A year or so before Garry Newman started work on Garry’s Mod his main focus was on a 2D platformer known as Facewound. Developed a small team collectively calling themselves Facepunch Studios the game would eventually be abandoned as the team drifted apart before dissolving in 2005.
Sometime in 2009 Facepunch Studios was given a second life, though with only Garry returning from the original lineup, and became home to his next big project; the open-world survival game Rust.
Funded by the success of Garry’s Mod, Rust was inspired by Day Z, the popular zombie survival mod for ARMA 2, while also drawing influence from the Ukrainian developed shooter series S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. Players begin the game naked and alone with only basic tools and must craft everything they need to fend off dehydration, starvation, animals attacks, and aggressive fellow players. The emergent gameplay swings between moments of teeth-grinding tension and hilarity as players learn how to survive and, more importantly, who to trust.
RUST NEVER SLEEPS
Still, in active development, Rust has had major updates since it launched, such as the complete removal of zombies and a reworking of how radiation affects the player. Moves like this are a gamble as they invariably change the feel and tone of the game, but for Garry change is required in game development because not taking chances is an even bigger risk.
“If we start a game and give up on it, our reputation is tainted,” explains Garry. “And I don’t want that, I want people to look at us and say yeah – I trust their new product because they have a history of following through.”
I want people to look at us and say yeah – I trust their new product because they have a history of following through.
On the flipside, Garry has seen studios destroy their reputation by releasing a bad game and abandoning their audience. “If a developer comes on the scene and this is their only game, they release it with a bunch of promises, they get a bunch of sales and then the income slides. If they drag their feet and eventually shut it down, the only loser is the customer.”
Cultivating that loyal following is key. And it’s not easy. A number of changes to Rust have been based on player feedback, and not all of them have been appreciated by everyone, yet Garry knows that the big reason people are so vocal is because, deep-down, they are fans.
Cultivating that loyal following is key. And it’s not easy.
“We bitch and moan about the community all the time,” said Garry. “They complain when we change stuff, they complain when we don’t. But it’s the price you pay when people are passionate about something you’re always going to be taking it in the ass from them. It’s a good problem to have, really.”
THE GAME OF LIFE
Much like the games he works on, Garry’s life outside the office remains in active development. In January of 2010, he met his future wife Sarah at a mutual friend’s birthday party. The two of them have since had two children, Alex, 3, and Jessie, 6 months.
“We’re total opposites,” said Garry of Sarah. “ She’s really social, I’m not. She thinks with her heart, I think with my head. I never take anything seriously, she takes everything seriously. Everything I care about, she doesn’t, everything she cares about, I don’t.”
Garry Newman with Alex and his wife Sarah
His new family life has changed Garry in a lot of ways, not the least of which is how he works. There’s no more working until 3am and sleeping until close to midday. From 7am the whole house is up. It’s hard work too. He has less time for games, less time for work, and calls it “the worst career move I’ve made”.
“But it makes life make sense,” explains Garry. “It makes you realize that all the other stuff has just been a substitution for all the love and happiness that you get.”
MOVING WITH THE TIMES
The backbone of Facepunch Studios is experimentation, which plays right into Garry’s own sense of curiosity. The studio regularly produces fleshed out prototypes, which is an exercise Garry calls “vital” to the development process, some of which have yielded incredible results.
One such game born from in-house experiments is Chunks, a Minecraft-inspired world-building game currently on Steam Early Access for the HTC Vive. “It was really a way of us to test the [virtual reality] waters, to see what sales look like. There’s only really [Facepunch Studios programmer James King] working on it, but it’s our hope that one day it grows into something that’s actually fun.”
Facepunch Studios first virtual reality game, Chunks
The studio’s freeform approach to creativity extends to all the smaller teams that have started to gather under the ever-growing Facepunch Studios banner. Showing his independent roots, Garry is adamant that developers should be left to create and not have to worry about the big guys at the top breathing down their neck.
“We’re all looking after our own things,” said Garry. “We’ve got artists that jump between projects, but once someone launches a project – it’s their project. As management, we don’t f**k with them. We can advise, but we don’t control.”
IT’S A SMALL WORLD
That inquisitive kid from the small English town of Walsall, messing around on his ZX Spectrum, is still at the heart of everything Garry does. His passion for asking questions, challenging himself and from making mistakes is as strong as ever. But it took the success of a little Half-Life 2 for Garry to fully realize his own potential. To see beyond where he was and get to where he now is.
“When you’re a kid you have this illusion that the world is run by other people. Not by your kind,” said Garry. “Once you peek behind the curtain you realize how easy this is, how no-one really knows what they’re doing, how they’re terrified of anyone that does and can call them out on their bullshit. The world isn’t as big as you think it is.”
Missed out on PART 1? Head over here to catch up!