This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. You can find the rest by clicking here.
Alex Preston appears to be living the indie game developer dream: after years of work his first game, Heart Machine's Hyper Light Drifter, was released last year to significant commercial success and critical acclaim.
The vibrant 2D action-RPG is now up for a slew of awards, including the Art, Audio, and Grand Prize honors at this year's Independent Games Festival. It's a stereotypical success story -- indie dev makes good with a fresh spin on classic game designs and aesthetics -- that belies the real complexity of Drifter's development.
As we wrote about last year, Preston is one of many game makers who manages the workload of game development while managing chronic illness. In fact, his congentinal heart condition and other health issues inspired Drifter, as well as some of his work as an illustrator and designer.
As part of our annual series of interviews with IGF nominees, we caught up with Preston again to get this thoughts on where the indie game development scene is at these days, where Drifter came from, and why it looks the way it does. For a deeper dive into how the game's unique soundscape was crafted, check out composer and sound designer Akash Thakkar's great GDC Europe 2016 talk on the topic.
Only as a hobbyist, and a bad one at that. This is my first actual game.
GameMaker Studio, Photoshop, Pro Motion, After Effects, Premiere, various audio/synth programs, Asana, SVN, Workflowy.
Likely around 5 years, since I had began concepts for it well before we launched the Kickstarter in late 2013.
I wanted to tell a personal story, about my own struggles as someone with chronic illness.
From there, I drew inspiration from many games that I love, cartoons/anime I grew up with and the wealth of brilliant artists I admire. I had to narrow down the specifics and mold this all into something cohesive, and that took a massive amount of time.
With great care! I embrace color; bright, saturated, neon, muted, whatever works. I love to explore palettes to express a mood, feeling, theme.
This comes from my background as a painter and illustrator, and a great love for colorful comics as a child. I'm glad more devs seem to be pursuing colorful options this generation as well.
We were constrained by our resolution, 480x270, which creates some good rules, but also doesn't allow you to explore as much detail as you'd like at times. It forces you to think and design within tight constraints.
Everything else was mostly flexible, from gameplay to sound, and really only limited by our time and the engine. Since it's an homage, and not a replica, we were free to have a rather large soundtrack with complex, shifting layers of atmospheric sound building throughout each room.
We were also able to push the amount of enemies and frames of animation as much as we pleased/was suitable.
Biggest hurdle: getting recognized in a crowded market, on any of the store fronts.
Biggest opportunity: a huge audience is out there, growing everyday, that's hungry for good games. Pick your niche and do your best.
Yes! I'm always playing as much as possible. I really enjoyed Inside, Overcooked and Quadrilateral Cowboy as my standouts. Of course everything on that list is pretty damned good.