Shawn Beck's Velocibox is a game with very humble origins: it started as a Ludum Dare game back in 2013, and now (with the help of LOOT Interactive) it will soon launch for the PlayStation and PS Vita this coming July 28th.
In this interview we asked him how the idea for Velocibox came about, the struggle with developing games in Malaysia, and also what he's doing to change that for the better.
Hi Shawn, can you introduce a bit about yourself and what is it that you do?
Hi there, my name is Shawn Beck. I'm a full-time indie game developer, life-time video game connoisseur. I've been making games professionally for the last four years in Malaysia with Velocibox the most prominent title from me to date.
It's been a while since we've heard any news from you (and a year since the release of Velocibox). What have you been up to?
Mostly catching up on my sleep (laughter). The release of Velocibox has really opened up the doors to the industry. I've met so many great people and they've given me the opportunity to work with the rapidly growing game industry we have here in Malaysia.
I've been spending my time working as a games consultant for schools and other game developers, and have recently volunteered as a committee member of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), Malaysia.
It's been really rewarding working with students and young indie game developers such as myself to organize meetups and get involved with game jams. The amount of knowledge, ideas and creativity in this region is just astounding.
On my own game side I've created a number of small games but I would say my biggest focus now would be me porting 'Velocibox' over on the PS4. The release date is July 28th so keep an eye out for it!
On your Twitter account profile (@shawnbecktp), you wrote that "going indie ruined your life". What do you mean by that?
It's really just an exaggeration of my state of uncertainty about the future at the time. In my first few years of going indie with a friend, we couldn't really make ends meet. People in my social circles held stable jobs and started building lives I'd envy. The incertitude of continuing as an indie was a scary notion.
It wasn't until I decided to go solo a year ago that I started making progress. Even so, Velocibox was doing just enough to support my my very humble Malaysian lifestyle for a year which seems like a great start considering it took only a few months to make the game. But I've always considered Velocibox to be just a stroke of luck.
A year after Velocibox, things started to pick up. Velocibox was proudly featured on Humble Bundle and is finally being ported to PlayStation. Things really turned out well eventually. So no, going indie didn't really ruin my life. It opened new doors to opportunities I never imagined.
How did you come up with the name "Velocibox"?
The name is a combination of the word velocity and the game's endearing cuboid avatar. I didn't give it much thought really. At one point, I wanted to rename the game to 'INVERSITY' which sounded edgier. But my buddy, JT Yean (who was the graphic designer and concept artist for the game) advised against it. I think it was a good call not to change the name since the simplicity of it would ensure it's unique standing.
What inspired you to make Velocibox? What was the story behind it? And what software/programming language did you use to create and code Velocibox with?
I wanted to make a simple game, but I also wanted to make a game that would be challenging from start to finish. A tiny game, wherein its content remains relevant even after repeated plays. Something simple, elegant, challenging, fast, minimal and ultimately fun!
The original Velocibox was created using Unity on the 26th of April, 2013 for Ludum Dare 26 in 48 hours. After which, the concept was left to incubate for another year before its new three-week alpha build debuted on May 2014. The new Velocibox was inspired by a combination of Threes!'s aesthetics, Flappy Bird's phenomenal success and the unrelenting design of Terry Cavanagh's Super Hexagon which served as the key inspiration for the rest of the game's development.
Velocibox to my gamer senses housed the ideal mix of challenge and difficulty for any aspiring hardcore gamer.
How good are you at Velocibox?
Good enough! I can beat my own game if that's what you're asking. But I've always made it knowing there would be someone far better than me at my own game. So it's a little harder than I can handle, but still beatable (laughter).
How did the PlayStation port for Velocibox came about?
A PlayStation release was actually part of the original plan. However, since Sony didn't open registrations to indie developers in Malaysia at the time, I had no choice but to launch the game on Steam first. Not long after the game was released, it got the attention of LOOT Interactive who assisted with the PS4 and PS Vita port.
How well did Velocibox do in terms of sales and profit?
Looking at it a year after release, I think it did alright. Unfortunately, Malaysia doesn't have a tax treaty with the US so there's a really hefty withholding tax in the way.
How did Velocibox get to be a part of the Humble Weekly Bundle? Could you tell us the story and process behind it?
I emailed Humble Bundle after releasing Velocibox on Steam. Every month I was sure to pester them to give Velocibox a look. About six months later, my good friend Justin Ng from Gattai Games hooked me up with Humble after attending a HB party at GDC 2015. Not long after, I was contacted by their business team about including Velocibox in a bundle that was "a bundle that features some awesomely difficult games".
Lots of developers struggle with getting approval on Steam Greenlight. Do you have any advice for them?
Not really. I was simply lucky enough to have the game played by three popular YouTubers. I suppose it helps to have a demo of your game out in public and a clear message of what the game is about. For Velocibox, the tutorial taunted the players and set the stage for the difficulty of the game. That was something I've learnt from watching trailers for the Souls series - show people something they'd want to talk about.
In your opinion, why do you think Velocibox was as popular as it came to be? And what contributed to its success?
I'm not sure if I could consider Velocibox as popular or even successful (laughter). But YouTube definitely had a lot to do with spreading word about the game. That and a vast community of people who are constantly trying to prove themselves as 'real gamers'. Social media helps facilitate that vanity and pride. I still see YouTube videos of Velocibox being uploaded every week up until today, which is great!
Will there be a sequel to Velocibox?
No. Velocibox was designed with a reductive approach to keep to its original minimalistic theme. Making a sequel would be somewhat ironic.
Developing Games in Malaysia
Which indie developers do you look up to? (or inspire you)
In no particular order: Tim Schafer, Keiji Inafune (pictured right, with Shawn Beck), Daniel Cook, Derek Yu, Asher Vollmer, Terry Cavanagh, Jesse Schell, Henrik Johansson, Vlambeer, Team Meat, Supergiant Games and Klei Entertainment.
And what about local developers?
I'd have to say it would be Yi Wei P'ng of Kurechii and Nerdook, with the sole reason being that they don't compromise on the integrity of their games. I've seen it before and more noticeably now after working with other game developers on how easy it is to just follow a trend and create a similar or cloned game of something that is doing well right now. It's important to have your own identity and to set your own benchmarks in the industry, not to let someone set them for you.
What's your opinion on the state of the independent game development community in Malaysia?
Indie games in Malaysia are definitely growing, albeit rather slowly but we've got a supportive community and it's good to see the rising number of Malaysian made indie games. The main issue is as I've mentioned before, the temptation for indie game developers to focus more on making money rather than on creating unique experiences. In this way we're killing and limiting the creative spirit as more and more passionate artists morph into businessmen, which is just a little heartbreaking.
Except for a couple of success stories like yours, Kurechii Studio and Vertical Drop Heroes, the game development community in Malaysia is still playing catch up with our neighboring countries. Why do you think is the reason behind this?
I think we're blindsided by the success of other games. Everyone is trying to be the next Clash of Clans or Angry Birds. It only takes a moment to look at the vibrant community of indie games on Steam to realize the wide spectrum of experiences that video games can deliver. We need to honestly believe in the value of the experiences we're crafting and not be swayed by the allure of money-making design templates.
What do you think we can do to improve the situation?
The whole gaming community can get together to build a better ecosystem for game development. In terms of sharing experiences, facilitating more game jams (rapid prototyping) and even just keeping the momentum and inspiration going. I think we have yet to push ourselves as far as we can go, and there is a need to generate a bold fearlessness towards failure.
You've recently co-organized a Ludum Dare game jam event in KDU University College, Malaysia. How did that came about, and how was the response from the community? Can you describe the experience to us?
Game jams here were something Bazil from IGDA Malaysia had been hosting for many years at KDU. When I joined the team he handed over those responsibilities to me and together with the KDU student game development committee we were able to attract a total of around 40 attendees for the Ludum Dare game jam.
The game jam was mostly school-centric and as such the participants were mostly students from KDU. We plan to organize future game jams at other venues so to seem more institution-neutral and evangelize the practice to students all over the country. Our current plan is working with Multimedia University (MMU) to host Ludum Dare 33.
Are you working on anything new at the moment?
I'm working on Super SteamPuff with JT Yean at the moment. It is a minimalistic curtain-scrolling, side-shooting, online PvP game made for mobile and web. We're planning to finish this by Q1 of 2016.
The idea was to have a game where 4 players could play on a keyboard using just one button per person. The original SteamPuff was actually the product of my very first game jam. You can check out the original 2011 prototype here.
Of course! I do my best to participate in any major game jam events. Expect to see a couple more games from me before Super Steampuff launches.
What do you think you'd be doing if not making games for a living?
I'm sure whatever I choose to do, I'd yearn for that need to make just another game. I might go into teaching or training.
Where do you see yourself in five or ten years from now?
A sort of indie gamedev nomad travelling the world with a laptop and lurking in swanky cafes making games.
Do you have any advice for aspiring game developers out there?
I have a long list of advice. But if I had to pick one, I'd say take pride in the game you are creating. Craft an experience with values and goals that matter to you, and you'll find your niche and an audience who share and appreciate your vision.