Alec Holowka

Alec Holowka makes award-winning games, great music, an interesting podcast and awesome kickstarter projects! And now he answers our questions. Enjoy!


Alec Holowka by Aldeguer!

1. How long have you been making games?

I started programming when I was eight years old. My Dad noticed that I was playing around on the family’s computer (an Amiga 500!) a little too much. He wanted to see me do something “productive” with it. So he got me a book called “BASIC Fun”.

He also invited my cousin Robbie over to teach me how IF statements work. This whole time my family would be making little video parodies of famous movies, writing musicals and making board games together. So I’ve been collaborating on creative things since an early age.

2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us more about your creative process.

For me it’s all about collaboration. It’s about finding someone who I work really well with, where there’s enough positive energy and enough… “creative tension.” For a very personal project it needs to be just the right balance, or it won’t work.

I guess there are two categories of project for me. Ones that are intensely personal and the ones that are more chill. The intensely personal ones are rare, but they end up being more memorable (at least for me). For example, TowerFall is pretty chill because it’s Matt’s game and I’m just writing music for it. Whereas games like Aquaria, Marian or Night in the Woods are more personal and I get way more involved in all aspects of development. The games start to overlap with my identity to the point where it can really hurt if things aren’t going right with them or if people don’t accept them etc.

The accepted wisdom in some circles is that you should keep a healthy distance from your projects. But if you want to make intensely personal games that is not really an option. I think we’re in an era where personal games that explore emotions are becoming more accepted and celebrated. I admire those who are brave/selfless enough to rip out their guts and put them up for our edification.

3. You are a member of Indie House, “a bunch of artists, musicians, programmers and designers making games”. What is your favourite story or anecdote at Indie House?

Indie House Vancouver is composed of myself, Matt Thorson, Chevy Ray Johnston and Noel Berry. Occasionally we have guests visiting. Right now Pedro and Amora (Studio Miniboss) are visiting us from Brazil. We have mini game jams at our house on the weekends. Right after PAX we organized something called “PAXcouver” where we invited ~10 indie developers to come up to Vancouver from Seattle to visit. It was kind of like a crazy giant sleepover.

4. The Infinite Ammo podcast is one of our favourite podcasts featuring indie developers. What are your plans about it in the future?

Well thank you! I don’t have any big plans for changing the podcast, I’m just going to be interviewing more talented people. :)

5. Night in the Woods is such an awesome project. After all the support received in Kickstarter, how do you feel? And where does the idea of destroying all stretch goals come from?

I feel kind of intimidated in a good way. The response is a bit overwhelming and it really makes me want to work super hard to ensure that the game will be something special. We can’t quite jump into working on the game at full speed yet because there’s still more to be done with the Kickstarter, but I’m itching to work on it more. I’m just super excited to play it. I don’t think there’s anything quite like it.

6. You have composed amazing music for really good games (Aquaria, Offspring Fling, Night in the Woods)… what are your influences?

Don’t forget TowerFall! :)

Some influences include Stephen Sondheim, David Byrne, Tegan and Sara, Loreena McKennitt, Nobuo Uematsu and other SNES-era video game music composers. My approach to writing music is very emotional and somewhat ignorant. I don’t really know the “rules” of composition and I don’t have great knowledge of pieces are traditionally arranged. But I do know how to explore certain types of emotions really well. I have no interest in trying to arrange pieces that sounds like a real world recording. I prefer when it seems like the music came from some alternate world. So I tend to use/combine synth instruments in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

7. GRAVE is looking really good and following the process is hell of a ride. Can you tell us three or four features of the game you like the most? (We asked Adam Saltsman the same question!)

What’s valuable about GRAVE to me is the process. I’ve gotten to a point where I’m very adept at prototyping gameplay efficiently. Adam is an accomplished designer. We’re both pretty good friends and we have a similar open-minded approach to throwing out design/code that aren’t working. It’s very satisfying collaboration because we can explore alternative gameplay mechanics very quickly. I feel like GRAVE is going to be the most clearly thought out and most thoroughly explored project that I’ve worked on. We’re leaving no stone left unturned.

8. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?

I really can’t force my brain to pick things in that way. But I can say that for me it’s not about specific designers, but more about specific things that designers do. And most of those designers are friends. It’s hard for me to think of people who I’m close to as “designers” because they I know them so well as “people.”

9. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?

I hardly play games anymore. I watch a lot of TV and movies, but I have a hard time getting into games. I think one reason is that playing games can feel like work sometimes. To advance the storyline in a game you have to exert effort. To watch a movie all you have to do is sit there and let it wash over you.

Another problem is that I’m way more critical of games than I am of movies. This probably comes from working on games everyday, picking them apart from a designer/developer perspective. So if I’m playing a game and I can detect that it’s falling into a predictable design pattern that I don’t like —I’ll quit immediately.

Some exceptions lately have been Hotline Miami and Papers, Please. Hotline Miami sucked me in somehow, I think maybe just because it had a strong aesthetic and a good sense of style. So many games don’t really have that or just have a disposable, generic style.

10. And one last random question. If you could turn into any video game character… who would it be?

I’m trying, but I can’t think of a single video game character that I’d want to be. I’m sorry!

I’ll say that I wouldn’t mind being a ghost. I like observing things. If there was an afterlife like that, I’d be pretty happy. I want to see what happens to human beings in the future.

One comment on “Alec Holowka

  1. Thanks for admitting that you mostly compose by heart! Answer to 9, I have been the same in recent years and Hotline Miami sucked me so much too. Gotta admit Dark Souls was great too. Both innovative and hardcore titles, maybe there’s something to it. Most of the games today seem really iterative and most of the patterns get boring quickly without a story or musical score to complement the gameplay.

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