Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We believe they deserve a wider audience with the Joystiq Indie Pitch: This week, developers Zach Hinchy and Joe Pierce of The Layabouts describe the beauty in monochromatic simplicity with their PC, Mac and Linux title Here Comes Launchman.
What’s your game called and what’s it about?
Zach Hinchy: Our game is called Here Comes Launchman. You play as the titular Launchman, an explorer for hire, who has been commissioned to explore the mysterious Puzzle Planet. It’s a physics-centric puzzle-platformer with unique gameplay mechanics that allow the player to launch themself through the air like a rocket in any direction and manipulate objects telekinetically.
Describe your experience as a featured indie developer at Minecon 2011: how has it affected your industry perspective, networking abilities or development style?
ZH: Minecon was certainly one hell of an experience. We are admittedly a bit disappointed that Mojang didn’t do very much to publicize the Indie Dev Theater and the associated kiosk area. However it was great to get some real in-person feedback about what aspects of the game do and don’t work, and it was fantastic to network with awesome indie game people who were there, like Petri Purho and Terry Cavanagh. (Fun side note: Previous Indie Pitch spotlight A Valley Without Wind was the demo kiosk directly facing ours. They were cool guys!)
What inspired you to make Here Comes Launchman?
Joe Pierce: For a while we were doing daily updates on our site. This restriction resulted in us pursuing a lot of wacky ideas and experimenting with what exactly could be done with such short notice.
ZH: One day, no one was around to follow through on any of that day’s plans, so I joked, “hey Joe let’s make a game in six hours.” But then we actually did it! We made a game called The Amazing Launchman, which serves as this game’s prototype – the core concept just arose from us trying to think up a substantially unique concept that was implementable in that short time.
The monochromatic art style and the soundtrack both add a layer of cool over Launchman – who is responsible for these?
ZH: The monochrome art style was another interesting component of the game that came out of “let’s go make a game in six hours.” Of course, it used to be very simple pixel art, but we discovered the game translates far better to clean lineart instead. Joe does most of the art right now, but other members of our team will also be contributing as time goes.
JP: Working within the monochromatic limitations has been challenging to say the least, but I can’t say I haven’t had fun with it either! As for the soundtrack; the majority of it is the work of our good friend Chronos Regex. He joined the team a few months into the project’s development, and we couldn’t have asked for a better person to collaborate with.
What’s the coolest aspect of Launchman?
ZH: Launchman’s coolest feature is the huge amount of freedom of movement you’re allowed. The unique controls combined with your signature abilities (launch, air brake, telekinesis, ricocheting, wall sliding…) make for a pretty unique gameplay experience.
JP: I’m a big fan of a lot of the things that haven’t even made their way into the game yet! We’ve got a pretty absurd fiction and cast of characters in mind, and hopefully they turn out as endearing in the end as they are in our mind’s eye.
Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?
JP: I think it’s the freedom more than anything that makes us want to pursue this path. We have humongous amounts of crazy, interesting and risky ideas for projects we’d like to do in the future, and the only way we’re confident that we’ll be able to explore those ideas to their fullest is to work independently. It also seems to be increasingly harder to land a job in this industry without some prior industry experience, even with a degree. Speaking personally, I don’t feel I have much to gain from going to school for game design, at least not at the moment, and the investment of all the time for less creative freedom at a proper studio hardly seems worth it.
The Layabouts has an impressive lineup of developers and games – how do you support yourself as an indie developer? Any advice for emerging indies?
JP: We’re at most about as informed and prepared as most other indie upstarts, which is to say not very! The best advice I can give to anyone wanting to be an indie dev is for them to make as many friends with as many like-minded and talented people as they can. The majority of us at The Layabouts met when we were in early high school, and we started with just six people. Now we’re at 15, and we got to this point by reaching out to people we knew whenever we needed additional support. None of us are making any money off these endeavors right now, mind you.
ZH: Right – even though not every project we make uses all of our talents, we’d be in a very different place right now if we had to contract out work, if we’d even exist at all. So, we’ve operated as just a sort of collective in the meantime, and working on the side to support ourselves individually. We’re now banding together to get our first commercial project done (this), which will hopefully go on to make money that’ll help support more projects after that. That’s the plan, anyway; as stated, we really are just sort of jumping in and figuring it out as we go. Every day, every idea, every line of code, every bit of press is a new learning experience.
Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?
ZH: Of course. Digital distribution is opening the doors for people with bright ideas to be able to make an impression on the world. That’s pretty heavy stuff when you think about it. I really couldn’t have asked for a better time to be born.
Sell Launchman in one sentence:
Launchman is a physics-puzzle-platformer where you can rocket-launch yourself through the air at high speeds, with a distinctive art style and awesome electronic soundtrack.
ZH: We’ve released the first general-availability alpha demo of the game. After that is the fun part – design lots of levels and program tons of interesting level gimmicks. We’ve been mostly polishing and perfecting the same basic content since Minecon, so implementing entirely new ideas will be a nice change of pace.
JP: I’ve been keen on making sure that our gimmick ideas play well with the core mechanics. Big iron blocks that can be pushed with a powerful launch, moving platforms, various bouncy, sticky and slippery surfaces, ropes, chains, magnets and plenty of things to grab and throw and knock over. These are just a few of the things we’d like to try out, so now that we’ve got the basics in place and polished up it’s really just about launching everything we can at the wall and seeing what sticks.
Here Comes Launchman is available for PC, Mac and Linux as a pre-alpha build here. Jump on it now!