Juan Pablo Guzman Fernandez Also Highlights the Importance of Documentation! | Episode 345

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Juan Pablo Guzmán Fernández is co-founder of Infinite Thread Games, a company dedicated to the design and development of original and innovative video games. With over four years of experience in the sector, Juan has worked both as a producer and programmer. Additionally, Juan Pablo has been a high school teacher for over ten years, teaching subjects including physics, mathematics, and computer science. Developing frequent gamification projects, he enjoys sharing his knowledge and motivating his students to learn and create their own projects.

 

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Full episode transcription (AI Generated)

Rob:
Hey, engagers, and welcome back to another episode of the Professor Game podcast, and we are with Juan Pablo today. It was very serendipitous how we got to know each other, and we’ll be talking about that perhaps a little bit further on. However, Juan Pablo, we need to know, are you prepared to engage? Yes, of course. Let’s do this.

Rob:
We have Juan Pablo Guzman Fernandez, who is the co founder of Infinite Threat Games, which is a company dedicated to the design and development of original and innovative video games. He has over four years of experience in the sector, and he has worked both as a producer and a programmer. He has been a high school teacher for over ten years, teaching subjects including physics, mathematics and computer science, and he’s developing frequently gamification projects. And he also enjoys sharing his knowledge and motivating his students to learn and create their own projects with a lot of interesting experience to share. Juan Pablo, is there anything that we’re missing that we should mention before we actually start with the questions?

Rob:
No, I think it was a great summary of what was my normal day. Yeah, fantastic. And talking about normal days, what are the things that you’re doing? We know you’re a programmer, we’re a producer, you’re a co founder. What are the kinds of things that you’re doing usually?

Rob:
What are you taking care of nowadays? If we were you, what would we feel? Where would we be? Yeah, I balance my job, as you have already said, as a high school teacher, teaching math, physics, chemistry, technology, all these kind of things, and running the video game company named Infinite Threat Games. So my day, my normal day includes teaching my students, trying to motivate them, working with them, and also working with my company team, giving feedback, as I’m the producer, so I have to give them continuous feedback, organize the task and make growth the projects.

Rob:
But also, I’m also a programmer, so sometimes I have to be programming on Unreal Engine, which is the software that we use to develop. So, yeah, nowadays we are developing a game, a cozy game inspired by the story of Don Quixote de la Mancha. Nice, nice. We will definitely be getting into that. And I don’t know if that the story that you will tell us now has to do with Don Quixote or something else that you’ve developed before, but we want to go deep into, into one of those stories we like to call fail moments or first attempts in learning, perhaps one that you would call your favorite failure.

Rob:
We want to be there with you. We want to live that story. And of course, we can see if we can find any lessons so that we don’t make the same mistakes. Yeah, that’s a really good question. And we always think that you learn more from failure than from maybe success.

Rob:
So we found out that starting projects without having complete game design documentation was something terrible. We discovered that this was a problem to players to get the most enjoyable game. So we learned from this, and now we dedicate hundreds of hours to think, to write, to document all the details of the game, the puzzles and the different things of a game. So we add images for the mechanics, intensity, graphs, graphs for the game feel, to ensure that all the things on the gameplay are comprehensive for the team, but also to get the general idea of the game in order to avoid improvisation. So it was, you know, the lesson learned.

Rob:
I completely get it was about documenting and making sure everything is in the right place. Yes. Is there like. I’m guessing that this something. I don’t want to say tragic, because, you know, failure is never like, really tragic.

Rob:
It’s just difficult moments. And the moment might feel like the world is ending, but then you look back and you say, well, you know, the world wasn’t ending. That’s good. Do you have a story of when one of those times where, you know, you realized that documentation was what you needed to make sure was there was available so that you could overcome those future challenges? Yeah, probably.

Rob:
When our first developing, our first game, which was a multiplayer game, horror multiplayer game, we found out that all the, what we call the core game loop, which is the minimum part of the game that is repeated, we found out that it was fun, it was enjoyable for the players, but after that there were nothing more. What we call the mid loop and the meta Loop was absolutely empty. So players used to play and forget the game, and that’s a problem in the industry in a game that it should became inside the industry. You have to give the players more content, more things to do, maybe a story of the characters, maybe some rewards that they can use somehow to unlock things, these kind of things that keep players with the idea of having more related with the game. So we didn’t have that, and we had to do that during the development and that was a problem because things change.

Rob:
You have to be adapted to these situations. And yeah, this is one of the things we found. Fantastic. Thank you for sharing that story. And Juan Pablo, actually, how about we take a spin on that one?

Rob:
Because I definitely like, you know, it’s very uncommon for people to end up saying that the solution was actually to document more. That’s not something you usually get. So I love that answer. It’s different, at least in many ways, from what we’ve typically heard over here. So how about now we go for a success story, one of those times when things did go well, and we, again, we want to live that story with you.

Rob:
We want to be a little bit of a part of that success, and maybe if we can take away some of those success factors that took you to that place. Yes. Well, I think there are hundreds of success, success moments. No, I think one of the best moments when you go to an event or a fair and you show the game to the public and you see people enjoying your game, having fun, laughing, picking other people to play the game, to test the game. This is amazing.

Rob:
For example, two weeks ago we went to Toledo, a city in the center of Spain, to an event, and we were showing Hidalgo the game inspired by Don Quixote. And there was a little girl of nine years old, and she played the game, she was having fun. And then minutes after playing the game, she came back to play again. Then she was trying to complete all the demo that we were showing. Then 1 hour after that, she came again to play because she was amazed with the game the next day, because the event was two days long.

Rob:
Next day after that, she came again to play the game with her sister, and that was very, very fun. And I asked her, oh, you used to play games? And she told me, yes, I used to play games. I’m very good playing games. And I asked her, okay, what’s your favorite game?

Rob:
And she told me, now it’s this game saying that Hidalgo, our game, was his favorite game in that moment. So that was very, very proud for us to see these reactions. Hmm. That’s exactly what you tend to be looking for, right? Yes, absolutely.

Rob:
People get those kinds of reactions with your creations, with your games. Definitely, definitely there. And Juan Paulo, with the experience that you’ve had, I know you’re both teaching and you have your video game company. It seems like the perfect blend for the question that we are about to ask and for the interest that we have here with the engagers. When you’re creating something new, let’s say after you finish your game about Quixote, you’re going to create something new and educational, perhaps.

Rob:
Do you follow some sort of process, series of steps? I don’t know. How do you go about when you start creating a new project? Okay. It’s an interesting question, I think, because with our experience, we have improved this process.

Rob:
Nowadays we start analyzing the market and identifying the genres and tags that might have better commercial results. For a studio of our size, you have to think that we are twelve people in a studio, some multidisciplinary studio. Once these aspects are established, the general and the tags, we study similar games that have been released in recent years and we try to analyze what aspects have been key to their success and what has gone wrong in order to learn from their failures. As we already said, from there we brainstormed. We create some mood boards with all aspects that the game could have in different areas.

Rob:
Starting with the starting finish, the mechanics, the game feel, the dynamics, the story, the characters. So having a complete motor with all the acts that are important and references for these aspects. Then we write the theme, the game type, and begin creating our game. We start with, we call a one page design doc with the most important aspects. This kind of beginning of the project allows the team art to start conceptualizing characters, environments and other elements.

Rob:
And then the game design department begins to develop a more extensive document, which we call the high concept document. With all this story, obviously in a highly level approach, all the mechanics that should have the characters, the controllers, the levels, all these kind of things that the game should have. And in that point we can start prototyping mechanics with little briefings and graphs. We start prototyping and programming mechanics, building and growing the game. I think it’s a very beautiful and motivating creative process, but of course, it’s a living process.

Rob:
We think that game development is a living process. We have to adapt as we see players playing. So we think that in all these moments, the testing and seeing how players play the game, it has to be always from the beginning. Yes, playtesting is definitely crucial. And no matter what you planned, there’s a.

Rob:
I think it was a boxer, Muhammad Ali, maybe like every plan sounds perfect until they punch you in the face or something like that. Absolutely. Because in the game industry, it’s incredible how demanding are the players. It’s probably because during all these years, players are getting more accustomed to gaming every day and they’re seeking for better and better experiences. So you have to be very meticulously with user experience, with game feel in order to engage them.

Rob:
So, yeah, we learned a lot by watching players playing our game. Yeah, totally, totally. And I mean, I’m not saying that having a plan is not good, it’s very important. You need to have a plan. But you know, you want to make sure, as Juan Paulo said, saying that even though your plan is great, you have to make sure that you’re able, you’re willing, and you’re open and flexible enough to change parts of your plan that are not necessarily working as you expected.

Rob:
So Pablo, thank you very much for sharing us that piece of your brain, so to speak, that the part of your process about how you guys go about your work. And Juan Pablo, again, with the experience that you’ve had, the stuff that you guys have been doing, is there any best practice? Like something that you would say, well, do this and you’re learning video game or your gamification project is at least going to be a little bit better than if you didn’t do it. I think one of the best things you have to do is to believe in your project and of course, to be patient. I think one of the things in this industry and in game gaming in general, not only video games, but maybe also board games or gamification or whatever, is that results don’t came at the beginning.

Rob:
You have to be patient, you have to be to believe in your projects, to listen to players and also listen to experienced people. And of course let people play your game and give you feedback. And don’t be ashamed if some people tell you that you have to change things or things are not working and of course work very hard. I think gaming is creative industry or creative task in which you have to keep working hard and be patient. Yeah, patience is very, very difficult sometimes because you really want for everybody to be having your experience, having fun with your experience.

Rob:
So it can sometimes be a difficult task to set forward. And Juan Pablo, now you’ve heard these questions, or many of these questions. You’ve heard probably a couple of episodes of the podcast. Is there somebody that you would be curious listening to or answering these questions in the future? Perhaps sort of a future guest on professor game that you personally or professionally would be interested in hearing?

Rob:
I think maybe I’m not giving you a name because I think there are hundreds of great designers but maybe a game designer who could give us some key aspects to game design. I think it would be a good guest. I would be very, very interested in hearing some game design from company maybe that has released two or three video games or game in general. I think the audience and myself could learn a lot from this. Sure.

Rob:
If any of them come to your mind, it would be fantastic. Let me know. There are, we do have a few in our extensive backlog. I can definitely recommend you a couple if you want to hear. Okay.

Rob:
And Juan Pablo, talking about recommendations, how about a book? Is there any book that you would recommend the audience reading? Yes, I’m reading right now a book called App down, why some game companies succeed while others fail. It’s a book by Kim Nordstrom. Sorry.

Rob:
In which there are a group of interviews with important people in the game industry trying to analyze which are the ingredients a video game company have to succeed. So this is in, it is a duel, in my opinion, because there are people saying what did they do to succeed with their company? And third, some interviews saying what didn’t work in their companies and make them fail eventually. So it’s a very interesting approach of gaming areas with the idea of a company, you know. Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask.

Rob:
It sounds like. It sounds super interesting. And I was going to ask if it has more the perspective, sort of a, the game as a business. Is that. Does that make sense?

Rob:
Yes, probably. Cool. Cool. Very interesting one, for sure. Thank you for that recommendation.

Rob:
Yeah, sure. And in your case, Juan Paulo, after with the experience that you have, what would you say is your superpower, or at least that thing that you do better than most other people? I think work and work. I’m a very hard worker person and I think it’s the key to success. It’s my late motive in my life, and I think this is very important in creating game solutions.

Rob:
Hard work. Yes. Not everyone can say that. Sometimes people say, oh, yeah, hard work. Yeah, anybody can do hard work.

Rob:
Well, not really. That’s not really true. There are people who really are, I don’t want to say afraid, that’s definitely not the word. But they’re not ready for what hard work sometimes implies. So cheers to that.

Rob:
Kudos. It is necessary, and it’s necessary to persevere many, many times, very often, that is the case. And besides, of course, the great games that you have created in Juan Pablo, what would you say is your favorite? And I don’t want to pick one of your past games because that’s like picking between your children. Which one do you like the most?

Rob:
That’s not fair. Right. So outside of your own games, which game would you say is your favorite game? Well, I love hundreds of video games, but I have a big one. I would say Monkey Island.

Rob:
I don’t know if you know this game. It’s a classic point and click adventure from the nineties by Ron Gilbert and Tim Schaffer. And it tells the story of our normal guy trying to become a pirate. It’s a very fun and funny title with great ingredients of humor and, well, memorable moments. I used to play it with my brother and my father when I was a child, and it’s one of the best memories of my childhood.

Rob:
It is certainly a classic that’s undeniable. And it sort of set the scene in many different ways for what has come after, what they did, the humor that they used, and many other things as well. Yeah. For example, I think Pirates of the Caribbean movies, I think they have a lot of ingredients from Monkey island saga. Had never thought about that.

Rob:
But you’re completely right. Yes. Probably a big part of their inspiration could be that. Hmm. Never seen it that way.

Rob:
But it’s true. It’s true. It makes a lot of sense that they were at least slightly inspired by these games. And don’t quote me on this one. Well, I’m saying it on air and it’s going to be recorded.

Rob:
Everybody’s going to wants to trash me. Can’t trash me for that. But I think this was one of the first games of LucasArts entertainment, right? Yes, absolutely. And super successful, by the way.

Rob:
I mean, these guys talk about successful companies and brands and so on. These guys have done an incredible job at that. And Juan Paulo, today we have managed to save up enough time to go for the random but curated question that comes from our audience. So let’s see what we get for us today. Okay, this is a general one, but I think it could be interesting because it will talk about your experience in particular.

Rob:
So how did you get started in gamification or game design? Wow. Well, as I told you, I’ve been a teacher since, well, since 2013. I think around that. I used to create a gamification learning for my students, and then I realized that I love to create games.

Rob:
I also used to be summer camp animator. So I love to create games and love to create enjoyable experiences. And yeah, I read Don Quixote story by Cervantes a few years ago and I thought, oh, my God, I think I found my dream. I want to create a game based on this novel because I think there are plenty of things to create in a game with this story. And that’s why I started a master degree in video games in order to find people to create the game we are creating right now based on Don Quixote.

Rob:
So that’s why I started creating games with my company. Huh. Interesting. Very good. Actually relates to what you are doing right now.

Rob:
So that makes. It’s a perfect circle in that sense. Thank you for sharing that, Juan Paolo. So, Juan Paolo, you know, we’re almost done with the interview. I don’t know if there’s anything else you want to say, like, this is the space for you to say, of course, let us know where we can find out more about you, the work you’re doing, the current game, the past games, whenever and wherever you want to lead us into right now.

Rob:
And of course, if you have any final words for the engagers, please go ahead for that. Yeah, now just say that. Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak with you. I think what you do is a great thing to give people ideas and related with creating games. And if you want to know more about our game, hidalgo, or our previous game, you can follow us on Instagram, Twitter or TikTok by searching hidalgo game.

Rob:
And there you will find all the process we are sharing all the process of the creation of a game, starting with the pre conceptualization, all the comfort artists, all the prototyping mechanics. So I think it’s been a very beautiful journey and I think you will find it very interesting. Nice. Thank you very much for sharing that, for sure. And Juan Pablo, as you know, at least for now, and the engagers know this as well, at least for now.

Rob:
And for today, it is time to say that it’s game over. Hey engagers, thank you for listening to the Professor Game podcast and I hope you really enjoyed this interview. By the way, do you have any questions that you would like to ask in future interviews to future guests? If you do, please go to professorgame.com question and ask your question or questions. You can do this several times.

Rob:
If and when it is selected, it will come up in a future episode and you will receive your answer by one of our featured guest experts. And remember, as I always like to remind you, because this is really important, this helps us reach more amazing engagers like yourself. Remember, before you go on to your next mission, please go ahead and subscribe or follow. Again, this is totally for free using your favorite podcast app and listen to the next episode of Professor Game. See you there.

End of transcription

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