I decided to take a different approach to this interview and reached out to one of my friends Alex Atkins, the lead writer of Monsters Ate my Birthday Cake. We are both excited about the game and he agreed to toss a few questions in the interview to give it a different perspective.
Alex Atkins: Many developers (and artists in general) are influenced by things that don't directly relate to their art, such as the lyrics of a song influencing the story of a video game. Are there any such instance for the Heart Machine team? Are there any specific cases of something outside the arena of video games (such as film, literature, music, or otherwise) that have profoundly affected your creative process?
Alex Preston(Heart Machine Games): Of course. I think we're all deeply affected by great film and music and literature of any kind, with the qualifying factor of "good". A major influence for myself in creating this game has been Miyazaki films, primarily Nausicaa.
jdodson: So far, the story details of Hyper Light Drifter are pretty sparse. I am wondering if you can share a bit about The Drifter?
Alex Preston(Heart Machine Games): Intentionally so! I don't want to spoil anything. I prefer people to experience the story and character progression themselves once they play.
Alex Atkins: After some playtesting at PAX East, the character animations seem a bit 'framey', is this an intentional allusion to a bygone era of games with limited hardware and choppier framerates?
Alex Preston(Heart Machine Games): Hmm, not sure precisely what you may have noticed; our animation is fairly fluid, as each character is loaded with a large amount of hand drawn frames. There are a few milliseconds of hold on the attacks and some other moments to add impact and weight to the gameplay. Could be the build had some frame rate stutter, as it is still pre-alpha.
jdodson: If you could work on any video game property what would it be?
Alex Preston(Heart Machine Games): Maybe F-Zero. I say maybe since the answer would likely be "none" if confronted with that in actuality; I very much enjoy creating my own worlds to experience.
jdodson: How long have you been working on Hyper Light Drifter? How has it evolved from your early concept of what you wanted it to be?
Alex Preston(Heart Machine Games): About 2 years of concepting, experimentation, lore building, and some loose dev work. It's evolved into something much more cohesive and gratifying, due to having a full team now. Everyone at Heart Machine has great input, ideas and abilities, so it's far better than what I could have produced by myself.
Alex Atkins: Why did you choose Game Maker over other engines such as Unity?
Alex Preston(Heart Machine Games): We are most familiar with GM, and it's very fast and cheap to iterate on. Unity is less suited for 2d, and none of us are as comfortable with a 3d toolset in the first place.
jdodson: Imagine yourself in the following scenario. You are in a abandoned 1950’s town and you hear a distant siren. After some searching you realize you are in a nuclear test area and the bomb is close to dropping. You notice a lead lined fridge. What do you do?
Alex Preston(Heart Machine Games): Search the fridge for a (hopefully delicious) final meal.
Alex Atkins: How has it been working with Rich Vreeland (Disasterpeace?)
Alex Preston(Heart Machine Games): Rich is a gentleman, and a super talent. He understands the project and process well and adds such a magical quality. I'm always so damned excited to hear his next track; music is such an integral part of the experience.
Alex Atkins: You received a very generous sum of financial assistance with your kickstarter, but do you care to give any figures or insight on how the inevitable ‘dropped’ payments have affected Hyper Light Drifter’s development? Especially if the total amount paid after drops brought you below a stretch goal that to an outside observer appears paid for?
Alex Preston(Heart Machine Games): Sure. It was a decent chunk, a percentage point or two, on top of the fees for KS and Amazon, so it absolutely takes away from the final budget. It's inevitable with mass payment systems. However, I think it has balanced out; our humble bundles have helped to offset losses like that for the most part.
Alex Atkins: Any regrets on the offerings of the kickstarter reward tiers (i.e. you wish you hadn’t told people you’d give them that)
Alex Preston(Heart Machine Games): The t-shirts were stuck in the middle of the tiers and did not "travel" up through the other tiers by default, so things got a bit messy because of it. It's been a pain to deal with that, but I don't regret offering them. Otherwise, I'm sure we will continue to find some level of difficulty or quirks when producing and distributing the remaining goods, as always happens with physical product. The KS tier/survey system could use some fine-tuning to help ease those pains.
jdodson: In an age of triple A games pushing 3D further to melt video cards many, Indie titles are made with pixel art. As someone making a modern pixel art game I am curious what you think about pixel art in the modern age of gaming? Do you think it will always have a place in modern gaming?
Alex Preston(Heart Machine Games): I think it will always have a place, just as hand drawn animation in film and television still does after 3d took the lead. It's an incredibly unique aesthetic with a massive dose of nostalgia attached, and there's plenty more to be done within it's limitations.
jdodson: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Anything last thing you want to say before we wrap things up?
Alex Preston(Heart Machine Games): Thanks for the questions! Final comment: thanks to everyone that came and played the game and took the time to speak with us at PAX.
I want to thank Heart Machine Games for the interview and wish them to a speedy launch of Hyper Light Drifter!