Dreams, Pot, and Teens in Indie Development

We recently sat down with Steve Harmon, the man responsible for Awkward Dimensions Redux, an indie puzzle platformer for Linux, OSX and Windows that defies comprehensive description. The game is slated for steam release on the 21 st , and we took the opportunity to get a better perspective on what goes into small indie projects like this in terms of work and creative influences, and detail how a high-schooler in colorado took on this ambitious project:

Tell me about your experience in the games industry, how you see single developer indie projects, and your motivations for setting out on your own.
I've been making games independently for four years now, a little over a year ago I had the great opportunity to work as an intern programmer and wave designer for a local studio here in Boulder, CO called Serenity Forge on a game called Pixel Galaxy. It all started in the 8th grade with a friend of mine named Matisse who was at the time messing around with the JavaScript console, and there it was the gateway drug to programming. We'd change websites around, and make faux viruses in the school library for fun. Eventually, I found unity and we pushed each other through a friendly rivalry to make better games. We were self-taught, helping each other out when either of us needed help. I've been making games since then, and it really started as a way to play the games I wanted but couldn't afford so I'd just make a remake based on the trailer and now I'm using games as a sort of therapeutic process to vent. 

As for how I see single indie dev projects, as opposed to working in a team, is the fact that it's all up to you. And that is really scary at times, because I'm working with a lot of constraints. However, I think I've mastered the art of making bugs features to be expanded upon, which helps. I guess it's mainly, if I make something I don't have to worry about adhering to any design principles, and whatever I want in the game stays in the game... Period. I don't have that frustration that only a portion of what I make will be included in the final game. It's complete freedom to do literally whatever you want, even if you have no clue what the hell you're even doing. I have never made a game design doc; I just make whatever I feel like making and throw it together quickly in unity. It's lonely, it takes a lot of passion, patience, and grit. However, it's always worth it. 

I've always made games by myself, and with each project I always learn something new about different aspects of development, what not to do design wise, or something about myself. So setting out to make Awkward just happened as naturally as any of the other games, because I just wanted to make something. Steve Harmon, Awkward Dimensions Redux

At the risk of painting with a broad brush, Awkward Dimensions is about dreams and their significance to waking life. What personal influences drove you to take that direction?
Well the game originally was just about dreams, the dreams I had during my stay at Scotland during the Fringe festival. I was a performer on a touring play, and perhaps it was just the different bed I slept in or the experience as a whole, but my world was changed. Also 7dfps was happening, unity was giving free 7-day trial licenses for pro, and I love free stuff, so... yeah the original 7dfps prototype just happened. In fact, it was made really quickly, but provided the framework for what Awkward Dimensions Redux would be. Once Unity 5 came out, I had a weird dream about a rooster and a pun so I thought I recreate it to as much detail as I could muster from memory that Saturday morning.  Things got busy, I had to put the game's development on hold for other projects. And Junior year was the best and worst year of my life, so that sorta took over; that's something that happens in a lot of my games, it starts of as something completely mundane like a tech demo or prototype and ends up being a place where I can bear my soul, export, and move on with my life. Steve Harmon, Awkward Dimensions Redux

Sound design in indie dev can be a big sticking point for projects like yours, and music can make or break a game that can't rely on big budget visuals for atmosphere. What key areas were you looking for in the creation of the game's OST?
Well, originally the prototype just had classical music. However, I was starting to actually make more ambitious games and take them to places to show them, get feedback, and network... so that wasn't going to cut it. Music and sound design is more important to me than visuals, because it does more to subconsciously suspend your disbelief. You can get away with a lot more with sound, than you can with visuals. Also I go to a public high school with a pretty good arts program here in Denver, so I've made friends with kids in the orchestra major, guitar, and even some friends outside of my school completely whom are in a band. And then there's the music which I just really dug, and got permission to use in game.

As for sound I've really just amassed a huge library of sound effects and ambiance with my phone's mic over time wherever I go, then I'd later apply a bunch of random effects in audacity to the clips until I got what I wanted. For 90% of the music, I let my friends do their thing, and if they make something that I can connect to that I feel would help someone understand me better I ask if I could put it in the game. Dong (the guy who composed a majority of the game's soundtrack) however, started to make tracks specifically for the game, so I made levels to each of his songs he sent me. Sound influenced design, I never asked anyone "could you write something like..." or "can you make a piano piece with..." None of us who worked on the game's original soundtrack tried to be “professional”, because none of us are famous, we’re just teenagers; there was quite a lot of experimentation, and because of that Awkward has one of the most diverse OSTs I’ve heard in any game I’ve ever played. Steve Harmon, Awkward Dimensions Redux
Would you mind telling us about your drug experiences, and how they fit in with the development of ADR?
To be honest, I never was under the influence while I was actually developing ADR. I don't think I could have been able to properly program while blazed, art and design maybe... but It's just a personal game that happens to be really weird. However, I think pot is great; the only downside is the living costs here in Denver which is why I think it should be legal everywhere. Steve Harmon, Awkward Dimensions Redux

If you could work for a large game development house would you? which one?
I love being indie, and all the freedom that comes with it. In fact, I'm not the best in teams; I either get stuck doing a majority of the work or have trouble catching up with the rest of the group. But hey, practice makes perfect right? Regardless as for studios, I would love to work for naughty dog since their workflow in level design is really similar to mine. Except, I use sketchup also for final models, not just for prototyping. Steve Harmon, Awkward Dimensions Redux
Where do you see indie gaming in a decade?
I see mainstream video games heading down another video game crash similar to the one in 1983. Pre-orders, early access, shovelware, and big publishers are ruining games. There's a lot of asset fatigue with each AAA blockbuster franchise and that makes it really hard for innovation to take place. So, I think Indies will be the saving grace of the next crash. Perhaps greenlight will be done away with and Valve may open up a more community oriented storefront much like Itch.io's, we may have affordable VR and AR... Microsoft may try to monopolize games with the UWP... who knows? Games are largely in their infancy now in comparison with other art forms, so ten years can be a huge technological jump to making games that were impossible before possible, and development will become even more accessible. More and more people are realizing that they can make games, and I think that's great! Steve Harmon, Awkward Dimensions Redux
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