I interviewed the creator (Kirk Johnson and iNCEPTIONAL) of a new GameMaker made game, Light Hero, available for iOS and Windows.
1.) Mind telling our community a bit about yourself?
My name is Kirk Johnston. I live in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’m 35 years old and I have been involved with and working in the games industry for around 15 years now.
My first job in the industry was working as an artist/animator for Rare Ltd. This was back in the N64 era when they were making classic games like GoldenEye, Banjo Kazooie, Perfect Dark and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. I worked as a 2D artist and animator on games such as Donkey Kong Country GBC and Banjo Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge on the Game Boy Advance.
Since then I’ve worked for various companies in various positions, such as a 3D animator, games tester and even producer. My last job was as a level designer at Rockstar North, working on their upcoming games, Agent and GTA V.
After leaving Rockstar North I decided to work with a small company called Vmlweb to convert a version of the very first Game Maker game I made, called iZone, for iPhone. This game eventually became iLectronz and was released in demo form on iOS in 2011.
Once I’d finished iLectronz I decided one day to randomly change the graphics for the entire game and this eventually led to the current version of Light Hero that I’ve just finished and released on PC, as well as a simpler version on iPhone too.
2.) Could you please tell us a bit about your new game, Light Hero?
Light Hero is a game that I’ve been working on myself for a few years now, on and off (mostly off because of jobs and stuff). It is basically a simple reflex test in the guise of an old school shooter. It’s designed to test how good both your hand-eye co-ordination is and your gamer skills in general.
You play as an enigmatic and cocky character called Light Star. He is the greatest pilot in the galaxy and it’s his mission to gather a valuable new space mineral called Phosphorium from the asteroid belt. The date is 2045 and Phosphorium is now used as the primary energy source on Earth.
The game’s story and premise is very simple and gives the game just enough context to frame the underlying gameplay so that it doesn’t seem completely arbitrary.
It looks like a very simple game on the surface, and in terms of controls and gameplay mechanics it is, but once you get onto the later levels, or up to the faster speeds in Infinite Mode, you’ll start to understand that it really is about good old fashioned skill.
Light Hero is a classic example from the whole ‘easy to learn but difficult to master’ school of game design.
3.) Your game seems to have a retro style – is there anything that draws you to that type of game?
I’ve been playing games since the early days of the industry and personally consider the SNES era of gaming as the most influential and important time in my gamer life. There are so many classic SNES games that truly stand the test of time, certainly when it comes to gameplay; games like Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Street Fighter II Turbo, F-zero, Super Aleste and Super Metroid, to name a few of my favourites.
What I love about all those games is that they have this laser-like focus on creating extremely clean, refined and polished gameplay experiences, and they always have really responsive and intuitive controls which I think is very important in any game. They usually have relatively simple game worlds and designs that are easy for the player to understand, no convoluted stories or overly complex controls and game mechanics, yet they still offer a genuine challenge to gamers who want to test their pure skills. They are also all 2D, in that the camera viewpoint is locked in a 2D perspective, and I really think the 2D view and 2D gameplay is more often than not far more intuitive and fun than the more complex 3D view and gameplay of many modern games.
I’ve always wanted to create a game like that myself.
To be clear, I don’t see Light Hero as “that” game but it’s definitely a good first step towards making one of those games.
On a side note: the original design for Light Hero, or iZone as it was originally called, was actually based loosely on Tetris. Well, the basic game mechanics of moving left and right into position and changing state using one button as the game level constantly speeds up over time. I really wanted it to be a game that anyone could pick up and play but that required pure concentration and focus to stay alive once it got going. That was the whole idea behind the original name, iZone (getting in the “Zone” as it were).
4.) I see Light Hero has a lot of gaming jokes and memes built into it. What inspired those elements?
Well, I’m a total geek in general, not just about videogames, and I just thought it would be cool to sneak in a few of the retro references from some of the games I enjoyed playing as I was growing up. As well as some stuff from sci-fi and pop culture etc.
When I first made iZone/iLectronz (before it became Light Hero) I actually had a lot more references to Nintendo and its classic franchises in the game. I did however get a few warnings that this might cause me some legal troubles should I start selling the game, so I took most of them out.
I did however leave the “Do a barrel roll” one in there, from Star Fox, because I thought it went well with the space shooter theme/setting. I just found it funny that Admiral Halcyon would suggest trying this classic manoeuvre after you’d already failed the level and even though you can’t actually do a barrel roll in the game.
Maybe in a sequel…
5.) The game looks great! How was that done?
A bit of luck really.
I’m not actually a particularly great artist, despite what my resume might make some people assume, so a lot of the art you see is basically the best I could do given my various personal artistic limitations and the limitations imposed on me by the different software I was using.
Trying to create anything that looks half decent using a mouse is a personal challenge. That’s why there’s not a lot of actual ‘drawn’ artwork in the game. I think I managed to reasonably cover up my artistic deficiencies for the most part.
I’m really happy you like the look of the game.
6.) Do you have any interesting stories involving the development of Light Hero?
So many I don’t even know where to start.
To go off on a slight tangent; I guess it might be interesting to your readers to mention that throughout the entire development of Light Hero I’ve actually been involved in a continuing legal battle with Warner Bros over the trademark for my company name, iNCEPTIONAL, and to this day I continue to fight them for the right to use my company name.
For the record, I was in fact using the iNCEPTIONAL name in the public domain first, well before Warner Bros ever used Inception in any form.
It wasn’t easy focusing on getting the game finished when I had this legal battle with one of the world’s largest entertainment empires constantly looming over my head, I can tell you.
Who knows how that one’s going to play out in the end…
Another fact you might find interesting is that all the asteroids in the game were actually created from cutting a circle-ish shape out of a brick pattern I made in Photoshop when I was trying to do a Christmas skin for the original version of iLectronz. I then just applied a couple filters and added a bit of light and dark here and there to get what you see as the final asteroid designs.
7.) Do you have any tips for aspiring developers?
The main tip I would give to anyone who wants to develop their own games is just to keep busy doing something on the project at all times. Don’t make up excuses not to get things done and don’t worry about not doing things right or even failing completely. As long as you’re doing something and making progress then you’re always heading in the right direction, and you learn from your mistakes.
Also, don’t be afraid to get other people involved with the project if you need them, like extra artists, programmers or musicians, especially if you can find people who are willing to help you for free. There are so many talented people out there willing to contribute art, music and other resources, all for free or at least for a minimal amount of money. You just have to be willing to get the feelers out there and talk to like minded people.
The secret of success isn’t having great ideas. Ideas are ten a penny. The secret is actually doing whatever it takes to turn those ideas into something real and tangible that other people can appreciate and love just as much as you do.
I’m just starting to figure that out myself.
8.) Have you always been a fan of video games?
I can clearly recall my first real introduction to videogames and the moment I first fell in love with them…
The first time I really began to enjoy playing videogames was when I was given a Sega Master System one Christmas at the age of thirteen. I loved playing games like Alex Kidd in Miracle World and Fantasy Zone II on that system. In fact, I was a Sega fanboy for quite a while because of the Master System.
I didn’t however completely fall in love with games until I got a SNES a few years later and played Super Mario World for the first time. That game was truly magical to me and something changed in me when I played through its brilliantly crafted worlds, jumping around from platform to platform with perfect pixel accuracy, on my way to rescue the princess from the evil Bowser. Playing that game I knew I’d found my life’s passion, I also discovered the Nintendo fanboy in me, and from that moment onwards I knew I wanted to have a career in videogames no matter what.
I still love videogames as much as I ever have. I will always love videogames, and I think they are the greatest form of entertainment ever created.
9.) Any particular video games you are currently playing and would recommend?
Well, I played Rayman Origins recently and I’d certainly recommend that game. It has the feel of a classic Mario platformer but also brings its own beautiful art direction and humour to the table. It’s a brilliant example of a great modern game with some classic old school sensibilities. Right up my alley. I’m definitely looking forward to the upcoming Rayman Legends.
10.) What was it like getting on the Apple App Store?
Well it was extremely easy for me because I actually made a little arrangement with Vmlweb, the company that worked on converting Light Hero to the iPhone for me, to host the game on their iOS developer account.
That little agreement means that Vmlweb receives half of any money we make selling the game. So right now I get 20p for each copy of the game sold.
In about one hundred years time I’ll be rich!
For the record, the iPhone version is actually supposed to be free but because of the whole Warner Bros legal battle I’ve had to start charging for it. This is basically to provide evidence to support the fact that I’m using my business name in the actual trade of products and services.
Not the best situation really, for me or the iOS gamers, but one day I’m sure we’ll be able to make it free again.
11.) Any parting thoughts?
I’m currently looking into putting the game onto various other services if possible, like Steam or maybe as part of a Humble Indie Bundle, and I’d really love to add full online leaderboards at some point too, as well as maybe a couple of other little things in the levels.
I’m also deciding what to work on next; whether it is the Light Hero sequel I’ve been thinking about or something completely new.
I’ll be sure to update you when I figure out what it’s going to be.
Thanks for the interview.
Thank you, Kirk.
Yoyogames download link: http://www.indievania.com/games/light-hero
Official site: http://www.inceptional.com/index.html
iOS download link: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/light-hero-lite/id450519670?mt=8
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nathan – He prefers his last name not to be known. He’s probably a high-class superspy, but we don’t mind. For a temporary amount of time, he is the editor of Indiegraph. He’s our point man for interviews, and occasionally he takes a blowtorch to a game to see whether it measures up to his standards. He runs Gamesbydesign, an IndieGraph affliate site dedicated to game design articles. You can email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/VGR_Reviews.