Interview: Everyday Shooter Creator Jonathan Mak

By Carlos Bergfeld, Aug 09, 2007 4:10pm PDT A year ago, Queasy Games founder and sole employee Jonathan Mak lived in his mother's basement and had a day job, using his extra hours to work on a freeware PC project. He hadn't intended to make money off the title at the time--just something he could have fun with.

After impressing Sony execs at this year's Independent Games Festival and taking home two awards, Sony decided to publish the Toronto native's game, dubbed Everyday Shooter, as a downloadable title on the PlayStation Network. Shacknews previewed this art-house dual-joystick shooter at this year's E3. Now flush with cash and partaking in the usual debauchery of the young and famous, Mak has left his day job and moved out. Shacknews caught up with the 25-year-old rapscallion long enough to learn what being Canada's biggest celebrity is all a-boot.

Shack: What was your vision for Everyday Shooter, and why did you want to make it?

Jonathan Mak: My game before that was this game called Gate 88. It was like the precinct assault portion of Future Cop: LAPD. It's like SubSpace but you can also build bases, and it was multiplayer. The way I designed it, it was just a really complicated mess. So when I decided to work on the new game, I still had this sort of arrogant view that I knew what I was doing when it came to game design.

So I was working on this game, and it was supposed to be really great, totally replayable, based on all these fancy mathematical formulas. And then it sucked. It just totally sucked. At that point I realized I know technically how to make a video game, but design-wise, I have no clue what I'm doing. So I decided to go and make the simplest game possible--just dumb everything down, make a really simple game. And for me, that was the shoot-em-up.

Shack: What were some of your inspirations for the game's aesthetic?

Jonathan Mak: Kenta Cho's PARSEC 47. That game was like the game. Before I played his work, I was sort of like the amateur professional. I was trying to make it in the industry. I was trying to do all the right things, like making design docs and crap. And then I played his game, and it was like, "Wow." You can use code to make things look amazing, and you don't call it program design, it just looks fucking cool.

I'm not done with freeware. I want to make freeware and Sony knows this. Where would I be without Kenta Cho?
Since Gate 88 I've been using vector graphics. The Gate 88 vectors weren't very good, but I sort of went over the top with the Everyday Shooter aesthetic.

Part of the aesthetic was, how can I make the most batshit crazy thing happen on the screen with the least amount of effort from the player? That's why the explosions are totally over the top. When you break gameplay down to its essentials, it's not just interaction, it's an action and a reaction. And what's fun is when you do an action and you get this spectacular reaction.

Shack: What about the guitar-only soundtrack?

Jonathan Mak: I was really into doing guitars mixed with synthesizer stuff, but I wasn't a very good synth programmer. I just couldn't make them gel properly. And then I thought back to the original goal of making a really simple game, and just thought, why don't I use all guitars? There was also this thing that [composer] Steve Reich did called the Electric Counterpoint, which was 11 guitars dubbed on top of each other. It's just something that I really like.

Shack: How did the deal with Sony come about?

Jonathan Mak: Warren Currell, my agent, he just called me up one day and said, "Listen, Sony's interested. We should go meet them in LA." Hearing Rusty's side of the story, he's the producer--I think he said that during GDC they were walking around the IGF booth, looking for indie games that needed to be showcased. I guess they chose Everyday Shooter.

I wasn't actually thrilled at the time. I was like, "Oh, Sony--whatever." Because I didn't want anybody to fuck with my game. I was this close to just releasing it as freeware. Although I did want some money so I didn't have to go back to work. But I went to LA and it was an eye-opening experience. I decided to take the risk and go with them.

Shack: Can you talk about the specifics of the deal?

Jonathan Mak: I can tell you I'll have enough money to live, or else I wouldn't...well maybe I would still. But yeah, I have enough money to live now.

Shack: How was your experience taking your PC title and using Sony's tools to make it work for a downloadable PSN game?

Jonathan Mak: Technically it was fairly straightforward. It ran in about 3 days. So, I keep saying the hardest part was the widescreen. The way I work on the game is I fucking tweak the hell out of it until it works perfectly. And I had it working perfectly on 4x3. So once you make it 16x9--there's all this extra space, it's kind of different. And I didn't just want to throw more enemies in. It kind of changes the soundscape. It just seemed like a really cheap way to retweak it for widescreen. So a lot of time was just spent trying stuff but also worrying about what the hell I'm going to do, to make it happen.

Probably the hardest part was that--anyone who went to IGF knows that the game was practically--all the levels were playable. It was sort of hard to get the energy to do it. The game was kind of, I don't want to say "done," but I had to sort of tread back a bit and do the finishing the game process. Obviously it was totally worth it.

Shack: For the money?

Jonathan Mak: Not for the money, but just thinking about how many people are going to see this game now. It's coming out on this console, so it's kind of--yikes.

Shack: Will the game be available for PC as well?

Jonathan Mak: All I can say right now is that it's coming out on PS3. It's going to be available on PS3. That's the only plan so far.

Shack: How long has the porting process taken you?

Jonathan Mak: I'm so close, man. I can't tell you how close I am, but I started at the end of May.

Shack: Any idea of when the game will be finished?

Jonathan Mak: I hate deadlines. I don't understand how people work on deadlines. All they do is they stress me out. At E3 we were saying late summer. For me it's ASAP.

Click to the next page for more about Mak's future endeavors and why he can no longer sleep at night. _PAGE_BREAK_ Shack: Have you started working on any other projects?

Jonathan Mak: There's collaboration work I'm doing with this musician, but that's sort of on hold since I'm trying to finish this game. And there's all these ideas I have, but I'm really burnt out. I'm really fucking tired here. The only plan I have is sort of getting sleep again. I don't think my lifestyle is really healthy right now. I really can't sleep.

Shack: This came after you started to work on the original freeware game or after the deal with Sony?

Jonathan Mak: It is self imposed. It's not imposed by Sony. I really want to get this game out. It would be good to get back to a regular sleeping schedule, and also clean up the house. I have a PS3 but I have no furniture to put it on, so it's just sitting on the box that it came in. I have this widescreen TV to test the game, but it's sort of on a milk crate on a chair because I don't have a table to put it on. And I can afford it now, which is great, I just need time to go and buy furniture.

Before I was like, "If you don't get it, fuck you..." But that's stupid. I want people to play my game.
Shack: Have you thought about expanding the Queasy Games staff to someone beyond yourself or is that not a direction you want to go in?

Jonathan Mak: No. It's not a business goal. I'm lucky this great business opportunity happened, but the goal is to just make games that I want to make.

Shack: Do you have a goal of even making commercially available games?

Jonathan Mak: That's a sticky question. This is something I battle with a lot. The question of accessibility. I'm sure every artist sort of battles. Part of it is wanting people to experience your work. For people to want to experience your work, you have to make it accessible somewhere. And if people want to experience your work, it's commercially viable.

A lot of it is sort of discovering how accessible I want the work to be, and recently I've been discovering, yeah, I want people to play my game. That's not crazy. Before I was like, "If you don't get it, fuck you. Go play your whatever game." But that's stupid. I want people to play my game.

Shack: Would you consider having other projects published on the PlayStation Network in the future?

Jonathan Mak: Yeah, I'm sort of forging this relationship with Sony. Particularly the Santa Monica guys, because they're just really fucking cool.

Shack: Would you develop for any other platforms?

Jonathan Mak: I'm not done with freeware. I want to make freeware and Sony knows this. Where would I be without Kenta Cho? If I didn't play that game, none of this would have happened. I sort of feel indebted to it.

Shack: What are some games you've played recently or heard about that you've been impressed with, independently developed or otherwise?

Jonathan Mak: There's a backlog of amazing indie games that I haven't even touched yet. [Daisuke Amaya's] Cave Story, Kenta Cho's new one which is old now, the Knytt guy--Within a Deep Forest. Just shitloads of games.

There is one game that I will mention because I think it's quite hilarious. When I was a kid I used to be a really huge John Woo fan. One time I watched "The Killer" 20 times--three times in a row at one point.

I read that John Woo's treating Stranglehold as the sequel to "Hard Boiled," and when it comes out on PS3 it's going to come with "Hard Boiled" on Blu-ray. I just have to see this, just to see what he's up to. There's just possibly a lot of comedy in the context of how huge a fan I was when I was a little kid. Maybe that's not funny. I think it's funny.

Shack: Have you played flOw? Kind of a similar situation--an independent game published on PSN.

Jonathan Mak: I finally played flOw, but I played it on my crap-ass TV with the most garbage speakers. I played the PC one ages ago. It was really cool. It's such an easy game to get into. It's sort of like a couple guys having a beer, except instead of drinking beer and being stupid, they play flOw.

Shack: Thanks for the interview. Good luck on finishing up the game. Get some sleep if you can.

Jonathan Mak: That's a cruel joke.

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