Review Fix chats with Asaf Englander and Chase Arnold, the dev team behind the super nifty indie game, Iivox Heroes. Detailing their creative process and more, the duo let us know why you should keep an eye out for their game.
Review Fix: How was this game born?
Asaf Englander: A few years ago, around the start of 2015, I had this really simple idea of a small game with logical puzzles and sliding blocks that act differently (ex. One sticky, solid..etc).
Believe it or not, at first the game was only black and white, with square sprites! But I wanted to make it a bit more interesting – so the main sprite was changed to a gray block with a face, and I started adding different & colored tiles, eventually making the game 4 original worlds. It even had a small final boss back then. That simple game is the one I first published at the GMC forums.
Chase Arnold: And I just happened to trip across that GMC forum post a couple years ago of Asaf’s project: IVOX -a simple action sliding puzzle game for Android. It needed art and I thought the core gameplay looked cool and fun so I offered to help with the graphics. Asaf was such a cool dev to work with and I saw a lot of potential in the game so I asked him if he’d be interested in co-developing a sequel with some ideas I had to expand on it. I sent him a prototype and he loved it so we began brainstorming a lot!
Before long, we realized we had something simple but special that we could really do a lot with. The name IVOX was in use elsewhere so we changed the name to IIVOX -I pronounce it as e-vox, pronounce it however you like of course. Shortly thereafter IIVOX Heroes was born! After over a year in development, we decided we had come far enough with Heroes that we owed it to ourselves to go back and remake the original game to meet the level of quality and scope we had come to produce in IIVOX Heroes. We halted production to do the remake ‘real quick’ and that evolved in its own way turning into nearly another full year of development!
Review Fix: What has development been like so far?
Arnold: So much better than I expected as I had never worked with another game dev before. I’ve collaborated with other artists, musicians and writers before but not game development. And am glad I did working with Asaf has been awesome! Asaf and I brainstorm and joke around all the time and come up with these crazy ideas and are almost always on the same page! The creative energy and momentum are really inspiring!
Englander: Chase explained this very accurately. I also never worked with another game dev before IIVOX. From the very first moment we had so much fun making this game, it became second nature as we were talking every day throwing fun ideas, laugh, discuss important decisions, or just saying hello and catching up!
Arnold: One of my favorite aspects is how Asaf and I surprise each other constantly. There have been so many times one of us will have a crazy idea and just carry it out and then send the file and see if the other person likes it. I’ve actually had him wait a couple days for bigger surprises because I wanted that impact and to gauge his reaction. One time I was busy with life crap and came back to iivox and Asaf had been at it all week and surprised me with this amazing secret snail side-quest hidden in the game -cutscene and all! I think doing stuff like this creates excitement and momentum as you can’t wait to show or see your co-developers work.
Englander: Totally agree on the surprise and suspense. Adds motivation and an aspect of fun to it! It’s inspiring and feels awesome to play a new, fresh content like a player of the game would feel.
We always tell our honest opinions to each other, weaknesses and strengths of each specific aspect of the new content we make. Communication is very important in this business and that’s such a blessing to get a partner that knows how beneficial it is.
Arnold: So true, even in the rare event that one of us does something the other doesn’t like, we talk it through, explain counterpoints and compromise -and more often than not it turns into something even cooler than the original idea. We are both attentive and considerate of each others code, ideas, and shared goals and it really keeps everything fun, easy and drama free.
Review Fix: What makes this game special?
Englander: What makes this game very special, is the fact that it was made by pure love for gaming and creating stuff. We worked on it on our free time and didn’t quit our day jobs or studying. It became more like a hobby than a work and in my opinion, the fun we had is passed through the game feel. I also think the gameplay of IIVOX is very rare these days. Its pretty old school, but also modern in a way. I just feel really happy about this game, and I’m positive players will feel how much effort we gave into it.
Arnold: Exactly! And sure it’s been a ton of work, but usually, we are so busy having fun with this game that we’ve chosen not to worry about getting it done by a certain time or anything like that. We have just enjoyed indulging our creativity with this project to make it as weird, fun, and unique as we can.
Review Fix: What games influenced this one the most?
Arnold: Hard saying as we try to be very original but of course there are subtle influences here. Usually on the individual elements rather than the game as a whole. For example, if I remember correctly the speed run starting with picking up a clock was Crash Bandicoot inspired. I got the idea to make a button pad that spawns bonus gems temporarily from the red coins in Mario. Sometimes you just play a game and go, huh could a spin on something like this be fun in our game? As for the original, Asaf?
Englander: Well, my influences are very varied. I got a lot of inspiration from crash bandicoot old-school platforming style, some old ps1 games like Ms.Pac-man, and even Rayman games in a way. Probably a lot of other games too(cave story, maple story, World of Warcraft..so much!).
I played so much games over the years and that taught me what is fun for me thus fun for the player.
Review Fix: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Arnold: We went months with my old art style in IIVOX heroes and then I kept trying to ignore the urge to extrude the art and make it show more depth (a top ¾ view vs. a flat top-down view) I made a mock-up of the new style and art style deciding to go more geometric since our character was so boxy. The responses from nearly everyone was they liked the new style better. So, we had to go back through almost a half a year’s worth of work and adjust almost everything. It was worth it, but it was a crazy amount of rework.
Englander: Oh so many of those! My favorite is the “crazy lava king” joke. One time I called the file “CRAZY LAVA KING EDITION” just for some laughs as it seemed extreme and very sudden. Quickly it became a running joke for a few months, until chase actually decided to surprise me by drawing this lava king in a beautiful drawing, and later with a short appearance of him at the remake.
Arnold: Ha! Yea we always give each update we email to each other an edition name. We have a lot of inside jokes in the game. One time Asaf surprised me with a hidden easter egg mini game with a npc that was an enemy bot named Greg who had lost his robot sandwich. He had me laughing so hard. We ended up deciding to add trophies to the game just so we could have Greg’s fly covered sandwich sitting on the floor of the level select screen.
Review Fix: Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new games is important?
Englander: Oh sure it is. I learned most of my game design skills from older games like metroid or pokemon, crash bandicoot and so much others. In a way, I prefer the older mechanics sometimes, as they were made in a limited, innovational environments and that’s a thing I admire a lot. I just feel like the older games had better game design choices because they were so limited and had to consider it in every decision they make. For example the size and color of mario’s original sprite.
Arnold: While I agree that it’s important to preserve the past, I think it’s more important to innovate and create new gameplay mechanics! I love the old games I grew up with, but more often than not it’s the weird, colorful, strange and unique games I’ve always looked for. Those rare gems happen every gen, but not often enough. And while I know there is still tons of innovation happening out there -it feels like there is a wealth of great platformers, fps, rpgs, etc but there just aren’t enough weird, unique games. When Tetris came out it -it was like nothing else and the action puzzle genre rapidly grew into a feast of strange and unique puzzle games trying to make their own mark on a fresh new genre. When 3d was still fairly new in the consoles, crazy new games were coming out centered around experimenting and innovating on what could be done with 3d. There were so many unique, quirky games on the ps1 that new genres flourished to the extent we can take them for granted today. It’s easy to see another music rhythm game and forget that when Parappa the Rappa did that is was like nothing else! Jumping Flash took fps in a platforming direction that made it very engaging to play with it’s floaty jumping mechanic. 3d was so new and fresh in the N64 and ps1 era that it made it very exciting to own those systems just to see what unexpected new game could happen next! I feel like companies don’t invest in making mechanically less common games because they are less likely to sell extremely well. It’s up to us indie devs to create more of them!
Review Fix: What’s your favorite memory as a gamer?
Arnold: Tough question -I can’t pick just one favorite! Probably my mom kicking my ass at Tetris and Dr. Mario every single time. Or that first time I held a Nintendo 64 controller and played Mario 64 -it was amazing! All night Tony Hawk, Marvel vs Capcom 2, Ribbit King and Super Monkey Ball tournaments with friends! Playing Advanced Wars until I was having turn based dreams.
Englander: So much! I can’t pick all of them so I will mention 2 of them. My first is the game maplestory. It became a huge part of my life during my earlier years as a kid and improved my english a lot as it’s not my native language. It helped me to reduce stress and meet some friends I could talk to. I had so much fun playing with total strangers from all around the world in such a nostalgic game. Another favorite experience of mine is playing the ps1 games with my cousins, mostly crash bash. Had a blast playing it! Although I was afraid of the error sounds ps1 sometimes made when a disc had an error, so scary back then haha!
Review Fix: Who will enjoy this game the most?
Englander: Players that like original, funny and smooth gameplay! I can see many old school platforming fans liking this game too.
Arnold: Oh and maybe people who want a game they can easily play while they eat lunch or whatever -everything plays with pretty much just directional arrows.
Review Fix: How do you want this game to be remembered?
Englander: As a fun experience you will remember for a long, long time, while waiting for the sequels.
Arnold: Ha -I’m going with what he said!
Review Fix: What’s next?
Arnold: I’m working on a game called Witch Hazel with an awesome team I put together for Xavier Ekkel’s Meta Game Jam: Action/Fx Director: Jason Tom Lee, Sound designer and amazing composer: Dan Kim, and a very talented musician: Fallon Braddy. Planning to finish this one after IIVOX! I have a couple bigger projects I started before IIVOX that I need to go back to as well -plus a half finished comic book and about 30 minutes of a full length animated movie so far that I’ve been working on occasionally for years now. I’ve got a ton of strange older games and prototypes that I’d like to polish up and release hopefully too sometime! And hopefully, Asaf and I will make more IIVOX games too!
Englander: I plan to make game dev my career, the question is in what way. Me and chase also have IIVOX heroes (and maybe other sequels) planned after IIVOX release, but we just don’t know yet how/when we will do all that. I’m in the middle of a CS Degree so that’s coming to play too!
I also got some old prototypes of mine from a while ago so I might start working on those sometime. Also got a lot of ideas for new, other games too! Time will tell what and when!
We can/might continue making these games together as a duo – it’s been a great journey for us.