Review Fix Exclusive: Inside ‘Black Hole’

Review Fix chats with DufGames’ Jonathan Deutsch who discusses the upcoming Nintendo Switch game, “Black Hole.”

Review Fix: How was this game born?

Jonathan Deutsch: We had a website with some really simple flash games and prototypes. One of these games was called “Space dodger” (working title). You controlled a disc and had to dodge other color discs.

When the OUYA was announced, along with it being its own dev unit and really cheap, we wanted to create a simple game to be one of the first on the system. We started learning Unity3D and within ours of porting over “Space Dodger” we knew those enemies need to be shot. After that it kind of just evolved into what it is now. Incidently, “Black Hole” was chosen as the name because it sounds cool and stars with a “B”, being at the top of alphabetical lists.

Review Fix: What was development like?

Deutsch: Having done lots of Javascript before (and Flash) it wasn’t too hard to learn Unity3D. I had a roadmap in my head: 4 worlds, 4 bosses, 5 enemies per world, 3 ships. I worked on setting up the game logic and my colleague worked on graphics, 3d models, and music. Although it doesn’t sound like much creating each enemy was it’s own task, giving them logic, the right look, getting the balance right. It took a whole lot longer than anticipated since we could only work on it part-time, but after about 1 year the enemies and bosses were done. THEN the levels had to be created and it took as long as creating the enemies. Finally, everything had to be playtested lots and lots of times. There were so many more ideas that could have made it into the game but at some point, we had to stop the feature creep and just get it done. In the end, it was a lot of fun, but took way longer than expected.

Review Fix: Any fun dev stories?

Deutsch: At the start of development we had a (rather unsuccessful) Indiegogo campaign. One of the reward tiers was to name one of the bosses. My brother chose to support us with that tier and he waited till all bosses were complete and the game was close to release. In the end, he chose “Forgy McForgeface” for one of the bosses (a giant forge/furnace) which indeed we then used in the game.

Review Fix: What makes this game special?

Deutsch: While the levels itself can be very hectic they are exactly defined how many and which enemies spawn and they never last more than one or two minutes. In between levels you can take a breather and buy permanent upgrades for your ship. All three ships can buy the same upgrades but have different weapons and super attacks. Every ship has primary and secondary weapons and only the secondary weapons can destroy enemy shots.

It is neither endless, nor individual level based, (choose which level to start on) so it is a very defined arcade-like experience which you can play through in roughly one hour.

But you can suspend the game at any time and continue on that level later on like a one time save. (Not talking about the Switch sleep mode)

Personally, I also think the soundtrack is outstanding and hope others will feel the same way.

In this version for the Nintendo Switch, we also incorporated hardware specific features like HD rumble, motion controls, and even IR controls, latter being very experimental (you could not play through the game with it) but not many other games use it, so we gave it a shot.

Review Fix: What games influenced this one the most?

Deutsch: Definitely Crimsonland and Super Stardust HD. They are my favorite games in the genre and while not being the aim of the game design I thought about these games a lot during development.

Review Fix: As an indie studio, what do you think you guys do differently than the big studios?

Deutsch: We take longer for a smaller game. *laughs* We have our own vision of the game and usually you try to stick to that, but if we feel something doesn’t work out or feedback indicates it, we change it. Also, we try to be fair to the gamers as we are gamers ourselves.

Review Fix: Why do you think gameplay from classics like Robotron 2084 and Smash TV has survived so long?

Deutsch: Hard to say since I never played those games. But I think there is something compelling about the control scheme, thinking in two directions at once, the challenge, the free movement in such a confined space. My feeling is it is rather niche, as not everyone can handle the coordination, but those who play them can be very passionate / good at it.

Review Fix: Why do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics like the ones in the aforementioned games, in new games, is important?

Deutsch: Never change a winning team! Well, you can not always invent something new, BUT you can implement a game mechanic in a new way. While staying true to what works, you can give your own spin to it.

That’s what this game is to me, my own spin on a defined genre.

Review Fix: What’s your favorite memory as a gamer?

Deutsch: There are so many, but one of them would be playing through Secret of Mana with my two brothers. It was such a unique experience to playthrough a long video game with three people.

Review Fix: How does this game disrupt the video game landscape?

Deutsch: I wouldn’t say disrupt at all actually. It adds to it. None of the concepts are new but molded together with our own hands. We hope others will enjoy it as much as we do.

Review Fix: Who will enjoy this game the most?

Deutsch: Gamers who enjoy twin-stick shooters and like a challenge. Probably not many else. The game is made challenging with my own skill level in mind. I’m no super gamer but pretty good at these kinds of games. There are multiple difficulty levels so maybe also other people will try it and like it, we don’t know.

Review Fix: How do you want this game to be remembered?

Deutsch: It should be remembered as a small indie gem, with a great soundtrack, that did things right in the twin-stick genre. It probably won’t last long but few people might stick to it. We still have one totally loyal OUYA player to this day.

Review Fix: What are your goals for the game?

Deutsch: We want to see how well the game is received for the Nintendo Switch and then eventually release it for other platforms, iOS, Android, Pc/Mac/Linux/Steam, maybe Xbox/PS.

Review Fix: What’s next?

Deutsch: If the game is popular enough we are thinking about adding some more free content, or maybe even a whole new Black Hole 2. If not, then we already have some more game ideas in store to work on.

Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?

Deutsch: Thank you for this interview. It made me reflect on the game development up to now for Black Hole.

 

About Patrick Hickey Jr. 7654 Articles
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief, Master Jedi and Grand Pooh-bah of ReviewFix.com and is the author of the upcoming book, "The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews with Cult and Classic Video Game Developers," from leading academic and non-fiction publisher McFarland and Company. He is currently the Assistant Director of the Journalism Program at Kingsborough Community College and is a former News Editor at NBC Local Integrated Media and a National Video Games Writer at the late Examiner.com. He has also had articles and photos published in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Complex and The Syracuse Post-Standard. Love him. Read him.

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