We was lucky enough to get an Interview with Mike Hanson (The wonderful guy behind PowerUp a small indie title hitting Xbox Live Indie Arcade).
Mike Hanson – Psychotic Psoftware
“What inspired you to create this game?”
A: I’ve been into games since my mum bought my brother and me a spectrum +2 when I was 9. After years of flirting with the idea of making games, I eventually settled on a career in the art side of things but never quite lost the urge to do everything else, the design, the music, the sounds and of course, the code! I especially got my kicks from reproducing the design ideals that were prominent in the games I grew up on… the 8-bit and 16-bit eras were the blueprint for my own design and mechanics sensibilities and I felt that I had a strong enough connection to that era of gaming to bring a bit of its magic into the modern day. …As they say, write what you know.
Well, with all that in mind, I decided I’d have a crack at an XNA game. I just really had a hankering to see if I could make a game for console, specifically, for Xbox, as I owned one and the indie market was quite an inspiration to me. I went looking for the most simple of starter tutorials and examples, and one that I came across was for making a basic shooter, or SHMUP. Having created a few of my on little games in the past with other kinds of middleware, I’d learned that you can hide a myriad of control limitations within games of most genres, but a SHMUP lays it pretty bare. If you cant get good solid playability and collision detection to work, a SHMUP will show you up. I’d shied away from the genre before, but not today!! …Drawing on my Amiga and Mega Drive influences, mainly the likes of Project-X for looks, and Hellfire for weapon mechanics, I committed to making a my own little SHMUP. After an initial couple of weeks of head-scratching, I had the thing up and running… another few weeks and I’d completely changed a bit of tutorial code into something of my own. Suddenly the sky was the limit. I became a flurry of activity and PowerUp as we know it began to form…
“How has the Kickstarter Community helped you towards your goals?”
Early on in PowerUp’s production I realized I’d better get commercial licenses for anything I was using to make the game, so I started saving hard. I’d done my research and I knew what I needed, and was pretty close to that sum when I was made redundant and that money went back into surviving until I found my next gig. Accepting that the situation was out of my control, and the sort of obstacle that life tends to throw up, it occurred to me that my best option was to explore Kickstarter as a means to get my licenses, and I went with it.
Luckily, I’d already put a lot of work into building a community of like minded people around myself as earlier gamedev attempts had taught me that it’s no fun to code alone with nobody to show your work off to. The Twitter community really came through for me too. A combination of transparency on the costs and my showcasing of some of PowerUp’s finer features really had them believing in me.
Don’t get me wrong. It was far from easy, and every day was a battle to drive up the figure, making sure that people were getting what they wanted while ensuring that I would in turn be able to provide, in order to get what I needed. I was developing the game in conjunction with running the Kickstarter and the work that went into all that multitasking had me pretty exhausted my the end of the campaign. That said, it did wonderful things for PowerUp’s profile and enabled me to buy the tools to develop my games with a sense of legitimacy. I’m really greatful to my backers for that, and they know it.
“Do you believe in crowdfunding games in the future?”
Absolutely. I’ve got more games in mind and the tech to make them is changing quickly. Chances are I’ll need more help along the way and I’ll be more than willing to turn to Kickstarter if the financial demands of making my games become too much of a stretch. If people want to play my games, I know they’ll be there for me.
Besides, I’m really enjoying the freedom of this one man game development thing. Kickstarter allowed me to get started with this and in turn, gave me the chance to become completely independent, doing the thing I love. Who wouldn’t want that? Not that I’d expect to be completely Kickstarter dependent. I wouldn’t want to push my luck. I’ve seen campaigns ask for a lot of money for projects smaller than PowerUp with no breakdown of what the money is being spent on. I can’t get my head around that.
“What is it like to be a one man indie developer? does this come with challenges or is it easier working as a single developer?”
It definitely comes with its challenges. Before this, I was a Games Artist of some eleven years. Working on the payroll has some element of security, but even that is transient, and if you’re not completely in with the fashions of the industry when you find yourself out of work you’re likely to experience what I did this year… A long period of job applications meeting with rejection. that stuff can really mess with your sense of self worth, and we all have a responsibility to ourselves when it comes to looking after our state of mind.
I believe that if I hadn’t started my little PowerUp project as a hobby, I would probably have lost the confidence to keep trying to stay in games.
As it happened, PowerUp became my reason to stay in games. It really represented my link to the past and the games I loved as a child. It reminded me of why I wanted to do this in the first place. It kept me going and enabled me to put the rejection in the sidelines of my life while I focused on something I believed I was good at. Something that I understood and that understood me. Having a great partner and access to the online community really helped to validate that belief… I only hope they know how truly instrumental they were to my being able to get up in the morning, face another day on the dole, do my job search and hit PowerUp in the hopes that one day, this would lead to something better.
I’ve actually managed to get some part time work as an artist again, but PowerUp and the community following it provided the support I needed to get here. As challenges go, the lack of income and dwindling resources coupled with the fact that there was… still are no guarantees that all this will all pay off, well those make it difficult.
…The actual development process though, sure, while it’s fraught with headaches and crises of confidence at every turn, the reward of being in control of my own fate as well as of the fate of my games is reward enough. I LOVE making my games! If I was minted and didn’t need to do this to eat, I’d do it anyway!
“Have you applied for the Xbox One/PS4 developer kits? Both companies are showing a keen interest in indie developers i would love to get your feedback on the next generation of development.”
You know, I haven’t yet. I hear those guys kinda need to see that you’ve released a game before they’ll even look at you. That’s fine. They want to be sure we’re serious… after all, indie games can become a bit of a minefield for tat. I can understand that there’s got to be some element of a quality threshold from their point of view. The trouble is PowerUp is my first game and at the time of writing, while it’s passed Microsoft’s App Hub peer-testing QA process, it’s not officially out yet. I’ve been holding back until PowerUp is published…
…That’s Friday the 13th of September on XBLIG, by the way. Look out for that. (Shameless plug). 😉
Once PowerUp has hit the Xbox, I’ll be getting it to PC while honoring my Kickstarter commitments. After that I’ll be focused on art and sound assets for the iOS and Android ports, which I’m outsourcing in the hopes of a release next year… with a bit of luck, this’ll include a version for the Ouya.
…but somewhere in all that, I’ll be thinking of my next game and yeah, I’ll probably be exploring my options with regards to the next gen consoles.
“Have you tried using the Unity Engine? (Just wondering about this from a nerdy point as it seems like a multi platform middle ware engine.) I noticed your currently using XNA studios which is an incredibly powerful toolset however it seems the XNA studio is no longer being developed so it would be awesome to know what your plans are for the next gen.”
I had a play with the Unity engine when at my previous employer, albeit more as 3D artist than as a coder, and yeah, I found it to be an extremely powerful piece of kit, capable of making large scale things happen very quickly and easily. At first it had me questioning its capabilities as a tool for making something original. The ease of production through prefabs just seemed like it might be too tempting for a large percentage of developers, and this had me wondering if a lot of the same-but slightly different products would be the result.
That said, I think there has been quite a range of game ideas coming from Unity developers and given its ability to publish to a wide range of devices along with the apparently rich resource in community help, tutorials and how-to’s on every Unity related subject under the sun, currently Unity is looking like a very viable next move for me. I’m dying to get my teeth into it and have a bit of an experiment for my next project.
Thanks for the Interview Mike, We really enjoyed getting an insight from a Kickstarted Indie Game. Our full review will be Live on Sunday at 7pm UK Time
About Psychotic Psoftware
is a small Indie Game studio ran by Mike Hanson, He Codes, Draws, Develops and Designs Indie games. Psychotic’s First game Power Up was successfully funded via Kickstarter and launched on the 13th of September 2013.