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Interview: Paul Tozour, Founder of Mothership Entertainment – Aven Colony

Interview: Paul Tozour, Founder of Mothership Entertainment – Aven Colony

As a huge fan of city builders, I was super stoked to play Aven Colony – a city builder in space. After having spend hours with the game, both for the review and otherwise, I reached out to the folks behind the game and Paul Tozour, the Founder of Mothership Entertainment agreed to let us pick his brains. Here’s what he had to say:

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m the founder and General Manager of Mothership Entertainment in Austin, Texas.  We just launched Aven Colony across PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 with our partners at Team17.

I’ve been in the game industry since 1994, working across a wide variety of programming and technical design roles.  I also led the Game Outcomes Project in 2015 to analyze what sets the most effective game developers in the industry apart.

When did you get started with playing games (and what was the first game that you remember)?

I started playing on the Atari 2600, the VIC-20, and the Apple ][c in the late 1970s.  I was around 8 or 9 years old.  Probably the first one was an adventure game called “Ulysses and the Golden Fleece.”  My father and I got terribly stuck with that one.

I also remember being addicted to a Space Invaders style game called “Demon Attack,” and a lot of games on the VIC-20 that we had to type in ourselves from software magazines.

How did you get started with developing games?

I’ve been making games ever since I was a kid.  I grew up when personal computers were brand new; packaged software was scarce and low-quality, and you often had to type in programs from magazines.  I remember typing in a BASIC program to play “Frere Jacques” on the VIC-20.  It was on only 2 pages of the magazine, but even that was too big to fit in memory so I had to delete some REM statements to get it to fit.

After that, I kept making little games throughout high school and college and finally got a job writing technical documentation at Brøderbund after I graduated college, and got into game design and programming from there.  I worked on lots of different technical design and programming roles at 7 different companies before I finally struck out on my own and formed Mothership.

If you weren’t a game developer you would be a…?

Probably working on artificial intelligence.  It’s a fascinating and very deep field with an incredible amount of stuff going on.  And especially while working on the Metroid Prime series, I’ve found one of the most enjoyable parts of game development is building artificial characters and giving them intelligence and personality.

How did you come up with the idea for Aven Colony? What plans do you have for the game’s future?

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of habitable worlds.  The idea that there are earth-like planets in our own galaxy, and that someday we’ll be able to set foot on those and start living there, is something I find endlessly fascinating.  The moment that happens will be the greatest moment in human history – it will be the moment we stop being an earth-bound society and become a galactic civilization. So I wanted to tell that story.

We’ve also always intended that there are other habitable planets in the same solar system as Aven Prime.  In the future, we hope to expand the Aven Colony universe to include those sister worlds, and perhaps beyond.

What inspires you outside of gaming?

I’m very inspired by what’s going on right now in the search for habitable planets.  There are a number of scientists (including our science advisor, Professor Abel Méndez) who are discovering more and more worlds outside of the solar system every day that look more and more similar to Earth.  These are staggering discoveries.

What would your dream game be like?

That’s hard to say.  I have a lot of different dream games across different genres, and as the industry evolves, we keep learning what works and what doesn’t, and we keep improving and refining our standards for what can be done in every genre.

I’ve had a game idea kicking around in the back of my head since I was 15 years old.  I’ve never been able to build it because it would require a team of 30-50 developers to make it.  And it’s been heartbreaking watching games come out that have little fragments of that game in them.  Portal 2 ended up having a few of the ideas from the game, but the rest of it has still never been done.

But ideas are cheap.  Teams that can execute consistently have far more value. In the near term, we’re focused on Aven Colony and continuing to make it even better while working toward a sequel.

What lessons have you learned from developing your game?

Probably the biggest lesson is to have more faith in myself, and be more discerning about taking advice.  We’ve gotten a lot of advice from a lot of people throughout development, but very few of them really understood what we were trying to build, what challenges we were facing, or the real potential of our team.

If I could go back and do it all again, probably the biggest change would be pushing back a lot harder on people who tried to push us in one direction or another, however well-intentioned.

Back when I was starting in games in the 1990s, it was a simpler time, and there were much clearer right and wrong answers for game developers.  Now, it’s a vastly more complex market, and the answers nearly always depend on the context.

Where do you think the games industry will be in the next 5-10 years?

5-10 years is a fairly short time frame.  I think the game industry will continue to grow and diversify across every possible axis.  New hardware technologies such as AR and VR will continue to gain market share.  They’ve taken off more slowly than the optimists had hoped for, but they’ll get there eventually.

What games did you enjoy playing this year?

This year specifically I’ve had very little time to play anything besides an occasional game of “Paragon” on weekends.

What is your favorite game at the moment and what makes it special?

I’m enjoying Epic’s “Paragon” enormously.  I’d tried to get into MOBAs before but never saw the appeal, but Paragon got me hooked.  I find Paragon intriguing because it has an enormous amount of strategic depth, constantly evaluating your immediate tactical situation while integrating that with your team’s broader strategic situation.  And Paragon has far more pulse-pounding narrow escapes, near-escapes, and sudden tactical shifts than any game I’ve ever played.

Aven Colony is available now for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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