Throughout the 2000’s, Armor Games dominated the Flash games industry. One of their most valuable developers was Antony Lavelle, who created a slew of great series such as Indestructotank, SHIFT, and the narrative platformer K.O.L.M. Though originally intended as a trilogy, Antony left Armor Games after the second installment. Now, however, he’s aiming to finish off the story with a grand remake of everything K.O.L.M. up to this point, along with the final chapter, through Kickstarter.
With fond memories of K.O.L.M. prancing through my head, I asked Antony to answer a few questions. His answers give some incredible insight into the struggles and successes of an independent developer.
First off, thanks for talking to us. I never knew you by name back when I played flash games in high school, but reading through your past works it’s astounding how many of my hours were occupied by your games; they were some of the most polished, well put together games on the internet.
We know you created several hit flash games for Armor, like SHIFT, but tell us a bit about yourself; how did you get into the industry? What are your favorite games? What about developing them appeals to you?
When I was in school I used to mess about making small Flash animations, It was just for fun and I started including simple scripting in them, eventually branching out to make Dragonball Z and Metroid fan games. Then in university I started entering the competitions set up by Armor Games with moderate success.
Then a friend and I made a game called IndestructoTank that really took off. At this point I was unemployed with a one year old daughter, so when Armor offered me a job with the first task being to make a sequel to IndestructoTank, it was pretty awesome. I dropped out of university before my third year to take them up on the offer.
My favourite game of all time is Metroid Prime, followed by Shadow of the Colossus, and I think it’s likely to stay that way for quite some time. As for my own games my favourites are K.O.L.M., the Upgrade Complete series, and a game I made called I Was Hungry But There Were Cannons. I much prefer making light hearted games, but K.O.L.M. is my favourite because it’s the most substantial. And it’s a genre I love.
What was it like working with Armor? Was leaving a tough decision, or did it feel necessary for your career? What have you been up to since?
Working for armor was great, Dan, the CEO is a really nice guy. While there my main point of contact (as I worked from home) was John Cooney, one if the best Flash Game developers ever, so I learned a lot from him and had lots of fun too. It was hard, but rewarding.
Leaving coincided with John’s leaving and the overall shift in how Flash games were funded. Armor needed to move me to a less stable contract, and for me the priority was supporting my family, so I instead took up a desk job programming a free to play game in the UK. It’s a much less creative role and much more rigid. The people there I work with are amazing, and again I’ve learned a lot, but I don’t feel like I can keep it up.
Tell us a bit about your Kickstarter. What are the specific challenges you face here, and how can everybody help?
The big issue I’ve met is lack of response and interest from games media sites. Other than a Journo I spoke to early on for a quote, I haven’t received a single response from enquires, it’s incredibly disheartening. Though it looks like it won’t be successful, the response from my friends, family, and peers in the industry has been incredible–it’s just a shame that without big coverage from the games sites, this will only go so far.
Flash games were a great opportunity for independent developers, and gave many (including yourself) a way to get their work seen. How different was the development process for K.O.L.M. then and now?
Well now making the game requires a lot more knowledge of Maths and 3D Engine stuff than the original, which was fairly simple by comparison. Lighting, textures, asset loading and 3D Models really complicate the process. It’s a massive headache but very very rewarding when you see the end result of what you’ve spent an afternoon on.
Where did you first get the idea for K.O.L.M.?
I wanted to make a game that was kind of like my favourite series of games, Metroid. and as a working title named the files kolm. Well I just never got around to changing it until the game was practically done, so I went with it. As of the second game I retrofitted the M to not mean Metroid, it might have been a little short sighted of me.
K.O.L.M. is a huge shift in tone from your other games. I was a huge fan of the SHIFT series (the Shaft parody song will never leave my mind) and Upgrade Complete carried on that irreverent sense of humor. What was it that compelled you to turn around and make such a somber, story-driven flash game?
I much, much prefer to make games with a humorous edge, it makes the process of making them as quick and fast as Armor required all the more fun. Large games have far too much riding on them to take a risk basing it on a single joke (like Upgrade Complete) so I made the most of it.
K.O.L.M. 2 ends on a huge cliffhanger; as devastating as it is for the player not to see what happens next, how hard was it to walk away without making the third game for so long?
At first I was always under the assumption that I’d be making the third in the series next month or the month after, or just after the next project, but the time stretched out and then I left. It felt terrible to be honest, I’d always had in the back of my mind all the ideas I had for giving it a decent finish. K.O.L.M. 2 had a bit of a lull in the middle I wanted to make up for (the remake would correct this, too) and I wanted to end it on a bang. Didn’t happen, and that sucked.
Both games so far are relatively short; as flash games, they take about a half an hour each to clear the first time. Is K.O.L.M. 3 going to follow that trend of being a short, tightly-paced narrative, or are you expanding the scale of the game beyond its flash predecessors?
K.O.L.M. 1 and 2 would make up Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of the remake, with added areas to explore and an extra upgrade in part 2. You could rush through them in a similar time to the flash games, but you’d miss out on a whole lot. This is actually encouraged as part of the speed running challenges, as I’m a huge fan of Super Metroid speed runs, and want to incorporate tools for recording them into the game. Kolm 3 would be roughly double the length. A perfect, flawless speed run of the whole game would take about 80-90 minutes, but you’d only end up with about 20 percent of the content. A full run would take hours. So still a short game overall, but the main quest would only be part of the package. There would be the K.O.L.M.I.A.M. levels to complete, as well as a third game mode I’ve got under my hat that I made a prototype of a few weeks ago. It’s great.
Although K.O.L.M. and its sequel operate on the same basic mechanics, they’re kept fresh by focusing on very different elements–for example, there are no enemies in the second game, as it focuses more on puzzles that use two characters at once. Without spoiling too much of the story, how do you plan to shake up the gameplay of K.O.L.M. 3?
K.O.L.M. 1 was about following orders, K.O.L.M. 2 was about working together. The theme for K.O.L.M. 3 will be knowing who to trust. That, and entering the dark areas below with a real lighting engine opens all kinds of doors for skirting the horror genre 😉
This is clearly a passion project; your Kickstarter expresses just how much finishing this series means to you. What does K.O.L.M. represent for you, as a developer or artist?
K.O.L.M. represents a tribute to everything I like best in gaming. The progression, some optional story, exploration, and feeling more empowered over time. And Robots.
A number of people I’ve talked to have found meaning in Robbie’s story so far; the relationship with his mother caused a good deal of discussion and hit home with more than a handful of those who’ve played. Did you intend to speak on a personal level to players, or was it an unintended side effect?
I think a lot of people can relate to wanting to impress their parents, even if they don’t always deserve it. You can have the worst parents in the world and still ache for their admiration. Parents have immense power raising children, and need to treat the responsibility right. I think Robbie’s naivety is a rather unsubtle version of this sort of childhood scarring. It would be nearly impossible to do it full justice though, so I’m not going to patronize people by trying, when my own upbringing was pretty good. I really love the dynamic though.
Playing through the demo, it’s incredible how much more compelling K.O.L.M. is just with the voice acting and 3D environments. You did mention, however, that a lot of elements were toned down to make the demo browser-friendly. About how close to the actual polished, final product would you say the demo is?
Well the demo was made as a result of the Kickstarter stalling some. I made it over the course of 4 days, meaning there are a lot of rough patches. You can’t skip the upgrade sequences, and the voice of Robbie wasn’t ready yet as Chris had to have some teeth pulled out. The fact it’s been so well received is very flattering. I see so many flaws with it! You can’t even restart the engine without refreshing the page it’s embedded in 😛 But I’m glad I did it.
Having Chris O’Neill on board to voice Robbie is a great plus; how did that casting choice come about?
I’ve worked with Chris a few times in the past as we were coming up on Newgrounds. He’s a great guy, and has a lot of fans, even if I wouldn’t show 90 percent of his stuff to my daughter. He’s an extremely hard worker, and an incredible voice talent. I’m lucky he offered.
Along with the remastering of the first two games, Oculus Rift support, and the reintroduction of K.O.L.M. In a Minute, would there be any content added to the games themselves, or are you concerned that would disrupt the story’s pacing?
There will be lots added, but nothing to get in the way.
Every developer, even the bigshots, has games or developers they admire. If you could have the opportunity to work on any title (either already released or currently in development), or with any developer, which would you choose?
My dream from childhood has been to work on an official 2D Metroid game. Other M disappointed me. I really hope they go back to how it was, but it’s their series!
Thanks so much for talking to us, and best of luck with the Kickstarter. Any last words you’d like to say to everyone?
It’s not looking great at the moment, but I still appreciate every pledge. It’s heart warming how many people have come out for me. Thanks!
The Kickstarter is nearly at 50% with just a few days left; please, check out the demo of the game he wants to make here, and if it’s something you’re interesting in, consider supporting! You can also find any of the flash games we talked about in the interview on several places on the internet for free, so check them out if you need further assurance of Antony’s level of quality.