Mary from C + 2 went on holiday for an entire month in New Zealand.

While venturing up and down both islands, she took time out of her travels to visit with one of the country’s unique independent game development studios, Grinding Gear Games, receiving a personal tour and interview with producer Chris Wilson.

The company was founded in 2006 in the city of Auckland on North Island. This past January they released an open beta of their first game, the action RPG Path of Exile, which is available as a free-to-play download on the PC! So far their subscriber base has reached more than 2 million since March, and many more are on the way.

Mary sat down with Chris to ask questions about what updates and additions players can expect as well as some background on Grinding Gear Games itself. He and his team are paying close attention to the feedback they receive from fans on message boards and forums and plans for new and exciting creations for the game that for the time being must be kept secret.

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What kind of work goes into making a game?

Game development requires developers of many different disciplines. In addition to the various types of programmers (gameplay, graphics, user interface, server, tool, etc), artists (2D, 3D, modellers, riggers, animators, texturers, concept artists, etc), there are also quality assurance experts, game designers and people who work on game balance.

How many workers are currently employed at the company?

We’re currently at around 40 workers, in a variety of roles. The portion of the team that grew the most in the past six months was the customer service department, which has expanded from 2 to 12 people.

Who is the game writer, the programmer, the artist? What exactly do they do?

Our writers, programmers and artists are the backbone of our company. They have a variety of roles, but generally the writing staff maintain the vision of the history/backstory and populate the game world with interesting characters and quests to talk to.

Our programmers work on implementing new features, solving reported bugs and developing architecture that allows us to improve the game’s performance or stability.

Our art team creates all of the digital art assets such as 3D models, textures and particle effects that players see while playing.


What new content can you share with us?                                                                                  

At the moment we’re hard at work on the full release version of Path of Exile, which we expect to deploy in mid-October. This version includes a lot of new content such as the final part of the third act of the game. Act 3X, as we call it internally, contains new areas, monsters and a new final boss fight. We’re really excited about sharing it with our community later this year.

What in particular will make this game stand out from other MMORPGs.

Path of Exile’s main point of difference when compared with other online Action RPGs is the depth of character customization possible. There are more than a hundred different skill gems and 1,300 passive skills that can be combined in different ways. We have seen the community come up with some pretty amazing character builds using combinations of skills that we had not anticipated ourselves.

We’re also pretty pleased that there aren’t very many gritty dark fantasy games out currently. It’s nice being able to explore horror themes in a space where other games are currently cartoony and bright.

How many plans do you have for updates or changes for the game?

We have a 10-year plan of updates to Path of Exile in the works. At the moment we’re trying to deploy changes to the game on at least a weekly basis.


What are the most common discussions or questions from players about Path of Exile?

Players love discussing their character builds on the forums and on reddit. Because of the complexity of the game mechanics, there’s always a lot of relevant feedback that players can give to each other on how they play the game. It’s really awesome to see the average community understanding of the complex game mechanics growing over time.

How much involvement do fans have in the say of what could come next in the game?                                                                                                                                                     

We encourage fans to give as much feedback as they can and we listen closely to their ideas. While most of the development plan is already set in stone, we try to manage priorities of features around what the players feel is most important.

There was mention of a possible behind-the-scenes video or such for players, maybe some tutorials? Can you see that happening?                                                       

We’re certainly investigating whether we can produce a behind-the-scenes video. It’d be really fascinating to put together and we’d hopefully be able to capture an interesting slice of office life at Grinding Gear Games. This is the type of thing we’d love to do once we’re not on such a tight development schedule.

Are there any women on your team at Gear Grinding Games? What do they do?   

Yes, we currently have five women in our customer support department and one on our art team.

Some talented fans have sent you drawings, posters, and models of creatures in the games and other crafts. Do you believe they have the potential to become game designers or such someday? Maybe even working for other game companies?         

I’d really hope so! There are so many talented members of the community, each with their own specialties. The level of effort and attention to detail that goes into their creations is amazing. I’d definitely encourage anyone who is interested in game design to pursue the dream and keep honing their talents.

You have some great gifts put together for the fans. Can you talk about them?   

We’ve run two different crowdfunding campaigns so far, both of which with their own set of physical rewards for fans who pledge at different support levels. The campaign that ran from April 2012 to January 2013 had Path of Exile t-shirts, Map posters, copies of the game on DVD and CD, as well as various signing options available. The current campaign (which we expect will run until approximately October this year) has different shirts, posters and a physical keychain based on an item in the game. Support for these crowdfunding campaigns has been excellent so far!

What advice can you share with others who long to venture into game design someday?
My advice is just to make as many hobby project games as they can! Modding tools (and game development systems like GameMaker or Unity) these days are very advanced and pretty easy to use. Not only is working on hobby games fun, but it’s very similar to the process of making large commercial ones (albeit on a smaller scale) and a good portfolio of such work is really valuable when approaching companies for a job.

C + 2 sincerely thanks Chris Wilson and the creative team at Grinding Gear Games for allowing Mary to stop by their studios and for sharing their passion in making games!

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