Most kids grow up wanting to be the title character. They run around the house with a pillowcase cape, shooting web from their wrists while taking down the imaginary bad guys with kung fu kicks and powerful punches.
Kawkawlin’s Tyler Millershaski wasn't most kids.
“You know when you watch movies like James Bond? To me, the coolest guy, no joke, was always the tech guy. My whole life I wanted to be that guy because he was the real hero. Sure James Bond is going out there killing bad guys, hooking up with attractive ladies. But without Q making gadgets and doing the hacking and stuff, Bond is nothing. He's just a pretty boy with a smile, drinking martinis,” Millershaski says.
Millershaski says his lifelong love of technology fueled his interest in programming.
Later this fall, video game fans will benefit from Millershaski’s love of technology.
For the past four years, the 28-year-old Army veteran and fully self-taught computer programmer has spent 40+ hours a week fine-tuning a space station simulation game titled Starmancer, which is on the verge of public release.
The game calls for the player to take on the role of Artificial Intelligence while building a spaceport.In February of 2018, Millershaski and his co-creator, Swedish artist Victor Wirström, launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $40,000 so they could work on the game full time. They reached the goal in three days. Currently, they’ve raised almost $140,000. The support caught the attention of Chucklefish Games, an independent game developer and publisher, based in London, UK. The team signed a deal with Chucklefish and is excited about having them expand the reach of Starmancer when it is released this fall.
“Chucklefish has relationships with bigger companies like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. They can get us in there,” Millershaski says. “This will be the first game Victor and I have made that we’ll be able to live off of.”
Watching Millershaski play the game while explaining the general concept is like watching the cooks on Iron Chef finish dishes in the last few minutes of the competition. He knows exactly where to click, where items can be located, and how to best create entertaining conflicts among the characters.
In the beginning, Millershaski worked from home. But when the pandemic kept his young children home, he sought out a quiet space inside City Office in Downtown Bay City.
The press kit describes Starmancer as “Your chance to obey protocol or go rogue, as you take on the role of a powerful A.I. Build bustling spaceports, secret laboratories, and ethically ambiguous human farms. Defend against starvation, sabotage, and space cannibals. Don't worry, you can always grow more humans.”
The spaceport includes secret laboratories and what the creators describe as “ethically ambiguous human farms.”Millershaski describes it in simpler terms. “It's basically The Sims meets the Roller Coaster Tycoon in space. It's got management aspects, but then also there are little dudes and they have jobs and they like to be happy and make friendships and maybe drink a little,” he says.
Finding a place to work
Earlier this year, when many of us were creating offices at home, this father of two was looking to get out of his basement.
“When you hear your kid crying, it just takes you out of whatever you're thinking about,” Millershaski says. “It just takes you out of the zone and you can't be as productive.“
He landed at City Office, a co-working space below City Market at 401 Center Ave. Some describe City Office as a hybrid between a coffee shop, a library, and traditional office space.
However you describe it, the space works for Millershaski. City Office Manager Marjo Jaroch says Millershaski adds an element of fun to the atmosphere.
“Tyler has been an incredible addition to our City Office community,” Jaroch says. “Everybody laughs when he is in the room, and he is incredibly smart. When I ask him what he is working on he says things like, ‘Today I'm adding seeds to asteroids.’“
While demonstrating the game, Millershaski points out places where he built in features to entertain and challenge players.
Connecting with people is one key to a successful video game. Millershaski says. Programmers need to create ways to entertain and challenge players. Players only return to games when they connect with the story and characters. Programmers must anticipate every action and reaction in the game. For Starmancer, that means going so far as to write code to make characters clean up their own excrement and use it as space fuel.
For awhile now, Millershaski has asked friends to play test the game to pinpoint flaws and concerns.
The best way to anticipate what players will do is to get an audience to play test it. More play testing means discovering more scenarios and working out bugs. Millershaski found one of his play testers at City Office.
Alex Odorico, a fellow programmer, enjoys testing the game and admires Millershaski’s creativity.
During the game, the players face starvation, sabotage, and villains.“I enjoy all the small, thoughtful details that strengthen the players’ emotional investment in the wellbeing and happiness of their colonists,” Odorico says.
“I have an enormous amount of respect for Tyler’s programming skills, he knows his stuff for sure. Even more than that though, I respect Tyler’s emotional intelligence and ability to empathize. When you’re writing code all day, sometimes you forget that at the end of the day a fellow human being will be playing with what you create. Ironically, the soft skills are what separates good programmers from the exceptional ones.”
Starmancer to debut before the end of 2020
As the game moves out of the testing phase and into production, Millershaski is feeling the pressure.
“I’m anxious at the best of times and now we have people who gave money to the game they want they want to play it now,” Millershaski says. “My plan is to not read any reviews at all because I feel madness is waiting for you if you do.”
Millershaski describes Starmancer, which is set in space, as a cross between The Sims and Roller Coaster Tycoon.
Bad reviews are hard to hear. But Millershaski says good reviews can inflate a developer’s ego and lead to complacency. “I think that the thing to do is to just make the best thing you can and do your best.”
Starmancer makes its debut sometime before the end of 2020.