In this week’s Tuesday Interview with an Indie Dev, we catch up with Nick Udell, creator and sole member of Udell Games. He occasionally receives help from his girlfriend, Rebecca, who tests new builds and sources assets for Nick, but otherwise his development is a solitary affair. What pushed Nick into indie game development, what is Steam Greenlight title Hyper Gauntlet all about, and how is he dealing with the challenges? Read on!
What got you into game development and how was Udell Games formed?
There were two formative moments for me, early on, that got me into programming games. The first was around age 10, when a teacher spotted that I seemed to enjoy the 2-week LOGO programming segment we’d been doing. He gave me a copy of LOGO for my own use. Initially I just made pretty fractal patterns with it, but eventually I started building ultra-simple (and incredibly poorly-architected) text-based adventures. I got bored of that after a while I think because I didn’t realise that it was possible to make a game yourself if you tried hard enough. To me, games were made by big teams with big publishers. I assumed you needed special, expensive software. I hadn’t even heard of the modding community until my second formative moment, around age 14.
I was playing Unreal Tournament with a friend when we accidentally opened up the game’s bin folder and found a link for the old Unreal Editor. We booted it up to see what it did, but didn’t really get much of an idea of what it was for. I was curious, though, so a few hours later I did some searching. Using the free resources on hand I began to build levels, awful ones at first, but eventually getting to something that was just about playable. Art and design were never my forte, but I was persistent. When UT2003 came out, I moved on to the newer engine, devouring documentation for the new design tools. I approached a few mod teams with my work, and joined a couple that never really got all that far. Eventually I joined the mod UnWheel, which was a total conversion mod that let you race cars. It was fun and new with a very friendly development team. I worked with them for 2 or 3 years, and we actually took first place in multiple categories of the inaugural Make Something Unreal contest. I was a bit awkward as a youth, so I’d never even told my parents I was doing this. I don’t know why; maybe I thought they’d be mad that their teenage son was communicating with random people on the internet. There’d been a few incidents around that time and it was a tense topic. You can imagine their faces when I told them what I’d been doing, and that I’d won $1,000!
You can imagine their faces when I told them what I’d been doing, and that I’d won $1,000!
After that, I continued level design and didn’t really touch the programming side of things, even in spite of the fact that at school I was studying mathematics and computer science, and securing a place at a top British university. After three years of programming training I started picking up DirectX and teaching myself the concepts of computer graphics. I was aware of other engines out there, but most of them had restrictive licenses, were pretty bare on features or mandated that I use C++ (a language I hate to this day). I made two versions of my engine and they were both pretty functional, but ultimately I found myself only ever making an engine, and never a game.
Reddit has a semi-regular game jam called the Bacon Game Jam, which I heard about as I was wrapping up engine 2. I’d been hearing a lot more about Unity and wanted to try it, so three days before the competition was set to begin, I opened up Unity and followed some tutorials. I entered the bacon game jam using Unity and needed a team name. I’m clearly not a creative namer, and so Udell Games was born.
Where did the name Udell Games come from, how did you go about choosing it as the name of your studio?
It was a last minute choice – Udell is actually my surname. I sometimes think it might be worth changing it, but it’s probably too late now.
When you aren’t developing indie games, what do you get up to?
I’m completing my PhD in medical imaging and computer science, and I also have a part time job doing C# Silverlight programming. On the pittance of free time I have left after that, I love watching comedies and films with my girlfriend, and actually playing games.
Could you tell us a little about Hyper Gauntlet ? What inspired you to make this game?
Hyper Gauntlet is a fast-paced arcade game. You constantly hurtle forwards at ever-increasing speeds and have to dodge the randomly-generated patterns of obstacles in your way. You get a slow motion button to help you through, but it doesn’t last very long. It’s a game about getting high scores and beating everybody else (and most importantly: your personal best).
(I have been playing a lot of Super Hexagon.)
What is your main vision of the game? Why will gamers fall in love with Hyper Gauntlet over any other game in its genre?
Immersion. Hyper Gauntlet’s first-person perspective lets me really emphasize the feeling of speed. Every time a block whizzes past you get a satisfying whoosh noise and your screen shakes with the turbulence. It’s quite difficult to create the illusion of speed in games (just look at Gran Turismo, for example) because camera placement often diminishes the sense of motion, but by putting the player right there, Hyper Gauntlet brings the obstacles at an alarming rate.
How did you go about designing and producing the game? Can you tell our readers a little more about your process and working methods?
I used Unity 3D Free to make Hyper Gauntlet. The entire 3D scene is built from very simple shapes and colours to help the player recognise obstacles and patterns. Sounds were sourced online from sites such as freesound.com and some were modified heavily in Audacity to get just the right noise from them. Particularly the game-over noise, which I time-stretched heavily to get the deep, distorted sound that greets you on your inevitable demise. The GUI was made with the NGUI package for Unity, the only paid asset for Hyper Gauntlet. It’s a library I couldn’t live without, and has easily cut the development time by a month. Any 2D art required was made by myself in Inkscape.
How are you finding the indie developer life so far? The biggest discussion we always have with indie developers is how hard it can be from a financial point of view. What is your solution?
My solution is to not rely on indie development for money. It’s very rare that a dev’s first game is financially viable. A lot of times, having a community is a more sure-fire way of selling a game than having a good game. If you’re a recognised name you’ll find it much easier to get media attention, and to get people to click that beloved buy button. Currently I’m supporting myself with part time work instead. If my games never take off, I don’t think I’d be upset nor would I stop making them, but if they do take off and full-time indie becomes an option, then I’d take it straight away. I love creating things, and I love making people happy, and that’s what this industry is. It’s a happiness industry.
Have you got any other projects in the pipeline you can tell us about – either in production or at the ideas stage?
I am working on a cyberspace space shooter. It hasn’t got a name yet, and I’m open for suggestions! I came up with the idea while playing Black Ice. I thought to myself – the internet is all about speed, and transport. Why does transport so rarely come into cyberspace games? And the space angle came from the fact that the digital space has no real dimensional restrictions. I’d make an n-dimensional space shooter if I thought it wouldn’t kill my players (and myself), but 3D will have to do. I’d say it’s about 1% done, so it’s definitely a longer project.
I also have a casual puzzle game called ZenCell. It’s like a cross between Sudoku and minesweeper and I could probably release it next week if I wasn’t so absorbed in working on Hyper Gauntlet and my space game.
If time and money was no object, what kind of game would you see yourself producing?
Star Citizen, probably. That sounds so exciting. My pet project has always been a space shooter. I love them so much and there’s a universe of possibility to enjoy there. My only change would be to add more mysticism to the whole affair. Space games are so very metallic and industrial in nature, and I’d like to see an organic, mystic approach, with the space equivalent of sea monsters and “here be dragons.”
Thank you very much for your time. We’d like to wish you the best of luck and hope we’ll see your studio release some great games in the near future! Keep us informed :)
I definitely will, thank you so much for helping me spread the word!
If you like what you’re seeing, Hyper Gauntlet can be found on Steam Greenlight.