Gamedev Interview: David Dunham
It’s time for another interview! I’ve been working hard at work with all the awesome games available currently, and with Phantom Liberty around the corner, I’m juggling these games like a wolf juggling chainsaws. That is a terrifying mental image.
One of my favourite games this summer is Six Ages 2, a stunning story generator that’s captivated my lore brain. It was one of my most anticipated games of 2023, and so far it is living up to the hype. I hope to have a review up for it in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, I got the chance to interview David Dunham, the developer of Six Ages 2. You can buy this awesome game on Steam and GOG:
Let’s start off with an introduction! Please tell me who you are, and what do you do?
I’m David Dunham, and I’ve been making games on and off for most of my career. King of Dragon Pass is probably the most well known, but I worked on dozens of games while at GameHouse. Most recently I’ve led the teams that made Six Ages and Six Ages 2.
What game/studio are you currently involved with? And what position?
My company, A Sharp, just finished Six Ages 2. I’m responsible for finding and directing all the talented people who helped make the game. Essentially I do the coding and overall design, and they do everything else.
What advice would you give those who wish to enter the industry?
It obviously depends on what sort of role you want. In some cases, working as a tester can be an entry point, if you have the attention to detail.
But my general advice is: Make a game! Any sort of game. When I interview candidates, being able to see that a candidate has gone through the process of finishing a game really makes them stand out. It can be a simple Twine game, it can use free assets, it can be just one level.
If you still have time to play video games, what are some of your favorite ones to play?
I see you know how to phrase that one! Most recently I played Mask of the Rose and before that Roadwarden. I’m looking forward to Amarantus and I Was a Teenage Exocolonist.
How did you get into your chosen field in the industry?
I got lucky in many ways. I was able to work full time on games when I met someone who needed a programmer. I eventually moved back to more traditional software development for a while, but when an opportunity to do games came up, I took it.
What is the hardest part of your job?
One challenge is that it’s really hard to know how a game is going to work. You know that it’s got fun elements, but do they stay fun over the entire play experience? And with a lot of games, you don’t have enough of the game to be able to answer this until fairly close to the end.
What lessons have you learned during your time in the industry?
As an industry, “build it and they will come” isn’t true. What you build is critical — marketing won’t save a bad game. But if you’re an indie, you need to have some sort of plan for getting the attention of possible players.
What are your future project(s)?
As usual, nothing I can talk about yet. I don’t want to talk about something I might not be able to deliver.
If you couldn’t be a game developer, what ideal job would you like to do?
I’d probably go back to making software for people (as opposed to organizations). It was fun creating things like Opal and Acta, which help people write and organize.
What were your greatest challenges during the development of Six Ages 2?
Probably it was the scope. I’d hoped that doing a sequel would mean that it would be faster to build. While it’s true that the infrastructure all existed, the design was for a longer play experience, which meant more content. Which needed more time to create and more time to test.
What are your plans for Six Ages 2 during 2023 and beyond?
A lot of that depends on how well it sells, unfortunately. I do expect to do some more bug fixing. But it’s a finished game, so it doesn’t definitely need more.
What games were your greatest inspirations in designing Six Ages 2?
It’s pretty much in the mold of King of Dragon Pass, so I could go back to its influences, like Castles, Civilization, and Monkey Island. And Hidden Agenda was something that my collaborator Greg Stafford was influenced by.
And of course Greg’s tabletop roleplaying game Pendragon was a big inspiration, as well as his games that explored the world of Glorantha.
I was a big fan of the first Six Ages. What things have you learned from developing the first as well as King of Dragon Pass during making Six Ages 2?
One aspect of King of Dragon Pass that we focused on in Six Ages, and doubled down on in Six Ages 2, is having advisors talking to each other (in the context of the event). It’s a great reminder that they aren’t just playing pieces, they’re people. And it’s some of the funniest writing in the game. It’s also tricky to make work, given conflicting game needs of actually giving the player some useful advice, and combining the procedural personalities.
What is your ideal video game if money and time was no object?
I think it would be similar to the ones I’ve made, but with a studio structure where I could actually give people steady jobs, and be able to hire people to deal with marketing.
Past a certain point, I don’t think you’re really going to get a better game by working on it longer.
More about You
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I do a fair amount of reading, usually alternating between fiction and non-fiction. I do sometimes play games, especially if they’re on iPad so I can get away from my desk.
Coffee or Tea? Or (exult deep breath) what other drink do you prefer, if you like neither?
Coffee. I’m actually about to go make myself a latte.
You can travel to anywhere in the universe. Where would you go, and why?
Probably the coolest would be another place where life has evolved, but since we don’t know where that is, I’ll just say viewing the rings of ****** up close would be pretty awesome.
Pick any three fiction characters. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
I don’t know about road trips, but going along with the time-traveling tourists of The Anubis Gates (by Tim Powers) would be quite an adventure!
Finally, what superpower would you most like?
Flying would be a lot of fun! Though x-ray vision would probably be more useful in day to day life, being able to find stuff without looking under a pile of papers or opening drawers.
Six Ages site: https://sixages.com
King of Dragon Pass site: https://a-sharp.com/kodp/
You can buy Six Ages 2 on:
App Store: https://apps.apple.com/app/six-ages-2-lights-going-out/id1231955010