Time to play: Hang in there

Business | Tech

Developing games is a dream that many young people have, but only a few can pursue successfully. One of them is Matt Thorson, an indie game developer based in Vancouver who focuses on mechanics, minimalism and expression when making games. He recently gave the Martlet some insight into how indie game development works. He also developed my game recommendation for this week: Give Up, Robot.

“As a kid, I was always designing games on paper and in my head,” wrote Thorson in an email interview. “I . . . used level editors like the ones that came with StarCraft and Tony Hawk to make my own levels a lot. I started making my own actual games when I was 14 (in 2002), after finding a program called Game Maker that simplified the process for me.”

Since then, Thorson has designed a number of games, and his advice to new developers is to just keep making games, even if they are not good at the beginning. “There are lots of tools available that make hobbyist game development easy, so explore and don’t be afraid to fail. When I started, I didn’t understand programming, game design or visual design at all, and my first batch of five or so games was terrible. Don’t be afraid to make bad things, and eventually you’ll get better at it. It’s also just more fun this way.”

But it’s also important to keep your expectations realistic. According to Thorson, independent developers need to stay motivated, as their first games will not likely make money. “There’s a lot to learn before you get to the point where people want to pay money for your games,” wrote Thorson. He added that flash games are a great starting point for new developers. But browser games are mostly used for short-term fun, so a developer has to grab his audience fast.

Thorson doesn’t always work solo; he sometimes teams up with friends. He likes both styles of working, but he also admits that working in a team of two isn’t too different from working alone. “Another thing that helps is the fact that my friends and I tend to be generalists and like to have our hands in every part of the project. So it’s not like one of us is in charge of half the game and the other is in charge of the other half,” wrote Thorson.

In Give Up, Robot, you play, as the name implies, a little robot that needs to make its way through 50 two-dimensional levels made out of colourful, flashy blocks without falling to the bottom or getting destroyed in other ways. Of course, this is not easy, but our robot friend has one tool to help him: a grapple. Press A or Z to throw the grapple and swing from one side of the screen to the other. With this manoeuvre, you can overcome spaces where a jump is simply not enough. However, some of the stable-looking blocks fall down as soon as you grab them or jump on them. There is no way of finding out beforehand which blocks will crash to the floor and which ones will hold. There are also no-go zones that kill the robot the moment it touches one. After a while, you’ll also come upon propellers, which give the robot a big boost. As helpful as they might seem, they are not easy to handle, especially when you have to time the rotation to land where you want. And don’t get too cozy with them. They are, after all, sharp, spinning blades.

As you progress, you’ll have to react more quickly. After every 10th level, you can submit your high score or go on with the game. If the 50 levels are not enough, Give Up, Robot offers 11 more hardcore levels.

If you like the game and the others available on his site, such as Give Up, Robot 2, Thorson is currently working on a new title with fellow developer Alec Holowka. The game is called Planet Punch and is for the gaming website Adult Swim.