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Friday, 3 January 2014

Interview with Gary Brafford (creator of Rofaxan 2089AD)

Third day of the year, second indie dev interview of the year.  I caught up with Gary Brafford, whose debut game release Rofaxan 2089AD has enjoyed a great deal of success already.

1/            So… it seems you like retro shoot-‘em-ups?!

I do and that probably dates to UFO on the Odyssey2 from 1977. Later it was Life-force, Gradius, Gyruss, Download2, Spriggan Mark 2, Browning, Rtype, Gate and Lords of Thunder. Yeah I’ve played a lot of those games in 30 plus years!  But there is a certain beauty to the retro ones that the modern ones just seem to lack.  Especially the PC Engine retro SEUs - they are second to none. I don’t know exactly how to put my finger on it, but the more modern SEUs seem to miss the mark by just inches.

2/            Any particular favourites of the genre?  I know you told me a while back that you were particularly fond of PC Engine games.

Lords and Gates of Thunder, and Download2 - I still play those three down to this day. Each of them is unique in its own way.  But the beauty to these three is that the massively powerful sound tracks they had just blew me away and attached me right to those games - probably for life.

3/            You seem to have enjoyed a level of success with Rofaxan 2089AD that eludes many indie devs… did the game’s popularity and sales figures take you by surprise?

Completely. No one goes in thinking “I am going to sell a truckload”. If they are thinking that they just set themselves up for disaster. Not everyone like SEUs or heavy metal, and both are in Rofaxan!  Due to the metal alone I have had a rather ugly review, but that’s just one out of very many reviews and I hold nothing against the guy at all, although I felt that it should have been more professional.  Such as, is the music clear, high quality, and suits the game?  If not, then say a negative comment about it.

To me I don’t really care what others think about the game.  I brought to the game what I took from the 16 Bit era SEUs, and that’s just my opinion and not everyone will agree with my take on it.  That’s what makes Indie great, my vision brought to others when normally you’d have a publisher messing the game up through the whole process.

4/            Just what does “Rofaxan” mean, anyway?!?  (And why “2089AD”?)

Rofaxan is taken from some of my childhood favourites.  It’s nothing super cryptic!  I just thought it sounded like a SEUs name when I combined Robotron 2084, Faxanadu and Pac Man.  The end result was a very unique name that I am capable of copyrighting.

The one thing I hate about some games like Zelda and others is the continuity of the story is more of a mystery than playing the world in it.  For example we know Zelda, Zelda II, but then there are Gameboy versions etc that make Zelda III a little strange because it’s pre-Zelda.  So to avoid this kind of poor story planning I made it simple by using the date the game took place.  This unquestioningly removes any doubt to story continuity and sounds cool too.  It lets you know without telling a story what year you are in and you can expect that date to move forward.  If it doesn’t then you know where it will place in the scheme of the others without a 20 minute movie game trailers explaining to new and old players what order the games go in.  Simplicity!

That's really at the heart of Rofaxan.  When it’s time for fun the game needs to be self explanatory and easy to understand.  Bad guys here, guns are here, the year is 2089 Anno Domini, and A or RT shoots with either thumb pad or Thumb stick steer. Simplifying so the player can just sit down and have fun and not waste time trying to figure out why the wheel was reinvented.

5/            The X-Box launch Rofaxan 2089AD seemed to go pretty well too…

I was shocked when I saw how well Xbox received Rofaxan.  I figured it would be more difficult, but the sales and many emails I’ve received indicate otherwise – in fact maybe I made a mistake even bothering with the PC version, when I could have had twice the reaction in 1 week on Xbox!  So yeah – both very happy and very surprised again.

6/            Tell us a little about the game creation package you used to create Rofaxan 2089AD.

I used IG Maker, but with hindsight I would have gone down another direction. The mediocre support for the engine pretty much meant I was learning an unknown platform, where many people just didn’t even know how to do simple menus in most cases.  It didn’t slow down development though.  What it did cause was with a lack of updates and constant work being done on the developers end.

When the Evil Check List for MS changed on Xbox Live I had to crash course C# in a weekend to fix the problem, so I lost a week getting kicked from peer review, another week learning C#, and another 7 plus days going through peer review again. So be careful when choosing your engine on console platforms as it can really hurt you when you need help.

BTW I am still awaiting an email from smile boom with the way to correct the issue where I got kicked.  No apologies, no help and no response.  Enterbrain the guys in the US that distribute the engine did a great job of trying to help me get in touch with them.  It just never got answered and no one even said sorry from smile boom.  I was the only developer supporting their engine, which you’d think would have counted for something, but not so much as a phone call.  Prometheus project is going to Unity3D 4.x which uses 2D now.

7/            So what does the future hold for AngryGam3rs?  More retro SEUs?

I will revisit Rofaxan one day, just not now.  The attention Rofaxan earned us has us with many irons in the fire and no real artist either.  So we are rushing to get an artist for our new game project we call “Prometheus” for now.  The paperwork side of things is done and we are working diligently to get the Kickstarter put together.  We want to have a maximum production value for this.  In fact we were shooting our presentation video for Prometheus when I got the call for this interview.  So I couldn’t resist letting you know there’s more in the works.  We will try to touch on all of the genres and not limit to just one genre of game. However what we do will emphasize the gameplay and controls at the core and build the game around it.

8/            If you could give aspiring indie devs one piece of advice, what would it be?          

Make sure you are organized. Prepare for the tax man, he always wants his share. Whatever you do, make sure the engine you choose has multiple platform support and good support from its developer.  IG Maker seemed good at the time with it’s 80 USD price tag, but the headaches down the road mean I am learning Unity now instead of having learnt it right at the beginning.

Don’t give up.  Things will get tough and I mean really tough.  Reviewers won’t always like your game and don’t take that personally – view it as constructive criticism.  Learn to accept that not everyone will see your game the same way you do. I see Download2 and Lords of Thunder in my game, many see R-Type and Gradius in there.  But that's ok it means your game is speaking to people on an individual level, and that's a good thing.  Just don’t give up.  Don’t think it’s all going to be easy, but don’t make it harder than it needs to be either.

And whatever you do, have fun doing what you’re doing - if you don’t, your heart wont be in the game and that will show worse than a glitched NES game. 

Particularly sound advice to new / aspiring devs there, I though.  Thanks Gary and we look forward to seeing what "Prometheus" turns out to be!

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