“You just have to try everything.”
In Episode 5 of Humans Who Make Games podcast, Co-Founder of Subset games and creator of FTL and Into the Breach, Justin Ma, chats with host and comedian, Adam Conover about following his family’s path into game design, how the best ideas never work out, what is essential to the learning process, and more.
Ma met with work partner, Matthew Davis, while he was in Shanghai working as a junior game designer for 2K games.
“My then girlfriend and I, we went to China largely because it was kind of hard to find jobs in the US after graduating and so we just sort of went there for a little bit of time to see what would happen. And we both found jobs and ended up being there four years or so. Matt similarly was looking for work,” he said.
Ma’s father worked in the video game industry for years, and so he himself had an interest after college to do something in the industry – but he hadn’t decided specifically what he wanted to do.
“Honestly, I wasn’t sure what role I would go in to. I knew I wanted to go into the video game industry. My father had worked in the industry for a very long time in the business side, and so I would sometimes talk to people working in their studios and talk to designers. Everyone would say that undergraduate didn’t matter at all because back then there weren’t game design courses like that. So I decided to major in something I thought was interesting which was Chinese East Asian Studies. And then I used that as an excuse to move to China.”
Ma said that he had always been making tiny “very bad” games, and that he wouldn’t have hired himself from seeing his portfolio at the time.
On what his father has done in the industry, Ma explains, “My father has been sort of operations side of Activision and later on doing a lot of work for companies that wanted to access China for manufacturing, distribution, or that kind of stuff. Because my father’s Chinese Taiwanese, he had connections there.”
I grew up around video games, and sometimes would visit his office and play beta builds of Mortal Combat.
When asked about if his father plays games himself, Ma responded that, “I grew up around video games, and sometimes would visit his office and play beta builds of Mortal Combat. But he never played video games and still knows very little about actually playing games.”
Ma talks with Adam about up and coming creators who are hesitant to show their work to the world.
“A lot of young creators in all mediums fall into working on their first project for an indefinite period of time and never finish the short film or do the final draft of the screen play or get the standup set on its feet or release the game. By not doing that they are missing out on this essential learning process of the creative process. Of what it feels like to end.”
He continued that, “If you are just questioning right now if now is the right time to show this to people and get opinions, it is always the right time.”
To hear more about Ma’s outlook on creative expressions and to find out his deep-seeded thoughts on his first game that many say is difficult to beat, FTL, listen to episode 5 of Humans Who Make Games podcast and subscribe on Apple Podcasts so you don’t miss any new episodes.
Jessie Wade is a writer at IGN and loves listening to game designers talk about their internal thoughts. Chat with her on Twitter @jessieannwade.