AIE Incubator Program & Puzzledorf

My upcoming game, Puzzledorf, has been a side project of mine for several years. It has existed in one form or another while I have studied Games Programming and Business at AIE, the Academy of Interactive Entertainment. AIE are a college that specialises in educating people in games and visual effects for movies. They have done a fantastic job of growing both my business and game developer skills, so if you’re looking to study making games, I highly recommend them – they have institutions in Australia and around the world.

One thing that I found particularly useful about studying at AIE was that there was a very large practical component to the course – I was never sitting around feeling like my time was being wasted doing course material for the sake of getting a pass. To learn programming, you had to make useful stuff. To pass the business course, you had to have an actual business plan that involved a real game. It was fantastic and super fun and I made a lot of friends, who may also be contacts in the business world one day.

The Incubator Program is what they offer to those who pass their post-graduate business course. The entry is competitive based – they only choose games that they think have real commercial merit, and the positions are limited. As part of getting in to the incubator program, I was given access to free mentorship for a further year after my study, as well as a free desk in a co-working hub in the Adelaide CBD, surrounded by other graduates but also other real gaming businesses.

Being in that co-working space was great for getting inspired and meeting new people, offering lots of opportunities for growth. I remember there were regular showcases where people could demo the projects they had been working on and get feedback from others in the work space.

The game Puzzledorf began as a prototype in a free engine called PuzzleScript, a great tool for making and sharing small puzzle games around the internet, and an extremely useful tool for sharpening  your game design skills. At some stage I realised people found my small puzzle games addictive, and I decided to build out a full commercial project, which was my pitch for the AIE Incubator Program.

They then supported me with developing a business plan, mentoring and on-going support for one year after completing my studies, giving me access to a co-working space for free for that year. It was a great experience.

It was thanks to the programming skills I developed while at AIE that I was able to realise this dream. I tried teaching myself programming from books and the internet for years, but to be honest, none of it was ever practical enough to get me off the ground. Most tutorials and even books do not offer enough to really take you from a beginner to a professional.

AIE was the missing link I needed to become a professional quality programmer. They took me from beginner level to very advanced – at one stage we looked at how to make our own 3D graphics engine with shaders, very cool stuff.

Being a solo developer certainly creates lots of interesting challenges, not the least of which is the knowledge that, if you’re not doing it, no one is, which tends to make projects take longer. And then COVID happened, which delayed things even further, and game projects always seem to take longer to complete than you expect. A friend once told me, “Estimate how long you think it will take, then triple it”. You think it’s done, then you let people test it, and realise there’s lots more work to do. But now it really is done, I’m extremely happy with the project and I hope you enjoy playing it too.

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