Well, it’s interview time again here at Gaming Reinvented! Yep, after a few weeks of not posting anything, we’re back talking to all kinds of industry figures about their experience developing video games. We’ve got developers, composers, YouTubers… heck, we’d go as far as to say 2018 could be the best one yet for Gaming Reinvented’s interviews.
And no better example illustrates this than today’s interview. Namely, one with a very interesting video game developer called Randy Linden.
So, who is he? Well, have you ever played that port of Doom for the SNES?
Messed around the Bleem emulator on PC (before Sony sued the company behind it)?
Or perhaps even tried out Dragon’s Lair back on the Amiga?
If so, that’s Linden’s work. He’s been involved in tons of games over the years, on every console from the NES to the Amazon App store, and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
So, relax, pull up a chair and settle down for part 1 of our in-depth interview with Randy Linden about his experience working in the gaming industry! It’s going to be great!
Starting with a bit of personal background stuff. Who are you? Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
I’ve been a programmer for 35 years now: my first published title was an almost-unknown game called “Bubbles” for the Commodore 64 similar to the arcade classic “Centipede,” but other titles I’ve worked on are probably more familiar: Dragon’s Lair for Amiga (the first time full-screen full-colour animation was streamed from floppy discs on a home computer) and DOOM for the Super Nintendo.
Above: Dragon’s Lair on the Amiga was one of Linden’s first games
I’ve also done non-gaming software as well: A database program called “Paperback Filer” (later renamed to “Pocket Filer”) for Commodore 64 and 128s, a Commodore 64 emulator for the Amiga called “The 64 Emulator”, a PlayStation emulator called “bleem!” for the PC and “bleemcast!” for the Sega Dreamcast.
My latest project is “Cyboid”, a full 3D FPS that’s like “Quake” and runs on Amazon Fire devices (TV Stick, TVs and Tablets) and Android devices (Tablets, Phones, TVs and SetTop Boxes.) Cyboid has single player, split-screen two-player and multiplayer online for up to eight. The game runs well, even on low-end hardware like the Fire TV Stick.
What about your gaming history? How did you first get interested in video games?
Our school received a Commodore PET, one of the first available computers worldwide and we were allowed to book time on the machine to learn how to program, although most of us used it to play games!
The system used cassette tapes for storage and there were two or three games that changed my life: Space Invaders, Adventure (the classic text game) and Lords of Karma, but it was an adventure-style game where you could save your progress by entering the machine-language monitor and typing in a command which saved out the block of memory with the game variables to tape — when you wanted to continue playing, you loaded the game, switched tapes and then loaded your saved state and then ran the game.
Were there any you remember fondly from that time?
Sure! Here are a few of my all-time favourites:
- Space Invaders (Commodore PET) was a virtual clone of the classic game, but all done in 6502 assembly instead of BASIC
- Parsec (TI99/4A) because it improved on the classic “Space Invaders” with unique alien graphics every few levels
- Xevious (Arcade) was a vertical scroller that had pseudo-3D graphics and had hidden objects you discovered by bombing the ground below
- Venture (Arcade) had a bunch of “rooms” with unique monsters which required different strategies to defeat
- Dragon’s Lair (Arcade) used a laser disc to show a video instead of using graphics — the controls and timing was all pre-programmed, but the animation was awesome
- Lode Runner (Commodore 64) had unique gameplay and tons of levels
- Forbidden Forest (Commodore 64) had great graphics and one of the best sound tracks on the C64
- Frantic Freddie (Commodore 64) also had an awesome sound track
- Sword of Sodan (Amiga) because of the massive animated characters (as tall as the full screen), a programming achievement at the time
- Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation) had awesome gameplay, great graphics and sound, tons of challenges and unique gameplay throughout
- Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64) for the real 3D graphics and immense levels
- DOOM (PC) a “hall of fame classic” that introduced network gameplay to the world
- Quake (PC) another true classic that brought 3D to PC all done in software
And how did you get started in video game development anyway? Did you want to make games from a young age?/
I was always fascinated by arcade games — the graphics, sounds and gameplay — much more than winning, and that drove me to play more and more so I could see what the next was like!
The first game I wrote was called “Barriers” on the Commodore PET — it was really simple: a vertical wall starts at the left side of the screen and moves to the right where there’s a space ship you control. You can move all around the screen and shoot a laser to blast a hole in the wall as it’s moving closer. If you make a big enough hole for the wall to pass by without touching your ship, the next wall was a little bit faster.
Over time, my programming focus changed to projects which presented unique technical challenges, often in the category of “that can’t be done” for various reasons (hardware, software, CPU speed, memory, etc.)
Onto your game development history now. What was the first game you ever created? Did you work on anything interesting before Datastorm for the Amiga?
When the Commodore 64 was released there was a bundle that included the monitor, computer and a desk to put everyone on. My mom bought me that one year for my birthday and I wrote my first “professional” game called “Bubbles”, a clone of the arcade classic “Centipede.” — I say “professional” because it was actually published by a company and I was paid for it!
There was a start-up company in Toronto called “Syntax Software” that had just released a game called “Cyclons” which was available at the local computer store. I looked up the company and the owner’s name was “Randy”, so I knew fate was calling! So I called the owner and arranged a meeting. I worked at Syntax part-time for a few months doing various programming jobs and eventually demo’d “Bubbles” … and the rest is history!
How did you get involved with Visionary Design Technologies anyway?
VDT was a start-up that I founded and ran from my mom’s basement — VDT’s first title was “Dragons’s Lair” for the Amiga.
I had always been fascinated by “Dragon’s Lair” and one day I started calling companies which sold arcade games to track down the laser disc from the game.
I rented a laser disc player and used the “Sunrize Industries” digitizer to scan some of the images — the digitizer used coloured filters and required three passes for each frame of animation.
Eventually I contacted the company which made the digitizer and told them about the project …
They sent a prototype of their next-gen digitizer which could scan images much faster and didn’t require any filters. Many years later, another company was started by the same owner of “New Horizons” — that company is “Roku” — cool, eh?
What about Sullivan Bluth Interactive Media? Seems like quite a jump going from Datastorm to Dragon’s Lair here…
Actually, Dragon’s Lair was done about a year before DataStorm — and Sullivan Bluth Interactive Media was founded after they saw a demo of Dragon’s Lair.
Dragon’s Lair was one of those “impossible” games that I knew was possible on the Amiga because of its unique hardware capabilities — the game required took a huge amount of work, but it achieved a milestone for gaming and home computers in general.
Here’s something interesting: The game requires six disks to fit all of the graphics and sound data, but the entire program is only 8K bytes — yes, eight kilobytes total!
Here on Gaming Reinvented, we’ve interviewed all kinds of creators in past interviews. We’ve talked to game developers working on fan games and indie titles, such as Mushroom Kingdom Fusion, Super Mario 64 Last Impact and Soul Reaper. We’ve interviewed YouTube personalities like Guru Larry Jr, SidAlpha and The Lonely Goomba.
And then we’ve even talked to a fair few artists here as well. Like SmithyGCN or Teslagrad’s art director Ole Ivar Rudi.
But today we’re talking to someone with a bit of a different role. Someone who you may have heard about from playing Wario Land Shake It, Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Woolly World.
Yep, this time we’re talking to ex Konami and GoodFeel composer Tomoya Tomita! It’s quite the interesting interview too, covering everything from Konami’s work practices to the development process for Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Wario Land Shake It.
So, if you’re interested, here it is. Here is our exclusive interview with Wario Land Shake It composer Tomoya Tomita!
First things first, a quick personal question. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? Who are you?
I was involved in video game sound production for a long time. My oldest work is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III for the NES, whereas my newest works are Yoshi’s Woolly World on Wii U and Poochy and Yoshi’s Woolly World on 3DS.
My roles have included creating not just music, but also sound effects, voice recordings and managing the projects with sound programs all in one.
Before then, I played in a band as a student. I usually played drums, but sometimes I played the guitar as well.
After that, I had a hobby of making music with a synthesizer by myself. I was entirely self-taught here.
And how did you get started with video games? What was your first console?
I wanted to make music my work, and luckily found a job at Konami. I was first in charge of Game Boy games, then moved to MSX and then found myself working on Nintendo systems.
Are there any particular games you’ve really liked over the years?
I like so many games. If I had to choose, Half-Life, Skyrim and Gears of Wars were favourites. Horizon Zero Dawn was excellent too.
What games did you think had amazing soundtracks?
It’s an old story, but Solstice on NES was shocking.
How did you get interested in composing music for games?
I started out by free playing guitar. I think that was the first time.
Did you ever want to use your music skills for other media? Like say, film soundtracks, TV soundtracks or just as a musician selling CDs?
Of course, I’m interested in all of them. Someone please introduce me! 🙂
Actually though, I’m currently making music alongside Tara Dion, a musician based in the UK.
Onto the games industry side now. How do you first get started composing music for video games?
First, I will try to understand the project
Then I’ll check the artwork of the character and the background.
I imagine what kind of sound is ringing there
And I will make a prototype of music and sound effect
Then discuss the direction of the sound with the director
It seems you originally started at Konami back in 1988. How did that come about? How did you get a job as a composer at the company?
At the time, Konami published recruitment articles in music magazines. I came across one when looking for work, and got a job through one of those articles. I may have been lucky there.
What was it like working there? What was it like working on games in the Castlevania and Goemon series?
Nooo! It was very tough working there. The working environment was the worst.
We stayed at work almost all day, with Goemon’s production being especially tough every time. The days went on so long I could hardly go home.
I don’t want to recall it. 🙂
Either way, you eventually moved over to GoodFeel to compose music for their games. What inspired that move?
During the last few years at Konami, I wasn’t working in sound production any more. So, I decided to leave Konami, and join the company founded by the Goemon team.
Was it very different working at GoodFeel compared to Konami?
Yes, because the sound staff was me alone. I managed to control everything myself
This meant I was able to work very freely, with any long meetings, and was able to use all the time for sound production.
Once you were there, it seems like your first project was composing music for Wario Land Shake It. So, what inspired the soundtrack for that game? Was there a certain feel you were going for?
I was nervous, because I hadn’t composed music for a long time. But once it began, it was a fun job. The music tools had evolved, and I enjoyed using them.
It was also the first game you worked alongside Minako Hamano on. How did you two decide what songs each of you would be composing?
I didn’t work with her. Nintendo sent three songs over, with a note on one saying “This is Wario’s song”. I think that was the song she made.
Ed’s Note: We confirmed that the songs Nintendo sent over were Stonecarving City:
As well as the theme for Wario’s garage played in the intro.
In recent years, video game collecting has become big business. Spurred on by an increase in YouTube channels dedicated to the hobby and retro gaming as a whole, we’ve seen hundreds of thousands more gamers buying games and systems from the olden days, with the legions of new stores and sellers popping up to fill the growing market.
This has caused… various effects on the market. Like say, a huge increase in the prices for rare yet popular games like Earthbound. Or a somewhat worrying trend towards repro carts and bootlegs being sold by morally questionable stores and eBay sellers.
But it’s also caused another affect too. Namely, an increase in new games for classic systems!
Yep, thanks to the collectors’ scene, we’re now seeing new games released on the NES, SNES and Mega Drive (among others) long after the systems were originally discontinued. These include everything from games revived from cancellation (like Nightmare Busters) to all new originals by upcoming companies like Coffee Crisis.
So today on Gaming Reinvented, we’re gonna talk to one of those companies. Namely, Mega Cat Studios, a company known for creating new titles for the NES and Sega Mega Drive among various others.
Here’s our interview with the company!
Starting with a quick personal question. Who are you guys? Who are the folks behind Mega Cat Studios?
We’re a team of people with life-long pixel romance. Some of us have been working together on contract work for over a decade, and others are enthusiastic travelers we met along the way that have a shared vision for making the games we want to play.
And how did you get started with video games in general? Was the NES a large part of your childhood?
Most of us grew up with a steady diet of pixels, whether it was the Commodore, Genesis or NES. We’re lucky to have an opportunity to do something we love. I’m sure there’s a ten-year-old version of us cheering that we’ve had the opportunities we have.
Are there any classics you remember from your youth?
- NES: Castlevania, Shatterhand, SMB 3
- Genesis: Sonic & Knuckles, Shadowrun, Comix Zone
- SNES: Mega Man X, Parodius Da, Zombies Ate My Neighbors
- C64: Impossible Mission, Last Ninja Series, Turrican Series
How about… less well received ones? What games do you remember being terrible?
This was the most interesting to talk about. I think all of us had a different experience with a Clearance Rack video game. Anticipation for the NES is one of my most vivid let downs. I’m sure many of us had a similar diet of 1-2 games per year across all holidays, and having one of them be Anticipation was the gift equivalent of a gut-punch.
What about current gen games? Do you still play them?
Indie gaming is absolutely where I spend most of my current gen game time. I think it’s common for lots of retro game fans. When Breath of the Wild came out, we had at least two weeks of broken sleep schedules and missed weekly sprints. I know Andy is heavily invested into buying any wrestling game that has customization options, and then heavily investing himself into making a ton of luchadores. “There are some great pro wrestlers out in Mexico, someone has to do the right thing and get them out there. No one else was going through the effort to make a painstakingly accurate La Parka. I’m just happy that I can help”.
Either way, onto the company now. What caused you to start Mega Cat Studios?
Contract work is the backbone for what we do right now, like many Indie studios. We’re all grateful for it. Now that we’re bringing some of our own concepts to life, it rounds out the rest. Any creative maker wants to have more autonomy over the projects they’re investing themselves into.
7./8. What about the name? Why a giant cat? And what about the logo? It’s kind of amusing to see the cat with a controller where its eyes should be/cartridge hanging from the collar…
Aside from having the actual Mega Cat at our office, there’s just lots to love about cats. Aside from being incredible companions, their expressive facial expressions and unpredictability is definitely endearing.
However, the thing that’s most different here is the choice of platform, since you seem to be designing games for retro consoles like the NES and Mega Drive. Why? Why those rather than PC?
PC games are actually our focus, they’re just much larger projects that take more resources and effort to achieve the quality standard we want, but the retro games are always going to be part of our identity.
And why the NES and Mega Drive in particular? Do you have any plans to make SNES games? How about games for early 3D systems?
We have some SNES & Dreamcast projects in que, but there’s no timeline in mind at this point. Pixel art and good games are timeless.
Either way, let’s start with Log Jammers. Why a zombie themed sports game?
Zombies are just one facet to this arcade thriller’s roster of colorful characters. We’ve also got a rad surfer, a champion lumberjack, and a hometown sports hero. Fantasy arcade sports games are made with couch co-op in mind.
Was this the one that inspired your site’s ‘zombie’ gimmick on the staff page?
Actually, that gag comes from Zack’s eternal hunger and his foreknowledge that he will one day have to eat our brains.
As you’ve probably noticed, we’ve been interviewing a fair few people here on Gaming Reinvented recently. We’ve interviewed Power Level Studios about Soul Reaper on the 10th of August. We’ve talked to ARTAKE Games about their Zelda Twilight Princess reimagining on the 17th.
And well, with Ole Ivar Rudi of Rain Games discussing Teslagrad just a day ago, that makes it three interviews in August already! That’s got to be a new site record!
But we’re not done yet. Oh no, now we’ve got another team doing an interview here! Yep, today we’re talking to PixelStrike Games, a studio known for working on an interesting virtual reality games for devices like the Oculus Rift and Gear VR! They’ve been working on an Asteroids type game called SuperVektoroids, which can be seen in the trailer below:
So, if you’re interested in finding out more about them and their work… keep reading!
Well, you know the drill now. Who are you? What’s the background for the people working at PixelStrike Games?
PixelStrike Games is Damien Labonte (me), the game designer and art/audio guy, and Sina Masoud-Ansari, also the game designer and coder. We are from Vancouver BC, Canada and Auckland, New Zealand (in that order). It’s just the two of us so we have many hats to wear.
And for that matter, how did you get started with video games?
Neither of us have done anything really like true video games. I have some experience with a virtual world for children app, and Sina is a research programmer at the University of Auckland. This is our first serious foray into a true video game.
Any favourites you have from your childhood?
Damien: I remember watching my brothers play Space Duel. Compared to Asteroids, the colours were mesmerizing. I guess I’m a big fan of Color, because when I first saw the NES my brothers brought home, the first NES game I saw was Castlevania, and I remember saying, “Look at the colours!”
Sina: I was about 4 years old when my dad got an IBM 386, so I’ve been a PC gamer my whole life and grew up on Doom, XCOM, Civilization and Ultima games. XCOM is probably my favourite and every few years I get nostalgic about it and start up a new campaign.
Onto game dev next. What inspired you to start up a video game development company?
Damien: I was a big 3D gaming aficionado, as buggy as it was to get working. When the Rift Kickstarter happened, I knew that I wanted to make a VR game. It was destiny! We met on Reddit when I asked if anyone wanted to team up and make a VR game. And Sina answered the call. And we have been working on this game ever since.
Sina: For me it was definitely the magic of VR. I was at an NVIDIA conference some years ago when they had demos of the Oculus Rift. This was before the DK2 was available for purchase and I remember feeling like I was in a dream. I raved about it to everyone and started spending time on the Oculus subreddit where I met Damien.
How about the name? Where did Pixel Strike Games come from?
Sina and I futzed around with names for a while. Our original name was going to be Z-Bucket. As in, pass me “ze’ bucket” because of VR motion sickness. Well that was clearly not a great name. Then I saw a video on YouTube showing how Lichtenberg Sculptures are made in glass with electricity, and PixelStrike Games was born.
Did you have any previous game development experience before starting up the company?
Damien: Yes, I was the creative director of a company called Cackleberries, an online game world for young children, basically simple apps for education. I work in Animation now, as a background supervisor.
Sina: None! I remember watching the Indie Game movie and coming away from that with a desire to make something. But never followed through with the idea until I started getting into VR.
Super Vektoroids is an arcade shooter played in VR. So why did you choose that genre? Did you have a lot of memories of the original Asteroids game?
Damien: Space Duel more so, which is really just a clone of the original asteroids with different art. It had an impact on me when I first saw it. I certainly loved visiting the arcade, I suppose one had to use their imagination more back then, maybe that’s what made the games special.
Sina: I did for sure, I have fuzzy memories but I remember playing a lot of Asteroids (or some imitation of it) on PC as a kid. Making Super Vektoroids is kind of my way of showing appreciation for those simple games.
What about the VR aspect? It’s not often developers seemingly start their careers with a VR focused game…
VR just adds a lot to the experience, it’s like 3D on steroids. Seemed like a no-brainer to us.
And how did the name come about for this game? Vektor is pretty obvious, but Vektoroids? What’s the story behind that?
Well it’s a vector art styled game. Where you shoot asteroids. And enemies. And your super of course! Plus, VektorRoids 🙂 I know, we are super clever.
It seems the game was an entry in a ‘VR Killer Apps’ contest, and did pretty well too (ranking as a finalist overall). Did you expect that?
We don’t like to have expectations. If you don’t have expectations, you won’t be disappointed, only pleasantly surprised. So, it was a nice surprise 🙂
The trailer showcases some of the different ships, including one with dual lasers, a few that seem to go at super speed and an extremely small ship among others. Can you give a bit more detail about their specific differences and abilities?
Each ship has a slightly different control feel, plus a different weapon. We wanted the players to try and feel out which ship they liked best. The ships differ in turning rate, speed, weapon reload speed, and how fast they come to a stop. The VFO is very instant stop and start, and can maneuver very well, (if a bit unwieldy) where the Looney Lander is very low drag, so it keeps on floating, which is great for backwards shooting. We are going to be adding another layer of difference in the amount of shields each ship has, so each will have more obvious pros and cons. The ships aren’t balanced yet, thus early access so we can tune the game more to its core audience.
How about some of the enemies? The trailer shows a few, but can you describe a few more of the enemies, their designs and AI patterns in a bit more detail?
There are quite a few enemies, starting with small and quite dumb seeking enemies, enemies that can avoid your shots, spirally and zigzagging enemies, some that split into smaller enemies, some that shoot lasers, bullets, heat seeking missiles, enemies that dart at you when you get too close, to the more difficult shielded enemies that take a lot of shots to break their defenses. If early access does well, we would like to add in mini-bosses as well as a final boss. Fingers crossed on that!
Is there a story or ending to this game, or is it entirely points based? Because I know it has a points structure and its very arcade like, but it also seems to have worlds and other more complex additions not found in games like Asteroids…
Again, if early access does well, we would like to add a simple narrative (we have it all planned) that would take the player through a storyline and various areas to defeat bosses and new enemies per zone. I’m really hoping we can get that chance. But for now, it’s a score chaser, but a fun one at that. There are lots of enemies to keep you challenged.
There’s also a few references to a ‘Vektorverse’ on your site. Is this something you plan to build on going forward, like a fleshed-out universe where games based on this one is set? Or is it just a quick joke?
We want the Vektorverse to be its own world, within a world. It’s no joke that you are the Only One who can Save the Vektorverse from the Glytch Armada.
Graphically, it’s a very unique title, with a bright and trippy looking vector art style. Obviously, that’s partly inspired by the original Asteroids game, but what other influences were there here?
I had a Vextrex and it was a magical device to me. It was extremely unique at the time, and vector style still carries a lot of appeal I think. You don’t see that many games using it. All the old vector games are definitely an inspiration for Super Vektoroids. It was quite a challenging process to figure out how to create the look, but we feel its successful.
And how about for the music and sound effects? They certainly fit the game well, but was the thought process behind them? What games or media were influences here?
The music in the trailer is a temp track that Sina found at the last minute. It was a perfect fit, but the music in the game will be a blend of more contemporary techno with chiptune elements scattered about. Currently I’m creating the music for the game (plus there are tracks from DarkArps as well), using Spectrasonics Omnisphere, Plogue Chipsounds and Chipspeech, and a Maschine Studio. It’s nice to actually put this equipment to use! The sounds in the game are mostly generated using BXFR, a free sound maker that is quite authentic to the old sounds from the arcades. We really wanted the whole package to feel right, updated to now, but paying homage to the Golden Age of Arcades. Nostalgia is important to us.
A few questions about the release process now. Despite being on multiple VR platforms, it’s seemingly not planned for PS VR at the moment. Could that change in future?
We definitely want this title on PSVR. But we need to get funding from early access to carry on. So, we are starting on GearVR, for which the game was designed. We would like to get Super Vektoroids on as many systems as possible. Ataribox has certainly piqued our interest.
What about a non-VR version for other consoles? Seems like some people might want to play it there for the gameplay mechanics, even if the VR aspect isn’t available…
Yes, that is planned. You will just miss out on all the 3D particles and explosions. It’s really a treat for the senses in VR. But it would also be great in 2D, though I can imagine how much fun you would have using touchscreen to play. It’s very much a gamepad game, though we would support on-screen touch controls.
Okay, marketing wise you seem to have all the social media boxes checked. But which sites seem to be bringing you the most interest in your game?
I suppose we’ll find out when we drop our Early Access trailer. We have a subreddit on Reddit (r/supervektoroids), but it’s pretty quiet there at the moment. It’s hard to manage all this with just two people who have day jobs. I do all the social stuff, and find Twitter to be the most enjoyable.
And have you approached the mainstream media or influencers about the game? How has that gone for you?
Not really yet. Once we are in Early Access, I’ll be knocking on a lot of doors. We are hoping word of mouth really helps too. Marketing is probably our Achilles heel.
Either way, assuming the game does well, do you plan to create any sequels for the title? What would they be like?
Oh, most definitely, if Sina’s wrists can take it. He has to be coding like a madman, and it takes its toll. I don’t want to give too much away, but think Multiverse., and a whole lot of friends on the other-side. The war doesn’t end here.
Do you have any ideas for other games you want to create after Super Vektoroids is released?
Yes, we want to make a title that works with the touch/wands. And is multiplayer. Super Vektoroids is a single player experience, but more players equals more fun.
Finally, what advice would you give someone wanting to get into game development? Any words of wisdom here?
Damien: Make a game from your heart. Don’t make a game you think will be popular because it’s the current trend in games. You will just end up among countless others who also thought the same thing, plus, the current hot theme will change by the time you are done anyhow. Look into your own self and find the joy you have for games, and base a game off that. Don’t make games for money, make them for the joy inside you that you have toward gaming. You will probably be far more inspired that way, and less likely to give up halfway through. Because there are lots of moments of doubt, frustration, worry. There are a lot of hurdles in game design to jump over. But you can do it. Be original, because you ARE original.
Sina: Adding to that, from a development point of view, if you’re just starting out try to make very small projects that you don’t expect to release because you learn so much about how to architect a game from the first attempt that will make your next project more efficient to work on. The most surprising thing for me is the amount of time I spend on ‘non-game’ code such as menus and supporting different VR platforms and controllers. I’m reeeaally looking forward to writing some gameplay code and fun mechanics!
And that concludes our interview. But wait, what was that?
Yep, it’s a new recommendation for once! Unlike every other developer we’ve interviewed on this site, the folks at PixelStrike games AREN’T merely recommending you start small and work your way up.
Instead, they’re recommending something else a lot of prospective game devs need to listen to. Namely, make the game you want to make, not the game you think will make a quick buck.
It’s good advice really. Remember, people have seen the endless attempts at copying popular games. They’ve seen all the Minecraft clones and open world survival horror games and asset flips littering the Steam storefront. They’ve seen the Mario copies plastered all over the Google Play Store.
But they don’t buy them. They know they’re soulless garbage put forward by a lazy and uninspired developer looking for a bit of quick beer money. People can tell when a project has passion put into it, and these ones don’t.
So, heed Pixel Strike Games’ advice there. Make the title you want to make, not the one you feel pressured to create for sales. That way, you’ll make a truly inspired game rather than a lazy knockoff that’ll likely do nowhere near as well as you think it’ll do.
Either way, check out PixelStrike games on their various social media accounts, and give your thoughts on our interview here or at the Gaming Latest forums today!
Here on Gaming Reinvented, we’ve interviewed a lot of game developers over the years. We’ve talked to fan game creators, like Judge Spear and DJ Coco. We’ve talked to indie devs, like Otyugra Games and Power Level Studios.
Heck, we’ve even talked to people who’ve worked on large games like Disney Infinity! We’ve definitely interviewed some interesting folks here!
Yet we’ve only ever interviewed developers. People who’ve programmed the games in question or have acted like a one-man band rather than a full scale company.
And we think that gives a distorted picture of the industry. After all, most people don’t work solo. They work as part of a team. In a variety roles including (but not limited to) programming.
So for this interview, we’re doing something different. Namely, interviewing Teslagrad Art director Ole Ivar Rudi!
Still, what is Teslagrad anyway? How does the game actually work?
Well, it’s a unique 2D platformer where you use electricity and magnetism to explore an abandoned tower and solve problems. You do this so your main character (a young boy) can figure out the history behind the building. Why the king declared war on its inhabitants.
It’s a very interesting game overall, especially for the genre. Here’s a trailer if you haven’t seen it yourself:
But hey, now you know how it all works, let’s get on with the interview! Starting with the same familiar question we ask in all of these articles…
Okay, you know the drill by this point. Who are you? Who is this Ollie guy anyway?
I’m the art director/ all round art guy for Rain Games. Likes cats. I grew up on a farm on a small island on the coast of norway, surrounded by cows and viking burial mounds.
And how did you get started with video games? What was your first games console?
My first experience with games was playing the arcade version of Donkey Kong jr. at a swedish camping grounds some time in the mid 80s. Played PC games at friends’ houses until I got a NES for xmas in 1989 or 1990, and kept expanding from there.
My first attempt at making games myself was around 2000, making some crude games using Klik N Play. They’ve all been lost to the sands of time, but the standout was a 2-player single screen top down death match game named “Chainsaw Mofos”. It played like a mashup of pac-man and Smash TV and had a soundtrack consisting of stolen midi renditions of 80s synthpop. It was probably not very good in retrospect.
Any favourite games over the years? How have they affected your work at Rain Games?
Off the top of my head Prince of Persia, Another World, Super Metroid, SOTN, Star Control II, Resident Evil 4, Harvest Moon, Super Mario Bros. 3, Zelda: Link’s Awakening+Wind Waker, Chrono Trigger and Earthbound are all time classics in my book (hm, that’s a very nintendo console heavy list)
The Metroid games and SOTN definitely inspired a lot of things in Teslagrad and WttW borrows a lot of Zelda framework- but we’ve taken inspiration from so many different sources that our games boil into their own, quirky thing, really.
I try to play as many games as possible- Brave Fencer Musashi, Gunple: Gunman’s Proof, Sylvan Tale, Secret of Mana and Beyond Oasis are just a sample of the other games that lent some inspiration to WttW, for instance.
Either way, onto game development now. How did you get started in the field?
Basically, just circumstance- I was working as a freelance illustrator at the time and a friend from school asked me if i wanted to join him and brainstorm a bit with the folks who eventually wound up making up Rain Games. I hadn’t planned on spending more than a week with them before joining, but we hit it off and before i knew it I was a part of the company.
What about the art side of things? Why did you decide you wanted to draw art for games rather than say, become a programmer or composer or whatever else?
I’ve always drawn! my education was always geared towards art/design, I’ve got a Masters degree in visual communication so I didn’t have much choice:)
I’ve always enjoyed making music on the side but I’m absolutely terrible at it.
Any previous projects you created the graphics for?
Never worked on any commercially released games before joining Rain, no.
Let’s talk a bit about Rain Games now. How did you first get involved with the company?
See the anecdote two questions ago:)
Were you involved in their previous (unreleased) game, Minute Mayhem?
Yeah, I worked on character designs and world building for that- Some of the characters from World To The West actually originated in Minute Mayhem, including Teri and Clonington! The behind the scenes worldbuilding for that game became the blueprint for the world all of our games take place in.
Onto Teslagrad now. Who came up with the game’s concept? Why a ‘magnetic puzzle platformer’?
Teslagrad originated in Minute Mayhem as well, the original pitch was that we’d make a platformer set in Elektropia, that world’s northernmost nation, dark and dreary and defined by their mastery of electricity.
Initially we were discussing making a cinematic platformer in the vein of another world or limbo, but once we hit upon the notion of building mechanics around electromagnetism (tesla is the measurement unit for magnetic flux) it quickly turned into more of a metroidvania-esque action puzzle hybrid.
Art style wise, it certainly looks unique. Why did you decide to go with that style anyway?
The vision for the art style was basically making a snes game, but in HD- at this point most indie games had a pixel art aesthetic, and we felt that we needed to do something different to stand out.
Both I and my fellow artist Aslak had a 2d animation background so we thought it’d would be a good idea to apply that skill set to the game.
A lot of the visual quirks of the game comes from needing to find ways to draw effectively- frame by frame animation is very time consuming and we are a small team so we needed to be able to draw each frame quickly. This is one of the reasons the characters have Tintin-style slit eyes, it makes their expression more ambivalent so that the same expression might read slightly differently in two scenes based on context.
Were there any other ideas you had for art styles? Like, ones extremely different from how the game actually looks now?
Early on we were considering going with pixel art, but we felt it might not stand out much if we did. We tried a few variations on that formula. One approach was doing “sloppy pixel art” by painting environments at higher resolutions and then downscaling, another was doing the basic designs in pixel art and then repainting them in an impressionistic fashion, using the shape language of pixel art but with a hand painted feel. That was an interesting look, but felt restrictive, so in the end we wound up sketching the character motions as simplified low-res sprites for prototyping and then using that as a base for the hand drawn final assets.
How did you create the graphics anyway? What tools did you use for drawing them or inserting them into the game?
I used Toonboom for animation-it’s vector based, so it can do lossless scaling, which was useful when it came to being flexible in what the size of the final sprites would be. It still handles like pretty much any drawing software. Effects work, backgrounds and environment tiles were done in photoshop.
Obviously, there’s a very Russian/Soviet aesthetic to the world and cast. Why did you decide to go with that here?
That flowed pretty naturally from our early choice of setting the game in the Northern part of our world- Our fictionalized riff on Europe is split into four separate nations, and Elektropia, where Teslagrad takes place, is a mix between Scandinavian and Eastern European countries. I’m a big fan of vintage Eastern European art and animation, so taking some inspiration from that felt like a natural fit.
And how did the character designs come about?
I did the design sketches for the characters, trying to see what their defining characteristics would be and how to convey them without using any dialogue. Early sketches were often a tad more intricate, but when working with frame by frame animation every detail adds a lot of time to the process, so it became important to distill them into cleaner designs without losing the essence of the characters.
I still regret making the main character asymmetric with only one magnetic glove, as that meant i had to draw left-and right facing versions of every frame, doubling the animation frame count!
I have a trick i use when designing characters, i draw a few variants until i come up with a design i like, then i try to commit that to memory and put those drawings away in a drawer for a few days while i concentrate on other stuff. Then, after a few days, I try to redraw those characters from memory- any detail I’ve forgotten in the meantime probably wasn’t essential to the character, or I would have remembered it.