100 Creatives

100 Creatives 2015: Eric Kinkead, Old School Video Game Maker

What He Does: Eric Kinkead is one of the focal points of the surprisingly busy Houston indie video game developer scene. He is both instrumental in spreading the news about Houston game happenings through HoustonGameDev.org and the head of app-developer Lava Level. It's from there that he launched the mobile, old school RPG QuestLord.

It's a first-person dungeon crawler that uses a turn-based fighting system. The play is along the lines as the original Ultima games, which were a big influence on Kinkead growing up.

In the 1980s Kinkead had uncles that started topping one another in early home computers starting with the TRS-80, then the Atari 400, the 800, and so on. The exposure to programming from the very beginning captured Kinkead's imagination and he scrimped and saved to buy his own computer, an Atari ST where he published his first game. Eventually he landed a job at Bally/Midway and has worked on games for everything from the NES to the Dreamcast. QuestLord was an opportunity for him to finally self-publish a work of his own.

Why He Likes It: "Video games are a relatively new art from. I can create rich stories and have people actually interact with my artwork. Today's developers have enough resources to create something completely by themselves or with a small group and publish without the hassles of publishers and licenses.

Modern independent game developers are more like book authors than simply game makers to me. Plus with mobile games, I can create just about any type of game I want and have it available to the largest audience possible. Not everyone has a game console, but just about everyone owns a smart phone."

What Inspires Him: When Kinkead was starting out he had the ability to create art down just fine, but programming seemed to be out of his reach. The level of skill needed had evolved faster than he could keep up with.

Then one day he was having a conversation at Bally/Midway with Warren Davis, the creator of Q-bert. Kinkead mentioned to Davis that he thought it was amazing Davis could program. Davis looked at Kinkead and said, "Anyone can program. You just need to take the time to learn it."

That message and attitude still inspires Kinkead to grow and better himself to this day.

If Not This, Then What: "I think because I was trained in the traditional fine arts to start with I would continue painting/illustration. Games for me are artwork with a highly interactive element for the audience. So without that, I would still continue to make art."

If Not Here, Then Where: Kinkead started in Houston but moved to Chicago to work with Ball/Midway. From there he's bounced around to New York and Austin. He thinks that Seattle might be a nice place to try but he prefers Houston. It's a city with a lot of uncharted territory in game development despite having the pedigree of one of the most legendary game developers, Richard Garriott, growing up here. The budding scene taking advantage of mobile gaming and Steam is reason enough for Kinkead to stick around.

What's Next: "I never imagined QuestLord would be such a hit after release, and I would have so many fans reach out and contact me about how much it reminds them of the games they grew up with. This has touched me deeply and at their request QuestLord 2 has been my main focus. Who knows what is on the horizon after that, but whatever it is I am sure it will be quite the adventure!"

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner