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June 30, 2021
Interview: What is it like working on open-source game development?

I had a chance to speak with Liam Arbuckle, the acting CTO of the game/web development studio/collective (100% open-source) called Signal Kinetics. Liam is based in Australia. 

What is it that you’re working on?

Right now, we’re working on a citizen science game engine (sort of like Project Discovery in Eve Online, but integrating other games as well). We’re aiming to increase science discovery/contribution for everyone through gaming by allowing people/players to: 

1. Contribute to real-world scientific problems/experiments  

2. Help train ml/dl datasets/algorithms (sometimes through their actions in-game) 

3. Engage with users, especially those in the scientific community (we’re working on a service called Arcadia which is basically a fork of Buddypress that will implement features similar to services like Steam & Facebook Games) 

So you are targeting citizen scientists? Is there a particular age range you are targeting?

I believe information should be free, when I was younger, scientific journal access was expensive, also, there is a lack of engagement with the science community in Australia. I want to create something that can’t restrict a person from the science community due to their age, gender, spending ability etc.

What inspired you to create your Game Engine?

I attended Science hackathons, science and gaming, made mars rover, most recently I contributed to the Open Source Rover by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

What else are you working on?

We’re also working on our own game (with potential partnerships with Savy Soda, as an example, in the pipeline) and hoping to make our experience with Arcadia modular:

 1. Users can contribute to scientific research through playing any game in the world by installing a custom add-on designed by the Arcadia developers for the game.

 2. Users can have a “bank” (similar to the Pokemon Home system) that shows their games library, achievements and item list/screenshots in the Arcadia web app.

There’s no real large gaming community to play games online. I want to build a community, where gamers can share screenshots, there’s an overlay to watch people playing games, I want to make mini-games too, there’s no real limit. I used to game on a Samsung phone which had a play status, I could stream to Discord. I want to expand this idea to non-Samsung games, add a community with no limits – basically information freedom, with no blockage or limits.   

3. Users can choose which games to play.

What are your immediate goals?

Get industry connections.

What type of connections are you looking for?

I’ve made contact with Melbourne-based game companies so I’m on track with that. I’m looking for grants, an investment to work on the blockchain element, get connected with a marketing team, get a few 1,000 players to start off with, and then connect with more on social media.

Right now I don’t have the money to finance, we’ve had people come online to help with the open-source. I’d ideally like to get some consistent engagement rather than have contributors that do the occasional work.

If it wasn’t for Covid-19  I would have moved out of Australia, there are huge problems with setting up in Australia, no grants, no infrastructure for tech companies.

I want to start contributing to established games and engines to gain experience, connections, contribute and potentially expand my team’s vision.  

Are there any particular games that you have in mind?

Minecraft, l would love to contribute to that, I Love that you can make mods. I think Minecaft is crying out for more integrations, so I would love to get connections with Mojang. I’ll take any company that has a level of open-source ethos.

Continue working on the game, however, this requires money. A lot. And I’m not rich! I’m primarily focusing on a media kit that will later be used as the basis for a Kickstarter campaign.   

When do you plan to run the Kickstarter campaign?

I won’t have the game finished before the campaign starts, I want to put together a media kit, assets, I’m going to an incubator to learn how to market the game, understand which social media do we target, and which niche users. I have been involved with other Kickstarter projects and know I can’t be too broad with who I target at first. I think in  3-4 months we will be ready to launch the Kickstarter campaign.

I’ve got a team of about ~20-30 people (with most being external/outside collaborators, there are around 10 people that run the show and contribute on a consistent basis). These people have varying levels of experience in game development, design, and web app construction (among other things).

Are you actively looking for more contributors? If so, what level of experience are you looking for?

I’ll take anything, I won’t say no to anyone, I find that the science community say no, if we say no, we’re just defeating the purpose of the project.

We would prioritise people who have c#, and website building experience. Once you get your base established, then start with junior developers. We don’t want to be too closed, but also we don’t want to be too open and not get work completed. 

We are also working on a partnership with the Swedish Power Metal band Veonity to contribute with us on officially licensed songs for our games and the Arcadia platform  – recording is due to start in July which is very exciting!


Did you know that 34% of game developers use C#?

Interview with Liam Arbuckle

When did your interest in development start?

I love Star Wars, at 12 I went into robotics, and in 2016-2017 I worked to build a physical R2D2. In year 10 I started a computer science class at school. Unfortunately, computer science investment in schools is poor, but I had a good teacher that encouraged younger students who were not yet at the age to attend a class to learn in their breaks. I learned Python, and in year 11 I started working on GitHub, learned Ruby on Rails, Gem. 

I ended year 11 and decided I wanted to start developing. There are no astrophysics courses near to me. You can build games and tell stories from computer science.

How do you make decisions when it comes to your next self-improvement step? Do you look at data, attend conferences?

I attended the recent Atlassian conference. Also, there are 20 of us that meet at a bar regularly to talk about problems, I have joined a few teams and am developing professional skills. 

I pitched to investors last year and got 10,000 AUD but it doesn’t last very long in a startup.

I like to see people in the physical world, go to Python global conferences, learning what’s the newest feature with the project that I can use to my advantage.

Has it been a benefit to have online conferences due to Covid-19?

I would never have been able to afford travel to conferences until this year when I’ve started making money, the online conferences are more accessible.

Before, if you are not fully embedded in a developer community, there is not much incentive to go to in-person conferences, there is a huge cost to fly overseas for a conference, and no guarantee that project of interest will be discussed, no guarantee people that people will help you there. There are more frequent conferences now, by more teams, not just big companies doing them.

Do you have a mentor? Or are you mentoring someone else?

I’m a mentor at the University Codjo, mentoring 14-15-year-olds with Autism / ADSD. For me, the computer sciences teacher was a mentor at school, but I don’t have anyone mentoring me right now. I wouldn’t need a mentor right now for teaching me, rather someone who can structure how I do things, I’m not the best, I’m not perfect, people with experience have given great advice to me.

Do you have any words of wisdom for others thinking of building their own games or game engines?

1. I echo the words of “information wants to be free” if everyone open sources and has no barriers, that would be my ideal world!

2. If you want to make any media, games are great, they engage people, I lose interest in reading novels,  in games, there is so much you can involve other people with, everyone can make their own stories. There’s engagement.

What’s in your toolbox?

  • Unity for most of my games stuff
  • Starship, customisable prompt for my terminal – makes everything look so much cooler. I love customising my devices.
  • GitHub
  • Keybase for communications, encryption and there are git integrations.
  • Notion 
  • Visual studio code 
  • Jira by Atlassian – more of an industry-standard than what I was using before.
  • MacBook M1 for on-the-go stuff, I duel boot with Linux when testing.

How do you work as a distributed team? What tools do you use?

Keybase is the main tool, git commits can be seen in there and there are cool bots and tools you can use. It was also acquired by Zoom which shows that things will be great for global teams.

We also use Facebook messenger or WhatsApp for casual talk.

Git commits can be sent there, cool bots, and tools you can use. Was acquired by zoom, shows that things will be great for global teams.

What do you need right now?

Right now direct partnership with companies is needed, funding is so important. Everyone in the team is paying out of their own pockets. The best way we can succeed is with funding so the Kickstarter will work, with partnerships, it will give our Kickstarter legitimacy. 

If you’re interested in joining forces with Liam and his team either as a developer committed to open-source, or a partner, you can reach Liam via his GitHub profile.

We love to hear your development stories, get in touch to share yours.


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