Nathaniel McClure thought his resume would make it easy to break into the indie game industry. He worked at Activision for years, starting in 2002 with QA and quickly rising to producer on a host of AAA games, including Star Wars Jedi Knight 2, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, and a lineup of Call of Duty games.
By 2007, McClure wanted out.
"It was 3AM when I woke up on my keyboard at the office," he told me. "I was a few milestones in, working on my fifth Call of Duty title on my fourth straight year of promotion, when it hit me. If I was to keep loving what got me into making games I would have to quit one of the largest and most popular video games in the world, something I dedicated years of my life to."
McClure resigned that year, when he was a producer on Modern Warfare. He started his own studio, Epicenter, with the goal of making games that he – and other people, he hoped – would want to play. But indie development came with its own brand of bureaucracy, and dealing with publishers, platforms, funding and legal matters made McClure's journey more complex than he imagined.
"I thought my Call of Duty and Wolfenstein credits would land me a dev deal no problem," McClure said. "I was an idiot – it doesn't work that way, and I am grateful that it doesn't."
In 2009 – two studios, a handful of unfulfilled publisher promises and a few indie releases later – McClure founded Scientifically Proven. This year he'll finish development on a gothic, eye-catching action platformer, and what might be his favorite game ever: Blood of the Werewolf.
"It is the reason we are compelled to make games," McClure said, discussing his passion for Blood of the Werewolf. "The reason I left the biggest game in the world. We want to create and share the adventure, the experience and the mastery that we enjoyed growing up. Ghosts 'n Goblins, Mega Man, Castlevania ...."
"The only thing we kickstarted was our own asses. We cut all traditional publisher ties and stocked up on ramen."Nathaniel McClure, Scientifically Proven
Critter Round-Up was the result of a publishing deal with Konami, developed for WiiWare in 2008. It was a WiiWare launch title, and the only one not developed inside of Japan. It was cute, but McClure wanted to put his Call of Duty experience to use, so in 2009 he launched Real Heroes: Firefighter, a first-person shooter and firefighting sim for Wii, 3DS and Windows.
"The emails I get from firefighters and kids that love the game is awesome and inspiring," McClure said. "The game has gone on to generate 15 times its original budget, but unfortunately the dev team has never seen a dime."
That's the indie bureaucracy at work – three publishers in three years almost bankrupted Epicenter "due to non-payments," McClure said. His final, major game with Epicenter was Rock of the Dead, an undead rhythm game starring Neil Patrick Harris and Felicia Day launched in 2010.
During this time, Michigan offered McClure tax incentives if he moved to the state and set up shop. He did, but the tax breaks never materialized. After almost three years of fighting, he won a court case against Michigan, though after legal bills he walked away with $20 and more information about the inner workings of video game IP than he ever wanted.
That was the final straw.
"We decided to go truly independent and self-reliant," McClure said. "The only thing we kickstarted was our own asses. We cut all traditional publisher ties and stocked up on ramen."
Blood of the Werewolf was created outside of any publisher ties, as a gruesome, emotional action-platformer that combines 2D camera work with 3D models, narrated by actress Erin Cummings.
"Blood of the Werewolf isn't for everyone," McClure said. "But for those that tried hours upon hours to master classic cartridges, Blood of the Werewolf is for you."
Blood of the Werewolf is due out in September for PC, Wii U eShop and PSN.
"The communication and support that Nintendo and Sony have put forward so far has been a huge incentive to the team during our bootstrapped development," McClure said. "PC is a strange beast. There are some great portals like Desura, GOG, Amazon, etc., but we all know that Steam is still the premiere portal. We are doing well in Greenlight but we are still a ways off from actually getting Greenlit (I think – it's hard to say since there are no definitive measures)."
Scientifically Proven wanted to launch on XBLA, and the team is currently negotiating some co-publishing opportunities to make that happen.
"It's not perfect and, better yet, it's not done," McClure said.