Xbox Game Studios Game Camp was founded in 2020 on the belief that extraordinary talent resides everywhere. The goal of the program is to enable people from traditionally marginalized communities and non-traditional backgrounds to realize their potential in the gaming industry and grow thriving games communities and industries in places all over the world.
In this Q&A series, we aim to highlight the stories of Game Camp Alumni with unique game creation journeys. Today, we will be chatting with the CEO & Creative Director of LemonJuice Game Studio Austin-Taylor Caldwell, about his experience at Game Camp and his current project, Beyond the Nightlight, a 3D horror adventure game that sheds light on mental health and addiction.
Tell us about yourself (if applicable: your team and the game you’re working on)?
My name is Austin-Taylor Caldwell. Like most other individuals in the gaming industry, I grew up playing video games. However, to think about making a career in gaming was laughable to me from a young age. I was raised in the poorest county in my state where resources and connections to the tech industry were extremely far and few. Fast forward to 2020, I decided to jump into the deep end and founded LemonJuice Game Studio to make cinematic games within the horror genre. From solo development to Game Camp, LemonJuice now stands at 20 members who are working closely together on our current title, Beyond the Nightlight. It is a 3D horror adventure game that centers around mental health and addiction in hopes to shine light on the topic and potentially help those struggling with these illnesses every day.
Why did you decide to center Beyond the Nightlight on mental health and addiction?
Beyond the Nightlight centers around the study that when we die our brains have seven minutes of activity left, during this time is when our life ‘flashes before our eyes.’ Our protagonist Jolene is in her final seven minutes and does not know it yet. She races through this odd world in a porcelain doll body, chased by Death, to reclaim her memory of what happened to her and how she can get a second chance at life.
I lost my mother in 2019 to drug addiction and that was probably the hardest point in my life. A year later, I found out from my therapist that I have both depression and anxiety…which didn’t help the situation. Beyond the Nightlight is built from real trauma and experiences from real people to show the players that do struggle with similar if not exact issues, that they’re not alone.
“Xbox Game Studios Game Camp taught me things I would have otherwise taken 10 years to learn. Game Camp helped me identify my “superpower” in development and focus on that instead of spreading myself thin.”
Austin-Taylor Caldwell, CEO & Creative Director of LemonJuice Game Studio
Walk us through your game creation journey before you attended Xbox Game Studios Game Camp?
Before Game Camp, I taught myself game design through Unreal Engine Documentation and a ton of YouTube. Working a full-time job made devoting time to learn game development difficult, but not impossible. I would wake up a couple hours early to get through a few lessons or add a new feature to my project, then go into work and use my lunch to research various systems or solve some problems I may have run into that morning. Returning home after work was when I really put in the work by staying up way later than I should to continue adding features to my project and learning everything I could to make a playable product.
What are some of the key takeaways you learned from your experience at Xbox Game Studios Game Camp?
Xbox Game Studios Game Camp taught me things I would have otherwise taken 10 years to learn. Game Camp helped me identify my “superpower” in development and focus on that instead of spreading myself thin trying to be distinguished in every department. That alone is invaluable, but more than that it also taught me how to manage a team, communicate and network to establish long lasting relationships, how to create and manage a development pipeline, and so much more. Game Camp truly changed my life.
What excites you about the game creation process?
Seeing the first prototype is a feeling words cannot describe. Spending days on days crafting this world and seeing it come to life is enthralling. Directing that is extremely fun to me and seeing others get inspired and watching their eyes light up over a new idea they propose is truly what makes game development so beautiful.
What are some unique challenges your dev teams overcame? Were there any tools/services that helped overcome this?
The biggest challenge we faced was switching our 2D project from Unity to the 3D project it is now within Unreal Engine. Having to rebuild the code in a different language took a bit to get off the ground, but Unreal Engine Documentation helped us as a team get our bearings together and now, we are back up on the ground and sprinting!
Tell us about the tools you are using for game development and why.
We are utilizing Unreal Engine 5 and Quixel Megascans for Beyond the Nightlight . We decided to work within Unreal Engine 5 as the amount of tools provided free of cost truly tip the scales on what we can accomplish. Plus, having Megascans that we can use with ease and easily import into Unreal Engine is amazing for painting a very detailed and immersive environment.
Can you tell us about your experience working with an Xbox Game Studios mentor and what you learned from them about the game creation process?
Working with our mentor, Rosa Dachtler, was a great experience. She was extremely helpful and always available to help in any way she could. Particularly, she guided and supported us as we made an extreme switch in production with only 2 weeks of production time left. She taught us how to build a powerful narrative around action-packed gameplay and how departments can better communicate with each other throughout the design process.”
Now that you’ve attended Xbox Game Studios Game Camp, what’s next for LemonJuice?
Game Camp readied LemonJuice with the tools and knowledge needed to dive headfirst into the industry. We are currently in the final stages of wrapping up our prototype for Beyond the Nightlight. We intend to bring it to publishers so LemonJuice as a collective can work on this project full time and be equipped with the necessary tools to make it as beautiful as we have envisioned. I have always dreamed big, and it is still my dream and goal for my company to become a 1st or 2nd party studio for Xbox Game Studios.