038: Games that Give Back with Dan Scalise

Bidding the family of designers good morrow, our heroes find respite, a cozy moment to decompress with Scalisco Games founder Dan Scalise and talk about their new game: Corgi’s Cozy Hike.

Things discussed in this interview with game designer Dan Scalise:

  • 00:59 Dog Gone Seattle.
  • Lots: Corgis Cozy Hike
  • 1:26 Candy Crush
  • 02:53 Final Fantasy
  • 03:11 Game of Thrones board game
  • 03:11 Avalon
  • 03:11 Resistance
  • 03:28 Among Us
  • 03:37 One Night Werewolf
  • 03:50 Blood on the Clock Tower
  • 04:15 Donkey Kong Country
  • Lots: Banjo Kazooie
  • 10:13 Mario 64
  • 15:12 Rock Miner
  • 22:53 Elden Ring
  • 22:53 Tears of the Kingdom
  • 22:53 Zelda (The Legend of Zelda series)
  • 27:07 We play D12, where we mention
    • Uno
    • Legend of Zelda
    • Xenoblade
    • Final Fantasy
    • Pokemon
    • Super Mario Odyssey
    • Cue Skyward Sword

Note: this is an automatically generated transcript – it’s kind of rough!


[00:00:00] Dan Scalise: I’m Dan I founded Scalise Co. And we make games that donate to animal shelters. I always wanted to make games that make the world a better place in some way, and I thought, what better way than then to start with animals? And so I made a couple Corgi games they’re nice and soothing, relaxing, no violence, no stress.

You can get addicted to them or just put them in the background, keep ’em in your pocket. since then I’ve started working on a STEAM game, and that’s called a corgis cozy hike. And that’s my big thing for this year. 

From Amazon to Scalisco

[00:00:31] Tim Broadwater: How did you get from developer at Amazon to, I’m making my own game studio that donates money to pet shelters 

[00:00:41] Dan Scalise: First of all, I loved my time at Amazon.

I got really lucky. I had a good team and a good manager and that really helped grow my skills as a developer, I think. I’ve always wanted to make games in the past too, so I was toying around with making games in my free time. But then I learned that Amazon would own anything you created.

[00:00:59] Dan Scalise: Basically. They would own the IP rights to it and stuff like that back then. So I just wasn’t happy with that. And so I knew I had to leave before I actually started a real project. At the same time I had a coworker who really loved dogs and was fostering for Dog Gone Seattle. And so I started learning about the challenges that dogs faced, and I saw how much money games in the mobile space made like Candy Crush and where did it all go?

[00:01:26] Dan Scalise: Just into some CEO’s pocket. So I was thinking, man, all these small nonprofits need so much help. What if, I could make a game that, gives them some help that’s really where I got the courage, I guess, to leave my job and start working on it. 

[00:01:42] Tim Broadwater: The labels Scalisco games, correct?

[00:01:45] Tim Broadwater: Yeah. How does it work at a high level? 

[00:01:48] Dan Scalise: Well, we’re just a normal LLC. We’re not nonprofit technically.

[00:01:52] Dan Scalise: As I got started, I didn’t know much about business and I thought being a nonprofit would just slow us down. I just have good intentions, so I hope people will see that for now. And eventually I’d like to start a nonprofit and help other developers also donate to charity since I do know now how much effort it really takes.

[00:02:10] Dan Scalise: There’s a lot of rules you need to follow and it’s hard just to work with nonprofits in general. They don’t have much time and so anything you can do to help them helps too. 

[00:02:19] Tim Broadwater: From a UX perspective, how does a junior UX or start or build their portfolio?

[00:02:23] Tim Broadwater: And it’s like, please, for the love of God, work with nonprofits. They need all the help thinking. 

First Gaming Experience

[00:02:28] Tim Broadwater: What’s your first gaming experience that you remember 

[00:02:30] Dan Scalise: I mostly gravitated towards video games,, which, donkey Kong Country was my first game. And, banjo Kazuo definitely captivated my imagination. And then eventually as I got a little older in my teens, I started loving Final Fantasy and I started seeing how narrative could play such a role in games that I think that’s underused still to this day.

[00:02:53] Dan Scalise: And, as far as like a tabletop is concerned I wasn’t very social, I guess, as a kid or as a teen even. But once I , started working at Amazon, me and my coworkers started playing the Game of Thrones board game when it was really popular or, . Avalon is probably my favorite, real game like, resistance.

[00:03:11] Dan Scalise: I like those social Deduction games and stuff like that. 

[00:03:15] Tim Broadwater: That’s actually my least favorite cause I’m really bad at lying. I cannot keep a straight face. 

[00:03:21] Michael Schofield: I was trying to get Tim to play blood on the clock tower when we were at Packs Unplugged.

[00:03:26] Michael Schofield: I liked those games a lot

[00:03:28] Dan Scalise: Among us never really got to me because, I don’t like player elimination. That’s why I like resistance and Avalon, because you’re always still in the game even if you lose around. 

[00:03:37] Tim Broadwater: That’s true. That’s good. Never think about that.

[00:03:40] Tim Broadwater: But in games, like one night werewolf, things like that, it’s like elimination every round or bulk elimination every round or something. 

“Hey, I can make a game.”

[00:03:49] Michael Schofield: when was the point 

[00:03:50] Michael Schofield: where you’re like, Hey, . I can make a game.

[00:03:52] Dan Scalise: Well, it’s, it’s a great question. whenever I was, growing up, I never imagined that I could make games.

[00:03:58] Dan Scalise: You know, it just wasn’t even on my radar. I didn’t know that people made games. It just seemed like they were magic. But I always imagined making games in my head, I’m in third grade pretending to be reading underneath my desk, but I’m actually imagining, okay, donkey Kong 64 is fun, but it has problems.

[00:04:15] Dan Scalise: What if we would do this? Or like, how would we make levels that are like this , it wasn’t until the end of high school, whenever I took like a coding class that I started, dabbling in making games. Just like little text adventures. And eventually I started, I took a game design class in college and, we made a snowball first person shooter, and that was really fun.

[00:04:38] Dan Scalise: After college, I never even thought I could be a game developer just cause, you hear in the industry, it’s just so, Taxing and AAA development is just horror stories. 

[00:04:48] Dan Scalise: And then indie, there’s the conception that it’s all luck, so you’re not gonna get successful anyway, so why even try?

[00:04:55] Dan Scalise: Especially as a developer, I was making so much money already. So like, why? Give that up and try to do something that’s so hard. And really, I only quit because I thought it would be easier. I guess so. 

Starting Fresh

[00:05:11] Tim Broadwater: Well, yeah, I’m kinda wondering like, what’s that? Ok, so you’re like, I’m gonna start a game company, and then you quit your job and then day one, what does that journey look like to like you?

[00:05:28] Dan Scalise: Released it in nine, in 2019. Originally, I, left my job in 2018 and I couldn’t work on it before I left. That was one of the rules that Amazon had in place. I had in 2017 made a small little puzzle game that I never released. And, I actually, I talked to a lawyer then to see if I could release it or not, and he said, you probably shouldn’t.

[00:05:49] Dan Scalise: And I was like, you probably shouldn’t. I had a goal. Yeah, I had a goal, release a game before the, before my birthday. And uh, I actually succeeded in making it. And so I was like, oh, great. You know, and that, that really built my confidence. And I guess whenever I quit, you know, I was just like, oh, yay.

[00:06:08] Dan Scalise: You know, it’ll be a mobile game. It’ll be simple. It won’t be that hard. Oh yeah, I was wrong. 

[00:06:13] Tim Broadwater: So your first game, you’re talking about you made before your birthday. Did you just literally go to the web and what languages do people use? Like how do I make a game . 

[00:06:22] Dan Scalise: I already knew that Unity existed in, in my game design class in 2013 or 2012.

[00:06:28] Dan Scalise: Actually, we used like a proprietary library that was built by some PhD student and it was not good. The next year they started using Unity and I felt so betrayed cuz I feel like we, they would just taught us unity in that class. I would’ve been ahead much sooner, but I didn’t start learning Unity until 2017 for that game.

[00:06:49] Dan Scalise: I guess I played around with Unreal Engine before that, but I just found, unity so much easier to get started, I guess. And I liked the asset store. 

[00:06:58] Tim Broadwater: So I actually worked with a junior UX developer, Catherine and then college, she actually interned with us and then came and hired on after.

[00:07:08] Tim Broadwater: Actually had a game design class as like an elective in college. They taught not only Unreal, but also Unity and so Up was semester. Amazing. Amazing. 

Learning Unity

[00:07:27] Michael Schofield: Purely selfish question.

[00:07:28] Michael Schofield: I’m also an engineer, . How hard is unity to pick up? I’m super curious. Also, , super selfish. 

[00:07:37] Dan Scalise: Well, I’d say every year it gets easier and easier. Just a couple years ago, they added a visual scripting language called Bolt, which now they call visual scripting. And that just lets you do coding without actually writing code.

[00:07:52] Dan Scalise: So that helps a lot. There’s also things on the asset store that you can use to help get started with, things that you might not be able to do, like character controller packs or, , As far as like a visual novel type of experience goes, there’s a lot of visual novel engines like fungus, I think that’s what it’s called.

[00:08:08] Dan Scalise: And that helps you a lot cuz you can just write the dialogue, you can say which character’s talking, you can tell it to do what animations, and there’s a lot of stuff preset for you. So I think that makes it a lot easier to get started on specific things. But I think if you wanna actually make it marketable, you are gonna have to really find a good illustrator.

[00:08:29] Dan Scalise: And, probably pay them a bunch and probably also tweak it to be something more unique to what you need. Cuz I think most games aren’t always cookie cutter. Even a visual novel. I think people are still looking for some unique experience with it. 

Team size

[00:08:46] Tim Broadwater: How big 

[00:08:46] Tim Broadwater: is your team for rescue pets or rock miner? 

[00:08:49] Dan Scalise: It’s just 

[00:08:49] Dan Scalise: me I have one artist I hired music and sound effects for rescue pets for rock miner.

[00:08:56] Dan Scalise: We only use stuff on the asset store though. I did have a couple programmers that I was trying to hire for rescue pets, but it just didn’t really work out so well. And I was still learning how to be a manager, I guess, at the same time while I was developing. And so it wasn’t the best experience.

[00:09:15] Dan Scalise: But for, corgis Cozy Hike, it’s just the two of us. we don’t have a musician yet. That’s one of the things we’re gonna do a Kickstarter for. It’ll probably be the two us developing it, so that’ll be fun. 

Corgi’s Cozy Hike

[00:09:30] Tim Broadwater: Corgi looks very different than all your other games, and then I believe, you have a stretch goal on Kickstarter to put it on switch.

[00:09:38] Tim Broadwater: Is that correct? 

[00:09:40] Dan Scalise: Yeah. 

[00:09:41] Tim Broadwater: Can you talk to us a little bit about Corgi? 

[00:09:44] Dan Scalise: Oh 

[00:09:44] Dan Scalise: yeah. Corgis cozy hike is where you’re just a little corgi exploring this nice open world. It’s, uh, supposed to be a bite-sized experience, like a short hike or a little gator game. just take a couple hours to beat and maybe eight to 10 hours to a hundred percent.

[00:10:00] Dan Scalise: I just wanted something that would be this nonviolent, , stress-free experience where people could relax and just walk around, do whatever they want. And I always love 3D platformers. 

[00:10:13] Dan Scalise: I played old games like Banjo Kazue or Don Young 64, and I feel like those games always had enemies in it for no reason. Like it was just so fun collecting things. Even Mario, like Mario 64, Mario Tis, he doesn’t need enemies. I just wanted to, give that a try and I guess I was always scared of making like a steam game.

[00:10:32] Dan Scalise: I thought mobile would be a lot easier and, it probably was and it helped me get to where I am, but at the same time, being on pc means I don’t have to worry about such low specs. So far, it’s seeming a lot easier to, develop for PC and, unity is made for more 3D stuff. And so Rescue Pets was, really pushing the limits that we could do on mobile because it was such high quality 2D art.

[00:10:57] Dan Scalise: . I didn’t expect that, although these days I think Unity’s better with it. Already in four years, that’s improving. 

Developing for Steam

[00:11:04] Michael Schofield: What is it like to develop for Steam?

[00:11:06] Michael Schofield: I haven’t spoken to anybody who’s ever done that 

[00:11:09] Dan Scalise: Well. As far as the preconceptions I had, it was probably just based on these old ideas of people saying it’s so hard to make a game, I feel like PC games just have this level of polish that you expect a lot more than mobile games. People on Reddit are very, even in the game dev community, they’re very negative towards, Being an indie and they say it’s just luck, 

[00:11:34] Dan Scalise: I think, you know, maybe five years ago or so, it was when Steam like stopped Steam Greenlight, which was their program for onboarding indie games. They started letting anyone pay a hundred dollars and then you could upload your game. And then we saw these couple years where Steam was full of these trash games.

[00:11:51] Tim Broadwater: but if you bundle all the trash games together and you get them away in a deal, 

[00:11:56] Michael Schofield: then you have Xbox Game Pass. 

[00:12:01] Tim Broadwater: That’s, that’s interesting. 

[00:12:03] Dan Scalise: But then in like 2020 or so, they like changed their algorithm I think and you see less trash gain now. And if you go to how to market a game.com, the guy there, his name’s Chris, he will tell you all about how their algorithm changed and now they base it on how many wishlists you get.

[00:12:19] Dan Scalise: If you got enough wishlists, they will promote you more. And that’s their way of like filtering out the trash. So you just have to get to seven to 10,000 wishlists and that’ll help you, be auto promoted and, so we’re gonna see how that goes. I’m still a little bit too early to,, see how that works for me.

[00:12:36] Tim Broadwater: How does the pacing work there? If you think chronologically from a tabletop card game or board game, like here’s an idea. I dunno if it’ll work. I’m gonna start prototyping it and it’s like, oh, I’ll start putting this in front of players. Fine tune the rules.

[00:12:50] Tim Broadwater: Hopefully there’s something fun that they enjoy and then you can tweak and then when it kinda blind play test itself and you don’t need there instructions.

[00:13:03] Tim Broadwater: So, Illustrations for the final music for the deliverable. How is that different for a video game, I guess? And then how does wish listing, cause I imagine there’s the discord community of your players as well as wishlist is really important, but I dunno how it fits in like the process. 

[00:13:27] Dan Scalise: Well, yeah, the, the advice I’ve seen is that wishlists are super critical.

[00:13:31] Dan Scalise: You’re like, you shouldn’t really start talking about your game online until you have your steam page up. And you should get it up early because the earlier that you’re there, the longer you have to, build wishlists. 

[00:13:43] Tim Broadwater: So start with the wishlist and a page. 

[00:13:45] Dan Scalise: Yeah. And I’d even say probably email lists or something.

[00:13:49] Dan Scalise: You have to find some way to build your audience and it’s nice if you can get them in an email list. I’m kind of having trouble with that so far. I haven’t really promoted our email list page much yet. It’s corgis cozy hike.com. But you definitely want those wishlists cuz that’s how steam’s gonna promote you.

[00:14:06] Tim Broadwater: And so to have successful wishlist listing on steam, you’ve already had to have export some type of image or video of the gameplay to get people to Yeah,

[00:14:15] Dan Scalise: you need four images and you need your capsule art they call it, is, which it’s like the main, the key art for the thing. You don’t even need a video, but you should probably have one. But that means you need to prototype something rapidly and you have to get it looking pretty good. Just to start with, You don’t want programmer art.

[00:14:34] Dan Scalise: And that’s where it gets kind of tough, you know? Cause you know, you need to balance, okay, I gotta be talking about my game early, but I also have to be, developing and marketing balance developing instead of Yeah, you can’t make it perfect. I didn’t think that we could make it this far on this game, actually.

[00:14:49] Dan Scalise: We just started working on it in December. I was tired of mobile games, I guess because, Google took us off the App store. In fact, rock Miner, was just taken off the app store in May because they say that we’re not following their family policies, which I don’t understand what, because we do turn off.

[00:15:12] Dan Scalise: Basically they have rules that say that if you’re under 18, the ads that you watch have to be like catered to your age limit, which we are. And so I don’t understand what they’re saying, but they just remove the game instead actually, helping us with it.

[00:15:27] Dan Scalise: And you email them, they take weeks to respond. And so it’s just sad. And so I just got frustrated because they took us down on Black Friday as well, so. And, you know, we uploaded it and fixed it, but we missed the best, sales days in, the year, I was upset and I was like, I always wanted to make a bigger game.

[00:15:44] Dan Scalise: I always wanted to make steam games. I always wanted to make platformers or adventures and have story be more meaningful and a part of it more. And so what if we just try it out, see how far we get in a month? And so every day in December, I released a video on my progress for that day. And, uh, before, it just started coming together and there were definitely hard parts in it.

[00:16:05] Dan Scalise: I pushed myself really hard. It was a lot of coffee and caffeine, but I think, doing a video a day really helped me keep going. And even through the hard parts, 

[00:16:16] Tim Broadwater: it also probably helped you build, following right as you went, 

[00:16:20] Dan Scalise: right? Yeah, we did get a few hundred, YouTube followers at that point. 

[00:16:26] Tim Broadwater: That’s brilliant.

Game Design Process

[00:16:27] Tim Broadwater: If you had to describe to other people, what your kinda game design process is. 

[00:16:33] Dan Scalise: Yeah. I would say it’s very iterative.

[00:16:35] Dan Scalise: You know, like these prototypes are. Are big and they’re not like technical prototypes because I don’t delete the code and then restart. I definitely, take the prototype into the actual game. But I think especially for rescue pets and even rock minor, there’s a lot of iterative process 

[00:16:53] Dan Scalise: I spent like the first year just like learning unity well enough to even release it. But then once we released it, it was still like bare bones and it was like in beta. And so we would see what people said and then we would make little changes to it. Mm-hmm. And, uh, just try to keep tweaking the opening of the game to help, improve the, , retention and try to get more people through the first day or two of the gameplay.

[00:17:18] Dan Scalise: And then we go to panics. 

[00:17:21] Tim Broadwater: Play testing essentially. Yeah. Just to how do we speed this up? How do we onboard people quicker? 

[00:17:26] Dan Scalise: Yeah. Which we didn’t do like much in-person play testing. it’s mostly, I put analytics in the game and we had a dashboard where we could see like how far people get or how long they were playing, stuff like that.

[00:17:37] Dan Scalise: And, uh, there’s only so much 

[00:17:41] Tim Broadwater: player behavior is what you.

[00:17:46] Dan Scalise: There’s only so much you can do with that. And so that’s why Pax was so helpful cause we had the demos there and we could actually see what people were doing and say Uhhuh, that’s why they get stuck, you know? That helped so much. 

[00:17:56] Dan Scalise: I think most is just how, you expect them to go a certain path or something and then they just don’t, or they just, uh, they just go different way. Like 

[00:18:06] Tim Broadwater: every game designer, it doesn’t matter if it’s a tabletop role playing game or a board game or video game, it’s like the players never do what we think they’re gonna do.

[00:18:15] Dan Scalise: Yeah. And so for corgis cozy hike, we, We had a demo for Pax. And, it was like the first time we really showed the game and every night of the convention I was like, tweaking the level design just to see how it impacted people’s, uh Oh, 

[00:18:33] Michael Schofield: wow. You could iterate that quickly on it. 

[00:18:36] Dan Scalise: I shouldn’t, but, uh, 

[00:18:40] Michael Schofield: it’s just,

[00:18:45] Dan Scalise: Yeah, like the,, Amazon employee backing me is like, oh no, what are you doing? Don’t edit a live demo or something. It’s gonna be bad. It’s gonna be bad, but we only had one hiccup. and so that was pretty good. But as luck, and it was very stressful. But you know, I’d say it’s just such valuable feedback.

[00:19:02] Dan Scalise: You gotta get it while you’re there. We paid to be there. 

[00:19:04] Tim Broadwater: That’s amazing that you get 

[00:19:05] Tim Broadwater: both behavioral analytics, but then also doing the in-person play testing as well to, you know, observing moderated. That’s super cool.

[00:19:16] Dan Scalise: That’s why I would suggest going to conventions like, , even if you can’t go to Pax still, there’s like local conventions or like local meetups or something where you can get play testers. I know like in Seattle you have Seattle Indies and they’re just a, an amazing organization that has so many events and it’s so helpful to get feedback.

[00:19:41] Tim Broadwater: How do fans get connected with you? How do they learn more about Scalisco games or how do they get to the cor cozy high Kickstarter, the wishlist, 

[00:19:52] Dan Scalise: well, the best thing is a corgis cozy hike.com. You can also go to scalise co.com and, you’ll find us there. You can subscribe to our email list and that’s how you can join our mission. We, send images of the dogs that we rescue, thanks to our player support. And so that’s a nice way to, see how we actually make a difference which for our mobile games, we donate 20% of everything we make.

[00:20:14] Dan Scalise: And for a corgis cozy hike, we’re gonna be donating 10% of everything we make cuz Steam takes 30. You can Google a corgis cozy hi, and probably find all the links for the Kickstarter and Steam. You’ll definitely wanna wishlist and follow it. And we do have a demo coming soon.

[00:20:31] Dan Scalise: And so if you wanna play that the people who will have access first to our demo will be the Discord followers, that’s also on accords cozy hike.com. And we have a nice little wholesome community there that is small, but you know, people are friendly and I definitely enjoy it.

Corgi’s Cozy Hike on Kickstarter

[00:20:50] Dan Scalise: Well, our Kickstarter is coming real soon, so definitely, give us a follow on that. And if you’re seeing this, after it’s already out, go ahead and, give us a back. We’ve got plenty of tears. You can get your dog in the game. You can, , get your name in the credits. You can get real physical merchant stuff, so at least check it out and share it with your friends.

[00:21:08] Dan Scalise: Anyone who likes dogs or games, 

[00:21:11] Tim Broadwater: So can you speak to like the switch goal? I’m just so curious, like designing for Switch and looking at what that’s like or, and the thought there. Can you speak to it at all? 

[00:21:21] Dan Scalise: Well I love the switch so much. It’s, such a great console. Like it’s so fun playing games. On handheld, it’s fun putting it in the TV when you’re ready. It’s, there’s just so many cozy games on it, like we’d, definitely fit right in. And so many people have found us at PAX and said how they want it on switch, so we wanna be able to give it to them.

[00:21:41] Dan Scalise: And so that’s one of the main reasons why we had to do Kickstarter for this. Cuz Switch is definitely harder to develop for because it has, you know, a lower end processor and stuff. And so that’s why the Kickstarter helps just so much. 

[00:21:57] Tim Broadwater: that’s amazing that people said that that’s actually from real user data.

[00:22:00] Tim Broadwater: Real customers saying like, we want this. And it goes to not only like the the cozy part of switch, right? The game you can play in bed or like anywhere. But it’s also like there is something that we’ve been noticing, I think on the show. Games that are just more a meditative kinda thing. I know popularity of games like Stray and Tunic and other games that are, I even log into every now and then just to be like, ah, I just wanna chill, relax.

[00:22:28] Tim Broadwater: Low key gaming vibe. And there’s a lot of games now that are coming out

[00:22:37] Dan Scalise: That’s exactly my goal. You know, I want to give people more relaxing experience, I don’t know, since the pandemic started something in me just kind of broke where like I tried playing Eldon ring and I was just like, I would love to explore this world, but I just don’t wanna deal with the battles.

[00:22:53] Dan Scalise: Like, I’m already so stressed in real life and, I’m playing tears of the kingdom right now, and I’m just like, I don’t really wanna do the battles too much. I just wanna explore this cool world they built and Zelda gives you the freedom for that, And that’s why one of the big things in a corgis cozy hike is going to be these like more cozy spots I call them, where you can just sit in a beach chair and relax.

[00:23:16] Dan Scalise: There might be some things you can edit in the environment, like a build a sand castle, or, change the colors of the buildings or mushrooms, and I just want you to be able to sit there and relax and listen to music. You know, those like lofi videos that people watch and do work with I’d love if people would just, sit down and I, if I’d inspire them to put down the controller and like draw something or journal or, go do that work you’ve been putting off.

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