After Hours Game Developer Group

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We know it has been a while, but we are back with a brand new entry in our series! This week, we spent some time chatting with Nicholas Compton and Austin Smith, the duo running the awesome event for aspiring game developers in the Huntsville, AL area, the After Hours Game Dev Group. These two driven individuals have worked hard to build and grow a place for interested and like-minded people to come together and learn more about game development, and also give an easy avenue for them to network with others within the area and build off of each others' successes within the development space. Listen to their story below!




Hosts: Nicholas Compton and Austin Smith
Time: Monthly during Coworking Night


Huntsville Global Game Jam 2017
January  20th-22nd, 2017 @7PM



Nicholas showing off some examples of best practices to attendees to one of the first meetings.

Nicholas showing off some examples of best practices to attendees to one of the first meetings.

Every gamer wants to be a video game developer. I think that goes without saying, especially in 2017. So many people around the world aspire to create video games similar to the ones they grew up playing with when they were younger. The knowledge, that something so "childish" as video games could be turned into a long career, twinkle like stars in so many peoples' eyes, as they do what they can to make that goal a reality. But the path towards video game development isn't always as easy as some content on the internet would have you believe. With games more popular than ever now, it has become increasingly harder to jump into bed with an established developer, Naughty Dog, Insomniac Games, and Bioware as examples,  with most companies requiring a laundry list of prerequisites before they even consider you for a job, and more often than not, people trying to get their toes wet in the industry can barely get past the starting line.

But there is an alternative path that can get players to where they want to be. With the indie development scene breaking out in recent years, from the various amount of free or low cost development tools becoming more powerful and readily available, many people are going down the "indie route" to gain the experience they need and build the knowledge they want to succeed in the video game industry, all while making the games they have dreamed of since they were kide. But even with easier access, better tools, and strong initiative, it is still hard to know where to start to get going in the world of video game development. Luckily, for aspiring developers in the Huntsville, AL area, two gentlemen are working hard to solve that problem; to not only offer a venue to learn more about good tools and practices for video game development, but also to grow a community of like-minded individuals that can work together to achieve their common goals. 

An artisitc piece from a member who attends AH:GD. Professions besides game devs, such as artists, music producers, and more, are welcomed to attend and network

At every meetup, time is made for attendees to split up and  enjoy mini- game jams to get some experience learning more about the processes of game development.

Nicholas Compton and Austin Smith are two guys who have a goal just like anyone else: grow and succeed as video game developers and network with like-minded people to get there. Looking around, they noticed that within the Huntsville and North Alabama area, there was not a strong, engaging atmosphere to do what they set out to accomplish. So, putting their heads together, they worked to build a venue for not only themselves, but other active developers and aspiring individuals within the area, to come and learn about video game development together in a fun and stimulating environment, to partner with each other to build on each others' successes, and network to build strong bonds with all potential developers, creators, and other video game developers in the vicinity. This venue had come to fruition as the After Hours Game Developer Group, and since its' first meeting late in 2016, it has been growing and thriving with active members hungry to network and grow their knowledge and skill in this exciting trade. I was able to meet up with Nicholas and Austin and learn a bit more about what drives them to continue this group, as well as what they hope to see from it. 

Ideas that flowed from a group during a mini game jam session. Whiteboard space is always a necessity at these meetings!

If you aren't sure about what the goal is for the After Hours Game Dev Group, then you have come to the right place. Nicholas and Austin are working to provide an engaging atmosphere for people of all shapes and sizes to come together to learn more about game development, foster local game development creation within the North Alabama area, and encourage networking amongst peers residing locally. During each meeting, which occurs monthly at Coworking Night (a local initiative to foster creativity, networking, and talent within Huntsville), Nicholas and Austin provides a robust schedule and presentation for attendees, breaking each talk into two main parts: informative and interactive. This helps to provide guidance for some newcomers who may not be as familiar with game development, and then changes pace with an interactive project for attendees to get hands-on experience and met fellow members. Plus, they have continued to improve on their formula, based on feedback from members, by tweaking or adding content to their meetings, including a new Classifieds section on Facebook to help promote local talent to large game development companies and other interested studios, and also an avenue for members to spend time during meetings to talk about what they do on their own and projects that they work on. Both hosts also make sure that at the end of every meeting, attendees are able to stick around to network with each other, and really get the chance to know the people they are interacting with, which everyone always takes advantage of. While a simple process to their meetings, it definitely seems to work, as more and more people are spreading the word about this awesome initiative. 

Austin giving some insightful advice to a packed room of enthusiastic listeners.

Even with all of the careful planning that they do for the group, Nicholas and Austin have still been surprised and tested by some of the reactions they have received for their endeavors. While both gentlemen hoped for the networking to grow within their group, they both admit that they never expected it to move at such a quick pace within the span of a few meetings. Watching a local artist meet with, connect, and receive offers from a local studio to perform contract work at the first meeting was definitely a welcome surprise for the duo, and signs that their well-laid plans for the group are starting to bear fruit. Seeing strong turnouts of interested parties even during big events like the Presidential Election debates has brought even more vigor to their efforts as well. Even after being told multiple times that no one would be interested in this type of project, Nicholas and Austin have continued to work hard with the group, creating exciting opportunities for people, doing more work on the back end to guarantee success, and shown others that there is a strong, community of interested and aspiring game developers that want to thrive within the Huntsville area, and that continues to drive their passion to host and showcase the After Hours Game Dev group each month.

During our talks, I asked Nicholas and Austin what was some advice they would give to other aspiring creators looking to start their own project, not only within the video game development space, but also within the geek and gaming space as a whole. The answer, which at first seemed simple to remember, became a bit more complex when I pondered it and understood their point behind it: Scope. One thing they have both learned through their endeavor so far is to keep the scope of your project reasonable and attainable. We all want to make the next AAA game, or create the "next big thing", but most of the time, the best plan is to simply scale back, start small, and build up from there. Both of them really drove home the point of starting with something manageable, and building from that, making sure you learn from your successes and mistakes along the way. Doing this not only helps to guarantee you a stronger foundation, but helps to sharpen your skills so that when you are ready to create the "next big thing", you will have all the weapons in your arsenal ready to make something worthy of your effort.

Everyone who attended the first AH:GD meetup. Regardless of naysayers, Nicholas and Austin have shown that there is a community for game development in the Huntsville, AL area

With Huntsville really becoming a driving force as a "tech-centric town" embedded in the Southeast, Nicholas and Austin are really hoping for the After Hours Game Dev Group to take off and create a surge of enthusiasm for video game creation for not only the avid developers that are already working around, but also for, and maybe more importantly, the people who have little to no experience, but are interested in how the crazy, complex games they play everyday are made, and maybe find a passion for it. Knowing that everyone can bring different attitudes and mentalities to game development, the duo work hard to make sure that everyone feels included at each meeting, and feels as though they can participate and add to the conversations being had, regardless of knowledge level, in the hopes that the positive atmosphere will aid to foster more would-be creators. If you have not had the chance to attend one of these meetings and participate with Nicholas and Austin, as well as the other attendees, and have even a slight interest in learning more about video game development, then I recommend you add the next meetup date for the After Hours Game Dev group onto your calendar. Although the group has just started, based on the pace at which it has been growing, they'll be able to help you crack the video game industry in no time.

As always, Rocket Punch would like to thank Nicholas and Austin for taking some time from their schedules to sit and talk to us about the wonderful work they are putting into the After Hours Game Dev group. Be sure to check out their Facebook and Twitter pages to join in the conversations with other members of the group, which are both linked at the top of the page. Also, if you are located around the area, be sure to check out the Huntsville Global Game Jam happening on Jan. 20th in Huntsville, AL and join in to have some fun with other like-minded developers in a thrilling 48-hr worldwide Game Jam! Don't forget to keep your bookmarks saved onto Rocket Punch to catch not only all of the awesome creators like these guys, but also all of our awesome geek and gaming original content!