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Tom Happ, creator of indie game Axiom Verge, on his ‘vessel of consciousness and reality’

Axiom Verge is the sort of retro, independently created game anyone with a heart and an itching for exploration should take note of. Its lone creator, Tom Happ, is a one-man band who developed, scripted, designed and tested the rather fantastic Axiom Verge.

For those who aren’t aware, Axiom Verge looks and plays like an moody Super Metroid, but has the design and soul of modern game. I managed to get my hands on the PS4 version of Axiom Verge at E3 2014 (which had about two to three hours of gameplay in it) as well a chat with Happ himself.

Happ’s a one man team, but during our interview he revealed that the aspect of game creation which challenges him the most is marketing.

“The most challenging part has to be all of the marketing, trade shows, social media, and so on,” he told us” Even with Sony’s help (only the PS4 version was on show at E3) it’s overwhelming just trying to keep my page updated and keep getting more followers.”

While marketing may cover the end stage of Axiom Verge and remain as Happ’s least-liked time-suck, the soundtrack was his favourite part of development.

“I think the part I did best was probably the soundtrack,” he said. “It was also the most fun, but also the shortest aspect (about three months out of the 60 or so total). Maybe on the next game I’ll try to spread the audio work out rather, than doing it in one swoop.”

Listen to the music over yonder, and revel in its glorious pastiche of MIDI soundtracks, mired with a touch of Hotline Miami.

The trailers improved as development progressed, naturally
If it hasn’t bitten you by now, Axiom Verge’s graphics and gameplay seem to be a dark mirror of Metroid.

Happ has infused this trusted classic with new twists though, most noticeably with a glitch mechanic and a sense of character.

“This is where you corrupt enemies, tiles, the secret worlds,” he said during the interview. “Sort of rogue-like optional areas that are completely randomized in each play-through, and other “meta” elements of that ilk. To me the characters and the world are the things I’m most proud of, but if I were to explain why, it’d be all spoilers.”

Axiom Verge is coming out for the PS4, PS Vita and Windows PCs. But why not Xbox 360, PS3, and Mac as well? It would even be suitable for 3DS.

“I have timed exclusivity, so I may be able to bring it to 360 in 2016 or so,” he told us. “It would be really nice if it could be on XBLA and not just sequestered away in XBLIG (Xbox Live Indie Games), though. There isn’t a PS3 version simply because there isn’t a version of Monogame for that platform. The 3DS is likely to be incompatible with Monogame and I’d need to rewrite it in C++.” Though Happ doesn’t rule out a third party port for the Nintendo 3DS.

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Sometimes, pieces get left on the cutting-room floor. Happ said that in the original version of the game, he wanted to combine the “best parts of all my favorite games, so your weapon was like a combination of Rygar’s death yo-yo and Bionic Commando’s grapple arm, and there weren’t projectile weapons.”

This experiment turned out to be “not as fun as it sounds,” so instead the in-game weapons now have a variety of attacks that have to be discovered throughout the game. But Rygar fans (all twenty of them) will still find a “Rygar-like thing and a grapple” later in the game.

Happ believes that the game itself is the most appropriate medium for conveying his ideas regarding the nature of consciousness and reality. Until we get our hands on the full version, we’ll have to take his word for it.

Calling Duty

Axiom Verge’s trailers and gameplay were noticeably absent of any multiplayer aspect. In 2014, this can mean a death-knell for any game’s longevity, but Happ subverts this often forced-upon design decision. The reason being that it’s a mood-killer, says Happ.

“The story is designed around this one person lost in a strange world. It would subvert the overall mood and sense of isolation to bring in another player,” he told as at one point. “Like Dead Space 3, which it seems has single-handedly (or should it be multi?) killed off that franchise. Or that multiplayer Castlevania game (Harmony of Despair). Multiplayer has this way of breaking your suspension of disbelief to where the game becomes more akin to a sport or a board game than an interactive adventure. The other reason is just time. I could either spend half a year adding multiplayer, or I could make the singleplayer better, so I choose the latter.”

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Happ lists both the NES and Super Nintendo iterations of Zelda, Metroid as key influences during his childhood gaming sessions, as well a J-RPG’s Phantasy Star 2, Final Fantasy VI and Secret of Mana. His developer heroes hail from the Nintendo stable, and include Shigeru Miyamoto and Yoshio Sakamoto, the Mario and Metroid creators respectively.

Axiom Verge is an independent game, and that alone comes attached with stigma and heightened expectations. Will the indie game scene ever reach parity with titles from EA, Activision, Konami and the like. That’s a resounding yes, if Happ is to be believed:

“As far as I can tell, the indie game scene is catching up fast with the AAA game scene. The console makers, I think, are giving indies the best chance. Like at E3, there are indie titles on display for all three consoles. Indies (including myself) are getting “Best of Show” awards. The question on every indie’s mind must be, is this a permanent change or just a fad?”

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We’ll end the chat with Happ’s best and worst moment regarding Axiom Verge. So, his best? “That moment would be when Sony accepted it for the Pub Fund. That literally changed everything.”

As for the worst? “I don’t know. Last fall my dog had cancer and I had to sell my car just to pay for the treatments. It put a big damper on everything. But you learn from these things. Pretty much every bad moment turns into a learning experience that could have been worse had it not occurred.”

Author Bio

Steven Norris: grumpy curmudgeon
Steven Norris is a born writer, living in Tamboerskloof, Cape Town and educated in the ways of graphic design but destined to follow in the footsteps of the worlds greatest authors. He has had many years of experience as an SEO copywriter, learning the ropes the hard way before... More