Nightmares Made Reality – An Interview With Amon26
Twitter has been abuzz with talk of Amon26 lately – a quiet, solo indie developer who has built something of a reputation on the back of a series of deeply atmospheric horror/action games. While work continues apace on his newest and biggest release – Arrapha – times are tough, and money has become tight enough to threaten future development work. Almost instantly, some of the most influential speakers in the indie development scene lent their support. We decided to have a talk with him too, and let him share his thoughts on horror, storytelling, development on a shoestring budget and Cactus’ nipples.
IGM: Who are you and how did you get in here? I thought I locked all the windows!
Amon26: Amon26, I’m a do’er of things, and if there’s somewhere I really want to be, I somehow find a way in. By the way I broke your stapler. Sorry.
IGM: When did you first start making games, and what was your first real public release?
Amon26: I played around with game maker as far back as 2003, but it wasn’t until I think ’08 that I actually made something I thought worth sharing online. It was called All Of Our Friends Are Dead. A basic platform-shooter game where I tried to make the audience feel as uncertain in the world as I was while making it.
IGM: All Of Our Friends Are Dead was quite notable as a horror game – you gave the player a powerful weapon, but the situation they were in was still oppressive and unpredictable enough to be scary. What would you say makes a good horror experience for you?
Amon26: A lack of safety, by whatever means. I liked how the first and second F.E.A.R. games put the audience in a very stereotypical role and setting. Soldiers fighting soldiers, dock yards, offices, but the real threat and worry was when when the soldiers were gone, and a little girl you could not kill, or escape from, reason with, walked around a corner or crawled up to you in an air-duct. No bazooka, neurotoxin or gunship would help you.
IGM: Yeah, the later FEAR games – especially the third – almost made the ‘scary’ stuff a side-show, and amped up the power-fantasy side of things. Outside of FEAR, what are your personal favourite scary games?
Amon26: Castlevania 2 always had this weird bleak foreboding feel to it, even though it was more populated than 1, 3 or 4 with friendlies. I also enjoyed all the Fatal Frame games, I went and played the second one the other day, still makes me put the controller down sometimes.
IGM: All your horror-themed games seem to have a strong, unifying visual style. What inspirations led you to this look?
Amon26: It’s a subliminal mish-mash of the things my brain turns into nightmares. I deal with chronic and often surreal dreams of these horrible mentally scarring places populated with creatures that all seem like abhorrent copycats of human beings that have failed. As if the planet had some underground world full of disastrous things that covet our very existence. Things that sneak up from the core and take people away, trying to fill a hole in their being but failing. They live in forests and areas of the world long forgotten by man.
IGM: Creepy and mysterious in equal measures. Ah, that reminds me. I noticed that on Newgrounds, you actually provided a full ‘explanation’ for Gyossait, but your earlier games (at least for the audience) leave things far more up to the imagination. Is there any official ‘canon’ story behind AOOFAD or Au Sable, or is it just meant to be a discordant dreamscape?
Amon26: All Of Our Friends Are Dead was just total discord. I really encouraged people who enjoyed it to make up their own explanations and interpretations of that world. Au Sable I wanted to be a little more coherent A girl wanders off in a trance into the woods where even huntsmen dare not go, her sister goes in to find her. Turns out something wrong lives inside there and consumes any and all living beings. Kind of like a shut-in boogeyman content to never leave, but longing to clutch the living so that it may have something of value.
IGM: Spooky. On that note, you’re working on a new game now – Arrapha – and it sounds like it’s the biggest thing you’ve done so far, and arguably the most traditional. Tell us about it!
Amon26: Well, I’ve always liked games that tell a good story, and i’ll be the first to admit I’m not known very well for that. Arrapha’s my attempt to challenge that and create something that fans would enjoy while treading into new waters and giving it some character, humanity, and humour. It started off as a conversation between myself and my girlfriend. We were discussing the characters Gomez and Morticia, how their personalities seemed starkly different but they were undoubtedly a pair made for each other –
IGM: Anything inspired by the Addams Family – even tangentially – automatically gets some bonus kudos from me.
Amon26: – and then it melted into a conversation of “those would be interesting foils in an adventure game. Two characters, with maybe even a hero/villain relationship playing a game of cat and mouse, with the hero being this cocksure, red blooded man’s man with a sense of flair butted up against a female villain who seems very disconnected, bored almost, but wields an unfathomable power like it was a novelty item. Yet can’t seem to destroy him. An unstoppable force hits an immovable object – that sort of thing.
IGM: Ooh, an interesting (and potentially funny) premise. I’m suddenly reminded of the banter between the protagonist/villain duo in the Orcs Must Die games – similar setup, with a Bruce Campbell-esque doof squaring off against a powerful sorceress.
Amon26: Never played that. I ought to check it out. Hopefully I’m not accidentally stealing more than I thought.
IGM: It’s only just the most superficial of similarities. Doubt you have anything to worry about. Back on the subject of Arrapha, how would you describe it in terms of gameplay?
Amon26: It’s very much a throwback to NES style action/platform adventure games. I’m a sucker for (as mentioned before) Castlevania, along with Ninja Gaiden, PowerBlade, Contra. I think those formulas are simple, but perfect scaffolding for telling interesting stories. The color palette’s are designed with this in mind as well. I’ve had to force myself to work with less colours than in Gyossait and its an interesting limit. I’m all for finding new gameplay mechanics and stories to tell with games, but I also feel like a good story is like a good joke. As long as you don’t tell it too often and find new ways to tell it, then why not?
IGM: On the technical front, what tools and software do you use to make your games? What engines/platforms have you found most success with? And what package, if any, would you recommend to a complete novice wanting to get into creating games? Will I ever stop nesting questions within questions?
Amon26: Oh, there’s so many awesome middleware packages out there nowadays. Its really cool to see. I’ve been using Stencyl as of late, but I also really enjoy GameMaker. They have huge communities of people willing to help newcomers and especially with Stencyl. As for my other tools, I use an antiquated version of Photoshop, FL Studio for music, a combination of SFXR and Goldwave for sound FX.
IGM: I’m just poking around the newest version of GameMaker myself. I’m such a beginner that I can’t even imagine how commercial stuff like Hotline Miami gets made, though.
Amon26: Blood. Sweat. And tears. And Swedish.
IGM: Well, yes. I’m fairly sure Cactus isn’t human.
Amon26: I checked, he’s not. Humans aren’t supposed to have nipples there, and –
IGM: – and that’s all I’m going to let you say on that subject, lest I have to sacrifice 1D4 sanity points. So, back on the technical front, what would you recommend for a newcomer?
Amon26: I’d suggest GameMaker. Stencyl’s become my favourite personally but it’s still very young and there’s a few nuances to it that could throw a newcomer for a loop.
IGM: Yeah, heard good things about Stencyl, but GM seems to be more established and supported. Outside of the choice of tools, what advice would you give to anyone wanting to break into game development on a shoestring budget?
Amon26: Start off by making bad games on purpose. Its easy, encourages experimentation, and the results can be hilarious. If you start off taking yourself seriously or expecting you’ll be the next indie game darling it’s going to be bad news. Have fun with your ideas, don’t take your work too seriously and so on. Basically, games are fun, and if you’re not having fun with the game you’re making, it’ll show through in the final product through-and-through.
IGM: Wise words! If you don’t want to mention your financial troubles, that’s fine, but I did notice a lot of the heavy-hitters and influential speakers in the indie scene (Anna Anthropy, Terry Cavanagh, Jonas Kyratzes, etc) stepping up to bat for you. I think there’s a definite sense of community in indie development, despite some claims otherwise. Any thoughts on that?
Amon26: I’m very flattered and fortunate to have made some good connections, both personally and professionally. I can’t chalk that up to anything more than luck and the generosity of these people. Most of them have had to scrape and fight and kick and punch for every inch they’ve had to get, so when one of them sends out an S.O.S (as I’ve had to as of late, unfortunately) it gets passed on.
IGM: You may not have the biggest commercial presence out there, but it seems that a lot of people know your name.
Amon26: It seems so! It’s weird – sometimes I’ll start a conversation with someone in my town who plays a lot of games and the discussion will eventually come around to what I do and what I’ve made. On more than one occasion I’ve had someone in my town go “I PLAYED THAT” and my first reaction is “YOU PLAYED THAT?!” I’m like a really good kept secret online. That’s pretty neat!
IGM: The worst-best-kept secret of the internet! And on a closing note, anything you want to say to our readers and/or the internet at large? Get up on that soapbox and preach!
Amon26: Play games, make games, but do other things as well. Take up fly-fishing, or learn more then any natural human should know about how television sets work. Participate in a community play or do pro weight lifting. Don’t let what you do define who you are, but how you do it.
IGM: And on that rather uplifting and inspirational speechifying note, we end. Thanks for your time!
You can find more of Amon26′s work on his site, along with all his games to date, and his Paypal donation box. Keep an eye on IGM in the near future for further news on Arrapha, which is shaping up to be something rather exciting.