I have been speaking a lot recently to a very promising new games developer by the name of James Covenant, who has a passion for retro games, an interesting vision for his own retro-inspired production, and was generally great fun to interview. I hope you enjoy reading our discussion, and perhaps consider contributing to help his game Black-White come to life. Which at according to James will have a Kickstarter very soon! ( Please note some of the designs may change in dev )
Who are you? Introduce yourself, in your own words, to our readers.
Hello, I am James Covenant. I am a video editor and game designer. You might have seen one of my YouTube videos: Star Wars Call Me Maybe, The Avengers Sing Christmas Carols, or Captain Picard Sings “Let it Snow!”
- I actually discovered James and his work through watching his geeky, fun YouTube videos.
What is your favorite independent or retro game?
My favourite game ever is Banjo-Kazooie for the N64. I’m not sure if Banjo-Kazooie is technically a retro game, but it is getting up there in years; it’s been out for almost 17 years now.
- It definitely counts as retro!
One of the great things about Banjo is that it had a good fairy tale story. I think people respond well to those old mythological archetypes, so the story of Black-White has a lot of those components too: the orphaned hero, the wise mentor, the dark lord, and the damsel in distress.
Another great feature of Banjo-Kazooie was the music. It had some of the happiest and catchiest tunes imaginable. The composer of Banjo-Kazooie, Grant Kirkhope, will actually be writing music for Black-White when we reach our funding goal. Grant has scored many great games over the years including, Goldeneye 007, Donkey Kong 64, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and Civilization: Beyond Earth. If there is one thing to look forward to in Black-White it is the music.
- Interestingly and coincidentally enough, I have been playing a lot of both Civilization: Beyond Earth and Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning recently; both of which I adore.
How did you manage to get such a prominent composer to work with you on your game?
Grant is a very approachable guy and he is a big advocate of indie games. I’m pretty sure that he is willing to write music for anyone’s game, provided that there is funding for it.
Tell us a little about your game Black-White.
Black-White is puzzle platformer for PC/Mac/Linux. In Black-White you play as a little guy called Happy Dude. The evil Red Wizard stole all of the colour from the land, and it’s your job to get it back. The color of your character determines how you interact with your environment. When you are white you will pass through black objects, and when you are black you will pass through white objects. You can invert your color from black to white by colliding with magic blue orbs. Using these rules you have to navigate through the worlds and solve puzzles.
It has been really fun to take this basic mechanic and find fresh and interesting ways to implement it throughout the game. For example, in an outer-space-themed level, the gravitational pull on your character depends on your color. White planetoids will only pull you when you are white; black planetoids will only exert a force on you when you are black.
- I love a good puzzle!
What Inspired Black-White?
As a kid, I often dreamed about making a video game, but I never thought it was possible. A couple of years ago, I took a college class about video game design and it was a big epiphany for me. I realized that anyone can make game, especially now with all of the great tools and game engines available online. I wanted to make something with a unique gameplay mechanic. I wanted people to play it and say, “I’ve never seen something quite like this before.” So I came up with the puzzle mechanics first, and then created a story around them. I think the great indie puzzle platformers like Fez and Braid have set the bar very high. They are definitely the reference point by which I’m judging my game. I’m hoping the puzzles in Black-White will stand up to the puzzles in those games.
- I respect that he envisioned the mechanic and developed every thing else around it. Many developers rather create a plot to begin with. I think this means that the gameplay will be more thought-out.
The game is inspired by an eclectic mix of things including Star Wars, Legos, and Mario. I think my Catholic faith is also a source of inspiration for the game. I believe that the fight of Good vs. Evil is a real thing, especially in the spiritual world, and the story of the game definitely draws upon that belief.
- Each of my all-time favourite games have a good-vs-evil, good-overcomes-all dynamic to them, so this is yet another plus for me.
Is Black-White your first game?
Black-White is my first game. It has been a very big learning curve for me. I have found that even the simplest feature can be so difficult to get right. And everything seems to takes longer to make than you think it will.
- Here at Indie Retro News we have a lot of respect for those that take the time and effort to make the games that we love to play. It is never easy!
How did you learn to make games?
I have some experience in programming from my engineering degree, but I have learned the most from online tutorials. Black-White is being built in the Unity game engine, and I have received a lot of help from other Unity users on the online forums. I once thought that a magic moment would arrive when I would finally have all the skills and knowledge that I needed to make a game. That moment never came, and I’m not sure it ever will. I think the best way for us to learn is by doing.
Your YouTube Channel has some great, geeky music parodies on it that have garnered a lot of interest, some with literally millions of views. Do you hope that your game will be as successful?
I definitely have hope. It’s a daunting task trying to make a game. It’s a constant battle against myself where a part of me always wants to quit. I think we all live in a pretty cynical society, so when I tell people that I’m making a game, they never really believe that it will go anywhere. It’s hard to stay positive, but my experience creating YouTube videos has given me some confidence.
- “Keep The Faith”, as musician Jon Bon-Jovi once put it.
Is there any connection between your video editing and your games designing? Does either one influence or affect the other at all?
The videos that I make require great attention to detail, and I think that mindset is very helpful for making games. In addition, both video editing and video game design require knowledge about things like frame rate and aspect ratios, so I think my experience as a video editor has definitely helped me with some of the technical aspects of game making.
Is there anyone else working with you on the game?
Right now I am doing the art, programming, and level design by myself, but I might get some help from another developer once the game gets closer to launch. Several of my friends have helped out along the way with supporting music, bits of code, ideas for the storyline, and ideas for the overall game design. Also, there are some awesome voice actors who will be bringing the cast of Black-White to life. Some of them are internet-famous, actually. I’m not at liberty to share names yet, but it’s something to look forward to.
- What a tease! My mind is boggling about who might be contributing their voices...
When does the Kickstarter campaign launch, and what sorts of Rewards can your potential Backers expect?
The original plan was for a May KnickStarter but the launch has been delayed so that it can be done properly. You cannot rush art, after all... The basic reward will be a digital copy of the game when it’s finished, but there are some really great rewards that go beyond that. If you pledge just a bit more, you can immediately download an early build of Black-White. This build is really polished with about 5 complete levels full of good puzzles.
There are a lot of fans on our facebook page who are really eager to start playing the game, so I made this reward with them in mind. It might take another year to completely finish the game, but this reward will allow people to play part of the game right away. And the people who pledge for this reward can also send in their feedback to help make the final game better.
Perhaps the coolest reward we have planned is the chance to design your own non-playable character that will inhabit the world of Black-White. I have seen similar rewards in other kickstarters, but they are always way too expensive. Our reward will be much more affordable. A friend of mine made a nifty virtual tool that helps you design your character, so even if you have no experience drawing and animating sprites, you can still bring your own character to life.
- Oo, so we could have an Indie Retro News mascot in-game, at an affordable cost? Yes, please!
What platforms will your game be available on? [PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox, etc]
Black-White will be available on PC, Mac, and Linux systems. Porting the game to the Wii U and other consoles is definitely a future option, especially if we get enough fans.
Are there any plans to have Black-White voteable on Steam Greenlight?
Definitely! We’ll have the game up for vote during the Kickstarter campaign.
- We shall be sure to encourage our readers to “Back” the KickStarter campaign and give the game a big “thumbs up!” on Steam Greenlight as well.
So, be sure to watch the progress of the game's development by Following James [Covenant] on Twitter and giving him a “tweet”, “Liking” the game's official FaceBook Page and watching his famous YouTube Channel.
Article credit: Illisia Adams.
1) James Covenant Twitter
2) Facebook Page
3) Youtube Page