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We Ask Indies: Kevin Ng, creator of Impossible Road going full indie

In this Q&A, Kevin talks about Impossible Road, going full indie, iterative design, favourite devs and even HBO!

Nico Saraintaris, Blogger

March 12, 2014

6 Min Read

Kevin Ng made Impossible Road, one of our favourite games on iOS. That game is pure genius. And Kevin is going full indie now! So here he answers our questions.


1. How long have you been making games?

I’ve been messing around with code and games since I was maybe around 7 years old? My first released game was a shareware title, “WormWorld" in 1993, back when I was 16 years old. It had 16 colours, which seems a lot by today’s retro standards.

2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.

I use a cloud-based To Do list for ideas so I can access it wherever I am. Having the list on my phone by the bed is handy. I just try to get small snippets down, which might get combined or rearranged months down the line - an idea for an art style might suddenly make sense with a game idea, for example, or a name might trigger something in an unrelated project. Keeping the ideas small allows them to be fluid and not too stuck in one direction, if that makes sense.

3. Impossible Road is such an interesting game. It encourages players to “cheat” using an exploit as a game design feature. Where did this idea come from? 

Thanks! The cheat mechanic was “found gameplay”. Once I had the rough prototype up and running, the act of jumping from one section of a track to another seemed too much fun to punish. And the thin line between euphoria and total disaster ending up defining the game. This is probably a good example of why I’m a big fan of game design through play and iteration rather than rigid design docs.

4. Impossible Road has a blue-and-white minimalistic look. Why? Do you like minimalistic games? What are your favourites?

I like the idea of minimalism in games. It strips everything down and lets you get to the important stuff. It keeps you honest as a designer and you find yourself asking tough questions of every element: does this fit the concept? Do we really need that screen? Can I reduce that idea down to its core? The art style seemed to fit this well. And it was a challenge too: is it possible to make an effective twitch game using negative space to portray the player? Although not strictly minimalist, I’d argue that games like Civilization and FTL share a lot of minimalist traits, namely the distilling of an experience into an efficiently honed but fully realised game. Boiling down the whole of human history into a few interlocking game systems is an impressive feat.

5. We've seen a lot of Let's Play videos of Impossible Road, some of them scoring more than 200 hundred points! What's your highest score? Do you think game devs need to be good at their own games? Why?

358. But I don’t think you necessarily have to be good at the game you’re working on. If you’re part of a team, it's good to have a range of game playing expertise across the group. However, if you’re a lone developer like myself, then yeah, you need to be pretty good at your own game.

6. What are up to now? Are you going full indie? Can you tell us something about your next project?

Last year, I went back to mainstream game dev at Ubisoft Montreal and shipped Assassin’s Creed IV. But it didn’t take long until I really started missing the creative freedom of indie. AC4 turned out great, but I had very little to do with that. Triple A dev requires huge teams of highly specialised people all painting within their respective lines, and I think perhaps I’m a little too childish to be like that. I like to dabble in different disciplines, and you can’t really do that in a big team. As a programmer, I didn’t even have Photoshop installed on my work machine, and that was killing me.

So I recently decided to return to indie full time. I haven’t announced my next project yet, but I do know there is something pretty exciting brewing for IMPOSSIBLE ROAD in the near future.

7. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?

I really liked Drei on iPad - great art style and I liked the seamless integration of your on-screen avatar in a touch controlled game without diminishing the speed and responsive feeling of direct manipulation, so I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on what Etter puts out next. Papers, Please always gets trotted out in these lists, but there’s a good reason for that. Games can provide a uniquely empathetic experience, and Papers, Please did a really good job of making you understand how a predominantly good person can become corrupt. So Lucas Pope, though I don’t envy him in having to follow that game up. Finally, I would be remiss not to include Terry Cavanagh. Super Hexagon certainly kicked doors open for IMPOSSIBLE ROAD, and is probably the archetype of the genre.

8. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now? Probably a bit too heavy, to be honest. I play a lot of mainstream games as well as indie titles. So whilst it might not be fashionable to mention, I do plough a shameful amount of time into FIFA. By way of repentance, I just finished Gone Home, and I’m trying to force myself to finish Amnesia. Also, I haven’t even finished Assassin’s Creed IV even though I worked on it. That game's all about getting sidetracked.

9. One last random question. If you could turn any videogame into an HBO series, what would it be an why? Hmmm. Suspicious. There was an epic and often surreal user review of IMPOSSIBLE ROAD on the App Store a few weeks back in which the writer “really hopes they turn this game into a movie or an HBO series”. I’m thinking now that maybe you wrote it? That would explain a lot.


*We Ask Indies is an initiative by Beavl, an Argentinian independent game studio putting some teeth into videogames. You can check all the interviews here (caricatures are made by amazing artist Joaquín Aldeguer!).

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