Interview Published: 03/17/2016
Timothy Courtney interviews indie developer Noel Berry, creator of games like Skytorn, Drunken Assassin, Chaos Heart, Celeste, Broken Robot Love, Prism Panic, and Outpost.
Timothy Courtney: Hey Noel, did you grow up in Vancouver? What are some of your first memories from your upbringing?
Noel Berry: I actually didn't grow up in Vancouver! I moved here a few years ago from Winnipeg as there were more developers and a bigger community for game dev.
Earliest memories include things like tobogganing out in winter and running around with my brothers.
Did you like school growing up? What subjects/topic were you most interested in?
I was actually homeschooled until highschool, which was actually a pretty good time. It let me pursue the things I was interested in, and I had a lot more time in my day to just run around and do kid stuff.
I remember when I started highschool I felt like I had no time, so I'd stay up super late and wake up super early so I could get time in making my games.
Fav. subject was definitely math.
Was there someone who helped get you interested in programming? What age did you start learning to code?
Yeah, my Dad. When he saw how into video games we were, he said "why not try making them" and got us set up with RPG Maker and Game Maker. I was about 11 or 12 then.
You made a lot of smaller games before beginning to work on Skytorn. How important is it for new developers to take their time progressing?
I'm not sure if it matters how fast or slow you progress - everyone learns at their own pace. As long as you push yourself TO learn new stuff and experiment, always, then it should be good. (I mean, assuming you want to progress and learn)
What did you want to be when you grew up, before you decided on game making / development?
I don't have much early memory of what I wanted to do, but by 15 I remember thinking I would do web design and make games in my spare time. I didn't realize you COULD make money from games - I just did it for fun. Then I sold my first flash game and shifted gears.
How much do you believe that we make our own luck through ambition, hard work, and sticking with it?
To an extent. I do believe luck, privilege, etc. all do play a part, but I don't really think there's "TALENT". I think anyone can learn to be skilled, just they may face different barriers along the way that makes it harder or easier.
What are some of your favorite bands to listen to while working?
Oh man, there's a lot. Anything from "The GO! team" to "Alt-j" to "Anamana guchi".
Sometimes "The Pillows" if I don't want to understand the lyrics. "Ember" by "Kubbi" for no lyrics.
Flash Game sponsorships don't seem to be as lucrative or commonplace as say 5 years ago. With the shift from flash, easier to use engines like Unity, and the amount of studios with business models designed around free-to-play with microtransactions, do you think there's anything indies can do differently to survive to keep making games full time?
I'm not totally sure. Things are shifting so quickly it's hard to say, but I think the market for indie games is only growing. We're seeing the rise of stuff like itch.io right now too.
Why do you think there are so many developers tweeting all day? Is it tunnel-vision, a sign of the times, or is it scene status? What are all the tweets, I mean, do you think there is THAT MUCH development?
I think it's a sense of community! Lots of devs live all over the place, so it's great to have a place to catch up, share, and meet.
Before Twitter I used forums instead.
Do you ever get really non-mainstream creative ideas that you find yourself shying away from or is self-censorship something you face?
I generally try to create whatever really excites me. So far that has generally been stuff pretty accepted as mainstream... I usually get bored of my weirder ideas before they turn into "Full" games. I'm not sure if it's because they just don't work or if I can't be motivated by things I don't think others will be super into.
Drunken Assassin seems like a parody between Hotline Miami and Braid. How long did that take to make, and can you tell any interesting anecdotes about some fun you had making that?
I made the core of the game in 2 days at a Game Jam, and then didn't touch it for like 9 months. When I picked it up again I think I spent maybe another 2 or 3 months on it.
I think the most fun I had with the game was right at the jam. No idea what I wanted to make but I had this dumb screen effect that made everyone sick. Someone mentioned it felt like some kind of weird drunk-filter... and the game spawned out of that.
What's the biggest obstacle you face in development of a game?
These days it's design. It used to be code, and I would have to limit my ideas by what I could program. Now I can program whatever I want (to an extent :p) so I need to figure out WHAT I should program. What's the best way to design X? I can make whatever I want so I need to actually spend a lot of time thinking about how it should play out.
What year do you imagine Skytorn being set in?
Haha, in our universe, maybe a few thousand years, if stuff gets really messed up. But I'm not sure when or where Skytorn exists.
What are a few good things for a game designer to think about in designing a good game?
"A good game" is really subjective, and can change a lot depending on the experience you're trying to make. But in general, trying to see your game from the perspective of someone who's never played it before. Will they understand what you're trying to do if they don't have the knowledge you do about the game?
Are you excited about VR gaming? Why/Why not?
Yeah! Especially stuff like the VIVE. I'm super excited to see what new and weird experiences people can create. It feels almost like a new medium.
It seems like you work closely with the artist Pedro Medeiros, making each scene work and feel lively. What's that collaboration like? Do you go back and forth everyday getting in assets and then programming them, or does he give you a new sheet and you go into weeks of reclusive coding?
Haha yes, I really love collaborating with both Pedro and Amora. The general workflow shifts and changes, but we're usually talking on Slack for a few hours a day, figuring out who should do what, what's next, etc. We all keep a pretty steady flow of work. I'll often rough out some feature (after discussing it) and then Pedro will drop in the art on top, after.
What do you like to do that has nothing to do with games or coding?
Drawing! I want to do some sorta webcomic at some point. We'll see. Also, Rock climbing / Bouldering, though the place close to us closed last year :(
I think of game development as a skill, but mainly as an art medium, and I really like when a game comes out of left field and surprises everyone, because it's so unique. What are your thoughts on games? Do you have theories and philisophical ideas about that, and what are your feelings about it?
Yeah, I definitely see games as an art medium, and a really new one at that. I think we've only seen the beginning of the kinds of games that will exist. The medium is constantly changing, growing, and becoming more diverse. I'm really excited to see where it all goes, and to continue creating awesome stuff.
How can people follow you and/or your work?
💘 Interview by Timothy Courtney
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