Always Sometimes Justin Amirkhani – Game Dev Interview
Always Sometimes Monsters was your first game, and was amazingly successful, to what do you attribute that success?
The biggest difference I’ve observed between my life and the lives of most game developers is that I did not start with a desire to make games in general. Instead, I wanted to make Always Sometimes Monsters specifically and learned how to make games in order to fascilitate the vision that had plagued me since its conception. While there is absolutely no wrong way to make a game, I do believe that having a central focused idea and a personal motivation to express that idea will drive you to achieve things you never dreamt possible. I cannot imagine myself finding success in making a game that does not satisfy some core part of my existence.
When everyone else (with a few exceptions) is making JRPG style games with RPGmaker you chose to instead make what could be described as an interactive story, why choose such an unconventional engine for such a game?
Initially RPG Maker was not our prime choice for game engine, but because I had goofed around with it in my youth it was the easiest to work with considering my personal lack of skill/knowledge. Having no education in game making whatsoever, we had to leverage what little competency we had and the engine helped us get started on our path without much effort. We could have told an arguably similar story through an equally easy visual novel experience, but I was always aware that the game would need the sort of exploration factor that can only really be offered with direct character control, so that was out of the question. In essence, we chose to use RPG Maker because it’s by far the easiest thing to use for beginners that could do what we needed.
Do you have any advice for people using rpgmaker in general?
The most important thing to remember is that the engine is just a tool, not a structure. There are no limits to what you can accomplish with it, if you’re willing to find the solution. So, don’t think of what you can do with the engine, but rather what you want to do with your game and let the tools follow you there. It’s not worth your time thinking constrained because you will not grow. Creating unique concepts, interesting ideas, and engaging experiences should be the focus of your time – not wondering what’s possible with the engine. It’s far too easy to assume something can’t be done just because you’ve been told so. My experience with the engine has proven that nothing is impossible.
Is there anything you would do differently in rpgmaker that make more sense in hindsight?
I find hindsight to be a worthless viewport – causality rules us all. However, going forward there are plenty of lessons to apply to any games we develop in RPG Maker. For example, we assumed it was impossible to have an active boxing minigame and thus developed our much-loathed turn based version. Knowing how to effectively use parallel processes, timed animations, and more opens up a world of more active possibilities. If there was one thing I really disliked about ASM, it was how passive the experience felt. Understanding how to use all the features of the engine will allow us to make a far more active experience possible for any future RM titles.
If you were to do it all again would you still go with rpgmaker?
Honestly, if I had the option to do anything differently, I would have put the effort in earlier and learned to use a more versatile engine. The amount of effort required to get the engine to do all of the things I want can be monstrous at times, and while I started with no knowledge about the technical side of game development it has since become clear to me it’s just a matter of effort. Given this knowledge, I would have taken a few extra months to properly teach myself the fundamentals of Unity and built the game in that.
All that being said, I’ve got no idea what that version of the game would look like. Frequently the limitations of RPG Maker brought us to interesting solutions that helped make the game really unique. Perhaps if I had followed this more conventional path that I idolize, the game might not have been very special at all.
We’re still waiting to see how the mobile sales have been but for something we once thought could never happen, I am shocked at how well it has been received. It’s not without its own technical issues – the last of which are being stamped out in our most recent update, but it’s progressed a lot from being an impossibility.
After we released ASM, we were put in touch with an expert who was able to develop a tool to get the game functioning on mobile. His particular brand of wizardry is completely foreign to me, so I won’t try to provide a technical breakdown of how it works. However, the game has not been ported to a new engine – that would have taken us a lot longer to accomplish but might have yielded smoother results. Still, it’s a very happy time for us.
What is in the future for you and vagabond dog?
Vagabond Dog continues its pilgrimage, we’ve got a few new titles in development that we’ll be revealing very soon. Our team of vagrants is growing and we are preparing to take on significantly larger scale projects.
As for me personally, I have continued to question life and reality in ways I believe will bring me new and interesting ideas to share through my games. Releasing ASM has brought me a confidence in my capability and so I waste less time on self-doubt these days. Seeing people adopt and discuss the concepts put forth by the game has given me a motivation to continue expressing all those crazy notions I never thought anyone else would understand. Going forward, I will continue to seek an understanding of my place within humanity through the process of game creation.
For more information on how Always Sometimes Monsters came about check out the article on Polygon: The Hard Road To Always Sometimes Monsters. You can find links to purchase the game at the Always Sometimes Monsters website, and be sure to check out the Vagabond Dog website as well.