Aussie game developer Paul Hart journeyed to our fair shores six years ago, after several prominent studios in his native city of Brisbane went under. He wound up in the Wellington region, and liked the place so much he stuck around to create some games. His latest is A Fistful of Gun, a top-down western-themed party game for up to nine players, but he's a rather prolific fellow. You can see much of his output here, and tweet at him here.
Below is a much-abbreviated transcription of our chat with Paul, but we've also published the audio as well. It's longer, but well worth a listen for such gems as: “It was kind of a joke, the games they put out were fuckin' awful", “All the current generation rappers like 50 Cent and P Diddy had to defend the earth against these returning giants... it was a stupid game, stupid game”, and “I don’t own shoes”.
Q: Why should anyone buy your game?
Paul Hart: Well, I don’t know if they should, to be honest. It’s a fun game if you like party games, so… It’s got a very specific market. It’s designed for a purpose. It’s designed for filling in time with friends when they come around or play online or whatever. It’s not a big story game, it’s a very focussed action game that you play for maybe 30 minutes at a time. It’s high intensity, man. I still get shakes when I play it, ‘cos there’s just so much shit happening.
It’s bullet hell, for a start, so if you like chaotic bullet hells with a western theme and nine players playing at once, local or online, that’s basically a sell, you know? And I guess the more interesting thing that sets it apart from other games is every character controls different, all using different devices. So there’s characters on the keyboard, there’s characters on the joy pad, and there’s characters on the mouse that all operate independently. It supports nine player online as well.
Q: How did your Devolver publishing deal come about?
Paul Hart: Someone tweeted the video at them, and then they tagged me in the tweet, so I was like, “Let’s hook something up.” I was just joking around, honestly – I was sort of intent on finishing it myself at that point. Then we started talking and it went from there.
Q: What’s something people don’t understand about game creation?
Paul Hart: It takes a really long time. I think everybody knows that, but it doesn’t hit home until you start making a game like how much of a gauntlet you have to run to finish… A jam game you can do quite quickly, but the more polish and features you put in a game, it spirals out of control. It’s almost exponential. I wouldn’t say it is, but it’s close. This is why big companies have hundreds of people for several years, and millions of dollars in budget. It’s hard, man. It’s hard.
Q: What’s the worst thing about being a game developer?
Paul Hart: There’s quite a few things, man. Being broke. I think people misunderstand how much money game devs make. You work for a big company like EA you’ll make a salary for sure, no question. But if you make small games or indie games or games you’re going to sell yourself, chances are you’re not going to see your money back. It’s the lifestyle you have to lead. You can’t lead a lifestyle of living in an apartment with a car with nice things. I live in the country in a shoe box with nothing, basically. Like, I don’t own shoes, you know? I’m not even joking. There’s certain things you have to forgo to make it work. Just do the math: the average indie game probably takes a year, year-and-a-half, maybe two years. How much does it cost you to live for two years – just bare costs with nothing going wrong? That’s already a lot of money. It’s all about minimising that. How little can you live on for that length of time?
Q: Do you have any gaming idols?
Paul Hart: Not in the traditional sense. There’s lots of people that inspired me. The people that I idolise, you probably only know a few of them.
Q: Hit me.
Paul Hart: The most famous would be Edmund McMillen [Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac]. We had a Facebook conversation once, and he got me into making games. I was talking to him when I was doing Goblin War Machine, and it was such a short conversation but he really reinforced… He was having success at the time with Super Meat Boy in Flash before it hit the big time. He was known on Newgrounds at the time and I was like, “Wow, he’s got a good outlook, I think he’s inspired me”.
Probably the second person that I feel is my biggest inspiration is @jwaaaap.
Q: You’re right – never heard of them.
Paul Hart: He’s the guy that makes the games from Vlambeer. I met him at PAX, cool dude. He’s been a huge inspiration, just his style. There’s a lot of people [that have influenced] how I make my games, and lots of them are indie. This conversation could go on forever. Cactus is another guy. Hotline Miami is probably his famous game. Before that he was making experimental games like, Clean Asia! and stuff like that. I’ve been following his games for ages, pretty much since he was posting on Tigsource. I recently got to talk to him, so that was cool. I follow a lot of I guess what you’d call indie people, but I started with big budget and they’re what got me into gaming in my early teens.
Q: What’s the dumbest trend in video games, or something you want to see retired for a while?
Paul Hart: Oh this whole gender in video games shit, I’m sick of it, man. I’m sick of people telling me that I need to do something with my game. It’s like, “Why don’t you make your own then?” Just retire it, I’m sick of talking about gender in games, I just want to go back to what’s fun and what’s not.
Q: Do people tell you you have to do stuff?
Paul Hart: Oh yeah I got one the other day that hit me up on Twitter. She was very nice about it, I’ll give her that. She was very nice, but it still annoys me that I have to explain… Like, here’s the thing: lots of my games do have different sorts of people in it. There’s different allocations of what works. You can’t just pour a game full of something and just expect it to work. There’s a theme you run for for each game. It’s getting out of control to the point where people are dictating what I should put in my games and it just annoys me.
It annoys me because they haven’t really thought through the steps to creating… even Fistful of Gun which is all male, right? It’s going for that cheesy Clint Eastwood gunslinger spaghetti western vibe where everybody has a moustache, everybody is grizzled, it’s just that kind of vibe. I don’t wanna start screwing with that for this game. A good example of that is Android Assault Cactus, which is an Aussie game with an all-female cast of robots and it works really well because it’s got the right vibe. A lot of people under estimate how important the vibe is to an indie game. You can’t dilute something to the point where it includes everything because then it appeals to no-one. You wanna keep your vision focussed. It’s not just gender now it’s everything – everything’s open for debate.
You work on these games with no outside contact – you don’t show anyone this stuff until it’s released basically. I work on this for a year, a year and a half, and no-one sees it except my cat and my girlfriend, and when you release it, certain things become a big thing, others don’t. It should just die. Let games go back to being fun. Because that’s why we’re here – we’re all here to be entertained. And I get that some people want an experience tailored for them, but if you can’t understand or connect with entertainment that doesn’t look like you and doesn’t represent you as a person then I think maybe the game isn’t for you?
Maybe there are some games for you… it’s not that every game has to be for you. End of rant. Definitely women should be represented in games and I think games should be moving towards… like, they’re a customer – they’re a customer waiting to pay money for your games that if you choose to, you can target that demographic. Like Big Fish Games is a perfect example of big games targeting the female demographic. If you don’t take advantage of that, you’re losing money. Like, Fistful is losing the female audience and I’m okay with that but someone might not be.
◆ A Fistful of Gun is out now on Steam.