TGC: 044 Cary Walkin- Why should you use Excel to prototype your videogame?

Walkin Games

Every professional skillset you can develop is useful in to gaming industry, and can serve as a way into a dream job. Don’t believe us? Then believe Cary Walkin, accountant, consultant, professor at York University, Game Designer and Consultant at Walkin Games, who joined us to talk about how he designed his own game entirely in Microsoft Excel. Learn how someone with a degree in accounting found his own way into the gaming industry with the talents and background he had to offer, and how you can compile your business and networking passions into a pathway to accomplish the same.

Subscribe on iTunesStitcherTuneIn Radio



What Are The Questions?

Before we jump in, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and where you fit into the gaming space?

  • Wanting to be in the gaming industry since childhood – realized it can be hard to get in.
  • Didn’t feel prepared to take risks like paying for a gaming degree, so took an accounting program with lower risk, and used that to get into the games industry.
  • Challenged self to finish out my degree with something awesome – decided to design a game through Microsoft Excel to finish out MBA.
  • There are a few games designed with Excel – this one works with Macro. V.B. (visual basic) is a feature that executes Macro apps – or features to affect a spreadsheet environment.

Can you tell our listeners a bit about the game, what it’s about, and how it works?

  • The game is called Arena.Xlsm – it’s a 1:1 arena battle.
  • Rogue-like RPG (with perma-death) where you kill enemies that get progressively more challenging with a modular AI system. As you go, some enemies are immune to certain attacks, or may have special abilities, like teleportation.
  • Expected to just have a designed game on the resume, and it unintentionally became really viral – probably helped that it’s a game you can play at work.
  • Arena.Xlsm went on Steam Greenlight in 2013 on a reddit dare, didn’t expect anything to come of it, and it actually got through.
  • There will need to be a few more tweaks and Steamworks (ability to unlock steam achievements, trading cards, etc) added to the game and then it will be available on steam.
  • NO idea how possible those adds are, but I have to try.
  • Game took five months to make during MBA completion, and then took a few months after for patching and updates.
  • Turns out that programming in excel is really easy compared to other engines
  • Did a talk at MIGS (Montreal International Game Summit) about prototyping your games in excel – you can get a working prototype way faster with all of its functions.
  • Prototype for a client’s mobile game was projected to take two weeks – took two days in excel instead.
  • Games, at their core, are spreadsheets, with math and layers and data outcomes. Devs have to have those spreadsheets down before they can add UI, visuals, etc.

Can you tell us what’s happened in your career to help move you towards your gaming career?

  • Making that first game was the first step.
  • Getting the one project done was really affirming that this was what I wanted.
  • Having that product was really validating when I spoke to people who could see my competence, as being self-taught doesn’t give you a piece of paper to back up what you know.
  • Learned that having a gaming degree is less important than having a portfolio and finished products that back up what you’ve learned and what you can apply.
  • Hiring managers don’t want to go through the work of figuring out what you can contribute – they want finished examples of your own work.
  • After making Arena, it made business sense with my background and the hiring capabilities of the Canadian client base to take on lots of clients for freelance consulting.
  • Offered game evaluations for mobile clients during their development games so senior management could read what was and wasn’t working, for everything from from UI, designing, QA, experience, monetization, etc. It was a very easy way to add some value to any game.
  • When looking at free-to-play mobile games that make their money through adds, in-game purchases, etc, there are certain values it is always important to analyze – how many first time users are completing the tutorial, how long are they playing, are there trends where lots of people are quitting the game.
  • It helps combat the idea that business decisions should be made from the gut, and instead can be made from their data. First we find what questions there are about a game, and then we decide what data we can find to answer them.
  • Found out that Valve looks at game player data to track every bullet, and to find out where people are dying or camping, and use that to make their levels more fun.

Can you tell us what came about that lead you to become a manager full time?

  • Wasn’t really looking at moving away from freelance consultation, but then was contacted by a recruiter.
  • The job lent into everything beloved about work in the gaming industry – communication with teams and senior management, and even coding.
  • All through your career, you develop skills that can be applied to lots of different contexts – if you work on getting really good with skillsets you enjoy using, there is always a need for that skillset somewhere in the gaming industry.
  • Skills in things like marketing, HR, or as simple as strong attention to detail, can be used in any industry – pick one you love.

Can you tell us about other titles at Walkin games aside from Arena.Xlsm?

  • Started Indie game studio Walkin Games, who is working on their first game, Glyphs. Had the idea a while ago, but needed more experience and support, so partnered with a studio out of Montreal.
  • It’s a game about matching patterns, and also reconsidering the way patterns work together. Figure out how to make one pattern work, and then send it to a friend who can make it harder and feed you your own medicine.
  • Game was made through Unity 3D engine, with the help of the partnering company.
  • After the game, became inspired to learn how to use Unity 3D without needing to outsource because the resource is really cool, and so is knowing more things.

How did your partnership with this new company to help build Glyphs initially transpire?

  • It happened through networking – a skill readily needed as a consultant.
  • Rely heavily on LinkedIn for consulting work, was how invite to MIGS happened, and also was for finding this partnership.
  • Around 90% of job openings – especially in the gaming industry – are not advertised, but networked.
  • The people you know are an asset to working relationships – knowing an artist means you can add value to your connection when another client needs an artist.
  • Remembering that networking is not about transactions, but about building a relationship – take time to know people and know how to help them, and don’t make saying hi only about how do I get a job out of you?

What are some of your favorite professional and development resources?

  • Google is a great resource – Because whenever you have a problem, odds are someone else has had that exact same problem, and you can go read about it.
  • Would not have finished my first game without Google – whenever Excel game me a compiler error, with no useful information in the error message, I can copy-paste into Google and find out how to start finishing it.

Where can listeners find out more about you and your games?



Advanced Spreadsheet Skills for Game Designers

Steam Greenlight





Find out more about Cary Walkin:

Cary Walkin’s website

Cary Walkin on Twitter

Walkin Games

Arena.Xlsm on Facebook

Glyphs on Facebook

Cary Walkin on Reddit



Liked The Show? Take a second to support The Gaming Careers Podcast on Patreon!
Spread the Word!

About the Author

Steve Ruduski is a business and career coach that has helped dozens of people start their business and successfully find their fit in the gaming industry.

Comments are closed