Dennis McCorry had gone to college to become an illustrator but found turning his degree into a vocation after graduation wasn’t easy.
“I took commissions as a freelance artist, I went to conventions, I was a part-time delivery driver; I was the quintessential starving artist,” he said.
You can only do that so long before you realize you need a change. McCorry figured if he was going to be living freelance paycheck(s) to freelance paycheck(s), he’d rather be scraping by doing something he truly loved.
So, with the help of MAGIC Spell Studios at Rochester Institute of Technology, McCorry dived headfirst into video game design. Along the way he aligned with Lesther Reynoso, another gamer who realized designing games would be a whole lot more enjoyable than the daily grind as a software engineer for embedded hardware.
Together they are Possum House Games, an independent startup video game design studio based in Rochester with their mouse in the door of the vast world of online gaming.
Nintendo nor Activation Blizzard they are not. They still need the freelance jobs with other gaming companies to pay the bills. But they are providing products to gamers and enjoying what they do as they build what they hope will someday be a thriving business.
“We’re essentially freelance contractors and whenever we have time, we work on Possum House stuff, so it’s been this really interesting, stressful, fun amalgamation,” said McCorry, a 30-year-old native of Rochester. “The stability is something to be missed, but I’d rather not be doing anything else.”
Game design interested McCorry greatly as he was finishing his degree at SUNY-Posdam in 2014. But gaming hadn’t become a recognized segment of university curriculum then, so it wasn’t an option as far as course study.
“When I was wrapping up college,”McCorry said, “I told my advisor ‘I’m actually interested in getting into game development. He said, ‘That sounds hard, don’t do it.’
“I don’t talk to him anymore.”
McCorry began dabbling in design when game development software programs became more widely available.
“I was able to get my hands on some basic stuff and start working on my own as a hobbyist,” he said. “Then around 2016, I had gotten involved with Roc Game Dev (a local game enthusiast nonprofit) and that’s where I started to meet other people like me who were students or hobbyists or professionals.”
His first creation, The Sword and the Slime, is a puzzle, action-adventure game where the player is a flying sword and must guide a companion through a dungeon of monsters and traps while finding unlikely allies along the way.
That experience opened the door to RIT’s MAGIC Community Incubator. He was approached by Rob Mostyn, MAGIC Hub coordinator and was offered a chance to be part of the first Magic Community Incubator cohort.
It meant splitting $15,000 in funding with another game designer, as well as access to facilities and staff. McCorry used some of the money to hire Reynoso, who in January quit his full-time job to join Possum House as lead programmer.
Reynoso, a 29-year-old native of New York City, also didn’t have a path to gaming studies when he chose to attend SUNY-Polytechnic Institute for a degree in computer engineering.
“My only experience in game development was through random gaming clubs while in college,” Reynoso said.
Through the work with Magic Community, Possum House launched Shot in the Dark.
And while their cohort has ended, the assistance in terms of consultation and advice continues. So, too, does the help from Roc Game Dev members.
“They have continued to be directly supportive of everything we do, which has been amazing,” McCorry said. “They’re continuous mutual aid.”
Possum House has released three games (Space Cat 9 is the other) and players find them on two platforms, Itcho.io and Steam (steampowered.com). It costs $4.99 to “own” Sword of the Slime and $9.99 for Shot in the Dark, and Possum House splits the revenue with the platform provider.
“We’re hoping for funding to transition to platforms to console, like Nintendo Switch,” Reynoso said.
Gamers find the games to play through a variety of searches, be it by ratings, by type, by 2D, by pixel, by genre, whatever they’re looking for, Reynoso said.
And word-of-mouth through social media and other gaming platforms raises awareness. “We shout from the rooftops,” McCorry said.
Knowing what will sell is important. If a genre is hot, then developers will try to meet the need, even if others are producing the same content.
“Lots of these same games come out because the market wants more and more,” Reynoso said.
While the giants of the industry often stick with what they know works, Possum House isn’t filling mainstream demand, however.
“As independents, we can be weirder and take chances and experiment more. A lot of the bigger games, they are very much like it’s either Call of Duty, Call of Duty clone or another Mario (Bros.),” McCorry said.
“We essentially try to fill weird niches. We try to come up with something novel. That’s where I take personal pride in what we do at Possum House. So far, every game we’ve made, there isn’t really anything else that’s the same kind of mechanics or play style. We’re not heavyweights, we can’t make the big, prettiest Call of Duty game, so it’s like, ‘Lets make something small and weird and let’s be flexible.’ ”
That means every creation is a totally new venture.
“You’re reinventing the wheel every time,” McCorry said. “You think you know where you’re going when you start but you have to deviate so hard.
“While I was working on Sword in the Slime, it was like trying to build a plane while it’s taking off, and then still trying to finish it while it’s landing, and then realizing when it’s landing that this wanted to be a submarine the whole time. That’s game development.”
And it’s what McCorry and Reynoso always wanted to do.
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