Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We at Joystiq believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, Game Mechanic Studios founder and creative director Jason Alejandre explains why freefalling is a great way to feel truly free as an indie developer, with his latest title, High Flyer Death Defyer.
How did Game Mechanic Studios get started in development?
In 2008, Jeff Hua, Henry Ji and I left EA and started Game Mechanic Studios and we really had only one goal-to create games that make us smile and have fun doing the jobs we love. To get to that point we prototyped a lot, dreaming up a bunch of different original games and pushing ourselves to innovate and think creatively. We immediately started working on creating original IP, kind of modeling ourselves after the beginnings of Pixar.
Once we had something we were truly proud of we set that as the bar for all the other games we were developing. We probably had about 30 different game ideas that were each developed to various points, so by having that quality bar established we could immediately see which ones out of the 30 were worth developing further. We ended up with about four ideas we really wanted to pursue and one of those was High Flyer Death Defyer -- which we just recently released and are currently working hard to update.
What's your game called, and what's it about?
Our game is High Flyer Death Defyer and it is about a boy named Arreon -- an inventor, explorer and treasure hunter who dreams big. He wants to see more than the perfect city where he lives and explore the skies. He starts building prototype jetpacks at a very young age, and you see how his story unfolds in the comic book we've woven into the game. It's funny, but the name of the game actually comes from those very pages I talked about earlier, when I was dreaming up ideas and designing games at 12 years old.
Our hero actually ends up creating the G-4000ms jetpack and joins a group of adventurers -- the Death Defyers -- and goes on an unexpected journey outside the city walls. The problem is, no one is allowed outside of those walls and he quickly learns that someone is hiding something outside the city -- everything is protected by deadly booby traps.
Why be independent rather than try to work for someone else?
That's easy -- we wanted to be independent because we wanted to make the games we wanted to play. Before I left the big publishers, I also felt like the industry had kind of hit a rut in terms of innovation and creativity. All the things we were promised with the Xbox 360 and PS3 as far as pushing the boundaries of what was next I felt hadn't been achieved. Don't get me wrong, we got great games, but most were the same basic game just with better graphics and much higher quality content.
There's also the issue of redundancy. Lots of studios are doing the same game over and over, sequel after sequel. They'll ship a title and then be in the next day working on its follow up. One of the co-founders, Henry, worked on seven straight Tony Hawks -- seven! Eventually, you just get burned out and want to try something new. Being independent allows us the opportunity to have that freedom.
I would say endless nonstop hours of Pac Man on Atari. And then, of course, a plumber named Mario came along.
Honestly, I think it was never an option for me to not be a video-game maker. I started doing my first designs at 12 years old and when I look back at those first designs, all that paper, I think about how I was lucky to have found my calling so early in my life.
Do you feel like you're making the game you always wanted to play?
I feel like this is the beginning of the games we wanted to make. In High Flyer Death Defyer you get glimpses of what we are striving to achieve as a developer -- it's a different type of game where the player freefalls at speeds over 300 mph so it's intense but also very fun. During development, our team had a blast playing the levels. All of us wanted to get the fastest time through the level so it was competitive but at the end of the day it was just a bunch of guys enjoying the game we were creating.
But as an indie developer, it's really about picking the right projects -- something that your entire team believes in and wants to make. I think I heard about a thousand pitches to do different mobile games over the last three years and we didn't want to do any of them until we found the perfect one. Once the idea for High Flyer solidified we started drafting up concepts, we knew it was the right one for our first project. Another factor was the power of the new dual core processors coming out in the tablets and mobile devices.
High Flyeris a hybrid between the core and casual approaches to games. One of our early high-level goals was to create a game that straddles the line, not so casual that they feel shallow and not so core that new players can't pick it up and play. We want something in the middle that everyone can enjoy.
How long did it take you to create?
High Flyer Death Defyertook us about six months to create. Looking back now it actually seems like such a small amount of time, especially considering the ambitious goals we set out to achieve.
What are you proudest of about your game?
I feel like we really created a beautiful aesthetic and tone for the game. The comic-book art style just makes for a world that you want to explore -- which is really the whole point. The gameplay is also quite unique. That's hard to say because there's something like a billion apps/games available on the App Store, but freefalling past death traps feels different than almost anything else we've played.
I'm also really proud of the story and how we tell it through a series of comics. It's our first original IP, and we built it with a small group of talented, passionate guys -- and a girl -- that love making games. So honestly, I'm proud of everything. This game means a lot to all of us.
Anything you'd do differently?
I think that kind of direct engagement with the community is another amazing thing about working as an indie developer.
More Giant Beasts! Seriously though, during our previews and since release we've gotten a ton of helpful feedback from players and the community. Based on that, we're tweaking some of the controls a bit and hope to go live with an update soon. I think that kind of direct engagement with the community is another amazing thing about working as an indie developer.
We really do care about our games and want them to be perfect so all our players will continue to enjoy it long after it is released. So, when we hear feedback about controls or cameras we dive in and immediately get it tweaked -- it's very responsive and collaborative. It feels like a community.
What is one thing you would tell someone to convince them to get your game?
Have you ever seen what happens to someone freefalling at more than 300 mph through a laser trap disguised as a cloud? If not, get our game. If yes, then you may be from the future.
High Flyer Death Defyer is available now on iOS and Android devices. Base-jumping equipment not included.
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