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A Profile of Craig Stern, Indie Game Developer

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You’re in front of a row of apartments less than a block away from the Montrose El stop. It’s raining, and just a bit too windy. You’re trying to find a particular apartment, but for some reason these addresses don’t seem right.

…> open inventory

Inventory: Wallet, dorm keys, hoodie (with the hood up), shirt (on), blue jeans (on, zipped), notepad, cellular phone

> read notepad

It says, "Craig Stern, independent game developer, off Montrose stop"

> call Craig with cellular phone

Craig says he’s outside already. You look around and quickly find him. You are just on the wrong side of the street.

> write profile

Craig Stern is a 26-year-old independent game developer who works in about a ten-square-foot studio with little more than a computer, a piano keyboard, and a box full of notepads to create games that anyone with an internet connection can play anywhere in the world. And he just passed the bar exam.

“I started [game development] the summer before I started law school. I had three months to kill, because I had left my old job, and I said to myself 'I’ve got three months before law school starts, I want to do something with this time'… So I got myself a Flash trial version and sat down and I started learning ActionScript, and trying to make an RPG,” Stern explained.

That RPG Stern worked on would eventually see release as Telepath RPG Chapter 1, which won a prize or two and made it onto the front page of Newgrounds.com, the famous Flash game and movie website, but Stern disowned it, saying it was his sloppy early work. “[Fledgling developers] always want to make an RPG and it’s terrible, and they never finish it, and they never make another game again. I did finish it. It was still terrible, but I finished it,” he said. Afterwards, Stern entered law school and spent nine months creating Chapter 2, which saw greater success when it was sponsored by Armor Games and spread across the internet.

Stern is currently working on chapter three of the series, now for the first time with a little outside help. Lauren Linden is a graphic artist for some portions of the game. “He’s very clear about what he wants, and it just shows that he’s a very dedicated and hard-working person,” said Linden. Chapter 3 is the first of the series to be offered as a standalone .exe, instead of an online flash game, as Stern switches from an online ad revenue model to a standard sellable download one. His fanbase had some trouble accepting the change. “There were a few [online forum users] who said ‘I’m never going to buy this game, and you have made it so I can’t play your games anymore…’ What’s funny is, of the people who said that, none of them have actually left the community.” Stern explained that he didn’t ban them or delete their comments, but instead argued that it was important to support indie game developers.

Stern said that he’ll have to move on from the tiny studio one day, however. “I’m probably not going to pay all [my debt] back just selling indie games, so I’m probably going to get a job as an attorney, continue developing games in my spare time, and once I’m in a good financial position quit, and just develop games full time.” But for just a few short months in this interim period between school and a full-time job, Stern can officially list his occupation as “freelance game developer.”

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