Super Icon Ltd’s Rich Hill-Whittall is no stranger to the indie world; as well as making games he’s also the writer of The Indie Game Developer Handbook. Rich was good enough to discuss current game Life of Pixel, falling out with Sony, the tribulations of the industry, the SNES, and being inspired by his son to create new game Best Buds vs. Bad Guys with us. Enjoy.
What inspired you and your team during the development stage? Was the educational side of the game there from the beginning?
First and foremost the systems themselves, and their graphic limitations. Then the games we grew up with. While designing Life of Pixel, I wanted to pay homage to as many of those games as I could. Several levels have themed sections with nods to many different games, such as Uridium, Paradroid, Castlevania, Jet Set Willy, Exolon, Ghosts’n Goblins, Rick Dangerous, Sonic, Super Mario, Monty Mole, Blagger, Exile, Pitfall, Chucky Egg, Citadel, Megaman, Altered Beast, Streets of Rage. There are many more too.
The educational/machine info was added later in the development – just to give a little more info on each system for those unfamiliar with any of the machines.
Can you tell us about your team at Super Icon Ltd?
Super Icon was founded in 2012, initially working on PlayStation. We then started work on PC, releasing a couple of games onto Steam (Life of Pixel and Vektor Wars), later porting them over to Wii U. We also have Xbox One kits we are very keen to get all our games onto, and we are planning Vita versions too. We’ve done a lot of Playstation stuff over the years – going back before Super Icon was formed. We kind of fell out with Sony for a bit during a tough spell (my fault entirely), so I am looking forward to getting back onto Playstation and rebuilding a relationship with Sony.
We’re based in Cornwall, having recently relocated from London. The team is small, currently there are the 3 of us – Claire, who handles business development, Steve, who is our coder and myself, all things art/design/audio.
From time to time we also work with freelance artists and musicians, and the odd extra coder as needed.
How difficult is it for indie developers in this current market? Can you take artistic risks and still make a profit?
Eek – OK – I’ll be honest here, even though it isn’t perhaps a very inspirational answer.
From our perspective it is incredibly tough. We don’t make anywhere near enough in sales to pay a proper living wage to any of us. I think it is particularly tough if you have family – Claire and I (who are also married) have had to move out of houses a few times as we couldn’t afford rent, and the upheaval is severe. I love creating games, but really struggle with the marketing side of things and bringing in a regular cash flow. So many times we just haven’t really had enough money to even cover basic bills, which is frustrating as it slows development down.
I think as a studio we’re good at making games – and so far the three of us have developed and released over 30 games together on a variety of platforms. But we are crap at promoting and selling those games.
I think the best advice would be to work with others with a different range of skills – and if you are starting a studio find someone with either a good marketing background, or the "gift of the gab"...
What advice would you give to someone looking to work in the video gaming industry?
Hmmm… creatively it can be wonderful, incredibly exciting to realise your vision and very rewarding to get a game out to market. I think the best advice would be to work with others with a different range of skills – and if you are starting a studio find someone with either a good marketing background, or the ‘gift of the gab’ - someone who can get out there and engage with the players and effectively promote your game.
What game(s) have had the biggest affect on your life, and why?
Definitely Life of Pixel; it is the game players have enjoyed the most out of all the games I have created. That means a lot – to speak to people that enjoy playing a game you have made, especially as I loved creating Pixel so much. Even though financially it hasn’t really worked, I feel very positive about Pixel and the whole development process. I learned a lot, good and bad, and I am very happy we made Pixel.
Can you tell us about upcoming games Vektor Wars & Best Buds vs. Bad Guys?
Vektor Wars – do you remember the intro to Escape From New York? The glider bit with Kurt Russell looking at the wireframe city as he flew in? I never forgot that – I always wanted to play a game set in a proper 80s style neon drenched wireframe world. I wanted to shoot lots of stuff too – after Pixel I thought it was time to get some guns in, and what better to shoot than nasty evil robot invaders?!
So we have a retro arcade FPS, one with a unique aesthetic, a load of different guns and wave after wave of deadly robot scum to destroy!
Best Buds vs. Bad Guys – the idea came about from my son, Lucas and myself - we call each other Best Buds in real life, and we both thought it would be fun to create a game where we have to battle bad guys in a virtual world. This time I went back to late 80s, early 90s Arcades (there is definitely a theme to my game designs!). So we went with a pixelated 16-bit Arcade machine style, with plenty of modern touches including detailed background animation, multi-layered parallax backgrounds, weather and special effects.
It is a run ‘n’ gun with gigantic evil bosses and over 100 enemies to fight, many of which were drawn on paper or built in Lego by Lucas before getting pixelated and animated. Like Pixel, there are quite a few references to classic games, such as Ghosts ’n Goblins, Green Beret, Bionic Commando, Black Tiger, Karnov, Doom and loads more!
We’re in the later stages of development now, and are really trying to make something special.
If you were on a desert island (it has power) and could only take one console, what would you take, and why?
I think it would be a SNES. So many classic games, so many that I would still like to properly play through. I also think the SNES had some of the very best examples of pixel art – the extra colours it offered over the Amiga and Megadrive really made the difference.
Thanks to Rich and Claire from Super Icon Ltd. Life of Pixel is out now on Wii U, PC, Mac & Linux.