Interview with Immortal Rogue Developer Kyle Barrett

By Sam Jeffreys 21 Mar 2019 0

It's not often we get to do developer interviews these days, but thanks to the efforts of an interested reader, we're pleased to be able to share with you a Q&A with Kyle Barrett, solo developer on generation-hopping rogue-like Immortal Rogue (which we recently reviewed). This interview was conducted by Sam Jeffreys, a designer for Feral Interactive who happens to be a fan of PT and now Kyle's work. Sam is not an official staff writer, but he generously donated his time and his words to bring us this article. (ED)

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Pocket Tactics: How did you get started in game development?

Kyle Barrett: Well, I think the very first time I made a game I was about 10 and used the Age of Empires 2 scenario editor to make a little RPG for all of my friends to play. From there I started dabbling in GameMaker, the StarCraft editor, Morrowind mods, etc.

For some reason (probably because there was no real game industry where I grew up), I never thought making games could be a career. It wasn’t until I was over halfway through earning a degree in architecture that I had the idea to start sending out game design specs to my favorite companies. Eventually I got my foot in the door at a start-up in the bay area and the rest was history.

Pocket Tactics: Vampires, branching timelines, an elegant one finger control system... What came first, and how did everything fit into place?

Kyle Barrett: It was a combination of a couple separate ideas. One of those original design specs I created to try and get an industry job had this cool (or at least I thought it was cool) matrix that showed how worlds could evolve based on authoritarian factors and technological progress. I always wanted to put that in a game, ideally without a multi-million dollar production budget. I don’t remember where the vampire metaphor came from exactly, but it seemed like a great way to utilize a system with such a long narrative timespan.

The control system comes more from a personal challenge. Since I primarily work in mobile, I like trying to come up with control schemes that can provide dynamic gameplay with minimal touchscreen inputs. While there are pretty decent dual stick control schemes out there, they just don’t feel natural for a platform that doesn’t actually have buttons or joysticks.

Pocket Tactics: How long was the development time?

Kyle Barrett: Three months! I’m kind of proud of that. I knew I had three months where my work obligations weren’t going to be as intense, so I picked a concept I thought I could execute in that time period.

The first month was rapid prototyping and figuring out how the game would work. The second month I spent figuring out the art style and creating assets. The last month was spent importing the assets and polishing. It did take me a fourth month to fully launch the game, but that was because I neglected doing any marketing while I was focused on development.

Pocket Tactics: And what was your dev tool of choice?

Kyle Barrett: I used GameMaker Studio 2. While I mostly use Unity for industry work, GameMaker has always been my go to for rapid iteration and prototyping. It’s come a looong way since the ‘90s, and made a solo project much more feasible.

Pocket Tactics: Immortal Rogue is your second mobile title. What lessons did you learn from Ever Knight?

Kyle Barrett: Pretty much all the stuff that let me make Immortal quickly. How to work with the engine I was using, what animation tools and processes to use, the quirks of publishing on different mobile devices, etc. It probably took me longer to make Ever Knight than Immortal, even though EK is a much simpler game. The best advice I could ever give someone who wants to learn a game development tool is to just try making and publishing a simple project. I learned a ton.

Pocket Tactics: You have a full-time job in the games industry. How do you balance that with being a solo indie dev?

Kyle Barrett: I don’t have kids so that probably helps. But really, I think it’s about creating a habit and setting aside regular time blocks where you can work. For me, a few hours a night and larger chunks on the weekend seemed to work. I had to give up another hobby, but it was totally worth it.

It also helps if your bosses are cool and supportive (which mine totally were). Pro tip: mark down any game you want to make as a ‘previous invention’ when signing a job offer, so you can develop and own that project without making things messy for you or your company.

Pocket Tactics: What are your core design philosophies? What should every one of your projects have?

Kyle Barrett: That’s a tough one. For a personal project, I get excited if it has three things:

  • An enticing player fantasy or story that could stand on its own (like the story of a vampire living through all of history).
  • An addictive/novel core gameplay loop that works even in greybox. If I’m not playing the greybox in my free time then it’s probably not fun enough yet.
  • Systems that tie the first two elements together in a way that they enrich one another. So it’s sort of like a sandwich: Metaphor on top, core gameplay on the bottom, and systems in the middle.
  • Oh, and an art style that’s fun to draw…. So four things.

Pocket Tactics: I love seeing early concepts and prototypes. Is there anything you could share?

Kyle Barrett: The first few weeks went through a ton of changes as I figured out how the gesture controls and visuals would work together. I actually started with Ever Knight sprites. (Oldest to newest from left to right)

immortal knight prototype

Pocket Tactics: Any tips for indie devs on staying the course and keeping focused?

Kyle Barrett: I’m still pretty new to the indie side of things. I think just setting a small, achievable goal and following through is the first step. Also, prioritize! You don’t have to do everything; Find a simple mechanic or idea and build your game around that. Bells and whistles are fine but they don’t make a game fun if the meat isn’t there first.

Pocket Tactics: Why knights?

Kyle Barrett: Because they’re awesome! I was originally thinking the hooded character would be Immortal’s mascot, but I ended up liking how the knight armor looked too much. Also, a shout out to my friend Matt Elser (http://www.elserart.com/) for making the awesome splash art character.

Thanks again to Sam for writing this up for us, and thanks to Kyle for agreeing to be interviewed. 

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