The Indie Showcase is a chance to see some of the best new and upcoming titles from the ANZ development scene with past winners including celebrated games including Hollow Knight, The Gardens Between, Hacknet, Objects in Space, Infliction and many more. This year will be no different and Player2 encourages anyone visiting PAX AUS to make their way to the PAX Rising area and check out the following title as well as the many other excellent indies on display.
PAX AUS Indie Showcase 2019 – Death Hall
Thomas Janson/Gareth Wiecko
Developer Thomas Janson has the honour of winning a spot in the PAX AUS Indie Showcase twice now – first for his challenging iOS title Wave Wave in 2014 and now for his slightly mellower action-platformer Death Hall, also for iOS. Player2 writer Stephen del Prado caught up with Thomas to ask about the development of Death Hall and his second appearance in the Indie Showcase.
Stephen del Prado: Thanks for agreeing to the interview Thomas – it’s been a few years since we covered Wave Wave back in 2014. How long after finishing up with it did the concept of Death Hall come to you?
Thomas Janson: After finishing Wave Wave in 2014 I worked on a heap of bad prototypes in my spare time, while looking to break into the animation industry. Eventually I started working on promising little platforming game in 2016. At the time I wanted to work on a small and achievable project. However, once I decided that I was going to see the game’s development through to the end, I figured I was in no rush and I was enjoying the process, especially the animation side of things, so I went with the flow and built the game into what it is today.
SDP: Were there any particular industry trends or other titles that inspired you before or during its design process?
TJ: Not particularly. If I make a game in the future that I’m serious about becoming successful, I might put my ear to the ground and do some more research on genres and style. I do look around to see what’s popular and what people are enjoying in the current moment, but when I work on my own games I like to find an idea that I’d like to explore and make my own, and run with it. I don’t think Death Hall fits perfectly into the endless runner, rogue-like, or one-hit-kill game genres that have had megahits like Tiny Wings or Geometry Dash. I built a core mechanic of being chased non-stop by a monster through a series of levels, and designed the health system, jump system and enemies around that. I think to follow industry trends I would have to swing towards making the game easier, or harder. Death Hall sits somewhere in the middle, offering a very solid challenge but not completely ridiculous, so I think it has a strange no-mans-land niche appeal rather than a bullseye appeal, if that makes sense.
SDP: What was the collaboration process like between you and Gareth?
TJ: Gareth was absolutely awesome! He’s a very talented, passionate musician and I’m lucky to have met him. We collaborated for 6 months on 7 main tracks and a slew of other ambient pieces to beautifully fill out the game’s atmosphere. When we started together I was trying so hard to sound knowing and professional, but my understanding of music broke down, and I would offer feedback like “Can you make this bit louder? Oh, and also make this clang here more obvious!” Haha. It was super fun though because in the end I was able to leverage my understanding of mood, rhythm, and the overall creative process (as an animator), to work with Gareth so he could totally bring the game to life. I was so excited when we settled on the first few tracks and I dropped them into the game. Hearing the music working with the game for the first time was immensely satisfying.
SDP: How does it feel to be appearing in the Indie Showcase as a returning winner? Is it just as thrilling the second time around?
TJ: To be selected as part of indie showcase is amazing, and to be a returning winner is just a little bit nuts! Seriously, it’s thrilling, except this time around I know what to expect, so instead of being super nervous I’m super excited.
SDP: Both Wave Wave and Death Hall have demonstrated how deft you are at creating engaging titles that make excellent use of a touch interface. Do you have plans to focus on other platforms in the future or is this an area you have a preference for?
TJ: Thank you! I try put a lot of effort into the controls of my games. Bad controls can easily ruin a game. I’ve only made iOS games up until now because it is an accessible platform and is conducive to smaller game projects (even though it took 3 years to develop Death Hall…). I have a small iOS game in the works, which is sort of a decompression exercise after Death Hall, to fulfil my self-promise that I will make a simple, easy game. So far it’s going well. Beyond that, I have a very special game I’m itching to work on, which would be a PC/Console game. I’ve started to learn Unity so I can build a prototype, and then I’ll start pitching to publishers when the time comes.
SDP: Death Hall has had a very positive reception from many outlets – has this translated to sales? What would you say the challenges are for titles like Death Hall to stand out in the crowded mobile marketplace?
TJ: I’m really happy with the reception Death Hall had on release. Good press certainly translates to sales after launch, but I think the overall honeypot for premium mobile games is very small. I haven’t made back development costs yet, but several months after releasing the game I’m still getting 2-6 downloads each day which is totally awesome!
I think the greatest challenge of game development at the moment, particularly mobile game development, is publishing. There are so many developers and so many games it boggles the mind. Having a strong publisher to take care of a game’s online presence, marketing, and launch is vital. Going forward, if I keep making games, I’ll definitely be looking to form a relationship with a good publisher.
I approached a couple of indie publishers with Death Hall, but it wasn’t to be. I realised I’d have to go solo, so I did the best I could with what I had. It seems that with premium mobile games, publishers are looking for the next Apple award winning game, or nothing. Honestly, I think they’re onto something.
SDP: Do you think the fact that Death Hall is already available for purchase gives it an advantage at events like PAX AUS?
TJ: There may be some players with familiarity and a point of entry with Death Hall, but I suspect that exhibiting at PAX works best for console and PC games that have not been released, and are trying to drum up interest and support. Death Hall is a mobile game (very different market) that has been available for several months and has passed it peak sales period, so exhibiting the game for me is more about showing players a good time than trying to sell units.
SDP: What can attendees look forward to at the Death Hall Indie Showcase booth?
TJ: I’ll have 2 devices running Death Hall, ready to challenge anyone who dares try and beat the first level!
SDP: Thanks so much for your time Thomas, I just have one final question before we wrap up – any tips or advice for Death Hall players like myself who are getting stuck early on?
TJ: My pro-tip is to never stop moving, and jump on lots of enemies!
It was whilst toiling away in the bowels of the now mythical Australian Gamer forums that Stephen del Prados attempts at writing were recognised by then up-and-coming Matt ‘Hewso’ Hewson as “not terrible”. Since then Stephen has contributed to such sites as The Age’s now defunct Screen Play, the recently retired Black Panel and currently serves under Editor-in-Chief Hewso for Player2.net.au, at least until the pattern of decline obvious in his previous engagements is picked up by Hewso and he is exiled from games journalism forever