1. How long have you been making games?
I’ve only been releasing things for about the last twelve months but I’ve dabbled around with game concepts and level design for a very long time. I remember coming up with Sonic 2 levels on graph paper when I was 7 or 8! I think that was my first experience with level design and it’s fascinated me ever since.
2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.
I was originally going to say: Everywhere. Books, movies, dreams, random thoughts, I think I grab ideas from everything I interact with. I feel like I have ideas swirling ’round the back of my mind a lot of the time.
But then I thought a bit more about it, and most of the main ideas for my games have come to me on the spot, under the pressure of game jams. Having to work within the confines of a particular theme is a great way to come up with innovative ideas. If I can, I try to go for a walk or talk about the theme with a friend, anything that might lead to an interesting interpretation of the theme.
Once I have an idea I’m happy with, I like to explore the idea as much as possible. If it’s a game mechanic, which it often is, I try to work out all the ways the mechanic can be used or exploited by the player and then build levels or challenges that send the player down a similar road of discovery. I feel like most of my games end up being pretty simple but with a (hopefully) interesting idea for the player to explore.
Originally HopSlide was a lot more about obvious interactions between multiple games. You pressed a button in one game, and it did something straightforward in another game, that sort of thing. In fact I started with the idea of having four games in one: a platformer, a sliding puzzle, a top down shooter and some undecided genre. I quickly realized this was an insane idea, given the time constraint, and settled instead on just two games.
Once I had the main mechanic working (the blocks in the sliding puzzle representing the worlds in the platformer) I decided that what I really wanted to do was make the two games connect to each other in every way I could imagine. Really take Connected Worlds to the utter extreme. And that’s what led to the different puzzles in the game.
My Saturday was spent at a friend’s wedding so I only started brainstorming that evening. I had come up with two or three terrible game concepts already when I had this image of the player diving into water and buoyancy pushing them back out. Like releasing a beach ball underwater. The idea just popped into my head and I have no idea where it came from.
From there I started thinking about all the different types of motion the mechanic allowed for, and how these could be explored through level design. At this point I still didn’t have access to a computer so all of this was either in my head or scribbled down on paper. By the time I got home I had many of my decisions already made and half a dozen levels planned out!
5. You’ve fleshed out The Sun and Moon with new features and more content… how was it like working on the post-compo version of the game? Also, the game is going to be available on Steam on November 14… What are your plans for release day?
It felt great to be able to spend as much time as I wanted coming up with levels and new features, but progress also became much, much slower. With game jams there are much lower expectations; bugs are fine, no one minds if certain features and options are missing. When you start working on a full game there’s this expectation – real or imagined, it doesn’t matter – that every detail has to be perfect, because you have all the time in the world to change and fix things. Game jams force you to make tough gameplay decisions and it doesn’t matter too much if you make the wrong choice. It would be nice if making critical decisions post-compo were as easy.
As for my plans for release day, I think I’ll drive somewhere remote and give myself a little holiday!
6. Roguelight: “The deeper you travel the darker it gets”… Where did its idea come from? Any favourite feedback from players you remember?
Well I’d recently finished a game called Haemo where you use your blood trail to find your way around in a pure white world, so the idea of traversing an area with limited vision was something I was really excited about exploring further.
It began as a top down rogue-lite (or rogue-like-like) game where there was a small light radius around the player and everything else was in the dark. The original idea was that getting hurt would reduce your light radius until you ran out of light and died, but this wasn’t particularly new and meant that after you were hurt a few times the decreased vision led to a quick and inevitable death. A game that gets significantly harder when you’re close to death isn’t very fun, I feel.
So instead I went with a limited supply of arrows that lit up the area they landed in, which after a few iterations became arrows that lit up as you nocked them. Like all rogue-like and rogue-lite games, the player needed to have lots of meaningful decisions to make, so I added in lanterns, fireflies and enemies so that the player always had to decide on the best use of their precious arrows.
For the shading, the half-light in the game started off as a 50% dither (a checkerboard effect) but at some point I wanted the half-light to look more realistic. In real life, if an object is almost completely in shadow you tend to only be able to make out hints at what the object’s shape is, and most of the object’s colour is washed away. I wanted the half-light to reflect this.
As for favourite feedback, one of the first reviews I read was titled Roguelight (Down, Down, Down I Go…) and it was an incredible read. I was absolutely honoured to have something so detailed and thoughtful written about something I had made!
7. Art direction in your games feels great. Do you recognise any influence from other artists? Which artists working on games do you like the most?
When I was working on my Ludum Dare #28 game Javel-ein, Fez by Phil Fish was still fresh in my mind and I know it definitely influenced how I approached the art in that game. VVVVVV by Terry Cavanagh is another strong influence. In general, I’m always really interested to see what people can achieve with a very limited colour palette and low resolution.
There are too many incredible pixel artists for me to list, and there’s no way I’d be able to pick just a few favourites based on skill alone, but since I’m partial to artists who try to take things in new directions I suppose I can name a handful of people who I feel are trying to do something a bit different.
Takorii used 2D sprites stacked on top of each other to fake a 3D effect for STEP and Rubna used a similar effect for Lisa. Both games are gorgeous, and everything else made by either of them feels pumped full of style. Lucas Pope is working on an amazing looking game called Return of the Obra Dinn, and has released lots of great stuff including of course Papers, Please.
8. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?
This is really, really hard to answer. I’d need to list at least twenty people to even feel okay about my answer. If I have to choose only three, though, then I would have to pick Matt Thorson, who has been making incredible game after incredible game for years. Towerfall, MoneySeize, Jumper and especially An Untitled Story are exemplary. Secondly I’d choose Droqen, who seems to have a magic touch when it comes to game design. He has made too many good games to list, but Fishbane is a personal favourite. Thirdly I’d choose Terry Cavanagh, for pretty much the same reasons.
9. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?
I used to be, but recently I’ve pretty much substituted making games for playing them. I play Kerbal Space Program to relax. There’s something about exploring the depths of space which is really peaceful. I also try to play through as many Ludum Dare games as I can, and similarly for other game jams I participate in.
10. One last random question. If you could turn any pop singer into a character in one of your games… Which one would it be and why?
Haha, by pure coincidence I’ve already sort of done this! The main character in one of my games, Busy Busy Beaver, was officially named Justin. Justin Beaver. There was also a dog named Snoop.