Posted on May 11, 2018 at 11:35 AM UTC
Making IT is a monthly Question and Answer article featuring the people who make IT games possible. From game designers, to sound engineers, to programmers, each role is vital to the production and success of each slot Incredible Technologies produces. Players and customers see the polished, finished product, but rarely have a chance to peek behind the curtain and understand the people or the process that make their favorite games happen. Making IT is the spotlight on the creative minds that make IT games incredible.
John Nocher, Director of Gaming Software Development & Project Manager
Q: How long have you been at IT? In this role?
A: I have been at IT more than 6 years. This is my second year as a designer.
Q: What’s your favorite part of working at IT?
A: Working on small teams with great people, everyone joining in with ideas to make the games better. I have never worked anywhere with such friendly, helpful co-workers.
Q: How did you get into Class III game design?
A: I joined IT as a senior software engineer to make slot games after a long career in arcade/console games. I spent 5 years making games with Dan Whelan on Heavyweight Studio. I had a lot to learn about the industry; the math, the games that people wanted to play. I suggested ideas for features or presentation and Dan was always very open to input from the team. When the company wanted to expand the teams, Dan put my name forward to be a designer. I am very grateful to Dan for his guidance and trust in me in my new role. I am enjoying the design process and working with my own new team.
Q: Where do you find inspiration for games?
A: We always keep our eye on what’s hot in the industry, which games are doing well, ways to reuse and modify our own successful titles. As a life-long video gamer, I love to put as much interaction and fun into the games we make. I always have an eye toward making games that I will enjoy playing myself.
Q: What’s a rough outline of your “creative process”?
A: I always try to start with a feature of a successful game, or an idea for a requested feature from marketing. I look at other games that have similar features in the market and try to improve on them. I discuss the game ideas with my team, with the mathematicians, with other designers, and with marketing to see if the features or theme seem to resonate.
Q: What comes first for you, generally; slot theme or feature idea?
A: I always try to think of the feature first. The theme is much easier to figure out later, and the feature-first style is more generic, making it easier to skin with multiple themes.
Q: What’s your favorite part of designing a game?
A: I love the iterative process, the back-and-forth, the creative input from my team, working with the mathematicians to figure out what we can get away with.
Q: Most memorable feedback (can be good or bad) you’ve ever received on a game?
A: We play test early versions of our games, and the art is often placeholder or temporary. Our players come up with some of the funniest comments about the games in their early states. One of our games has wild symbols on the top monitor that can drop down on the main reels. The original idea was they would be Jade columns that would fall and smash to pieces and make the main reel symbol wild. We had many interpretations of the jade columns, from Mountain Dew cans to “toxic waste barrels”. We always get great feedback from the players and at least one or two memorable quotes per session.
Q: What was the inspiration for your studio name?
A: As we were the fifth design team here at IT, I asked everyone to think up names that riff on 5 somehow. Our audio designer Adam came up with the name Happy Hour (5 o’clock) and we all loved it. It represents how we feel about making these games and how we hope our players will feel while playing them.
Q: Favorite game(s) you’ve worked on?
A: Three Armies was the first Happy Hour Studio game and I love the amount of interaction for the player. Leonidas 2 (Heavyweight) was technically challenging and also very interactive and cinematic. The Herd was the first game Dan and I worked on and it had some great features; it’s always fun to go back and play it.
Q: Something you wish slot players knew about slot machines in general?
A: The casino decides what payouts a machine will give, not the manufacturer. We always design our games to be fun at a reasonable payout, but the casino has the final say on how it will pay. If you try the same game at a number of casinos, you may have a different experience each time. And everyone can have a dry run with few wins. We hope our games are fun to play and show the player the potential for big wins even if they don’t get them every time.
Q: Did you play slot machines or gamble before you started working here?
A: I had never been in a land-based casino before working here. My wife and I played a little on cruise ships to pass the time.
Q: Have you learned anything about the gaming industry that surprised you or struck you as interesting?
A: I never realized there were so many ways a casino can put a game on the floor. I thought they were all bought by the casinos, but some are leased and some share in the daily take of the machine. However they are placed, the gaming industry was very hard to break into and I am happy that we are finally making an impact.
Q: Did you ever think you’d be working in this industry or have this job?
A: Not at all. But it turns out that slot games are the perfect games to work on if you like small teams with a lot of creative input and the end goal is the same as any other game you could make: make it easy to understand and fun to play.
Q: What’s your dream slot machine? Maybe a theme or feature that wouldn’t appeal to anyone else, but you’d play the heck out of it. (No, one that only produces wins is not a valid answer.)
A: I always try to make games that I would enjoy playing. I love the Three Kingdoms period in China and tried to capture that a bit in Three Armies. I love Westerns and used that them for Cash Bounty- putting outlaws behind bars and shooting it out in the street. The Age of Sail with warships firing full broadsides at close range is another favorite theme of mine and I hope to work that into a slot game someday.