What were you doing when you were 17? Probably not publishing a book on how to program 3-D terrain in video games.
Game developer Trent Polack did just that. He’s been playing games since, well, forever.
“My mom says I’ve been playing games since I was 2,” he told Cult of Mac, “but I don’t think that’s possible.”
That lifetime of experience is paying off for Polack, creative director of Team Chaos, a small game studio based in Austin, Texas. His team’s latest project is a collaboration with Rooster Teeth, a video production house beloved by gamers for its hilarious machinima, or films created using video game engines (most notably Red vs. Blue, based on the best-selling Halo series).
In the Rooster Teeth vs. Zombiens, which should hit mobile devices in late November, the Rooster Teeth crew gets turned into cannon fodder as they face off against a swarm of zombie aliens. Cult of Mac talked with Polack about that noteworthy project, his gaming roots and his knack for crafting crazy publicity emails.
Trent Polack, showoff
A bit of a young genius, Polack wrote or co-wrote three books about gaming before heading to college at his home state’s University of Michigan.
“Then I drank,” he jokes. “I started as an engineering student learning computer science, but then changed to English. It was one of the better decisions I ever made in my life: Those classes taught me a level of critical analysis and detail-oriented thinking than anything I ever learned in a math class.”
He finished his degree and then got a job with Stardock, the studio behind strategy games like Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire. Soon after, he joined Lightbox Interactive, developer of triple-A console game Star Hawk. He lived life as a cog in a larger game-development team as a programmer at Lightbox, and then found Team Chaos to be a better fit.
Polack joined Team Chaos about a year and a half ago, taking on the creative director and project management roles within the first few months there. His first game was Dragon Academy, a fun, free-to-play “hatch three” game.
Making Rooster Teeth vs. Zombiens
For Rooster Teeth vs. Zombiens, Team Chaos approached Rooster Teeth with a concept that’s remained fairly unchanged since the initial pitch: Players take on the role of a tourist that visits the Rooster Teeth production studios during an invasion of alien zombies, or “zombiens.” The player must then kill zombiens to unlock doors (where the useful Rooster Teeth celebrities are) and buy better weapons. They’ll also accumulate resources to build defenses and traps.
“You can then barricade yourself off in a room you like,” said Polack. “If you die, it’s game over, though.”
Players can build a team of up to four characters — their own plus three other on-screen Rooster Teeth characters.
“They’re really involved with the development process,” said Polack of the Rooster Teeth team. “They give feedback now and then and we see what we can change to improve it. They’re gamers, not developers, but they provide art assets and all the video for the game.”
Rooster Teeth team members, he says, have a great attitude that is philosophically similar to Team Chaos’ mindset — though with a bit more salty language.
“They’re a very self-made team that started out with Red vs. Blue and built it into a very successful brand and a surprisingly large studio. The game map is designed to be their exact studio, with some artistic license taken; it’s basically their blueprint.”
It’s all about having fun
The PR emails from Team Chaos are some of the best we get at Cult of Mac; they’re friendly, wacky and offbeat. How does Polack pull that off?
“I try to make everything I do as authentic as possible. The PR emails are sometimes a little strange because I’m bipolar and a little bit crazy myself. Luckily, I’m a very functional crazy person.”
He approaches his public relations duties with the press in the same way he’d like to be approached if he were a member of that same press. He doesn’t want to read an email that was formatted according to some winning PR formula. That’s boring.
“If you’re working in games,” he says “you might as well have fun.”