7 YEARS IN THE MAKING… WELCOME A.N.N.E.
Foundat.io/n was recently lucky enough to sit down and chat with Mo, the lead developer behind Games By Mo. In the interview below, we dive deep into an exploration of what it means to be an indie game developer, by exploring Mo’s work on his most recent indie game titled A.N.N.E. Mo successfully raised just over $100,000 on Kickstarter for this game. As you’ll soon learn, all of his hard work paid off. However, before we jump into the interview, take a moment and watch the trailer for A.N.N.E below.
First, thanks for joining us today Mo. Before we dive into indie game development topics, can you kick the interview off for us by telling us a little bit about what the game of A.N.N.E is about and where the idea came from?
I have been working on small games and prototypes at home after school and work since 1999. Alone and with friends. Collaborating with cool people online. I was always looking for my chance to work on one of my own projects. I’ve been working as a 3D artist in film and video games since 2001. Then in 2010 I contacted a nice indie developer online (Peposoft) and he introduced me to some cool nice 2D engines like multimedia fusion and game maker. I worked on small projects and practiced for a bit and than at the end of 2013 I was starring at my Snes game library and was craving for a game that just didn’t exist that would combine my two favorite game genres. It’s been done on smaller scale before, games like Guardian legend, Blaster Master, are big influences also.
How long did A.N.N.E take to develop? Is it your first released game? Tell us what a typical day in the trenches of working on the game looked like. How many people worked on the game? What were the hours like? Give us a breakdown of a typical work day.
A.N.N.E is going to be 7 years old in September when we hopefully come out of Early access. Every year has been very different. I was alone for almost 4 years with the occasional help from a few friends, brothers and cousin helping with code, animations, booth and events and accounting. I started with a prototype I assembled in two months and had a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013 that sustained production until 2015, then my wife helped me financially while I worked on acquiring additional funding from the Canada Media Fund which landed in early 2016. At that point I hired a programmer and we switched to unity (essentially starting from scratch on the code side). The original version was running too slow, I wasn’t a good enough programmer. Then we got a few interns helping out with assembling game objects and I outsourced some art and animations to some awesome guys down in Brazil. Essentially I am the only one who has been fulltime on the project since 2012 and for the last 3 years we’ve been in average 3 at the studio, me, Seb (programmer) and Nic (tester/social media ninja). I invite you to visit our site to see everybody involved with the project.
So you switched around game engines a bit. But now you’ve settled on Unity. Are you 100% sure?
I started in multimedia Fusion 2. Since I was a 3D artist by trade I and wasn’t interested in staring at code all day. I did take some C++ back in college but that convinced me that I was more of an artist. Unfortunately my initial version became too slow and unplayable. It got too complex and hard to optimize, so once I received funding I quickly decided to jump into Unity and do things properly. So for the past 3 years we’ve been remaking the game inside unity. In the process a lot of features have evolved and the physics engine is much more optimal and powerful so all in all it was a good decision for us. However, it has made the wait very long for our backers and fans.
You used Kickstarter to help you get the game funded. You raised just over $100,000 from your campaign. First of all, Congratulations. Second of all, what the heck is your secret? Joking aside, can you tell us a little bit more about your strategy for creating such a successful campaign? What were some of your major takeaways from the process? What advice would you give to other indie game makers looking to use the platform to help them fund their games?
That was the golden age of indie games. Timing. I think the pitch video, the game trailer and game concept really made the KS campaign a success. I did so many takes for the video with my wife directing my performance… The best advice I can give to an indie who wants to work on a game without stress is to have a part time or fulltime job and work on a game after work or after school. You can do a full game like that outsourcing the elements you do not want to do (art, sounds, fx, code). You could also simply do small game prototypes and submit them to publishers or crowdfunding campaigns. I don’t know if game jams are still a thing but those are great too hone your skills and to meet some of the best game devs out there and maybe forge alliances or get known.
Now, let’s take a moment and speak out the indie game making scene in general. Indie game makers often look at each other for inspiration to help them keep their momentum going. Who are particularly inspiring or important figures for you in the indie game making scene? These people could be indie game devs or indie game studios. Essentially, what other indie game devs are pushing the limits of what it means to be indie? Who has helped you through the process and inspired you to become the indie game maker you are today?
I try to stay away form other projects to make sure I do not get influenced in some ways. I try to simply conjure the emotions and feeling I felt playing Nes and Snes games. Game creators that had a big impact on me are guys like Fumito ueda ( ico, Shadow of the Colossus…), Shigeru Miyamoto (Mario), Hironobu Sakaguchi (FF), Fromsoftware (since king’s Field 1). In the indie scene there’s James Petruzzi from Bitkid who’s been a good friend and advisor since he essentially went through everything I am going through he’s been helping me with some great advice. The Ackk Studio guys, Sauropod studio, Tribute games, Compulsion games, Peposoft, Berzerk, etc… I am leaving too many behind but listing everyone would make a very long list. Too many nice and talented indies out there! Then in terms of cranking my motivation to 200% to go indie there’s Studio pixel (Cave Story) and team meat (Super Meat Boy) that showed the whole world that there was still a demand for quality 2D games.
How did you learn how to make video games? Did you attend a game design school? Or are you self taught?
Self taught. I have been fiddling with game engines since 2001. I also did learn a lot while working in the industry as a lead 3d artist. Working with designers, programmers, level designers etc… I am a goal driven person so I always learn what I need to know at the moment I need to know it. I did so many different things I had never done before working on my own games and I don’t remember all of it because some of these things were needed only once. But you have to be willing to try and learn, try and learn. Sure you can learn about game design theory (loops, sign and feedback…) all your life but in the end you can only truly learn by making game prototypes and seeing what works what doesn’t work and by doing something you love to play yourself. Or you can puke a different ios game every week about a ball bouncing on cubes and hope that one of them make it big. That last option might be less demanding financially, emotionally and mentally than spending 7 years on one big project that may not succeed. lol
Tell us a little bit more about your plans for Games By Mo. Now that A.N.N.E is nearing completion will you stay in video game marketing mode for a little while longer or are you already itching to make your next game?
I am burnt. Releasing in early access has given me a new burst of motivation to finish A.N.N.E and it’s been a breath of fresh air to share what we’ve been up to for so long. I have a lot of ideas for what could be next. But I will make sure to get the community involved a lot sooner for the next project(s).
Speaking of marketing, what have been some of the best strategies or platforms you’ve used to help you acquire new players and grow your audience?
I haven’t been very active on the marketing side yet but we are starting slowly. We are hoping that to get a mention on gaming websites and youtubers/streamers. We also want to get on consoles by the end of this year. But otherwise Facebook and YouTube ads have been the main focus and eventually if we have an ios android version we’ll run mobile ads.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. A.N.N.E. is a truly inspiring game and I know members of our audience will deeply appreciate your insight and help. So thank you! To our audience, if you’d like to pick up an early copy of A.N.N.E you can do so over on Steam here.