Interview an Indie – Adam Walker

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 Adam Walker of Electronook. Enjoy!


 

Say...uh...hello, to Adam Walker!
Say…uh…hello, to Adam Walker!

Michael: So, to start this interview off on the right foot, let’s get to know you a little more. Care to tell us a little bit about yourself, and what you’re interested in? Favorite colors? Foods? Perhaps go the other direction and talk about things you hate?

Adam: My name’s Adam and I’m the creator/founder/namer of Electronook. I’m a 30-something born and raised in the US. I’ve owned a variety of consoles and handhelds, but I also game on PC! Atari, Coleco, Sega, Microsoft, Sony — but my greatest love has always been Nintendo. I dig giant robots, Tokusatsu (shout out to Voltron/GoLion, Power Rangers/Super Sentai and Kamen Rider), and 80’s music. Favorite colors – gotta be Midnight Blue and Crimson Red. Favorite foods? Tacos, pizza, beef stew, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, pancakes (and ‘breakfast’ in general)…

Michael: Seriously, breakfast has to be one of the best meals of the day. And that’s quite a…”healthy” list of favorite foods. I can’t judge though – my favorite is chili mac, which is absolutely terrible for you. Anyway, what has drawn you to Nintendo above all the other platforms you’ve played before?

Adam: Well I’m not eating it all at the same time! So I think I’m alright. 😉

As you might know, back in the day the NES was THE console to own. Atari was all but dead, and while the Master System had some good arcade ports, the majority of original software was for the NES. It was there I discovered both Nintendo’s excellent first party titles, but also 3rd party franchises I continue to love today: Castlevania, Mega Man, Metal Gear.

Continuing forward, the SNES was home to a number of fantastic games from developers like Square, Capcom, Konami. Fantasy Star II on Genesis was great, but couldn’t compare to something like Final Fantasy IV (aka FF2 upon its original release.) Chrono Trigger. Mega Man X. Super Castlevania IV. Turtles in Time. And then there were Nintendo’s own games. Super Mario World and Super Mario All-Stars. The game that remains my favorite, Zelda: A Link to the Past. Pilotwings. Yoshi’s Island!

I could keep going – but to sum up, Nintendo’s first and second-party efforts have always been incredible experiences you can’t find anywhere else. I eventually buy the other consoles in the market for their games too, but generally 1) not for their first party titles, and 2) not until they drop in price. Nintendo’s always been a “Day One” purchase for me, and they’ve never made me regret it.

Michael: A Nintendo fan, through and through. Good to hear that you’ve been an avid video game fan your entire life. So, why did you decide to start making games? What drew you in to start making games? When did you know you were going to develop games?

Adam: I was pretty young, but shortly after I played with an Atari VCS for the first time, my grandfather introduced me to the Radio Shack/Tandy TRS-80 and BASIC. I distinctly remember he wrote a short program that would flash my name in random places on the screen in random colors, and I was in awe. I decided I’d grow up and do something with games.

Talismatch is a game Adam is working on for the Wii U
Talismatch is a game Adam is working on for the Wii U

Michael: Whoa! That’s pretty legit. So, what did your grandfather do for a living, since he was cool enough to write a program for you?

Adam: This was years and years ago – I have no idea what his official title was. But I remember him being pretty high up on the internal-IT team at AT&T in Orlando at the time. He loved keeping busy and loved working with his hands. Whether it was repairing computers or building with lumber, I don’t have many memories of him taking any down time.

Michael: Have you made any games thus far in your endeavors? If so, what platform(s)?

Adam: Sort of. I’ve used things like the Adventure Game Studio, RPG Maker, Allegro… I’ve made levels for Doom II, Heretic, Duke Nukem 3D – back in the days of 33.6 and 56K fax modems and dial-up. Nothing ever fancy. I mostly kept them to myself or a small group of friends.

Michael: So, you’ve been messing around with developing for some time now. Good to know you’ve been determined to be a developer since you were young! Well, rumor has it – well, pretty much just keeping up with your posts on Twitter – that 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?

Adam: I do! It’s a matching puzzle game called Talismatch, and it’s coming exclusively to the Wii U eShop later this year! There are three people currently considered part of Electronook, but development is largely on my shoulders. I came up with the idea and name, made or acquired most of the temporary assets, and I’m trying to tame Unity to make things happen.

Every step of the way, though, I’ve bounced ideas off of and gotten feedback from my sister. She’s officially the “artist” of the group, but her help with everything else has been invaluable. My wife’s a writer and will be helping out on Victoria — but there’s not much in the way of story in Talismatch.

Screenshot-2014-08-04-14.51

Michael: It’s interesting to hear that Electronook is a family-run studio. How did it get to that? I mean, did you just need positions, so your sister and wife offered to help? Or perhaps they are into development as much as you are? Also, I’m assuming you chose Wii U because of your affinity towards Nintendo?

Adam: Electronook became more than a one-person developer because, well, I like to get opinions from close friends and family members on my creative endeavours. I’ve always been that way, whether I was writing or drawing or whatever. The back-and-forth we do makes for a better end product.

My sister is a freelance illustrator. While I’m capable, she’s just, well, more so in my opinion. I love her art and am always looking to support her. We’ve wanted to work together on a project for a few years now, so when I decided to develop a game she was the first person I turned to.

There were a couple of reasons I chose to develop for Wii U. Being a Nintendo fanboy (let’s be honest) doesn’t hurt – but there were other factors at play!

Mobile is easy to jump into, but the market is literally flooded. It’s extremely hard to release a game and garner any attention for it. Clones pop up seemingly within days of launch. Your best bet as an indie is to get lucky and “go viral”. Success on mobile rarely has anything to do with the games themselves or the capability of the developer.

You’re also expected to release your app for free, supported by ads. Possibly you can get away with charging a dollar. Maybe two. But for the majority of developers, mobile is a zero-sum game.

For consoles, the process generally involves one major hurdle: registering as a business. The amounts vary, but wherever you live, it costs to register a business. There are yearly fees. Taxes to be paid. Loads and loads of paperwork.

For the first time with Wii U, Nintendo has made it possible and relatively easy to register as a developer even without registering as a business. That program, plus the eShop, plus my love for Nintendo made the decision to apply very easy.

And the fact I haven’t had a published game yet – that alone would knock me out of the running for other consoles!

Meet Victoria!
Meet Victoria!

Michael: You mentioned Talismatch is a matching puzzle game. Recently, there’s been controversy regarding the eShop, and that there needs to be some sort of filter set in place. What would you say about Talismatch in relation to that topic; where does it fit in the eShop?

Adam: I’d like to share a bit of a controversial opinion regarding the eShop:

Some indies are chasing the 99¢ price point. I think they’re doing a disservice to themselves and to the eShop. Consoles aren’t mobile phones – gamers expect something more from the experience. It’s hard to put what that something more is into words, but there’s a level of polish and… quality expected. I think anyone aiming to be an indie dev on the eShop needs to consider what they feel is a fair price point for their game – and hold off on releasing until they think their game justifies the price.

I also think that frequent sales devalues the software further. If you’re known to discount your wares fairly often, people are going to wait to buy your title until the next sale – killing your overall purchases. I see absolutely no reason any original game on the eShop should go for less than the price of a 30 year old NES game unless it’s on sale. And if you don’t feel comfortable charging “that much”, maybe you should add more content.

I’m pleased to say Talismatch will not be a 99¢ game on release

Also, in light of recent events regarding Dahku’s decision to leave Nintendo development I should say this. I’m not calling anyone out. It’s not my place to do so. I’ve been pretty outspoken about wanting Nintendo to keep eShop development accessible. I went to bat for TreeFall Studios when they were brow beaten following the release of “The Letter”. But I also provided my (hopefully constructive) criticism.

A few different version of Victoria
A few different version of Victoria

Michael: 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 put it in a submission hold and made it tap out? Sorry, I’m a bit of a wrestling fan…

Honestly? Inexperience, budget, and time management. The fact is, I’ve never learned the C programming language or any derivatives. Unity’s heavy on the C# or JavaScript, and while I know enough to read and follow the logic, writing from scratch is still too difficult. So, I’ve been using this great plug-in for Unity called PlayMaker, but making a matching game is probably the one thing it wasn’t written for – making the game logic needlessly complicated. Which makes bugs more likely.

I also hold a full-time job, I’m a married man, I have three cats, I’m working on my health, and I like to play video games. Trying to budget the time has been pretty interesting — but then again I’ve got that dev kit sitting under my TV, reminding me I have a very compelling reason to finish this game and start on others.

Finally, budget. I strongly feel that anyone working on the game deserves fair compensation – and I don’t care if they’re family or not. Combined with my inexperience as a project director – I’ve made some costly mistakes, wasting time by not being pointedly specific in my instructions, and per the agreement I insisted on – I still have to pay for the time wasted. Oops. Working by myself might be easier on my wallet, but I honestly believe it would lead to an inferior product. Talismatch may be my first-ever released video game, and it may be in a common genre, but that doesn’t mean I want to half-ass it. I’ve had encouragement and support from other eShop devs, the support of friends and family, and more and more people following me on Twitter.

To quote Batman, “The heat is on.” I have something to prove. To myself, at the very least.

Michael: Man, I love comic book characters, and their movies, so much. Anyway, it does seem like many beginning studios only have a single person at first, so it is refreshingly different to hear that you’ve taken a different theory in game development. Not saying the other methods are necessarily inferior, of course. How will you manage these factors differently for your next game?

Adam: Experience comes from repetition and time. I’ll be a little wiser, a little more used to my dev tools, a little more comfortable in my roles, and a little less intimidated at the process!

Michael: Ok, now I’ve got to ask: what can we expect out of your upcoming game? Any juicy details that you an divulge to me?

Adam: As soon as Talismatch wraps up, we’re immediately restarting work on Victoria. That’ll be a much bigger project and will lead to a crowd-funding effort – which I hope will allow me to quit my day job and focus solely on development for six months (or more.)

Michael: You’ve mentioned Victoria a few times so far; anything you can tell us on that project?

Adam: Victoria is what I set out to make when I initially decided to throw caution to the wind and become a game developer. It’s going to be a 2.5D action-adventure game with a wholly original storyline, voice acting, and a rocking soundtrack!

It’s also a bit of a reaction to the number of “MetroidVanias” in development. That’s a fantastic genre, but I remember a time when companies like Konami, Capcom, Tecmo and Sunsoft had gamers discovering their first curse words, ha ha.

Michael: Well, I’ll let you get back to being an awesome dev and creating your game. Before we go, any last words you have for anyone crazy enough to actually read this interview?

Support your indies. The eShop is growing full of awesome and creative games – both on the 3DS and the Wii U.

Appreciate the people in your life.

Thank you for the interview, Michael! This was fun!

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