Interview with Freakzone Games: The developer behind AVGN Adventures
Hello g1's. How are we all doing? I hope you're doing well. September 20th, 2013 was a big day in SA history. Why's that? Well AVGN Adventures came out, the game based on the disgruntled geek himself. And with me today, is the one who made it all possible. Please welcome Sam Beddoes, AKA Freakzone Games! The one-man developer behind AVGN Adventures!
Freakzone: Hey g1s!
MadHero: Now before we begin, I'd like to say congratulations with this game. Tons of people seem to like it so far. That must make you feel proud. How have you felt these past few days? Both before and after the release?
Freakzone: Thanks! It's been a mixture of feelings, really! I'm stoked people like the game, of course. I put my all into it, as did the guys at ScrewAttack. It became bigger than any of us imagined from the beginning, so the workload was insane towards the end. In a way, it's still settling in, because right until the last minute it was late nights, trying to get everything in and iron out any issues we were finding. As some g1s may already know, most of my experience in professional game development has been with mobile games, so working with Steam was something very new and quite nerve-wracking, so the feelings leading up to launch was mainly panic, especially with Craig's admirable decision to surprise everybody with an early launch. Right now, I guess I'm alternating between relief and the worry that somebody, somewhere, will find something we missed!
MadHero: I can imagine feeling that. Of course, everyone wants to know this: How did this project get started? Did Screwattack come to you? Did you offer your services to them? How did this game start?
Freakzone: I had recently released a faux-NES game for mobiles called MANOS: The Hands of Fate, and due to demand from people without smartphones and those who don't like touch controls, I made a PC port which I was looking to promote. Some FreakZone fans from before AVGNA may remember the occasional Tweet where I said that I wanted to make an AVGN game, but getting in touch with Cinemassacre is a lot like getting into Mordor. After MANOS, I felt like I was the guy to make that game. Being a long-time g1, I took MANOS to ScrewAttack. I actually approached them to talk about about advertising for my game on the site. Craig didn't take any money and instead recorded a fantastic video review of the game! After expressing my thanks for the review and their feedback within it, ScrewAttack were impressed by MANOS' authenticity to the classics, and Craig casually suggested I contact them if I'd ever like to collaborate on something. Of course my eyes lit up, and I remembered that ScrewAttack handle the merchandising for Cinemassacre. They agreed to let me pitch the project to them, so I prepared a design document, some early sprites and music, and the next thing I knew I was in a Skype video call with THE Stuttering Craig. I was the one stuttering! We felt we were on the same wavelength, and so we got started on what would become Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures!
MadHero: Awesome story. Long time g1, huh? How long are we talking? And what was your username? Just wanna know if I knew you before all this ;)
Freakzone: Well, I was a fan of the site, probably not technically a g1 because I didn't really contribute anything, but I've been a loyal ScrewAttack fan since it was Craig and Tom. Way back when the Superman 2 Blu-ray was one of the Top 10 PS3 games. :P
MadHero: Aah. Ok. In any case, let’s move on. I was wondering where the name Freakzone came from. It’s quite an odd, but cool title to have. How did you come up with it?
Freakzone: Hahaha, well, like many things, I came up with it when I was... what... 12-13 years old? Believe it or not, I actually started making games back in the 90’s in my spare time. I'd split them across several floppy disks and give copies to my friends at school. FreakZone was a name I came up with back then, because I thought it sounded like the name of a really crazy arcade or something. Some friends of mine did a school radio show about games and I contributed to it and dubbed it 'FreakZone'. Something about it sounds... game-like... ya know? Anyways, I created some characters back then I still love, and like most old school gamers, I'm very nostalgic and games are like my extended childhood, so I wanted to keep the name, even if it was just for my own nostalgia. It does have that 90s video game sound though, doesn't it?
MadHero: It does have that feel. I can already imagine some 90's game-show going: WELCOME to the FREAKZONE *cue guitar riff*
Freakzone: Exactly! I even went with neon-pink for the logo. There was a manga film I used to love called MegaZone 23, in that there was an arcade called "PsychoLand", I think it may have originated as some kind of reversal of that, but my memory is blurry!
MadHero: In any case, what was it like working under Screwattack? They've made a game before, but nothing to quite this scale. Did they give you a lot of freedom to work on the game?
Freakzone: Well, it was really interesting, but great! I should explain that the game I pitched was quite different from the game I ended up with. I love ScrewAttack because they're real gamers. We're all big kids, ya know? And as with everything, Craig and the crew approached it with great enthusiasm and excitement, so we all became big kids at Christmas. I was free to design the levels, bosses, and story, and the guys at ScrewAttack would then offer feedback to refine it. I have no doubt that without them; the game would have been very different. They don't have the 'tired game developer' mentality, which meant ambitions were high, and that pushed me to create something bigger and better than I ever imagined it would be. Their excitement and ambition turned it into a game which would, in a lot of cases, be done by a whole team of developers over a year or two, and their encouragement and enthusiasm made the impossible happen. I've never worked so hard in my life, and have never been as exhausted as I am right now, but looking at the end result, I feel it was well worth it.
MadHero: Cool. How different are we talking here? Still the same type of game? Or something completely different.
Freakzone: Well, I originally pitched something more akin to MANOS. Like MANOS, it was going to have NES graphics, and I wasn't going to include anything the NES couldn't do. ScrewAttack felt it shouldn't be limited by mimicking old technology (To quote Craig, "people like pretty colours". He's absolutely right.). The original design document did have the Mega Man-esque stage select, but it was a much smaller, more modest idea. ScrewAttack also introduced the multiple character mechanic, inspired by TMNT and SMB2, and it was my idea to have it possible to switch characters on the fly and have them share the same health bar (thinking of games like Trine and Sonic Heroes). The insult generator was in the original design document, as were Super Mecha Death Christ and such, but ScrewAttack's vision made them bigger and better. To put it simply, I had a fun and modest idea, but ScrewAttack turned it into something unforgettable.
MadHero: Awesome. Which games served as the biggest inspiration, or was it an amalgamation of different kinds of stuff?
Freakzone: Obviously Mega Man was a BIG deal with this one, but also Castlevania and some less popular classics too. The 8-direction firing from Contra was an addition by ScrewAttack, as was the ducking/crouching. I had it play very much like a Mega Man game to begin with. There was a lot of inspiration from the original TMNT on the NES. We all felt it should take a lot of inspiration from that one since it was both one of the Nerd's first reviews, and it's also one of the few games he's reviewed that a lot of us would consider to be actually a pretty good game. There's even a lot of modern inspiration in there too. Super Meat Boy and Scott Pilgrim were mentioned plenty of times during the design process. More than anything else, it was inspired by James Rolfe and the Angry Video Game Nerd.
MadHero: Were there any references you wanted to do but couldn't due to potential copyright infringement? I love the skits with Bugs Bunny for example, but I doubt Warner Bros would've been happy if he was in the game.
Freakzone: Yeah. SO many comments after the game's announcement said "This game BETTER have X, or I'm going to be pissed", where X was somebody else's copyrighted character. Anybody who played the SGC demo will remember the "Rex Rabbit" gag we put in just for that version. There are a few parody characters in there, such as the monsters Bimmy and Jimmy in Boo! Haunted House, but we didn't want the game to be nothing but renamed parody characters. Thankfully, the likes of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde come from public domain literature which is hundreds of years old.
MadHero: Couldn't have a AVGN game without Dr. Jekyll. ;)
Freakzone: Yeah, well there are a lot of things people felt there couldn't be an AVGN game without, but Jekyll was important to me because that was one of his first ever episodes.
MadHero: In any case, Craig obviously handled most of the PR for this game. Was that a conscious decision because they're in the US and you're from the UK, or do you prefer working more in the background on things?
Freakzone: Well, from the beginning, FreakZone was the developer and ScrewAttack was the producer, and we approached it with a developer-producer relationship from the beginning really. ScrewAttack handled most of the Beta testing and feedback as well as the PR. They have the budget and the audience to do so, so it made sense.
MadHero: We're going to something a little different now. I asked some people on Twitter if they had questions for you, and of course they came in spade. You ready?
Freakzone: Go for it! :D
The Stickman asks: How far were you able to go with explicit content? Was it open season?
Freakzone: Oh man, I'm pretty sure I can tell you this because Craig has mentioned it in interviews, but you've seen the Atari Porn level, Beat It & Eat It?
MadHero: I haven't, but you just have to say Atari Porn level, and I know enough.
Freakzone: It has Atari-grade graphics, as an homage to the Atari Porn episode of AVGN, but I originally submitted the level with graphics on par with the rest of the game. There were 16 bit topless strippers, and some hilarious 16-bit twerking! We liked it a lot, but changed it for two reasons. One was that if it goes to consoles, it'd have possibly pushed the game into AO rating and even gotten rejected by some publishers. More importantly, aside from some of the more obvious references, it felt a little out of place, and the relation to the Atari Porn episode didn't seem obvious enough. It almost seemed inappropriate to throw the Nerd in with a bunch of strippers and such for no clear reason. Generally speaking though, it's AVGN, so we didn't want to censor anything unnecessarily.
Ferret75 asks: What aspect of the development took the most amount of time? Like sprite creation, beta testing, and so on?
Freakzone: We spent the longest period of time refining the controls and physics of the four characters, balancing their attacks etc. You all know how amazing a character Mike is with his unique abilities, and how strong Bullshit Man's attack can be. We had to put a lot into making sure no character became the one you switch to and never switch back, and we had to give the Nerd enough of an advantage that people would still prefer to play as him where they can. Since we were going for a truly difficult game, but wanted to keep the determination and minimize the rage-quits, we had to refine the controls, gravity strength, acceleration, and deceleration and so on until we felt they were perfect. However, the Beta testing took up the most hours. Whilst it was cramped into much less time, we were all working round the clock on it. I believe one night Craig and Chad were up until 4:30am just repeatedly playing the game, over and over. Chad and I had one super late night just trying to fix one particular issue. I would try some new code, build it, send it, he'd test it and let me know, and it was about 3am by the time we managed it. I guess we should have expected it, with such a huge ambitious game being done by a one-man dev team and a small team of producers/publishers, but it was tough going.
JamesRonald/Epicgamemusic asked: What was the music composed on?
Freakzone: Oh man, Epicgamemusic is asking me that question?! And now he'll laugh, because I'm going to let him know it was done in FL Studio, which I've been using since around 2003-4.
Quizzy1025 asked: Can we eventually expect a console version?
Freakzone: ScrewAttack is looking into hopefully bringing it to consoles in 2014. Getting console releases isn't as easy as people think. It takes negotiation and a lot of development time, especially with some of the development tools we are using (without which such an amazing game would have never been made so quickly). We definitely want to see it on consoles, but you gotta learn to walk before you can run, ya know?
Lousy Tactician asked: Have you ever considered making a 'LJN' version of the game that is intentionally bad just for shits and giggles?
Freakzone: Haha, ya know, I pitched the game as "the kind of game the Nerd would review". MANOS: The Hands of Fate was a famously bad movie, and I adapted it into a game the way LJN would adapt a movie to a game in the late 80s, but whilst bad movies still have entertainment value, it'd be suicide to just make a game that people won't have fun playing. A bad, broken game is no fun for anybody. The resulting reviews from AVGN, and those who he has inspired are the only positive which comes from them. My concept for MANOS was "The GRINDHOUSE of video games". It was meant to celebrate and use the tropes of bad games and bring them together into something good. The way GRINDHOUSE did for schlocky films. I approached AVGNA with the same premise. The game has intentional glitches as transitions between levels, and ones which you can control with the Glitch Gremlin, and the graphics purposely aren't the best I can do, because we wanted the player to believe the Nerd could hate the game he's trapped in, despite the fact that the player is (hopefully) enjoying it. ScrewAttack's thoughts were that an extremely difficult but rewarding game would be a great way to achieve this, so a lot of work went into getting that Super Meat Boy feeling where, even when you're raging, you just want to keep going.
MadHero: Alright, that's it for the g1's questions. I just have one more important question to ask: What's next for Freakzone Games?
Freakzone: Well, after catching up on some rest (my sleep patterns are SHOT right now!), and spending the next few weeks working on aftermarket support for AVGNA (if your computer is having trouble with the game, trust me when I say we're doing everything we can to try to sort that out for you!), I hope to go ahead and carry on some of my original projects. Since MANOS and AVGN are both based on existing properties, and my previous game AWESOME Land was a big Mario tribute, I'd like to try to put some time into my more original ideas. I'm also revisiting/remaking/reimagining a lot of the games and characters I made as a hobby when I was a kid, which one or two readers may even remember downloading from a crappy old Geocities site in the late 90s. Of course, I think I'd like to work with ScrewAttack again, and I've pitched a couple of things to them, so we'll have to wait and see! I love mobile games and mobile game development, so I'm going to be spending some more time on that side of the fence, so keep watching iOS and Android and look out for FreakZone Games!
MadHero: Awesome. In any case, that's it. We could be here forever,but its time to bring it to an end. Thank you so much for letting me have you on.
Freakzone: A pleasure! Nice talking to you, man. :)
MadHero: g1’s, that was it! Now go and enjoy AVGN Adventures. I'll get to it eventually when I have the money. Once again, thank you so much!