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Hover Stories: Jake Rodkin from Idle Thumbs

Hover on January 22, 2015

Jake Rodkin’s love of video games is a story that we’ve all heard before. A young boy gets his first gaming console for Christmas (for Jake, an Atari) and is completely enthralled by this new world of possibilities. While some people might gradually lose interest in video gaming as years go by, Jake has become increasingly immersed in the world of video games from nearly all angles.

In addition to playing video games, Jake is also a video game designer, co-founder of the game studio Campo Santo, and co-founder & host of the Idle Thumbs podcasting network which covers, you guessed it, video games.

Getting Started

One of Jake’s favourite video games from his childhood was a Lucas Arts story and puzzle-based game called Monkey Island. “It was like being inside a pirate adventure story,” he fondly recalls, “but then also this big weird supernatural mystery.” As luck would have it, Jake would go on to work at Telltale Games many years later, the studio which picked up the Monkey Island series from Lucas Arts.

Before landing that gig, though, Jake envisioned an entirely different career path for himself, working as a graphic designer for newspaper advertising. On the side, he and some friends started blogging about video games on their new website called Idle Thumbs.

“Before it was a podcast,” he explains, “it was a blog by a bunch of people who were in school or had jobs that had nothing to do with video games. It was a way for us to write and think about video games in our spare time.”

Telltale Games

It was while writing for Idle Thumbs that Jake came into contact with some game developers who were launching their new studio called Telltale Games, doing interviews with them for his website. These developers were former Lucas Arts developers who worked on Monkey Island, and so Jake mentioned that if they ever needed anyone who does graphic design, website design or community management then he would be very interested.

A few years later, Telltale took Jake up on his offer and brought him on board as their 15th team member. Though originally brought in as a web guy, he would go on to gradually work his way up the ranks. Because of his graphic design skills, he was able to help out with doing interface design on some games. This led to him getting to attend game design meetings, where he eventually worked up the nerve to ask the studio’s lead designer if he could do junior design work on games. His experience as a junior designer then led to him co-leading a couple of small projects with his friend and colleague Sean Vanaman.

It was with Sean that Jake would co-lead the production of video game adaptations of The Walking Dead, which he describes as “the biggest craziest project I’ve ever worked on.” The game would go on to be a commercial and critical hit, no doubt due to the respect that Jake and his team had for the series. “As a geeky person who likes various cool dorky media,” he explains, “you’re hyper-conscious of being the person who screws something up. After reading the comics and getting more engrossed in the Walking Dead universe, the team and I went ‘oh this is really good. We can’t be the ones who ruin this.’”

Jake and Sean’s strategy was to create an entirely new story with new characters, set inside of the Walking Dead universe. Since the comics and tv show are both very popular, telling the same story again in video game form would feel stale. By creating a new story, the games provide a fresh approach to the story that gives fans something new to enjoy. The prime objective was to “give people the same feelings of surprise, horror or emotional warmth that they get when they read the comic or watch the show.” Once they got the thumbs-up from Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, they knew that they had found a winning approach.

Idle Thumbs & Campo Santo

After the success of the Walking Dead games, Jake and Sean decided to leave Telltale Games in the summer of 2013 to work on something that was entirely their own. One component of this was Campo Santo, their new game design studio where they began working on their own game called Firewatch.

Another component was their side-project Idle Thumbs, which over the years had turned into a podcast since its beginnings well before their Telltale days. Idle Thumbs had taken a bit of a back seat in recent years as Sean and Jake became more heavily involved with projects at Telltale. To reboot the podcast, they set up a Kickstarter project looking to raise $30,000 to get a studio, merchandise, and other essential costs for the site & podcast. It turned out that they had way more supporters than they initially imagined, raising over $100,000 in total!

These two projects are what keep Jake busy these days, with ambitious goals for each one. At Campo Santo, Jake and the rest of the team are working tirelessly on their first game, Firewatch. At Idle Thumbs, he and his co-hosts produce 5 shows and are hoping to do more. The team is also working towards curating an entire podcasting network that branches outside of the realm of video games. For instance, Jake co-hosts Twin Peaks Rewatch, where he and friend Chris Remo go through every episode of the cult classic tv show week by week.

Advice For Others

Whether you’re a podcaster, video game designer, blogger, novelist, painter, or pretty much anything else, Jake says that his advice for others in a creative field is always the same: “Just finish up what you’re working on and show it to someone. You’ll be incredibly happy, even if the response you get is that it stinks. It’ll feel like a huge weight has been lifted.”

Of course, this is much easier said than done; however, it’s extremely important to learn how to finish up your work and move on. Otherwise, you can end up continuously refining your work to the point where you never get anything done. “Ship whatever you’re working on and move on to the next thing,” he explains, “or you’re never going to improve it and you’re also not going to make anything. You’re just going to be holding on to it forever.

Why He Chose Hover

We’re very happy to be Jake’s domain registrar of choice. Thankfully, the feeling is mutual:

“We love you guys. The services that you provide are the non-crappy version of what has been crappy forever, so it’s really cool that you guys are around.”

To check out Jake’s work, head on over to Idle Thumbs & Campo Santo. If you’re getting started on your great idea, search for a great domain name from Hover below: