Aaero is a game I was hyped about ever since I first saw it at EGX 2015. I recently got the opportunity to speak to Paul Norris, half of the two-man team behind the game.
What was your gaming history before forming Mad Fellows?
I’ve always played games. I just about caught the start of home consoles when my friend’s parents bought an Atari 2600 in the early 80s. I’ve been obsessed ever since. I consider myself lucky to have grown up alongside games from the blocky, bleeping early days, right up to now. It’s never worn off.
As a developer, I took the old clichéd route into the industry – Engraver > Guitarist > Tattoo artist > Delivery driver > Codemasters.
I’ve worked with the other Mad Fellows founder, Dan Horbury, since starting at Codemasters in 2001. A few years later, we both moved to FreeStyleGames.
We left the big studios behind in 2013 and started Mad Fellows.
Where did the inspiration for Aaero come from?
We had completely free rein to create whatever we wanted as an indie developer. We made a list of what we wanted to achieve from a game and the conversations from there developed into Aaero.
You managed to create this with just a two-man team. Obviously, this creates a lot of challenges, but did it bring any benefits?
After releasing our mobile game as a two-man team, Dan and I worked on Aaero for about 6 months. We then enlisted the help of Kostas for about 12 months before a lack of funding meant we reverted back to being a duo.
We get so much more done as a small team. Big teams inherently include politics, management, meetings and other business-centric rituals that get in the way of actually making games.
My responsibilities and Dan’s don’t overlap at all. That means that there’s no-one to hide behind or pass the buck to. If something isn’t designed or gameplay isn’t created for a track then it’s on me. If there’s… um… an algorithm… missing from the renderer (I don’t do programming), then it’s Dan’s territory.
How did you go about choosing songs for the game?
As the gameplay was designed, I picked tracks from my mp3 collection that I thought would work best with that particular game mechanic. This meant I could identify what sort of tracks would work best for the game without worrying about licensing.
Once I knew roughly what I was looking for, I listened to what feels like all of YouTube and Spotify until I found some that I definitely wanted. From there, I reached out to the labels and, thankfully, they were all into the idea and willing to license their music to us.
Were there any artists that wish you could have added to the game?
As the soundtrack stands now, I wouldn’t change a single track in there for any other in the world. I’m still in shock that we managed to clear the tracks we have.
There were artists we considered early on that we thought would work well like Pendulum/Knife Party, The Prodigy and some others where it was difficult to get through to someone to pitch the idea to in the first place.
Did you ever consider using different genres of music?
I have a pretty wide range of genres in my favourites, no style of music was off the table. The game and the soundtrack sort of chose each other as the concept developed.
How did the visual aesthetic for Aaero come about?
We realised that creating a game where each track was a real world equivalent of around 2km long was going to be a challenge for a small team. We had to think about the visuals as a whole picture and not get bogged down in creating each individual object.
This was a very liberating way to create visuals. We dropped textures completely meaning that we didn’t have to map or paint models. It gave us a speed and freedom that, for me at least, was unusual in video game art.
So what do you have against worms, spiders, and octopuses?
Ha ha! I remember thinking at one point “Hang on, that worm was minding its own business and we’ve rocked up and started attacking it.” You’ll have to trust us. It’s done some bad stuff and we have it on good authority that it was on its way to do some more.
My favourite anecdote about the bosses comes from when we were doing playtesting. We were sat in a room full of students who had very kindly agreed to help us with testing. They were playing on headphones, the room was more or less completely silent. The worm appears and one girl leaps up and shouts “Aaaaah! What are you? Die! YOU SHOULD NOT BE!!”
The designs for the boss battles were great fun. It was how I imagined game development to be before I actually started doing it.
“Whooaa… wouldn’t it be cool if you were flying through the desert and a huge sand worm appeared… and then it eats you and you fly INSIDE it and blast your way out!”
What are you most proud of in the game?
The soundtrack is awesome. I really couldn’t be any happier with it. I still can’t believe we managed to clear the licenses for such an amazing set of tunes.
I’m also proud that we set out to do something that was considered lunacy for a team so small. We were told in no uncertain terms by our peers that the design we were pitching would require at least 12 people to produce. We were confident that we could do it, stuck to our guns and did it! That’s the origin of the name ‘Mad Fellows’. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, we believed we could do it. If we were crazy, then Dan and I were both crazy.
The jury is still out on that.
What is your favourite level in the game?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. Probably Bass Cannon because that’s the one people play first and you can watch as the ribbon following mechanic sinks in. People go from “What the…?’” to “Ahhhh, right!”
What’s next for Mad Fellows?
As it’s just me and Dan at the moment, we’re wrapped up in getting Aaero released and trying to make sure people know about it. We’ve love to do DLC and/or a sequel for Aaero and we’ve also got a collection of other ideas we’d like to explore at some point. I guess we’ll see how this one goes down with players and take it from there.
Where can people follow/find you on social media?
I tend to be most active on Twitter. That’s probably the best place for news: https://twitter.com/MadFellowsGames
We’re on Facebook too: https://www.facebook.com/madfellowsgames
Our Website is here: http://www.madfellowsgames.com
Finally, your top reward for the Kickstarter was to get a pair of Dan’s pants, did anyone go for this?
You know what? Surprisingly, absolutely no-one went for that tier of rewards. I assume this was because names are published on Kickstarter. I guess some people may find buying a programmer’s used underpants from the internet embarrassing.
The good news is that the Kickstarter campaign must have raised awareness because Dan’s eBay shop is now struggling to keep up with demand for his old y-fronts.
I hope the pair we sent along with the review copy to Xbox Enthusiast arrived in good order.
Aaero is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, & Xbox One and you can check out our review of the game here.