You may have heard of Deeperbeige or his game "Hanna in a Choppa." Well here is a KCG Exclusive Interview with him!
Q: First of, Hello, and thank you for Putting in time to do this interview.
A: You're welcome. Come, sit, have a cup of tea.
Q: So first question, what chat rooms are you usually in (on Kongregate) so that fans can talk to you!
A: The site seems to put me in the Game Theory room, but I don't really spend much time chatting there. Much as I'd love to play games and chat all day, I have real work to do too. A fella's got to make a living, it's a hard life y'know.
Q: When did you start making games?
A: Going way way back in time, my parents bought the family an Amstrad CPC6128. It was an advanced thing for it's time, with an 8 bit CPU, 128kb of memory and a floppy disk drive! Back then magazines used to print code listings for really simple games and apps that you could type in and run. I remember slaving for hours typing one in with the hopes of getting an amazing free game at the end. I didn't know you should press 'return' at the end of each line, and just padded it out with spaces until it looked the same as the mag. Of course it didn't work. The next one I typed in did. Kinda. It played for a few seconds before the machine crashed and reset itself, losing my work. After a while though, I started to understand what was going on though and could make my own code work.
The first game I can remember writing that actually worked and played like a game didn't really have a title. You were in a little spaceship which started a bit above the ground, and dived down into a twisty tunnel. You dodged left/right to avoid the walls, and there was even an ending at the bottom. It was all very primitive though, and terribly coded of course.
The Amstrad was replaced with an Amiga in due course, and I started programming games in that with Amos Basic. Most of them are lost now, but a few probably still survive on Aminet and a couple were actually reasonably playable games. Later I went to university and came out to program PCs in a corporate environment for years. It pays well, but is unbelievably tedious, so I learned Flash in my spare time and wrote a couple of simple games to demonstrate my ability. Those games got me a job in a digital agency, mostly writing online advergames. I was quite astounded that you could make an actual living writing Flash games.
Just recently I gave up that job and decided to become freelance. I now work for clients when I can get the work, and write games like Hanna in a Choppa when I don't have clients.
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Q: What do you think the biggest challenge was starting out, and if so any advice?
A: It depends which part of 'starting out' you mean. In terms of making a commercial go of it, I found it hard to confidently believe that there's a real living to be made from making Flash games. For others, there's obviously the technical challenge of actually building games that work. Whilst anyone can train themselves to program, some people are clearly better suited to it than others, and a bit of natural ability will carry you well. Assuming you can do the techie bits, there are still a number of pitfalls. You need to have huge amounts of motivation to keep going and get your game finished. I don't mean just playable, but really polished and complete. You need an endless supply of ideas too, and the ability to sort the good ones from the bad ones.
The biggest challenge between your work-in-progress and a great game however is probably your own attachment to it. Because you work closely with it for weeks, you know how to play it better than anyone else in the world and every part of it makes perfect sense to you. You'll love and adore it, and be completely blind to its many large faults! Seriously, it'll be full of enormous glaring problems, but you literally won't be able to see them.The only thing you can do to reveal them is get other people's feedback. You need to sit several people down in front of your game and tell them "play this game". Don't tell them anything more. Don't explain how the controls work, where to click to start or anything. Just watch. You'll be amazed what you learn. Whatever they struggle over, scale the problem up in your mind to the same thing irking everybody that plays your game.
This is quite a brutal process. For example with Hanna in a Choppa, it was originally written with just the 'hard' controls where you use the mouse to rotate the chopper, and the mouse button to throttle in the direction you're facing. I still maintain that this is the richest and most tactile way to play the game, but almost nobody was patient enough to learn how to fly like this without getting frustrated and giving up. I added the simple controls where the chopper just flies the way you tell it to on the arrow keys, and put them in a menu option. Another run through the feedback process and it still had the same problem. People wouldn't play long enough to even want to switch to the easy controls. I changed it again so the player had to choose which control system they wanted before playing. This was better, but some people picked 'hard' then gave up again, without ever trying it on 'easy'. Those players lost out on the fun of the game, and would have given it a terrible rating on the portals. Eventually I made the easy controls the default for everyone, with an option to switch to hard controls buried deep in a menu most people don't even go into.
The final configuration made me cry a little inside. I still loved the hard controls as they are so much richer than the easy ones. It's just a better game that way in the long run, but if people don't play it, it's a complete failure. This is the challenge I mention above - it's really quite tough to take a feature you love and to cut it out or hide it away because it doesn't work for other people. You absolutely have to follow the feedback however, or suffer the consequences in your ratings and hence your sponsorship deals.
Q: So obviously one of your most successful games is Hanna in a Choppa, what are your favorite parts of it, what part would you add, and what would you take out?
A: Actually, a 3rd person shooter I wrote to promote an Iron Maiden album was significantly more successful than Hanna in a Choppa in terms of number of plays, but Hanna is certainly my most successful private release.
There are a few minor things that could use extra polish with Hanna. Often people can't tell what a 'perfect' run is, and don't spot the little perfect/speedy indicators in the bottom left. Some people get frustrated with the bouncy physics of the winch, which is fair enough and could be tuned further. Some people complained that there was no 'win' sequence after beating the last level (there's a reward when you get every achievement though). Lots of people complained that getting a perfect on Levels 8 and 19 was really hard, which is true enough too. Some people spat vitriol at me for making the dev-feedback form an achievement, although I'd leave that in because I've learned so much from it. A few people complain that it runs a bit slow on their machine, which again is perfectly fair. I wrote the physics engine in AS2 and it's a bit of a lardy language for that sort of thing sometimes.
As for favorite features, I personally love the crush-o-tron, the cement mixer, playing with the rough sea waves and dodging the SAMs. I tried really hard to present a unique new challenge on each level rather than just ramp up the difficulty over time. I wanted people to have to think a little on each level and learn how a new object worked. It's easy as a developer to just make the levels harder over time. It's a lot more work to keep redefining the challenge, but it's way more fun for a player. This is a lesson the recent World of Goo indie game teaches so well.
Other people love the button you can wind up, the sheep, the humor and the references. The music splits opinion like Marmite, some adoring it, and some hating it. Quite a few people missed the fact that it has an off-button though!
Q: Is there any new games that are in the making that you wish to tell KCG about it first (or second)?
A: Well, I keep a spreadsheet for game ideas, and it currently has 30 entries, mostly fairly original concepts. I tend to keep ideas close to my chest because you can run the risk of someone else developing them into a game first. I can tell you however that I have a dark, story led game in development, and a portal inspired 2D platformer with a fairly special gun (no, it doesn't fire portals). You won't have played anything like either of them before!
I have also built a proof-of-concept of a great driving game engine. Not sure yet exactly what game to build it into, but there's lots of potential there. There's a few other physics-based games I have in mind too...
Q: Any Chance of Hanna in a Choppa 2
A: Yes, but not for a while. I have lots of other Hanna games in mind first, and lots of other games in general. Hanna was originally going to be on a Hoppa (like a space-hopper). The early gameplay builds didn't play like I wanted though, and I tried out the chopper concept instead which played a lot better. I'm revisiting Hanna on a Hoppa now however, and there's plenty more along those lines that I could try too. Hanna won't be back in a chopper until I've been through at least a few of the others.
Q: Anything else you wish to add?
A: Thanks for reading, and my apologies for rambling incoherently for so long!
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