Before Tanya Watson became the CEO and Co-Founder of Squanch Games, she had already had a pretty impressive career. She had already spent some time at Microsoft before heading to Epic Games where she worked on such notable titles as Bulletstorm, Gears of War 2 & 3, and the iconic Fortnite. But all of that was just prep for what appears to be her true calling: steering the ship that is Squanch Games. We had a moment to catch up with Tanya to reflect on making Trover Saves the Universe a year after its launch and delve into what seperates their development process from the other studios out there.
Tanya Watson, CEO & Co-Founder of Squanch Games
Shacknews: You worked closely with Justin Roiland on Trover. He comes from a film and TV background. Was his approach any different from working with other creative types? Did you have to provide any unique guidance?
Tanya: Justin’s approach to game development was totally different from other creative folks I’ve previously worked with. He doesn’t have any of the game developer baggage that so many of us get over the years, so he approaches everything from a place with no boundaries. We get to focus on trying to make that a reality through game development.
There have been some interesting moments we’ve had as we figured out how to make the balance work, specifically coming from his experience in animation. In animation, adding new characters is not nearly as difficult as it is in games. This is one of his favorite things to do - to take mundane stuff and create a character out of it. Facial and body animation, cinematics, the voice-over pipeline, writing, the creation of the model and rig, all of those elements of game development can be incredibly time-consuming. So, we had to think creatively about how to take that challenge and turn it into an offer for the studio. How can we make the VO pipeline as fast as possible? What tech can we create to support bringing those characters to life as quickly as possible in-game? We basically built a studio and team around the things that he wanted to do on this front.
Shacknews: What has the journey of running Squanch Games been like for you? What makes the studio unique or different from previous studios you've worked for?
Tanya: Building and running Squanch Games has been an incredibly unique experience, especially being able to handpick a crew of folks who are all-in for the vision that you’re trying to create.. The studio is unique in that we are very focused on humor. All in all, we are very serious about not being serious....
That also factors into our hiring decisions, events, and the way we approach problem solving. Even our corporate handbook references techniques that are done in improv - for example, we’re big believers of the “Yes, and.” To not to shut down ideas, but rather to riff on them and create an open and collaborative creative environment. It’s a very different mentality from other places I’ve worked at.
Shacknews: What is your favorite part about creating games that center around making people laugh?
Tanya: I am a huge fan of comedy, and making comedic games is hard. Really hard. Games are already difficult enough to make ‘fun,’ and often they require us trying something over and over and over again until it is. Now take that, apply that to the dialogue, and it’s no longer just the game itself that needs the fun factor - but the words themselves that need to be iterated on over and over in order to ensure that people (generally) find it funny. The real joy comes from being successful in that. Seeing people laugh when they play our games. It makes me so happy.
Shacknews: What was unique about working on Trover?
Tanya: Everything about working on Trover was unique. We created an entire studio from scratch, which was built around how to make comedy work in the game. We did that across two locations, with Justin, who has made some of the most brilliant entertainment in our generation (don’t tell him I told you that). I don’t know if this experience will ever be replicated again in my lifetime. It was a great one, though.
Shacknews: What do you love most about Trover?
Tanya: I love Trover’s aloof personality, and how he was thrown into the middle of this. How the whole story is so bizarre, but at the end of the day, it’s just about someone trying to rescue his dogs. Trover never wanted to be the hero. He could be any of us, except he’s purple, and has no eyes in his eyeholes...
Shacknews: Do you have a favorite in-game moment?
Tanya: My favorite in-game moment will always be the battle in the middle of Flesh World against Gail. Here, you’re starting to learn more about Trover’s personality, after having met his ex-roommate, Gail. They go on an all-out tirade against you to try and take you out, and it all culminates in this boss battle in the middle of the level. I always laugh the hardest when I’m being insulted and trying to take out enemies at the same time. It’s kind of disarming, being attacked via gameplay and dialogue simultaneously. It really keeps your guard down.
Shacknews: What did you learn while working on the game? How will this impact future titles from the studio?
Tanya: The studio did not exist before Trover, so we were learning everything. Everything from how to work together (and between LA and Raleigh), how to work with Justin, how to get every morsel of goodness from his brain, how to build a development pipeline that catered to that, and how to market an indie title, how to run social media… I mean it’s been a front to back learning experience.
The impact of that on future titles lies in that we have developed tools and techniques for making immersive narrative games now, so we’re going to continue to build on that for future stuff. But we also plan to… not… do that, so there are some surprises in store for folks who love our stuff.
Shacknews: What's next for Squanch Games?
Tanya: I cannot say what’s next for Squanch right now, but we’ve got lots of things in motion, big and small, and cannot wait to share them with you as soon as we can.
That's it for today, but be sure to check out part one of our interview series with the dev team. And get ready for our third and final interview this coming Monday with Squanch Games Co-Founder Justin Roiland as well as another very special surprise.