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Interview: Jon Mak On Vita's 'Swiss Army Knife Of Stuff'

Interview: Jon Mak On Vita's 'Swiss Army Knife Of Stuff'

July 25, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander

Queasy Games' Jon Mak, who gained attention as the designer of PSN hit Everyday Shooter, has since kept a low profile. "I sort of tried to fall off the radar a little bit," he says. "I don't like to talk about stuff while I'm in the middle of working on something. It's easy to get really egotistical when that happens."

It seems the quick trajectory that indie developers like him often undergo from obscurity to insta-fame could make that level of distraction even more intrusive. "I don't know," he laughs, when we asked him if it had been overwhelming. "I imagine everybody has their own way of dealing with it. I don't know."

Gamasutra found Mak displaying his newest game, PlayStation Vita launch title Sound Shapes, at a recent Sony event in New York City. Sound Shapes is an abstract platformer with rhythm and music components, where the player controls a sort of spoked gear that has the ability to cling to platforms and walls as well as jump.

The game also intends to be a music composition tool, too. Playing the game inherently starts rhythm and sound elements that work together to create electronic tunes, and its creators hope players can use it to make their own music. Mak's joined on the title by friend Shaw-Han Liem, of musical project I Am Robot And Proud. The two met at one of Liem's shows, mutually enjoyed one another's work, and decided to collaborate ("It was like, 'hey, let's do some stuff,'" Mak describes).

"We started off working on music visualizers for [Liem's] shows," says Mak. "And then we started working on different game ideas, and we'd gone through like nine prototypes." Sound Shapes was either the ninth or tenth of these, and when the pair showed it to Sony, the platform-holder thought the concept would be ideal for its then-secret Vita platform.

"We were just developing it on PC, expecting a PSN thing," Mak says. "So when we got a hold of [Vita], it was like... this actually makes the game way better, because you can use the touch screen to do the editing and stuff. It made it feel more tactile, like it was a musical instrument."

"There were a lot of games, Everyday Shooter included, that were musical games, but they just sort of play musical sounds, so you can't really compose music with it," Mak says. "What Shaw-Han is trying to do is make something you can really compose music with -- like, you can actually write a song in [Sound Shapes]."

"Then there are a lot of musical games where you can make music, but it's sort of like the gameplay isn't really there; it feels tacked-on, so we wanted to make sure that both those things are as tight as they can be," Mak adds. "You can play it like a hardcore platformer if you want, or you can play it like a musical instrument, or you can do both."

Says Liem: "All of the music you're going to hear is music that I wrote, but it's written in the game; it's not scored like a traditional video game. All the music that you hear is actually written with the game tool, the same way the player would."

It's Liem's first game project, and trying to make the sound objects coordinate and sound good within the context of game design was a major challenge, he admits. "This is definitely one of the toughest design things I've been involved with," says Liem. So closely are the game design and the sound elements tied that it added an additional layer of challenge in terms of making all the moving parts coordinate and work well together.

"It was a pretty insane project to work on," says Mak. Although at the start it was just him and Lien working on prototypes, once they signed the deal with Sony to do the game for Vita, more developers from their region joined to help out. "We went up to four people; now we're on 10 or something, if you include all the help we're getting," says Mak.

When asked about working with Vita, Mak has some personal thoughts: "Here's the thing," he says. "With PS3, I don't think I was using the tool correctly. They gave me a bunch of stuff to use that makes life a lot easier, and I just didn't use it. It seems like they're working really hard to make Vita a developer-friendly unit, and basically the tools are integrated a bit better, from what I can tell."

Although Mak caveats that he hasn't had much experience with PSP dev kits, he suggests the Vita seems "pretty easy to develop for, comparatively."

"I love the screen," he adds. "I would love to see Everyday Shooter on this, with all the colors... [Vita is] just this Swiss Army knife of stuff."

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