Dan Marshall, founder of Size Five Games, has been in the games industry for quite a while. After the indie adventure game series Ben There, Dan That and the 2D multiplayer game Gun Monkeys, he began work on a new project. After canceling and remaking The Swindle, it is now on its way to being a hit. We discussed the game, going from adventure games to stealth, and why steampunk designers are idiots in this interview from the PAX East 2015 showfloor.
I had the incredible opportunity to briefly interview Max Heath, half of Boston-based electro-pop band Child Actor, over email recently after the release of their latest full album, Never Die. Described by some as dreamy dance music mixed with ethereal vocals by Natalie Plaza, Never Die manages to lull you to sleep one moment and have you dancing in public the next. Heath and I discuss the album and Child Actor below:
Pop Modern: Never Die was just released about a week ago, and it’s already sitting high up on my personal Best Albums of the Year list. This is in part due to your unique style of producing, as well as Ms. Plaza’s vocals. What mood/feel were you going for with Never Die, and what are some tracks you are particularly proud of getting out there?
Max Heath: There is certainly a feeling of fantasy or dream that runs through most of the album. Writing these songs I was excited by a contrast between euphoria and dread in the music. I think my favorites might be “The Memory” and “Ungone”, but I also like “Morning” purely from a songwriting perspective.
Pop Modern: Child Actor has built itself almost entirely on word of mouth and free publicity, and Never Die at least is free to download on your website, with options to pay for it on most digital retailers. Has this model worked out for you so far, and do you plan to stick with it in the future?
Heath: Making a record is almost always a big, scary investment of time and money and it’s hard from a practical standpoint to resist the pressure to monetize everything. Our main goal is to allow anybody who wants to hear the album to be able to do so. Of course our more passionate fans also have the opportunity to buy shirts and vinyl so we’re not exactly socialist. Really figuring out how to sell (or not sell) music is my least favorite responsibility so I try not to spend too much time thinking about it. Hopefully somebody else will think about it on our behalf soon enough, though it is nice in theory to feel like we make all the decisions ourselves.
Pop Modern: Who inspires you musically? This can be artists that directly inspire Child Actor work, or just people who’ve inspired you to make things and create content for the world.
Heath: The feeling of being directly inspired by a particular artist changes pretty dramatically and constantly for me. At this moment it’s Milan Kundera.
Pop Modern: Any plans for a tour coming soon that you’d like to share with your fans? Or other upcoming work to look forward to?
Heath: We’re considering various options for putting a tour together but nothing solid yet. Hope that works out. We still have a few videos and a couple cover songs we’re planning on releasing over the next several months.
Pop Modern: Where did the title, Never Die, come from? There’s obviously a track on the album by the same name, but I was wondering what made you choose to name the album after it?
Heath: We spent a lot of time thinking about death; you could almost say we were obsessed. We came to the conclusion that we really don’t want to die right now.
Couldn’t have wrapped it up any better myself! Many thanks to Max from Child Actor from taking time out of his day to be interviewed, much love to Ms. Plaza for co-creating such a fantastic, enchanting piece of work. Go download Never Die for free at childactor.net, or buy it on iTunes, Soundbutt, Bandcamp, or Amazon. Support good music, and let us know if you’re enjoying these sporadic, more focused interview features.
(Editor’s note: Excuse the bulk of just interviews on the site lately! The three of us are kind of shifting into summer break these next few weeks, so content has been kind of hard to get out consistently. Bear with us, and enjoy.)
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Tanya Short, lead designer at the Montreal-based independent game development studio Kitfox Games. We met briefly at the Boston Festival of Indie Games last year, and I’ve been following the progress of their latest project, Shattered Planet, pretty closely since then because it looks incredibly impressive. We talked about the game, being an indie dev in 2014, porting from mobile to PC, and more!
Pop Modern: How did Kitfox Games start?
Tanya Short: We actually started with the creation of Shattered Planet! We joined Execution Labs, which is an incubator/accelerator for indie mobile games, in order to create Shattered Planet full-time. We’re four folks who met in Montreal, at local indie meetups.
PM: How would you describe Shattered Planet to someone who’s never heard of it?
TS: To most people, I say it’s a survival strategy RPG, where you’re a space captain, exploring a dangerous alien planet. As a clone, you die (often!), but it’s all right, you can keep going with the knowledge of different species and technologies discovered. It’s free to download on iOS and Android right nowwww! And it’s coming to PC soon, as a premium game.
In reply, a certain gamer will say, “Err is it a roguelike?” to which I say, “YES!”
PM: When did development start, and what was the original impetus for making a rogue-like tactical game on tablets and PC?
TS: About a year ago! We actually didn’t set out to make a roguelike at all. We started prototyping a game all about exploration. We made a prototype that was more like Minesweeper, and one that was more like a board game… but the isometric RPG was our favorite, so we kept working on it… and a month later we realized we had accidentally made a roguelike!
Working in Unity made it easy to simultaneously develop for iOS, Android, and PC — so we did! We focused on mobile first so we could try out the base idea and see if people liked it, and after 250,000 downloads, we’re glad we did. Now we can focus on making the PC version super-extra-awesome with more confidence.
PM: Now, a common question that I’ve found gets developers thinking and entices people to try their games is this; If you had to recommend three other games, any platform or time period, that fans should try or know about to get a grasp on what SP is like, what would they be and why?
TS: Interesting! I’ve never had that question before. Hmmm. I guess I’d say the first would be Rogue Legacy, for the central idea of progression (loss, but steady empowerment). Then Brogue, because it’s my favorite roguelike ever and definitely had a strong influence on the core systems. And maybe Don’t Starve? It’s also an “uncompromising survival strategy”, with a hapless so-called scientist following where you click.
PM: The art is by far the most striking thing about the game, mainly because it feels like it’s pulling from so many inspirations. What were a few of them, and what were you going for with the art style and creature design?
TS: Well, Xin Ran Liu (our artist) is a classically trained painter, so we almost went at it from scratch! He tried out more painterly, more cartoony, and we ended up somewhere in-between, with bright colors to match the light-hearted tone of writing. I think his closest inspirations are probably traditional painters! He teaches classes at a local art school, and you can follow him on Facebook to see his awesome watercolors and other experiments.
Interestingly, for our next game (Moon Hunters), it has such a different style, with chunky pixels, muted colors, and frame-by-frame animation, people have asked if we’ve changed artists… but it’s always Xin! Well, we have brought in the talented Graham Lackey to help Xin out and give advice based on his experience working on Fez, Spaceteam, and various Adult Swim games.
PM: Game development has been making huge strides towards accessibility in the last few years. What tools did you guys and gals make Shattered Planet with, and how do you feel about the current state of the independent games industry today?
TS: I AM SO EXCITED! We work in Unity 3d, and it’s empowered us so much, we’re thrilled with the direction game development is going. Jonathan Blow got some flak for saying game development was much harder 10 years ago, but he is so incredibly right — there’s genuinely no way 4 people could have made the equivalent of Shattered Planet in a year for PC 10 years ago, never mind across various platforms. It means that making games is almost as competitive as writing (making a game is still marginally harder than writing a poem), which is stressful, but definitely good news for consumers and art aficionados.
There will be more and more different kinds of games, made by different kinds of people, and that’s 100% pure awesome.
PM: Now, Shattered Planet has actually been complete and playable on tablets for a while now, but you recently announced that it will be coming to PC as a sort of enhanced version without the microtransaction options if I’m not mistaken? What was it like porting from mobile to PC, and what specifically are you planning to do besides change the controls and UI for PC players?
TS: Well, actually, we’ve been building with PC in mind all along — we announced it was tablet-and-PC back in the first month of development! But obviously PC as a platform has a longer history of hardcore gamer and expectations are different when you sit down at a desk.
In addition to UI and controls tweaks, we’ll be adding in whole spankin’ new features that unhappily got cut for the mobile launch: character classes, a daily challenge system, and a more robust datalog system…we’re still debating whether the datalog system will change the way pets work. But the core idea is to increase the depth of possible strategies and the appeal of experimentation in the game… and it’s really exciting to not have to worry about mobile memory constraints!
PM: Any advice for the aspiring indie devs out there? I know we have a couple who read this site, so I know they would appreciate any tips.
TS: Three major things:
1 – Make to-do lists with tasks you actually can achieve in a very short time-frame (i.e. things that will take you 1 hour or less). Trello is free and very good for this.
2 – Make a delivery commitment you can’t cancel. Agree to show the game publically, either to testers or to a festival or to whoever, and work backwards from that date to figure out what you can and cannot get done. Cut things that don’t get done in time.
3 – For the love of all that’s fun, don’t tell anyone about what you’re doing until after you’ve already done it. Pre-bragging removes motivation to actually follow through.
The best way to keep up with development at Kitfox Games is to subscribe to their newsletter. They’ll be announcing things like release of the PC version (due out sometime this summer!) and other updates about the studio there. You can sign up here: http://eepurl.com/EbbjT
And if you’d like to download Shattered Planet, search for it on iTunes or the Google Play Store, or click either of these links: