artists who've worked together and have a good flow but it was still just me on the software side of things.


  • Mike
  • Mike Buerger
  • Joe
  • Matt
  • Alex

There was one engineer, Joe, who was "sort of" interested and would come to meetings every now an again. Buerger was a student in a summer camp I taught for junior high students, although he was too young and had to get special permission to get in. Anyways, he's the most motivated kid I've ever met and is a great engineer. He asked me out of the blue if he could help on the project and has been contributing in his free time as a volunteer. I had to break my "pay everyone" rule here but he does receive volunteering hours. After some time passed, Joe asked if I would come over and talk to his brother and cousin who were also programmers and were interested in joining the team. And, just like that, we had a programming department. This a once in a lifetime streak of luck in my opinion. All three of them had Unity experience and worked well together. It was pretty much the same situation that we lucked into with the art workflow.

We are all working hard and I will try to post more about actual development soon. Lastly, here is bonus art of the avatars Evan painted of the team. You'll notice that Evan's is by far the coolest:

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