016: TJ Hughes (Terrifying Jellyfish)

TJ Hughes on Innovation City

“Keep your scope small, and release your first product… that’s really what will get you in the door.” — TJ Hughes

Welcome to Innovation City—powered by Venture Cafe—where Tyler Kelley and Michael Johnson, Co-Founders of SLAM! Agency, interview innovators, creators, and disruptors to discover how business is changing in the modern world.

Created and produced by SLAM! Agency in conjunction with Venture Cafe St. Louis and Venture Cafe Miami, Innovation City gives you an inside look at how rapidly business and culture are changing thanks to increasing diversity and inclusion, heightened creativity, and a stronger and better-connected business community.

Today’s guest is video game designer and digital artist TJ Hughes, who produces and publishes games as the independent game company Terrifying Jellyfish. Terrifying Jellyfish is “bent on escaping the mediocre and mundane forever through the exorbitant use of color, playfulness, and a e s t h e t i c s.”

His current project, the food game Nour, has received national attention, including interviews with Drøme, Polygon, Venture Beat, and more. Nour is an experimental food art game with no goals or objectives, the entire point is just to have fun and play with food in curious and unconventional ways. Find TJ online at @_teejay5 on Twitter, at @tjellyfish5 on Instagram, and Terrifying Jellyfish on YouTube.

TJ dove into video game design at 13, making games in Unity 3D. Hired by Happy Badger Studios right out of high school, he has continued to develop his unique aesthetic and push the boundaries of what video games can do.

They discuss:

  • Teaching himself game design using Google and YouTube
  • What it’s like to have your “weird food game” blow up and get attention from major national publications
  • Finite Games vs. Infinite Games
  • The goal of Nour; making food look as beautiful in 3D modelling as in photographs
  • Pushing beyond first person shooter games, beyond just competition as the fundamental principle of video games
  • More spectators watching online games than physical sports; via Twitch and YouTube
  • The kickstarter campaign for Nour
  • When Nour will be released
  • Making games more accessible
  • Video games as an immature medium; i.e, one that is less established and therefore more open to experimentation than other artistic mediums such as storytelling, television, film, etc.
  • Reaching out to new audiences; people who don’t think of themselves as gamers
  • Breaking through the embarrassment or fear of not being a “gamer”
  • TJ’s thoughts on the legacy he’d like to leave behind
  • The importance of having agency in video games
  • Escapism
  • The challenge of finding your audience
  • Working alone vs. working with a team
  • Everything involved in making a video game
  • The democratization of video game development
  • Where to start if you’re interested in game design: Minecraft (to learn game logic), Bloxels (game creator by PixelPress), Scratch (game design program), Game Maker (2D games), Butterscotch Shenanigans, Unity, UnReal Engine, Cry Engine