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Indie Games: Psychotic Psoftware

beautiful, immersive art and sound of Team-17's Project-X for the visuals, while the weapon mechanics were very much driven by what I'd gleaned from the much underrated Mega Drive classic, Hellfire.

I gave the player complete control over how they choose to power-up each of the ship's five weapons, threw in a bit of storyline, mountains of different attack waves, a few unlockables and some seriously big bosses, then tightened the whole thing up for a well balanced game. I seem to have managed it too. Not bad at all for a first go!



WHH: How easy was it to get your game published on this platform, and how is it performing on there?


MH: Oh, it definitely wasn't easy! The process of game development is by its nature, experimental and reliable help is sparse at best. I found myself with stress-based headaches more times than I care to admit.

The cost of software was also tough to overcome. If it wasn't for my Kickstarter backers, I simply wouldn't have managed to raise the cash to get started. I found that by being very public about my progress I was able to draw a lot of interest to what I was trying to achieve. In turn, I was able to help other indie devs and pick up some tips myself, but this first game was a long hard journey. When it came to publishing, again I had to find the money to join up to the QA programme, then submit PowerUp to a pretty gruelling peer-testing process. I'm not complaining about it. Far from it. But, this is all par for the course with releasing a game on Xbox Live Indie Games. And it's anything but easy.

I finally published PowerUp on Friday 13th of September 2013, and because of my active nature on Twitter there were plenty of people to buy PowerUp and push it to the forefront of XBLIG, where it currently resides. I've also built up a good relationship with a great many indie press journalists, keeping them in with stuff to talk about when I can while being able to rely on them as an outlet for my work. I've been very lucky there, but it was all hard-researched and hard-earned. When it came to making this project happen, I hadn't relied on anybody else, and with that in mind, I think it's performing quite well for its first few days. It's currently (at the time of writing) the top rated game on XBLIG. That can't be bad, right? Still, it's early days. That all needs to settle down into its rightful place. I haven't seen the sales figures yet, but suffice to say, there's been no major change in my and my partner's lifestyle just yet.



WHH: What's next for you? Any plans for a second game in the pipeline?


MH: Well, first, I've got a load of Kickstarter commitments. I'm currently finalising a batch of hand drawn artwork for the backers of those particular Kickstarter tiers. Once that's done and sent, I'll be bringing PowerUp to PC. Hopefully that's a couple of months work and should be done around late November or early December. Once I've got the game to PC, I'll be getting the art assets done for the iOS, Android and Ouya versions I have outsourced. Finally, come the new year, I'm expecting to start getting my teeth into my next project. Hopefully, PowerUp will be the first of many games from me.



WHH: Finally, what advice do you have for other indie games designers out there?


MH: I think the most important factors come down to three major points:


1. Make something you want to play: Start simple, draw on the things you love, set yourself a deadline and finish your first project. Sure, let other game ideas surface, but draw/write them down and come back to them later... Finish your first project!


2. Be sociable: your game might be brilliant, but nobody will buy it if nobody knows about it. Get on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, a blog, etc, and tell people about it. Check out people with similar interests. If they like what you're doing, they'll probably come back to you. Always be respectful!


3. Don't burn yourself out: Keep reasonable working hours. Don't be tempted to get into the habit of pulling all nighters. After 18 months, overworking yourself make you ill and basically take you out of the game... potentially for a long time! Be disciplined and fair to yourself.


Everyone has different tastes and thresholds, but these are the main rules that work for me when making my games. Most importantly, if you're enjoying it then you're pretty much doing it right!



You can check out the trailer for PowerUp below.


Interview by Andreas Charalambous - September 2013

MH: PowerUp was my first attempt at developing a game myself. I did everything from design, art and code, to sound, music and marketing. I Kickstarted the game to fund my software and poured a good 18 months of my life into the project. This is the sort of thing that the likes of Xbox Live has opened the door to. The console allowed me the opportunity to learn to develop a fairly simple game for their console, while providing a concentrated and involved audience for me to offer it to. With the flaky 'freemium' mobile market and the massive expectations of the AAA players, as a humble one-man studio, I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity in modern gaming than a specialist indie store on a mainstream console.

I quickly realised that the best way to develop strong playability and collision detection in my skill set, was by making a game in the genre which is basically all about strong playability and collision detection. I went to my roots. I made a classic, side-scrolling Shoot-Em-Up, or SHMUP called PowerUp. PowerUp draws heavily on games of my youth. Games like Silkworm, Chronos, Apidya, Agony, Blood Brothers and R-Type. Most specifically, I was very much influenced by the

Mike Hanson is a one-man indie games developer. Operating under the name Psychotic Psoftware, he has recently released his first indie game PowerUP on Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG). We catch up with him and ask about his views of the indie game scene. Tell us about yourself and how you started out in game design.


Mike Hanson: In a nutshell, I was crazy about games as a kid. Not in making them, mind. I'd have had no clue where to start there. But I was deeply entrenched in the techniques and mechanics commonly used in games of the '80s and '90s. I was also very into drawing, so I'd often

fire up Deluxe Paint on my Commodore Amiga in the hopes of emulating the quality and style of the pixel art in some of the finer offerings of the era. That said, for the most part, I saw my future in comics or movies and was massively into good old-fashioned horror. Everything from Hammer Horror to Romero's zombie masterpieces. In fact, I had several attempts at writing and directing my own sci-fi and horror movies at university. That's where I realised that movies may not be my personal forte. I was, however, properly introduced to Game Development during a module of that same course. When I realised I could code, I was instantly smitten! Upon graduating, I bagged a job as a Junior GBA artist and have worked in the industry ever since.


WHH: How do you see the state of the indie games industry today?


MH: I actually really love it! I don't think that indie games have been this renowned and respected since the days of the Amiga Public Domain scene, and even that was limited to dorky teenage boys like myself in the early '90s, swapping copied disks in the playground. There wasn't much by means of expendable income for us back then so I'd imagine the value of those games was pretty limited for the bedroom coders making those games.

So, in that respect, perhaps the indie sector has never been healthier. Sure, there's a high percentage of rubbish, but isn't that always the way when people are finding their feet for the first time and coding their first games? The same applied when I made my first few films. They were rubbish, but they oozed the charm of a bunch of people going at it for their first time. If charm is what does it for you as a viewer, player, listener, whatever, then indie games are the place to be.


WHH: Could you give us a reaction to the recent news of UK-based Blitz Studios closing down.


MH: To be honest, aside from occasionally being turned down for an artist job with the studio when I found myself out of work and needing to apply, I've never really had dealings with Blitz as a developer or as a player. I was touched by the closure of Bizarre Creations a few years back, having worked for them briefly in 2005 and given their roots in developing games for the 8 and 16-bit devices of my childhood. I was also pretty devastated by the closure of Sony Liverpool - better known as Psygnosis - the developer and publisher of many awesome and stylish games of my formative years. As for Blitz though, I can't say that it really affects me. Having seen a great many UK game developers fall in recent years, I know there will be a pool of great, talented artists, coders, musicians, etc. moving on to bigger and better things and I'm sure they will be just fine.


WHH: What impact does the emergence of casual and mobile/tablet gaming have on indie?


MH: Well, having worked in that very market for the past 6-7 years, I've seen mobile gaming transition from attempts to reproduce classic 16-bit games with extremely limited controls, through to completely leaving that market behind, getting to grips with touch screen technology, upping the resolution repeatedly and splitting off into a world of its own with completely different game values. I've worked for a number of companies in this market who I've heard describe their core demographic as "middle-aged American women" and the games I've worked on seem to me to have left challenge, competition and fun for the console markets, while developing complex techniques for micro-transacting regular sums of cash, for progress in a seemingly free product aimed at a user with a more expendable income than the "teenage boy" market of games-past.

I'm not saying that I believe a type of person plays a type of game. What I am saying is that there's a perception within the industry that this is the case and as a result, I've all but stopped playing mobile games, and often find myself making games I wouldn't play. By the same token, I've no problem with doing that. It utilises my drawing skills, pays the bills and enables me to eat. However, these days, I do require an outlet, and that comes in the form of my own games. Games based on the mechanics and design ideals I grew up on. Games I do like to play and love dearly.

Also, I do worry that console games are going too far the other way; angry, competitive and linear in their design (I'm not really quite this militant in my views. Putting it in a nutshell probably makes me come across as overtly opinionated). I am a little concerned that without the likes of myself, mobile games and console games alike might well completely forget their roots. I suppose you could argue that as an indie developer, my games are a reaction to what I view as a mobile games market so casual and a console market so set in its ways, that they're beginning to stagnate. Indie games are a great opportunity for free expression and quite possibly where some of the best things in gaming are likely to happen in the near future. I think that will be the impact that the common gaming markets will have on indie.



WHH: Slender, Outlast, Lone Survivor, and two Amnesia games, are all great examples of indie horror games. How do you feel the indie scene can continue to thrive, going up against the like of big-budget studio horror titles such as the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series' and The Last of Us?


MH: I have to admit, I'm not crazy of the latest indie horror games, and not as informed about them as I should be. Having recently chatted with games students about their own projects, I suppose I was a little disappointed to see one after another gritty, derelict set populated with cheap, fashionable scares. While I love to jump and flail in terror with the best of them, the last horror game that really got my attention WAS Resident Evil - The first Resident Evil. As I say, I'm more Romero than Wes Craven. I thrive on the questions a good horror can throw up. I love the slow brooding, the collapse of society and the insights into peoples' coping mechanisms. It kind of applies to the way people play games too. When I first played Doom, I was terrified. Tiptoeing about until I was inevitably chewed up and spat out by the game's aggressive, simplistic AI. I soon realised that to run in screaming, to get face-to-face with the monsters and to simply show no fear became the most effective way for me to beat that game. It was my way of dealing with the situation that  I was put in. When it came to the first Resident Evil, ok, we're dealing with third person, but there's something about those awkward corners, those tight camera angles and that discordant score that gets its rotten little fingers under your skin and breaks down your ability to cope. But, it maintains a cinematic, non-gamey look and feel which I loved, and which the later games in the franchise have unfortunately completely lost. I think that if I ever hit the horror genre with my own games, I'd take it right back to that slow burning fear. I'd even be tempted to approach it in high contrast black and white with an authentic crackly '40s score - something just a bit different.


WHH: How will the next generation of games consoles affect indie games designers?


MH: When we consider that game development has for years been a closed door to anyone outside of the mainstream industry, it's looking relatively promising. They don't often hit the nail on the head, but in its inclusion of "Community Games", which later became the more fashionable "Indie Games", Microsoft really tapped into something on the Xbox 360. Admittedly, I personally got to the game late which means that my game, PowerUp will be one of the last indie games for the console, but for a while there, somebody at the company really understood the potential in letting non-professional people get involved.

Apparently, that person left Microsoft because when Xbox One was announced, it was with no mention of a continuation of the Indie Games initiative, but public outcry over the issue coupled with Indie support on all the competing consoles told the real story here. People got a taste of it through the Xbox 360. Now we want it! With luck, indie games will become commonplace, branching off into interesting and innovative sub-genres of their own and bringing the industry to ever-widening interest groups. The Ouya is a good example of that. Offering indie for indie's sake to a niche that really does want it, there were enough people within that niche to Kickstart the console a few times over. I think that in itself says a lot about how the next generation of consoles will affect indie game developers.


WHH: Let's look at the current generation. You have just released your first game on XBLIG. Tell us about your game.

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