Back in April we were fortunate enough to give rock-hard puzzler Binaries a go at EGX Rezzed. We’ve been talking to its creator, Ant Workshop, about the game, VR, modding and Hollywood - enjoy!
What inspired you and your team during the development stage?
Binaries came about mainly because I really like games like Super Meat Boy and n+, but I’m awful at them. There are a few genres like that, where I really love the idea of them but I’m just terrible - skateboarding games are another. Anyway, I figured I could either put a lot of time into mastering someone else’s game, or I could make my own and be good at it because I would know the layouts of all of the levels, and I could tailor it more to my skills. That’s why Binaries is a bit slower paced than the immediate references, I wanted something that people like me could slowly figure their way through, rather than something that’s based heavily on keeping your momentum going.
The idea for the colour scheme came about from an old blog post, I can’t remember where, about how Hollywood was too fixated with colour grading its films and posters to blue/orange. Having two characters I needed a pair of colours that were really distinct from each other and they fit the bill perfectly!
Can you tell us about your team at Ant Workshop?
So, I’ve been in the games industry since I left university in 2000, it’s basically the only full time job I’ve ever had - I went straight into a level designer role based off a portfolio of Quake, Half-Life Counter-Strike maps I’d built in my spare time (when I should have been studying, probably). In my time I’ve worked at about half a dozen companies, including a number of Rockstar studios, and a stint for ActivisionBlizzard’s mobile. After 15 years I had too many ideas built up for things I wanted to play that weren’t getting made, and decided to do the indie thing. Ant Workshop is based in Edinburgh, which is really great because Scotland has a really strong local development scene and everyone’s very supportive. We’re a small company - it’s basically me and a bunch of collaborators that I’ve met working at previous companies.
"I think games are in a pretty great place right now - no matter how you like playing stuff or what your lifestyle is, there’s a gaming device that suits..."
How difficult is it for indie developers in this current market? Can you take artistic risks and still make a profit? How helpful are shows like Rezzed in creating buzz, and more importantly, sales?
I think it is tough to get visibility on your game. The flip side of tools becoming so much easier to use and consoles opening up to smaller developers is that a lot more games are being released and competing for attention. Unfortunately this is happening at the same time as websites are finding it harder to generate revenue so there are fewer writers covering stuff, and a lot of the bigger sites are doubling down on covering stuff they think will get a lot of hits. So you end up in this chicken-and-egg situation where you have to get coverage to prove that people will be interested in articles covering your game. Thankfully this is where youtubers and the like come in, they’re generally a lot better at covering smaller stuff. We’re also seeing Valve gradually making changes to Steam to make the front pages a lot cleverer in how they show each individual player stuff that’s relevant to them.
Personally I’ve found consumer shows great for chatting to players, and if you have a game that’s at the right stage of development they’re invaluable for getting feedback. I’m not sure they’re great for driving sales though - the numbers just don’t stack up in terms of how many people could actually play your game over a 3 day event.
What advice would you give to someone looking to work in the video gaming industry?
I would imagine the free availability of professional-quality tools now is brilliant for folks wanting in. Like I mentioned, I had to make maps and mods for other games to prove my abilities - these days there’s nothing stopping you making a full game in Unreal, Unity or GameMaker, and you’d have an amazing portfolio piece to show off.
Where do you think the industry is heading? Is VR the future in your opinion?
I think VR is very cool, I still struggle to see it being totally mainstream. I think games are in a pretty great place right now - no matter how you like playing stuff or what your lifestyle is, there’s a gaming device that suits that. I can’t really see everything moving back to a situation where there’s one strongly dominant format.
What game(s) have had the biggest affect on your life, and why?
This is tough! So Quake and Half-Life undoubtedly got me my actual “in” to the games industry, but the machine that really cemented my love for games was the Amiga. It just blew me away what could be done on that machine. I’m not sure I could pinpoint an exact game on it though, there’s so much choice!
What does the future hold for Binaries & Ant Workshop?
Having launched it on Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac and Linux this year, I think we’re pretty much done with Binaries at this point. I’m really happy with the game, and players have been really enjoying it, but equally I’ve put so much energy into it that I need to step back and leave it for a bit (I do have a title for a sequel though - Binaries 10).
Ant Workshop’s currently working on two new games - one is a mobile single touch “runner”, where you hop from planet to planet escaping an exploding sun. The other is a twin-stick shooter that’s sort of a combination of Luigi’s Mansion, Nuclear Throne, and the film Die Hard.
If you were on a desert island (it has power) and could only take one console, what would you take, and why?
It’d be a toss-up between the Xbox 360 and the PS4. Possibly the latter would just edge it out as I’ve only just started on Fallout 4 so that would keep me going for a long time!
Thanks to Tony at Ant Workshop for talking to us. Binaries is available now on Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac & Linux.
Curious to hear our thoughts on the game? Then it's a good job we took it for a quickie!