It’s hard to miss the development of the thriving video game industry taking root in the Triangle area these days. It seems like every year we hear of yet another major game studio opening up a North Carolina branch and bringing with them a multitude of creative game developers. The natural next phase of this growth are the many independent start-up companies and developers branching out to create their own thing and choosing to keep these start-ups based in the Triangle. The most recent example is a small group of industry veterans who recently left mega studio Epic Games in Cary to create the newly formed BitMonster Games. One of the creative forces behind BitMonster is its President Lee Perry.
Perry has been creating games since 1995 and has worked at industry heavy hitters SquareSoft, Ion Storm, and Epic Games. A Raleigh area resident for over 11 years, Lee has firmly put his roots down in North Carolina as he embarks on this exciting new chapter in his career. BitMonster recently announced it’s inaugural game, Lili, a quirky Adventure Game/Role Playing Game hybrid created for iOS devices with an expected release this Fall.
Beyond his obvious bad-assery within the game industry, Perry also exercises his creativity and passion for life through his many varied and interesting hobbies like kite boarding, playing the guitar, screen printing, wood working, home renovation, obscure board games, traveling, spelunking and many many other interests. Basically, this guy doesn’t do anything half-way and loves a challenge.
I look forward to seeing the amazing work to come out of BitMonster from Perry and his teammates. To follow along in their journey, follow Lee on Twitter at @MrLeePerry. Or follow BitMonster on Twitter at @bitmonstergames or like them on Facebook at facebook.com/BitMonster.
We got Lee to take a stab at our Creative Spotlight questions so we could all dive a little bit deeper into the brain of this modern day renaissance man.
Would you call yourself a A) Nerd B) Dork or C) Geek?
HA! I love the way we all inherently know the differences! Geek, definitely. I mean, I run our pen and paper role-playing sessions, complete with doing voices for the non-player characters. I paint and customize Hot Wheels into post-apocalyptic cars for board games. My geek card is bona fide.
What is the best thing about starting your own game company?
I think it’s having a chance to explore some truly crazy creative choices. Through my whole career there’s been a non-stop chain of inspirations flowing in my head, but they don’t always line up with the goals of an employer or their creative pipeline. More than anything I want to explore some really aggressively unique design directions and perhaps make something that could influence entertainment in general.
What is the worst thing about starting your own game company?
Definitely the distractions that come with making a company function. We voted early on to not have a dedicated business person or department. We want everyone in the office actively putting assets into the game so that we are as lean as humanly possible. We divide up some biz tasks among the group, but it’s still a far cry from sitting at a computer and just being creative all day.
That, and it’s freaking terrifying!
What three video games have been the most influential on you as a developer?
Kings Quest 3 was a huge moment in games for me. It was an adventure game with a character I could relate to, in a situation every mischievous kid dreams about. Plus, it was in the era of text parsers, where you just typed in real commands like “talk to cat”, and it figured out what you meant. It’s a classic, there’s recent remakes, pick it up!
Shadow of the Colossus had a big impact on me as well. I’m not sure any other game qualifies so much as “art” in my opinion. The characters barely speak, but there’s so much narrative and mystery and awe and moral ambiguity. There’s a reason my right arm is tattooed with art from this game. Hey, there’s also a recent remake, pick it up!
Carnage Heart! You programmed these robots to fight each other. It was like an intro to basic programming through a cool visual language. In many ways Carnage Heart was an early version of tools I was lucky enough to help shape at Epic. I would wake up at 3 AM with a way to make them do some neat new behavior. I was really into it. Good luck picking it up, it’s ugly and rare as hell now.
Lastly, Minecraft. The game just proves so much. Give players tools and they will amaze you. Follow your vision and you can make a game that is successful. You don’t need 40 people to ship a game. Graphics are great, but there’s more than one definition of beautiful. Exploration is still magical. I could go on for days with lessons from Minecraft. Guess what? Go pick it… er… download it!
Yeah. I know that’s four games… tough! You’re lucky I stopped at all.
What is one of your favorite things about living/working/creating in the Raleigh area?
The people. It’s just a great creative community that values original expression. There are so many people here following different goals and visions. Plus, there’s so many viable ways to “get away” for a break. And hey, the options for amazing food are way better than any city of this size warrants.
What is your favorite creative resource to learn about innovative ideas and other stuff happening in your industry?
I think Twitter has served the purpose of creative gateway for a while now. I started following anyone with a great indie project in the works, and I’ve just met some amazingly talented, giving, communicative, supportive, artistic developers over the last year. It’s really humbling.
What are some of your favorite movies from a visual/creative perspective?
District 9 is stunning, in my opinion (IMO) even more so than something like Avatar because it’s grounded and shows a cool juxtaposition between reality and sci-fi. It’s relatable and original. It’s like the film spiritual equivalent of the game Half Life.
But as a designer I often find myself fixating on movies that would make great game scenarios. Aliens of course, The Raid, 13 Assassins, The Thing, etc. They’re just fun to imagine.
What type of background music do you like to have on while working?
Honestly, nothing. I love music, but can’t listen to anything with lyrics while working. And while I appreciate soundtracks from indie gems like Osmos, Fez, and Sword and Sworcery… I have a hard time with music as a distraction. I keep trying though!
What is a skill you have that people might be surprised to learn about?
Outside interests are essential to any creative person, in my opinion. How can you push the boundaries of an industry if you only get inspiration from what’s already happening within that industry?
I enjoy kite boarding, yoga, and being a good husband/father. I woodwork badly, spelunk badly, play guitar badly, play racquetball badly, screen print shirts badly, and I think just qualified officially as a hippie by getting a couple djembes, which I am pleased to announce I can already play… badly.
How do your other creative hobbies/skills play into your work as a game developer?
They all influence the work in some way, even if it’s as a mental break from work. Sometimes you need to back away from something to approach it in a new way. Naturally though, inspiration for a good design can come from anywhere.
Name three people that you would consider to be your “heroes?”
Definitely my father. He was a builder and creative type, a hard worker and above all a role model for what a good person should be. He passed when I was 12, but to this day I think he would be proud of the sort of things I do, and hopefully the person I’ve become. I even found out he built homes from modular systems he designed…he did what I do, but in real life.
My wife, Gabriella. Almost anything I’ve come to believe about having diverse interests is because she’s instigated it. She’s talented and often shows me what’s really important about living. Plus, she loves traveling, and that’s rubbed off on me. We’ve been together since high school, and she’s been so supportive of my career every step of the way for nearly 20 years, no matter how harrowing the decisions.
Within the games industry, the list is just too extensive to contemplate…there’s so many good friends out there brazenly following their bliss against all odds, and in many cases winning the bet. I’m just ecstatic to be in a field small enough that you can work with those heroes so often.
What character from literature do you most relate to? Why?
I’m tempted to go with Green Eggs and Ham, but the non-Sam character doesn’t have a name…so that’s out.
I’ll go with Captain Ahab I reckon. I seldom stop thinking about the crazy design that could be “the one” that works so spectacularly it justifies a career of trying. I’m not an academic designer, I have a short tolerance for pontificating about game theory, I just know there’s these concepts of fun that hold true now as much as when I was a kid. Here’s hoping I don’t lose my leg in the hunt.
What quality do you most admire in others?
Just being a decent human being, complete with empathy and the drive to be part of the freaking human race. I can’t appreciate someone for just being successful, even creatively. The world is chock full of successful sociopaths and they’re destructive beyond belief, yet they’re revered so often. People who balance success with helping out those around them, people who thrive but aren’t jerks… they’re doing it right.
What is always in your kitchen?
Haha, my wife! But I swear I don’t mean that like it sounds!!! She seriously loves cooking; it’s her creative outlet. I’m just the lucky guy who benefits from her skills. I’m horrible though; I destroy anything I touch in the kitchen.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I’m an avid watcher of So You Think You Can Dance, Project Runway, Top Chef, and…sometimes American Idol. I just want my reality TV with a dose of talent please. Supporting reality TV that’s just a douche parade should get you thrown into the volcano.
Describe yourself in 3-5 words.
Driven, distracted, hopeful, fortunate.