Interview with PhotonStorm's Richard Davey
Richard Davey has created some excellent games for the freelance Flash portal market in the past year including (but not limited to) Kyobi and Abominaball. Both has been featured in our Hall of Fame Arcade Showcase as Gold Medal winners. The combination of modern game-play, retro sensibility, and an excellent eye for finishing touches and polish has made the 8bitrocket team big fans of Rich and his games. His excellent blog, PhotonStorm (named after a great Jeff Minter title) and his dedication to the Atari ST (www.atari.st) makes an interview with Rich a perfect fit for 8bitrocket and our dedicated readers.
Richard, Kyobi is doing EXTREMELY well. How did you come up with the idea for such a unique physics based block puzzle?
I guess like most game ideas it was born from trial and error, many prototypes and a sprinkling of luck.
After finishing my previous game 'Fruiti Blox' (1) I really wanted to create something quick and simple. Fruiti Blox had taken 3 months to create, and although I sold it to Candystand the development process took a lot out of me. I told myself that my next game had to have a really short development time.
(Fruity Blox title screen - borrowed, but not leeched from Photonstorm.com)
When I first started making games in AS3 I wrote down a long list of old 8/16-bit classics I'd like to revisit. One of them was a little known ST game called "Kubes". It was similar to Columns, but with a much harder control mechanism. Anyway I coded up a prototype in a day and sent it to a few friends. They (thankfully) all said "what the hell?". At the time I was also working on Box2D integration with PixelBlitz and it just occurred to me "what if those blocks were just physics objects, and you can throw them around?". So I added that, and it was just fun to play with. Then I figured what would happen if you bolted on the match-3 mechanic. It took a couple of hours and at the end of it I had this pig-ugly prototype that I just couldn't stop playing. At that point I knew I had something special. I sent it to a few friends and they confirmed this was the case.
At that point full production mode kicked-in, and I got the graphics
and audio produced while I polished and polished as best I could.
(Kubes on the Atari ST. Animated Gif borrowed, but not leeched from www.atari.st)
Kyobi looks like it might make a decent franchise. Would you consider more versions and variations, or do you want to move on to the "next" game in your head?
I have four projects in development right now, they are a return to more arcadey action games. In reality I only expect I'll get to finish a couple of them before I get side-tracked with Kyobi 2. Creating a sequel is just a sensible move to make. Both because there were a number of things I'd like to have added to the first game but didn't, and of course because the concept has now proven its popularity so I want to exploit that.
I've got a couple of neat ideas for a sequel that will take it in quite a new direction. But as with all my games I'll need to flesh out the prototype first. If the prototype doesn't fly, the game won't either.
Where do you find the time to make such polished games with a full time gig during the day?
Honestly, I'm not sure. Like a lot of devs my age (with families and kids) you tend to only really get a few spare hours in the evening. But if you look at my games so far none of them are really that complex. Yes they are polished, but that's because I don't like releasing crap (Ed: Ouch!). But polish is quite easy to add in small chunks to a game. Once you have the core mechanic working you can dedicate a few evenings to polishing the interface, another on the level progression, another on highscores etc. I'm also sad enough to admit that I will often use my work lunch breaks, or early hours of the morning to work on them 🙂
You have re-made a few classic Atari ST games. Did you get the idea for Kyobi from an ST classic?
Not really, but as I explained at the start - if it hadn't been for an ST game I wouldn't have got to that stage with my prototype. Physics in ST games was virtually non-existent. But finishing Kyobi did make me wonder what old potential gold mines might be created from taking well worn concepts and injecting a little Box2D into them.
Physics in ST games were funny to say the least. Most racing games were far too loose (like floaty balloons). When a game got physics right though it had a very quality feel to it.
You ran The Little Green Desktop (www.atari.st) for a number of years. For those who don't know, it was (and is) the best Atari ST gaming nostalgia site on the web. Do you plan get back to it some day?
Invent 48 hour days for me Jeff and I'll get LGD updated in an instant 🙂 I still love the site, and I have grand plans for what it could become. But I simply don't have the time at the moment. I do still do little bits to it now and again. I re-instated the forums the other week for example, and fixed the magazine flashbacks. So it's still alive, just not in active development. With the way the web is changing at the moment LGD may benefit from me holding off working on it right now, who knows what may be around the corner? Perhaps I'll turn it into one giant Google Wave? 🙂
Did you create any games or software for the ST back in the early days?
On the ST I mostly did graphics work for games, but I did try coding too. I cut my ST coding teeth on STOS like a lot of people, and had great fun with it. I even squeezed a few truly terrible games from it, but my life back then was spent mostly in the demo and cracking scenes, so I concentrated on making demos instead. You can see the ST games I worked on here.
(Super Starioland on the ST. Animated Gif borrowed, but not leeched from www.atari.st)
(Notice the familiar name in the credits)
Ahh, Rich there are some very nice visuals in those games. Now I see why your Flash games have such a nice graphics touch, and you still have other do your visuals for an even better impact! It's a strategy that certainly is working well!
Anyway, what was your first computer/game system? Which is your favorite?
All my friends owned Sinclair Spectrum 48ks. I nagged my parents endlessly to buy a computer, so they went out and bought an MSX (a Toshiba HX10 model, the most common in the UK). Part of me was elated that they had bought a computer at all. The other part of me was gutted that no-one within a hundred mile radius had ever even heard of my computer, let alone had any games I could copy from them.
In hindsight however I now appreciate just how incredible that 8-bit MSX was. It had a built-in cartridge port, a fully hard-key QWERTY keyboard, built-in joystick ports, link-up for a tape recorder and excellent graphics and sound. All the hottest Japanese games came out on the MSX: Metal Gear, Antarctic Adventure, Castlevania, Yie Ar Kung Fu. All the top titles from powerhouses like Konami and HudsonSoft.
Of course I didn't really appreciate this at the time, but looking back now I realize just how cutting edge that micro was. I even faithfully converted one of my favourite MSX games Cannon Fighter to Flash, and I have another in the works.
Which is my favourite computer system ever? Well that's an easy one. It was, it is and it always will be the Atari ST 🙂 Ok so sure my Xbox 360 is stunning, and GTA on my DS blows me away - but the ST era was a fond period in my life.
I agree, Rich. I think was because just as you were defining who you were as person, the ST was right there with you. Steve and I had an ST all through college, and it was both my entertainment, and my school work companion. The games were unbelievable (for the time), but it was just an elegant machine. The Amiga was a much more powerful box, but it just didn't have the elegance of the ST (the the Littge Green Desktop). The Amiga eventually won out because of its power and great game library, but the ST certainly had its own popular times too. Back to the ST, What are your favorite classic games? Do you still play any?
Sure, I'm a retro game freak! From the ST I'd have to raise a glass to immortal works of art such as:
Oids (how cool would this game be on the DS?!)
(Oids, one of Jeff's favorite all time games. Image borrowed but not leeched from www.atari.st)
(Rolling Ronny on the ST. Interrupts or the STE must have been used to display that many colors at the same time. Image borrowed, but not leeched from www.atari.st
I also owned an Amiga and I just can't list "favourite games" without throwing in a mention for Cinemaware's valiant arcade flight-sim Wings. I have the GBA version and it's not a patch on the miggy one.
I was also a video arcade junkie. Every chance I got I would play and play on all kinds of cabinets. To list them all would look like a Mame ROM dump, so instead my absolute classic favourites have to be:
My favourite arcade game of all time though is Aliens. It's also the only arcade game I can complete from start to finish, and have done many times.
Oh, Wings was a game I was always jealous of on the Amiga! The sit down Star Wars game was the best one of all time! Speaking of retro games, you wrote a couple articles for Retro Gamer magazine (in its first run). Do you still read it? How do you like this new version compared to the original 18 issue run?
I love it! I have every single issue and I subscribe. I would urge any Flash game developer to do so actually. It's both a goldmine of ideas but more importantly of inspiration and motivation via the interviews with developers / classic software houses.
I think the new style of the magazine is much better than the early one. They give a good chunk of coverage to homebrew as well which is great. The only thing I think they are missing is just how large and talented the Flash "retro remakes" game scene is. I think I may have to drop them a word.
Before you created Flash games, and after you did graphic work on ST games, did you create any games for other platforms (commercial, non-commercial, demos, experiments, etc)?
I also did a lot of work on the Atari Falcon (the 32-bit successor to the ST). But I haven't released any games on any other system other than the PC (see next question 🙂
You have worked with the Game Creators for some time. Are you a Dark Basic fan? I have DB Pro, but never got into it as I started to make serious Flash games about the time I purchased it. Did you ever get into it heavily?
Get into DB heavily? Absolutely! I was very late to own a PC. I just didn't need one really, as the Atari Falcon was my life. But with the release of Windows 95 I recognised that things were now changing. So I
jumped onto the PC bandwagon. Going from an Atari to a Mac was the typical move most people made, but Macs were so expensive back then and had NO GAMES! Today they're just as over-priced, but at least they fare a little better on the games front.
Anyway the PC world was a fun one to be in from a consumers point of view, but actually coding on it was about as far removed from fun as you could get. So I fell deep into the "only played games" trap. I did
this for a few years until one day I saw a banner advert for DarkBASIC. I clicked, downloaded a demo (via my 56k modem), ran it and was impressed. I looked at the source code and was like "WHOA! this is STOS for the PC!" and that was it. I was hooked.
I have a very, shall we say "addictive" mentality. When I find something that truly inspires or empowers me, I throw absolutely everything I've got into it. DarkBASIC was no different. I coded like a mad man. Being devoid of a wife and family at this time I could easily code until 4am, drag myself into work, get home and repeat all over again 🙂 I released my code under the moniker "DarkForge" and did all kinds of things. From 3D games and puzzles to loads of demo effects and graphical treats.
By day I was a php developer, but DarkBASIC fed into that creative bloodstream. At the time the DB web site was a bit of a mess really. I contacted Rick and Lee (the two founders) and basically hassled them
into letting me redesign it. A year later and I was working for them full-time. I spent 4 happy years with them, seeing the release of DarkBASIC Professional, FPS Creator, FPSC X10 and also seeing the dramatic shift in the market. Newer bigger faster GPUs. Shaders. PhysX. You name it, it was happening. It was all a bit overwhelming really. TGC still produce great hobbyist development tools, but it was certainly fun to be at the crest of that wave. I left them to go and work for Aardman Animations, a big film / commercial production company based here in Bristol / UK. They were opening an Online department, I was head hunted, the challenge was too enticing to ignore and so I went for it. Just over a year into this new job they made me learn AS3. Let's just say I haven't looked back 🙂
Wow, the Games Studio looks fantastic!!! (I wish there was a Mac version because there are so few indie Mac games...)
Back to Kyobi, you detail the process of sponsorship and licensing of Kyobi very well in your blog (linky, link, and one more link). Do you have any advice for budding game developers out there? Are there Any revenue avenues that are just too difficult / time consuming for the money made back?
The Flash platform is unique, probably more so than any other platform out there, because of its sheer size. Have a think about the number of machines that have Flash Player installed on them world-wide.
Hundreds and hundreds of millions. It is this volume of numbers that means you have such an incredibly diverse range of audiences to target. There is literally a home for ANY type of Flash game you want to create (yes even the really crap ones) (Ed: Ouch again!).
Given the ease with which you can create a game you should never be scared to experiment. If you have an idea that is a little off-the-wall then so what? Go for it.
Equally I'd say don't be blinded by figures the popular media is throwing around at the moment when they talk about "indie flash game devs". Yes there is money to be made out there, but just making a game in Flash isn't a license to print it.
I see a similar question come up on the FlashGameLicense forums over and over again: "How can I make more money with my games?". The answer I would always give is "Make better games".
How do you make a better game? Simple - you just don't stop. Build something, RELEASE IT, learn from the feedback. Repeat the process. If you are weak at graphics then do a collab or pay for an artist to work
for you. If your music is about as tuneful as a session on the toilet then buy some royalty-free tracks or pay a musician to compose something for you. Speculate to accumulate 🙂
The most important thing of all is to prototype. If a bare bones concept game works, flesh it out, take it to the next stage. If it falls flat then at worst you've probably only lost a few evenings.
The only other piece of advice I would give is not to spend too long on one game. All games have that point where they become more of a chore than a joy to create. It usually happens when you're at that "10% left to go" stage that you get most disheartened with it. If when you sit down at your screen you are thinking "damn, I must really work on my game I guess" (in a negative sort of way) then you know you're at the point where you need to do something else. It's right then when your cursor is lingering over the Left 4 Dead / TF2 icon vs. the Flash one - we've all been there 🙂 - but try and have more than one game on the go at once. So if you get really stuck on something anal in one title you can give it a rest and move onto something totally different in another game. Try and keep these projects bubbling along though. If you stop and don't work on them for a few weeks it'll be so much harder to get back into it again. A little now and again is better than a huge burst and then nothing for months.
That is some very very good advice, Rich. I too, need to make better games! What is next for Richard Davey in games? Are you moving to Unity, working on Pixel Blitz, thinking of a new game, or just taking a rest?
Unity interests me, but not enough to actually invest time into it yet. The adoption rate isn't significant, and creating a proper 3D game is just a whole other world of pain that I don't really want to return to just yet. I know you can use it to create 2D games as well, but then I have Flash, so there's no real incentive there. Maybe in a few years, but then again who knows where Flash will be then either 🙂
PixelBlitz was put on hold while I worked on a massive project at work, but I have had a LOT of interest from people wanting to help me evolve it. Some really smart folk have contacted me, so I will be kicking this project back into life shortly. Stay tuned.
As for games - well I'm deeply involved with a little chameleon right now, who is having a great time charging around my new game world in a bid to rescue his mate. This past week alone I've made very good
progress with this game, so I expect to have it finished within the next 4-8 weeks (note to self: never quote timescales, have you learned nothing yet? 🙂
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us a little bit, Rich. We're big fans of yours.
Not as big as I am of you guys 🙂
Keep the rocket flying, there are exciting times ahead.
*Blush* - I just wish I could make games as well as you, Rich (Ed: Don't we all).