Hello, and welcome to the first of (hopefully) many interviews with various indie developers. Indie games/developers can be very relatable and personable, giving many gamers the feeling of having a type of “ownership” which simply can’t be obtained with much bigger AAA developers. My goal for this series is to further create a face for these developers, hard at work on their games, so that you, the reader/gamer can get to know them a little more. For this episode, I got to sit down with Taylor Hajash of Arcane Pixel, whose game is slated to be released in early 2015. Enjoy!
Michael: Thanks for taking time out of your busy development schedule to chat with me! So, before we get into anything game related, let’s talk about you. Who are you, and what can you tell the readers about yourself? Anything you love? Oh, how about a favorite superhero? Sorry, a bit of a comic nut…
Taylor: I’m Taylor; I’m in college full time studying game development. Ive heard a lot of people saying going to school is a waste for game development, but for me, it’s opened a lot of doors. So don’t listen to them! Ha ha. I love Spider-Man. I’ve literally read every single issue of Amazing Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man, so I get the comic nut thing. I have a massive tattoo of Spider-Man, the Alex Ross ASM #600 to be exact, that takes up most of my forearm.
Michael: Whoa. You just blew my mind. Spider-Man has been one of my two all time favorite comic characters since I was about 5 years old. In fact, my son’s middle name is a nod to the character; his middle name is Parker. Ha ha. That is outstanding, Taylor. So, you mentioned that going to school for game development has opened up doors for you: what kinds of doors would those be? And you would recommend going to school for game development?
Taylor: Some of those “doors” I cant really discuss right now. One thing, though, is it gave me the tools to be able make a game and become licensed by Nintendo. I think if you’re interested in video game development and don’t know where to start or are too over whelmed with where to start, then school is a good idea. I mean you can never really go wrong with furthering your education.
Michael: Yeah, that makes sense. Anyway, now that we know you, it’s time to ask the question: why did you decide to become a superhero of development and start making games? What drew you in to start making games? When did you know you were going to develop games?
Taylor: I’m more like the “Stilt Man” (any Dare Devil fans out there?) of game development, ha ha. I started looking into game development after I bought my girlfriend a tablet and she kept playing freemium games. She was always frustrated with the “free” part and having to wait 24 hours to play again for another 10 minutes. I started following tutorials and teaching myself. At the time I was about to graduate school with a degree in forensic science and go try to find a job with the Sheriff office. I ended up having a headlight out and getting pulled over by a police officer looking to start trouble, and I honestly thought he was going to kill me. I, literally, did nothing wrong. Two uncles are police officers and my dad is a retired firefighter; I don’t even know how to do anything bad or break a law, ha ha. That was engraved in my brain at a really young age. So anyway, 3 hours after being hand cuffed, illegally, having my life threatened over and over again, I thought to myself, “I don’t want to work side by side with this guy!” So I went home, all upset and feeling kind of lost, and I turned on Netflix and saw Indie Game: The Movie. After watching it, I said “If I can keep up teaching myself and continue learning how to make games, I want to do that!” Sure enough, the very next day at school I found out that a bunch of new degrees were literally just added, and game development was one of them. So I changed majors, took out more student loans and never looked back.
Michael: Wow, that’s a pretty intense origins story. I have to ask, though: what was it in Indie Game: The Movie that affected so deeply that it influenced your career change? I remember watching it and thinking the opposite, ha ha.
Taylor: A lot of the things Jonathan Blow said really hit home with me. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said something along the lines of “AAA games focus hard on making a completely polished perfect game, and that’s not what indies are about. It’s about making something that’s not perfect; has your imperfections. It’s about putting all your flaws and weaknesses into what you’re creating.” Again, I’m paraphrasing because it’s not on in front of me, ha ha. But that really left an impression with me. Indie developers make the games they want to make. They strive for innovation even when innovation isn’t what’s popular right now, which is one thing I’m attracted to with Nintendo. They do their own thing even if it’s not the popular thing right now. Look at this past E3 and you can see that’s obvious with them and all the games they make. They don’t spew out the same FPS twice a year just to sell copies. They focus on making a fun game first.
Michael: Whether you’re on board with Nintendo or not, you do have a really good point: they usually think of gaming in unconventional ways, and this E3 was proof of that. Speaking of making games that you want to make, have you made any games thus far in your endeavors? If so, what platform(s)?
Taylor: I’ve made several games, but nothing I released publicly. They’re mostly games that I used to continue teaching myself. I still have all of them and I’ll probably start to rework a few for a full public release. I won an award for one from my school, so that’ll probably come out eventually.
Michael: Oh, cool! What award did you win?
Taylor: It was best video game creation for 2014. It was pretty cool, I had to get up and give a speech and everything. They liked the game, but it was too hard for anyone to finish, ha ha.
Michael: Hopefully that is on your “later public release” list! So, it looks like you’ve got a game in the works. What is the title for this project of yours, and how many people are part of the development team? What is your role in the development of this title? Any superheroes on staff?! Sorry, again, I’ve just got to ask for my own stupid curiosity.
Taylor: Tiny Galaxy is the title of the game Im working on now. It’s a gravity-based, atmospheric platformer. My role is everything; I’m a one man studio, so from the art to the programming and everything in between, I handle. I handle all the business stuff and social media, also. I’m looking into starting a Kickstarter for Tiny Galaxy and I’ll be running that as well. I have 24 full time jobs, it seems, ha ha. I do have Matt Desind working on the music for Tiny Galaxy. He offered and I couldn’t really turn him down after hearing some of his awesome samples. Plus, it takes a lot of stress off of me.
Michael: Are you working at the moment, in addition to college and game development? That seems like a pretty intense schedule to keep up. Do you set a schedule for yourself regarding making progress with Tiny Galaxy?
Taylor: No I’m not. My family isn’t rich by any means either, ha ha. My dad is a firefighter and my mother is a teacher. I’m just lucky enough to get a little extra in school financial aid to make it through the year. It’s pretty intense being in school full time with 5-6 classes and working full time on games. Even more so now that I’m making a game for the Wii U. I don’t really keep a set schedule for development. I’m usually working on whatever I see needs to be worked on in the game, and when other things come up – like interviews, business stuff and so on – I just open up a new tab on my 2nd monitor, ha ha. I’m a multi-tasker. I’m making levels right now, as we speak.
Michael: Ha ha, a true game developer. I remember going through college, working on my career, and working at the same time, so I can understand your busy schedule. What has been the hardest obstacle for you to tackle with this project, and why was it so hard? Are you still wrestling with it, or have you been able to subdue the problem and move on to the next obstacle?
Taylor: One of the hardest things for me was making the game function in a circle, basically. Most game engines allow you to use normal gravity, straight down, but Tiny Galaxy takes place on small tiny planets so adding a gravity field to each of those was a big challenge… but it’s mostly up and running now.
Michael: Interesting, that is something I’ve never really thought of. So, you have to make a brand new artificial gravity code within the game, simply because your ground is rounded, rather than flat? It’s a very interesting concept; I imagine much like the Super Mario Galaxy games.
Taylor: I honestly had NO IDEA how to do anything like this when I started. I found a few tutorials from people who had made rotary games, but none of them seemed to work and when I asked them a question about what they did, they never said anything back. Most game engines have built in gravity which just pulls straight down, and as long as you have a solid object beneath you, you won’t fall off the screen. But I wanted players to be able to walk all the way around the planets.
Michael: I didn’t know that about gravity in game engines. Makes sense though. So, if you face that obstacle again with your next game, how will you manage it differently? Or maybe not any differently at all? I would imagine you could just build off what you accomplished with Tiny Galaxy.
Taylor: If people like Tiny Galaxy and there is any chance of a sequel doing well, then luckily I won’t need to be challenged by the gravity anymore. I’m close to having it mastered now, and every day it gets a little closer to being perfect.
Michael: Ok, now I’ve got to ask: what can we expect out of your upcoming game? Any juicy details that you can divulge to me?
Taylor: Tiny Galaxy is a platformer for the Wii U and PC that should hopefully be released around February 2015. The gameplay is just like your standard platformer, except everything is bent into a big circle! There are going to 5 different and unique worlds, and Tiny Galaxy will have between 50 – 75 levels. There might even be some hidden levels based on other popular Nintendo eShop games – *cough* blokdrop U *cough* – and some others. I’m really working hard on accessibility for disabled gamers. I have a one-handed operation mode using a Wii Remote plus, I’m not using any type of text, but rather, images to convey the controls and other things that will help with some reading/visual/cognitive disabilities. I think game developers, especially indies on way lower budgets can sometimes overlook the fact that yes there are gamers who have different needs, and yes they absolutely want to play your game so we should take the time to at the very least TRY to work some different things into the games we make.
Michael: Taylor, that is awesome. You’re absolutely correct about disabled gamers often being forgotten. What made you consider those who are disabled, yet still love playing games? Where did the idea stem from?
Taylor: I started seeing a lot of articles about gamers who are disable and how they managed to find a way to play their games. I reached out to this guy on Facebook, Massimiliano “MacsHG” Sechi. If you’ve never heard of him, stop right now and Google him. He is a gamer who has no arms and one leg, and he still has found out ways to play! He’s super inspirational. So I started talking to him about how he plays, what he would like to see in games, and how he would use a traditional controller. He’s super popular, and I didn’t think he would even see my messages, but he did and he answered all my questions and helped me gain a perspective on some things I can try to do to make it more accessible for disabled gamers.
Michael: That is seriously awesome. I wish you well in your game development, and I’m really looking forward to what you have to offer the eShop. I’ll let you get back to being an awesome dev and creating your game, but before we go, any last words you have for anyone crazy enough to actually read this interview?
Taylor: The support from the fans of Tiny Galaxy has already been overwhelmingly amazing and totally unexpected, so thanks everyone for that! Hopefully you’ll be playing soon!