Interview ALEX ROSE
An indie dev born through the fires of multiple GameJams, now hitting the big time and releasing on Xbox, Playstation and everywhere!
Unt3DMag: Hi Alex, great to finally speak to you, let’s get started. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and who you are?
Alex Rose: I’m an indie developer from Manchester working on Super Rude Bear Resurrection for PS4/Xbox One/Steam/Vita In 2011 whilst studying for my physics degree, I started learning how to program in C, and then 3 months later started working in Unity with C# I’d been making rubbish games since I was 4/5 years old using The Games Factory, but once I started coding I had more free reign of what I was doing. In 2012 I started doing Ludum Dare and that got me to where I am now.
So what got you started in game development?
Alex Rose: I just always loved video games, I bought an issue of some magazine had a demo of The Games Factory in it when I was a small child. I then got the full version of it for my 5th birthday I think, following that I then made hundreds of small and terrible games.
At the time I felt like I’d been born too late though, since the sheer size and scope of triple A games meant that people like me couldn’t really make a game on their own anymore, well, other than flash games which wasn’t really ubiquitous or generation defining.
I wanted to be one of the early game developers who made games on their own, that people spent weeks or months playing, but I thought I’d missed my chance.
Then indie games became a thing.By that point I’d resolved myself to the idea that programming was black magic, so I set out my course to be a physicist.
Then, while I was on my course I learnt to program, then I suddenly realizedthat I could make anything I wanted to and game development was already second nature to me, probably aided by the stuff I’d learned as a child.
So I started competing in game jams and as my games did better and better I eventually picked up a gold award in Ludum Dare and used it as the foundation of my studio.
Wow, so you really started at a young age, the kit that was around when I was 5 was not very kid friendly. Do you think it’s a timing thing, that there is a more of a focus to get development and coding in to kids hands earlier these days?
Alex Rose: Well, to clarify, The Games Factory is just a piece of software like Game Maker or something,it makes making games easy and takes most the work out of it for you. You place down objects and then choose what type of character controller it has, you can then make a bunch of conditionals for pre-coded ideas like “If x collides with y” or “next level” for instance.It was very restrictive so I couldn’t really make anything earth shattering but it taught me the basics of game logic.
I think with the prevalence of stuff like Scratch, people are definitely trying to get kids into code younger. Though I personally question the usefulness of Scratch, It’s definitely a good idea to get kids into code but it seems too restrictive to allow them to make games they want to make.The Games Factory came with an absolute tome of a manual and it had a very steep learning curve but then you could make playable, decently fun games on the level of the flash games you’d see in the early 2000s. I think that was a good experience.
So what do you think of the recent initiatives to get mini- computers like the Micro-bit and raspberry pi’s into year 7 students hands, is this a better direction?
Alex Rose: Those seem like a better idea for more hardware oriented stuff. Again, you could teach how to code on them but they’re not extremely powerful.
I think you can’t really push someone into learning stuff like this though, you can just give them the resources they need, I’m not sure it helps to try to push people into game dev.
I know games in the mainstream aren’t seen as art yet but I really think it’s the same kind of thing. It’s not just mindless coding, you have to have some vision of what you want to accomplish and a real feel for what you’re doing.
You can’t force creativity, you can only provide good tools for people who want to be creative to learn.
So why Unity, what do you think it offers the average game developer?
Alex Rose: It offers an extremely simple front end but almost limitless potential for a single developer or small team. I went into Unity with only 3 months of C coding under my belt and within a month I thoroughly understood C# and the Unity engine. It’s very, very self-teachable. Whereas I tried things like SFML, Cocos, Ogre, I just had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
Unity has a couple of built in physics engines where you can control almost every parameter, so you can use their collision systems and write your own physics. It very easily represents things in 2d and 3d space. I mean, that’s the main thing – it’s just easy to get an object on screen. In other engines you spend ages just drawing one object of a certain scale and color to get it to run for one frame. In unity you drag it into the scene and it’s there.
It really takes the effort out for new game developers who don’t want to write their own game engine from scratch. I know that no engine I could ever personally write would ever be as good as what the whole Unity team spent a decade on. For indies, the only real competitor as far as I can see is Unreal and it seems that extra step of complication can be off putting to someone who’s new to proper development. On top of the long term costs.
That is interesting, so Unity offers an easy to use drag and drop interface with lots of engine features, plugged in ready to use in your opinion. So what else do you think Unity could do to make things easier?
Alex Rose: I think there’s things that could be improved about 2d but looking at what’s planned, a lot of those things seem to be getting resolved. There are some things I hate about box2d though (Unity’s 2D Physics engine), but I’d worked around that. In fact, there’s some really stupid stuff in there but you can work around it.
Really though I’m happy with Unity, there’s no major changes I want to see, other than actual HTML5 exporting. That’s a major change I want to see, having a kind of web app that doesn’t require a unity download now that the Chrome fiasco has now happened.
So like the new Web-GL player that is in preview at the moment:
Alex Rose: Yeah, but it’s not out yet. I think it’s fairly urgent now that Chrome isn’t allowing the webplayer to be used by default. It is definitely a big deal for jam games.
So you have entered a lot of GameJams, can you tell us your experience in that world.
Alex Rose: I’ve done Ludum Dare 8 times now, Global Game Jam twice and ran a jamsite, I’ve also participated in the Eurogamer Expo’s Creative Assembly jam twice and won this year. I’ve also done a couple of smaller jams. Jams are insanely useful. If you have a good Ludum Dare game you can get that played 10,000-100,000 times.
For a game that you spent only a single weekend on, that’s incredibly valuable, to have press quotes, esteem, awards and a fanbaseof testers who enjoyed it immediately.Additionally game jams encourage you to make games you never would otherwise. I would’ve never made Super Rude Bear Resurrection if it weren’t for Ludum Dare and I don’t think anyone would’ve cared about what I was making.
So you would encourage any game developer out there to get in to a GameJam, not just to increase their skill but to also increase their visibility?
Alex Rose: Oh yeah, definitely. Game jams are an easy, un-intrusive way of testing your mettle. You can be working a full time job and still take part in Ludum Dare, I know plenty of people who do and you can then see if going indie can be a viable route for you. If you can win an award in Ludum Dare, I would say you can go on and find a publisher and work full time on it if you want to.
So also building a portfolio, You can get lots of people seeing your work, commenting and offering advice?
Alex Rose: Indeed, and you can produce a variety of things. If you work on one product for ages, like a puzzle game, now you might be able to get client work doing puzzles or something, but someone might not take you seriously if you wanted to work on a 3d first person game. You can dip into any genre in a game jam and Unity is very good for just trying a new genre for a weekend.
So I hear you are on course to be a full time indie game dev from your GameJam exploits, how are you finding that? Very interesting.
Alex Rose: I always liked the idea of starting up my own business, I’ve wanted to make a start-up but I never knew how to go about it, but now I’ve made a start-up by accident. After I won Ludum Dare 28’s innovation category, so I just kept applying to things and showing the game in as many places as possible, I even showed it at the Tokyo Game Show etc.
Then Sony and Creative England picked it up and helped fund me, so I get stated and formed a company.Then I started hiring employees and now I run a small studio. It’s been fun doing it without a publisher.
So have you had any kind of support or funding to get you going with your new studio?
Alex Rose: Yeah, I got a hefty chunk through Creative England’s Gameslab Campus Program, I’m not sure I’m allowed to say how much, but it certainly helps. I’m also about to get an even heftier chunk from elsewhere as well but I haven’t signed a contract yet, but soon. I’ve managed to keep all my equity and revenue through interest free funding pretty much.
Sounds fantastic, you mentioned that you’ve travelled to Tokyo in your adventure, any other places you’ve been whisked off to or any recognizable / famous people you’ve bumped in to or have been introduced to? (aka Phil Spenser)
In Tokyo,Shuhei Yoshida (President of Sony’s Worldwide Entertainment Studios) came down, played my game and I even got someone to take a photo and tweeted about it. Also while I was atMinecon this year, Phil Spencer (Head of Microsoft’s Xbox division) played it with his whole family and even tweeted about it.
I’ve been to PAX East, GDC, A Maze, Indievelopment etc. outside of the UK and another 12 events in the UK.
If all goes well with this deal, I’m going to do PAX Prime next month, EGX later. I want to do Tokyo again at some point.
Wow, that’s a lot of travel, how do you afford it?
My development budget is big and I work for very cheap, I live on super noodles and pay myself minimum wage, plus I stay in really cheap places and get the cheapest flights. Going to PAX East/GDC wasn’t that costly combined because they coincided, so it was just the interstate flights.Going to Indievelopment in the Netherlands cost me sub £200 for the round trip, staying at a friend’s house and same for A Maze Berlin. I have a lot of international friends from playing video games and doing game jams so I can get free rooms in a lot of countries.
In terms of the UK games scene though I’ve already met all my heroes and know pretty much every active indie, I’ve done 90% of the game shows that exist in the UK over the past year. I also make the effort to go to as many of the indie-er of events abroad to get my face out there, it’s always the same people at these events too so you end up knowing everyone.
I can see that networking is certainly a big part of indie game development, if not just for friendship but also to help with accommodation costs.
Yeah, accommodation is a huge cost, way more than travel. Travel’s actually pretty cheap when going to a different country for a week is 0.2% of your budget.
You certainly sound like you are living the dream, seeing the world and making games in the process.
It’s nice, though I don’t usually end up seeing the world as much as I would like, maybe I’ll get 1 day while at some events to look around the local area. Except Tokyo, I took a week off to explore there.
Right, so what projects are you working on at the moment? Can you say?
So, I have a lot of conceptual projects and I always do game jams every 4 months. But mostly I’m full time working on Super Rude Bear Resurrection, which is an extremely tight masocoreplatformer where dying helps. Every time you die, you leave a permanent corpse behind that makes the game easier. It’s never necessary to die as you can beat the whole game without dying, but it just regulates the difficulty so anyone can play it.
At its peak it’s harder than any platformer out there and caters to speedrunners, but it’s something that even a complete newbie to platforming can beat with enough time.
So is this something you started fresh or has it evolved over time?
I made the original game “Rude Bear” for Ludum Dare 28 and it ended up winning the innovation category. Then I sat on it for 4 months, then saw that Titan Souls (which won the Overall category), had been picked up by Devolver. My local games scene said I was mad not to do anything with it, so I started making it into a full game and that’s how it got accepted in Tokyo Game Show etc.
Which is how I got my funding and led to me having some awesome artists and the UK’s biggest hip-hop producer is doing the soundtrack. The main thing is that the jam version had terrible physics because it was rushed and the first time I’d used Unity2D, however since I specialized in dynamics/computational physics at University and I’ve always been big into platformers, I 106%’d Super Meat Boy in a couple of months. So it was pretty easy for me to make a really nice engine, and I think it’s better in many ways than Meat Boy’s.
So there are several older dead versions of the game out there that, like in your game, that you’ve scrambled over to reach the finishing point with a classic. Evolved through your masocorestyle 😀
Yeah, but the game hasn’t fundamentally changed much, the biggest change was from the jam version to the first build.The jam version took 3 days and the first build took 2 weeks. Then it was just a case of tweaking, improving my game design etc.
Sounds awesome, so to finish up, what are your next steps? Where do you and your studio go from here?
So, launching is my next step and marketing. With my new budget I’ll be able to market much more effectively and I want to make better speedrunning tools, after that, I have a bunch more game ideas I want to make but they’re hush hush at the minute, we’ll see which one I pick. Right now I’m picking out of a couple of choices, I might just make them in game jams to see if people want to play those games, my plan is to launch a game every 3 years.
It’s been awesome speaking with you Alex, any parting words of wisdom for readers or game development enthusiasts
Networking is super important and something you really need to do unless you plan on winning the gamedev lottery. And..make cool things. If you want to do it, you can, just make sure you get yourself talking to the right people and make some good prototypes, people really care about graphics so you need to cross that hurdle of finding an artist.