Meet The Team Mondays #3 – James Spavold

posted: Nov 14, 2016

Meet The Team Monday with James Spavold!


JamesSpavoldQ: Who started the nickname, Spav?
A: It started in High School, there was like 12 James in my grade so one of the teachers started calling me Spavold, my last name. Then my friends just called me Spav because it was shorter and easier to say. Also my handle in WoW (World of Warcraft) ended up being Spav. The same thing started at Becker as well; Colin also came to Becker when I did, we went to high school together, and so he continued the tradition.

Q: When’d you Start Gaming?
A: I was pretty young, my dad had an NES. At first I’d watch him play and eventually I got to play. He also had racing games on the computer with a wheel which was pretty cool. One of the main things I’d play when I was like 8 or 10, War Classic 2000 (or something like that) where you could play as a tank, helicopter or a jet; we had a joystick to control it all. Eventually I overtook him with gaming; taking over the family computer and eventually building my own. WoW & Counter Strike were what started the obsession and brought games to be my main hobby.

Q: What point did you know it would be a career?
A: In High School, I didn’t really know what to do. I tried woodshop (following in the footsteps of my dad), CAD, a programming class, and a few others. It ended up between Architecture, Programming and Physics, and then I thought “wait a minute, I play video games” so I chose programming, haha. At that point I knew a little of java, just making small dumb programs and was screwing around with Lua (a programming language) for WoW addons.
While I did find it fun I wasn’t committed quite yet to programming, so I took a couple of art classes and did pretty well in those. I was enjoying the art classes and I would’ve continued both tracks but the schedule for the programming and art classes started conflicting.

Q: When’d things get serious for you and programming
The moment I got serious with programming was Captive code, the precursor to Live Studio. We had one project, with twenty people on it. The project didn’t go very far but the environment of “here’s the goal, get to it” started it for me. Chris was actually in the class and we had no idea what we were doing, we both looked up to a guy named Daniel our senior in the course.
It was Monty Sharma, managing director of MassDigi running Captive Code, so when I was a programmer doing my work and always asking for more Monty opened the door for me to get into Summer Innovation Program (SIP) – a program run by MassDigi that helps students work on their original ideas and bring them to launch. It was definitely the moment I got thrown into a pit of sharks, it was a pretty intense environment. Our year got along great though, even Monty was confused about how we got along so well. We all wanted to learn more and we did, which was great and made it all the more fun. Ryan was on Cat Tsunami while I was on Limbs. I ended up being Lead Designer, Programmer and Producer.

Q: How’d you meet the team?
A: Ryan, I met him Freshman year, we lived in the same dorm and were in the same intro courses. Chris, I’d seen him around but Captive Code really got us going. I’d always see Oliver around school, but didn’t really meet him until SIP, where we realized that we both liked tennis. Christina I talked to in a VR class, her and Chris’ group started colliding with Ryan and my group; we’d see them at game jams and stuff, and then started to hang out.

Q: What was the point for you when you realized you’d join Petricore
A: So Monty started suggesting to Ryan that he should start his own company. Ryan asked if I would wanted to join if anything ever happened, so I said yes. At the time I was looking at larger companies or a bank to just get a nice starting salary. But then Ryan just ended up asking me if I wanted to screw all the job searching and work for the startup. He showed me who our team was and I had confidence in them, so I decided to go for it.

Q: Were you concerned about it?
A: Yeah, of course. I told my parents about it and they told me I needed a six-month plan. That I needed to be making money in 6 months or get a job that’d get me that money. But they seem to be happy now, so I’m not really concerned with it. They were happy after a couple of months, when I told them we’re starting to see profits. Actually, last weekend I told them we were getting health options and my dad said “cool” and my mom said “finally”, haha!
I started realizing the whole “we can do this” feeling when we first started, we had our first contract and we were already working. It was just hard getting to learn proper etiquette of talking to clients and reaching out, but we’ve gotten tremendously better at communicating with them. Once we started seeing money coming in and we weren’t burning it and actually spending it well put us in a pretty good spot. Then the BPI (Boston Productions Inc- a museum installations company) contracts got going, which meant 5 contracts on the agenda which is a great feeling.

Q: What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to you at Petricore?
A: Well, I have one in general. Whatever we’re doing, I get to learn. There’s always new things to do with contract work, the work is challenging and very diverse. So it’s possible that I’ll run into something I haven’t done before. That gives me the opportunity to learn how to solve these problems and I really get a kick out of that. This includes using different platforms like doing native development for Android or IOS and seeing what those platforms can do.
Then, the most exciting… most particular thing is the game launches. When Mind the Arrow came out I saw the numbers and freaked out, and then when Gelato Flicker came out I freaked out even more. So yeah, I’m definitely excited for the next release. There was an increase in revenue between Mind the Arrow and Gelato Flicker so if I see that trend continue up I’d be happy.

Q: Are you waiting for you guys to be switching from contract work to full on games?
A: I’m actually not against the contract work we get. I like it because it’s different challenges to work on and I’m not too excited about mobile games, although they present their own challenges as well. If we made the switch to PC games then I’d be all for it and really excited. I am really excited to see us transition, of course, I think that contract work will always be a thing unless we get a significant publishing deal, which would be super amazing.

Q: What kind of games are looking forward to seeing come out of Petricore?
A: Maybe not a full blown “We’re gonna make Civ V … Civ VI in space!” but some sorta battle arena type thing. Like something I started for a game jam, where 4 players battle it out in tanks and everything is destructible. Like a local party game or something online if it was popular enough. But yeah a small step up in the console/PC space.

Q: What’s important to becoming a good programmer?
A: Now this is gonna be corny, but it’s to keep going. I didn’t start off as a good programmer, I started as a very bad programmer. You just gotta keep going, practicing and finding new stuff to learn. One of the hardest parts of being a programmer is keeping up with updates there’s always new things coming out, Unity has constant updates and people keep finding new and more efficient ways of doing things. For me it’s the hardest thing at least. So in short, being adaptable.

Q: What’s a great lesson you’ve learned while working at Petricore?petricore-banners
A: Working on Traveling Merchant definitely taught us a lot about how we’d need to deal with a game that large and contract work. Monetizing a game adds so much complexity to it that it made our huge game even bigger. A good example is Crossy Roads, which is a really simple game. But when you add 50 skins and some of those skins changing the way you play the game it’s slowly adds a lot of complexity.
Also I really enjoyed Traveling Merchant’s design. I’m don’t really enjoy the simple one touch games by themselves, but combining it with a meta game that gave me a sense of purpose to it all which forced me to play the mini games, I thought it was really clever.