Rob Wiethoff played John Marston in the hit game Red Dead Redemption. Then he walked away from the industry for good.

What happened to John Marston

Rob Wiethoff is in Puerto Rico, and he has no idea what the hell he's doing. After following a girl to Los Angeles and bartending to fund a search for acting jobs, Wiethoff caught a break: A producer, after a few drinks, offered him a deal. Wiethoff would fly to Puerto Rico and do some crew work on a film. Perhaps there'd be a small role in the picture as well. The reality of the situation wasn't quite on par with the promise. "I'm sure they were selling drugs," Wiethoff says, with a nervous laugh. After staying for a week and seeing the sights, there were nothing but empty promises. The producer strung a tale of lost funding and a green light for shooting that was always just around the corner. Every day it was a different story. Every day he came up short. Wiethoff, who...
A middle school where board games, card games, Minecraft and Portal all make space for students to learn

ChicagoQuest: Teaching with games in Chicago's Cabrini-Green

There are three different noise levels inside the average American middle school classroom. Working students ages of 12 to 14 can generate pin-drop quiet for only short periods of time. More frequently they're alive with animated conversation. Sometimes they're closer to freight-train-hitting-a-cowbell-factory loud. In Luke Carman's classroom, late on a Tuesday a mere 26 days from the end of the school year, the 20-odd pupils have crossed the line between busy buzz and catastrophic freight derailment. "Clap once, softly, if you can hear me," Carman whispers at the whiteboard. Six students clap. "Clap twice, softly, if you can hear me," he whispers. Twelve students clap. "Clap three times if you can hear me." The entire class claps. Focused. Ready to move on. It's like...
The man behind puzzle smash hit Contre Jour opens up about making games in a former Soviet state.

Making Games and Breakdancing in the former USSR: The story of Contre Jour

The small caravan comes to a stop about 30 minutes from town. Outside the cars, the thick, moist air is heavy with the smell of earth, grass and manure. It's been drizzling for days, but the ground here is merely damp. Nothing left for puddles; the soil has snatched up all the water for itself. Two horses, tied together by one ankle with a short leather strap, graze on the rich green lawn half a block away. Closer, some chickens scratch along the edge of a lush vegetable garden. A stray cat grooms itself on the rim of a wide concrete well. These are the suburbs of Lviv, Ukraine. Elsewhere in Western Europe, this area might be mistaken for rural, but here it's where wealthy people live — a thin crust of land between the dense, timeless city and the barren countryside. Past the...
How the creators of Mark of the Ninja and Don't Starve built their family-friendly studio.

The birth and re-birth of Klei

In the video game industry, is stability just another fantasy? Klei Entertainment, an independent game studio in downtown Vancouver, is audaciously in pursuit of normalcy. Co-founder Jamie Cheng believes fair pay, minimal overtime and creative freedom are sustainable — even profitable — strategies. With the company's latest game, a survival simulator (fittingly) called Don't Starve, he's proved it. The timing is apt. In the first four months of 2013, at least 18 studios have contributed to nearly 2,000 layoffs. Funcom closed its Beijing studio; Zynga closed its Baltimore and Japan studios, then consolidated the rest; Atari closed Eden Games; Disney closed Junction Point and LucasArts and TimeGate closed itself. The second biggest publisher in the industry, Electronic Arts,...
Human Angle
How a growing group of independent developers is using video games to share the reality of their lives.

Just making things and being alive about it: The queer games scene

Lim is a simple game. It only takes a few minutes to play. You navigate a square through a minimal world. You have not been told what to do, so you just move through the maze. When you are alone in the corridors, you flash with all the colors of the rainbow. But before long, you start to encounter squares of different colors. They don't like you. They ram you. They make progress near impossible. The screen shakes; the white noise is violently nauseating. Your only hope is to hold down Z to "blend in." You turn brown near the brown squares; you turn blue near the blue squares. But it is an imperfect solution. As you try to blend in, your movement is dramatically slowed, and the camera begins to zoom in. Keep blending and the entire game starts to shake and bang. It's just like when...
Human Angle
The chiptune quartet gets ready to unleash its Endless Fantasy.

Anamanaguchi: The Ninja Turtles of Rock

Peter Berkman has returned to Williamsburg Pizza for the fourth time in the past 24 hours. The shop hasn't even been open a year, but the 24-year-old New York state native already knows everybody in the tiny, delicious-smelling kitchen on a first-name basis — and they know him, certainly. "I'm probably putting one of their kids through school right now," Berkman jokes. This time, he just grabs a soda, but he cops to eating one to two meals a day at the shop. It's a stone's throw from the constant rattle of the nearby elevated J train, which can also be heard from his own apartment a few blocks away. Could be that he's filling up because he has a big tour on the horizon. Berkman is the founding member of Anamanaguchi, a chiptune rock band he started as a teenage solo project in...
How a love of making things and the US Air Force inspired Ger Tysk to cosplay.

Anatomy of a Cosplayer

Ger Tysk makes woodworking look effortless. As wood chips and splinters fly, sticking to her shirt and rebounding off her plastic safety goggles, her face remains as still and calm as water. Her arms move back and forth, the wooden block in her hands an extension of her limbs, pushing it through the saw and flipping it over to push again in one fluid motion. Tysk is in her garage in the middle of Arlington, Mass., where she has banished her car in favor of a workshop. Floor to ceiling, the walls are covered with shelves and hooks sporting saws, wrenches and blades of all sizes. A pile of wood blocks and dowels sits in one corner, a dedicated station for spray-painting in the other. A bandsaw, router, lathe and two tables with half-finished projects clutter the room. The spread on...
The ballad of Bryan Heitkotter, a man who turned Gran Turismo into a dream job

Test Drive: From Gamer to Racer

Bryan Heitkotter isn't a superstar. Not to most people. He's a guy, a normal-looking dude in his early 30s, not ugly, but not a stud either. He lives in Fresno, the same city where he grew up. His parents live nearby. He's got an older sister. He'd like a family of his own one day, but he doesn't have one to speak of right now. He enjoys playing video games. Like most people, Heitkotter has goals. Things he'd like to do one day. Dreams. Unlike most people, Heitkotter's already realized most of them. In fact, he's one of a kind. Until late last year, no other American could ever claim to do the things he's done. He's a record-holder, a winner and a champion. Bryan Heitkotter is a professional race car driver. But he's not just any race car driver; he's the first American to go...
Over two years of interviews, Vlambeer tells Polygon the inside story of how it beat the clones and launched the best-reviewed iOS game of 2013.

Cloned at Birth: The Story of Ridiculous Fishing

"I think 'overwhelmed' is the right word," says Rami Ismail, the business half of Dutch design duo Vlambeer. The interview is over. The story, told in pieces at least a hundred times in bars, at hamburger joints, on stages and in private circles of up-and-coming game developers, has now been told for the first time in its entirety. It is a story about the little guy getting bullied and making a stand. And winning. It is the story of Ridiculous Fishing, and how two men from the Netherlands rallied the worldwide community of independent game developers to take on the practice of game cloning and reclaim their invention to launch what will become (for a time) the best-reviewed iOS game of 2013. Only when the tale is told, all at once, in a rush, do the men themselves fully...
"[At E3 2012], people I’ve long admired asked, ‘How is the indie game development scene in Japan?’ I didn’t know what to tell them." -Yohei Kataoka, director of Tokyo Jungle

BitSummit Rising: Japan's Indie Ambassador

"I really like people who are individuals, like mavericks," says James Mielke, a six-foot and change, bleached-blond ex-pat. "Japan does not reward that kind of behavior normally. It has a village mentality. Like when shit happens, people keep their shit together. They don't raid or loot Best Buy and they don't set cars on fire. All of these young people who are full of hope and promise, they just go into a salary man job. They end up being the guy who chain-smokes and drinks himself to death. Jumps on the subway because he can't handle the pressure or jumps on the train tracks. It is really tough here for the average Japanese person." Mielke is the organizer of BitSummit, a conference designed to galvanize Japan's fragmented indie game community and introduce it to Western media....
Human Angle
A day in the life of a working-class game hero.

Ciji is a Robot Jockey with Something to Prove

Once upon a time, Ciji Thornton was a rock star. Kind of. During the height of the Guitar Hero boom, Thornton made a name for herself as one of the hardest rockers of the plastic guitar. "I was up on stage with thousands of people watching me," Thornton muses about her performance at the 2009 Gamescom Instant Jam in Germany. "How many people spend thousands of hours, days, years learning to play real guitar? And I come out with my plastic guitar and play on stage in front of thousands of people in another country." Though Thornton has been competing in one form or another since 1998, she didn't go pro until 2006 at the Midnight Gaming Championship in Texas. Her first sponsor was a gaming apparel company, she recalls, who offered to customize her personal Guitar Hero instrument in...
Human Angle
Meet the people, problems, motivations and games behind this year's PAX East Indie Megabooth.

We Built a Booth

Kelly Wallick can't stand still. She's hurtling left and right, forward and backwards. She's racing down aisles. She's putting up signs. She's building stuff in one place, and telling others to build stuff in another. She's saying hello to old friends and to people she's never met before. She's making small talk and big talk. She's on the move, scooting around forklifts and cardboard and monitors and people. She's nervous but excited; she has a tentative confidence. But this is what she anticipated, and now she's putting everything in its right place. She's home. It's the afternoon before PAX East 2013 in Boston, Mass., and Wallick is standing at the heart of her baby. She has been at the head of a six-month-long project, one with the potential to better the lives of hundreds of...
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