We’ve done an interview with Christopher Arnold, one of the developers behind the upcoming beat-em up game Hero Boy.
You can find our entire interview below:
Diogo Teixeira: Please tell us a bit about yourself, Christopher.
Christopher Arnold: My name is Christopher Arnold, my role on the dev team for Hero Boy is lead designer, writer, level designer and co-artist. I think the best way to define me is as someone who likes making things and getting to know other people. Making games allows me to do both of those things which is partly why I’ve been drawn to it, first as a hobby, now as a job.
Diogo Teixeira: What’s your past experience with game development?
Christopher Arnold: While not game dev per se my first experience with game dev tools was making machinima films in the source engine. Setting up scenes, editing textures and making maps was a basic introduction to skills that I’d later come to rely on for my work. My first collaborative game project, Freak, had to be put on hold because we couldn’t afford to continue paying our main programmer and artist.
Hero Boy, the game we’re about to release, was originally supposed to be a side-mission in Freak that we have now expanded into a stand-alone experience. The mistakes made in working on Freak have been extremely helpful in teaching us what things to prioritize in the developmental process.
Diogo Teixeira: Tell me a bit about your current project, Hero Boy.
Christopher Arnold: Hero Boy is a hybrid horror/beat em up game that takes place in the notebook of an 8 year old boy named Max during the onset of a zombie outbreak.
The game’s art style uses crayon drawings in the gameplay and cinematics with additional ‘mixed media’ elements representing objects Max finds in the real world and keeps inside the notebook. When designing the gameplay we were inspired primarily by Golden Axe and the TMNT arcade game.
Diogo Teixeira: How was the project born?
Christopher Arnold: As I mentioned before, we’d been working on Hero Boy as a side-story within Freak which would’ve been a little comedic diversion within the game. We’d started work on the section about the same time Freak’s Kickstarter had launched.
As we were getting closer to the end of the campaign and realized that the demo wasn’t going to be ready before it closed and that the campaign itself was likely not going to be a success, I started making plans on spinning off Hero Boy into its own game that could stand by itself.
The concept of Hero Boy, both the short side-story in Freak and now the full game, was born out of nostalgia. As a kid I’d often doodle stories in little composition notebooks both in class and on long road trips. The idea of taking one of those notebooks and using it as a way of chronicling a different kind of trip, namely having to move from home and navigate the horrors of a zombie outbreak, appealed to me and was something I wanted to explore.
Diogo Teixeira: How do you think players will react to Hero Boy‘s design and style choices?
Christopher Arnold: I expect it to be polarizing. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback on the game ever since we put out demo builds in January, and while they’ve consistently voiced enough support of the art style for us to believe that we’re going in the right direction, there will be an audience that won’t think something with this style will be worth their money.
I think it’s a perfectly understandable sentiment. I can completely understand and respect someone who won’t be interested in a game that looks, quite literally, like an 8 year old drew it and won’t want to buy it, even for the small price that we’ve chosen. I think it’s important for indie developers to feel like they can take risks with unconventional or even strange design decisions like we’ve done her.
But it’s even more important for them to understand that this might result in people being alienated and to be accepting of the consequences, such as a smaller potential audience, that come with it. Those are all risks we knew we’d have to face when making this game and they haven’t deterred us from wanting to make the game we wanted to make.
Diogo Teixeira: What’s your opinion about the current state of the indie game dev scene?
Christopher Arnold: There are a lot of good people here who just want to make things people will enjoy, be they artists or programmers or composers or anything else. There’s also a lot of entitlement and arrogance which gets targeted at gaming audiences for, in the eyes of the developers, being unreasonable. This ranges from complaints about ‘haters’ to social media meltdowns raging at gamers for being X, Y or Z that go viral. Many indies see themselves as being different from gamers or even better than gamers which to me has always been a strange viewpoint.
Gamers and indies are not disparate groups. Many gamers do the work of developers with fan patches/translations, mods, and other things while developers themselves still play games (which is becoming less of an obvious statement as the years go by). The divide between gamers and indies is more of a spectrum, with some people more involved in making games than others, but what’s important is that they’re all equally capable of producing valid arguments and deserving of common courtesy.
That said, interacting with gamers as a developer is a trickier field to navigate nowadays with the rise of social media. If you’re a developer with a private social media account, to what extent do you represent your company in your own postings? Even if you add a disclaimer saying that the opinions expressed are your own, what meaning does that really hold if, like me, you’re the owner of the company you make games at?
Is it reasonable to always expect indie developers to be courteous and receptive to the complaints of gamers even if the complaints aren’t related to the developer’s work and the complaints are addressed to the dev’s private accounts? While I personally think people should try to be courteous and receptive at all times on social media and that if they don’t think they can to stay off it until they can be, regardless of who they are, people are human and sometimes mistakes are made.
In short, indie developers could do a far better job of interacting with their audiences, but as someone who’s been on both sides of the fence I can say that managing expressing yourself while still acting in a professional capacity can be tricky. If you treat someone as an equal and show them respect you’ll rarely go wrong. Not immediately blocking them helps too.
Diogo Teixeira: What advice do you have to any prospective future game developers reading this interview?
Christopher Arnold: Make demos and get them out to people to play as soon and often as possible. Even if the only responses you get back involve things you already knew were wrong or things you were already planning to add, it’s always reassuring to know that your vision of the game’s direction is one that lines up with the audience’s.
Always be willing to take risks but understand that they’re called ‘risks’ for a reason. They have consequences and sometimes those consequences mean disappointment or even failure. That’s okay.
Every game ever made, even the most wildly successful ones that have established genres, franchises, and developers as titans of the industry faced valid criticism upon release. You will too. If that’s something you aren’t prepared to deal with, prepare for it, because it’s coming.
Remember that the first person you need to impress with your game is yourself. If you don’t like it, odds are no one else will. Even on days when the game is a broken mess and nothing is working right, you need to be able to see past the awkward gestation to see the thing of beauty that it will become and trust in yourself and your team mates that you will be able to make it real.
Lastly, the hallmark of a great developer isn’t someone with the best ideas. It’s someone with the skills and confidence to make them more than something in their head or on paper.
Hero Boy will be available for Steam on the 28th October, 2017.
Niche Gamer regularly interviews developers on a variety of subjects—if you’re a developer and want to chat with us, please contact us!