One Man Army is a game we really love here at Chillingo. Part shooter, part tower defense, the game serves up equal amounts of action and strategy, satiating both our brain’s and our brawn’s needs all at once. We chat here with the game’s primary creator, Val Viala, a woman who’ve we’ve unofficially deemed a one-woman army.
Chillingo: Can you tell us a little bit about what you did before starting Tickled Pink Games?
Val Viala: I started out in the games industry at a company here in Vancouver called Koolhaus Games. I switched to freelancing around four years ago and have been doing that since. It has given me so much freedom and allows me to work on some amazing projects.
I created the artwork for the Facebook game Country Life, which has taken up a lot of my time, as well as many other small projects. It was through my freelancing work that I started Tickled Pink Games in able to go from an independent artist to a developer.
Chillingo: What made you eventually start your own gaming company? Have you had any formal game-making training?
VV: I have always been a self-starter. When I went to art school I realized after six months that I could learn a lot more and at a faster pace on my own. So I quit, bought a bunch of instructional DVDs and books and created a demo reel on my own. I’ve always had more success when I start something up on my own so I figured it could be the same with making games.
I love games and what goes into designing them. I’m also always up for a good challenge and opportunity! The timing just seemed right with casual gaming becoming so popular and me feeling like I had enough experience to take this on. I didn’t have any formal game-making training but I had hours upon hours of iPhone game-playing experience :)
Chillingo: You are a very accomplished artist in various mediums. Did you do all of the art in One Man Army?
VV: Thanks! I always love to learn new practical skills for making games. One Man Army was a great opportunity to learn more. I did most of the art but I must say although I’ve dabbled in animation I’ve never been a huge fan (partially because I’m just not that good at it!). So I did some of the character animation but a lot of it was done by Robert Dowling.
Chillingo: What else did you do in the game?
VV: I did the game design but had many ideas from others, mainly Robert Crane, the programmer of One Man Army. Initially I didn’t realize how much goes into designing a game. I spent a lot of time fleshing out the vision I had for the game and then re-working it to fit with programming.
I think I probably ended up spending the most time deciding on the hit points, speed and path of each of the mutants on each wave of each level. It felt like forever that I would design a level, test it, tweak it, test it, tweak it, let someone else test it, tweak it some more… eventually I had to just say this is enough and be happy with it!
Chillingo: Having your own company, making a game, raising a family — it’s all really hard work. Can you give us a quick rundown of what a typical day of yours might consist of?
I think the perception of the action genre in games being a “guy’s thing” is only true when the game relies solely on action to make it popular.
VV: I only recently became a mother so things have changed quite drastically since! In some ways it’s hard work because all of the little things you need to stay on top of adds up, but mainly it’s just amazingly rewarding being a mother and making a game! It’s been an exciting time of life.
My days aren’t often typical and often change day to day depending what is going on. I am pretty casual about my schedule and work it a lot around my daughter. Pretty much every day consists of me trying to sleep in as much as I can with a baby, then going for a walk and coffee to start the day and from there it’s always different! I have to make a conscience effort to keep balanced especially because I’m working at home.
I play a lot of basketball to keep active and stay involved with my local church which keeps me connected in the community. I usually end up fitting my work time in when my daughter is napping and late at night. Rob, the programmer, is based in Australia and Chillingo is in the UK so because I’m in Vancouver working at night works well for communicating in the different time zones.
Chillingo: How different is your approach to creating 3D artwork over 2D artwork?
VV: The approach isn’t that different because they both come about from similar processes. The most important thing is to start with a solid idea and concept. I always start by researching to get a feel of what I want to convey. If I want to have a mutant but I want him to be appealing and not grotesque then I do lots of research to get an idea of what that might look like.
I will play with lots of ideas at that point and look at images of very grotesque mutants and super cute monsters and just pick and choose what I like and don’t like about them. It gives me a better idea of how to convey the vision I have in my mind. After that I sketch things out enough to get an idea of what the final character will look like.
If it’s in 3D I open up Maya and if it’s 2D I stay in Photoshop. I feel like they are very similar, just different programs and techniques. Once I have an idea of what I want to portray it is very technical after that in actually creating it, whether it’s 3D or 2D.
Chillingo: Mixing a shooter with a tower defense game makes perfect sense, but One Man Army is the first game we’ve played that’s done it. Where did the idea come from?
VV: I’m actually surprised it hasn’t been done before especially because tower defense games are so popular. I noticed one reviewer of One Man Army said “I have played tower defense games in the past but as fun as they can be, they always lacked something. This fills in exactly what they were missing — the FPS aspect!” I felt the same way, that tower defense games were a great concept but overall they were missing something. Especially since there have been countless tower defense games and the genre is frankly getting saturated.
I absolutely love strategy games so I wanted to freshen up the genre. I was actually inspired by another Chillingo game, Minigore, that I thought it was really fun and simple. I felt like if I combined the idea of Minigore with tower defense it could be something super fun and fast paced, but not mindless like many shooters. After doing some research I found to my surprise nothing like that had been done before. And that was the beginning of One Man Army!
We were trying to portray something more similar to Will Smith’s character in I Am Legend.
Chillingo: Any fun development stories or cool facts about the game you can let the fans in on?
VV: Well initially we were going to make the main character an over the top Rambo type character but part way through changed him to an everyday Joe. We were trying to portray something more similar to Will Smith’s character in I Am Legend. With that, we were also planning on putting more emphasis on the story but unfortunately with time delays we weren’t able to explore that as much. Hopefully that can be done more in the future!
I don’t know if this is a cool fact, but a fact nonetheless is that we initially thought we could complete this game in 3 months. We were very naive! Instead it ended up taking almost two years of us working on it part time. In the time we made the game I got pregnant and had a baby, and I could have done that twice while still working on the game. Yikes!
Chillingo: One Man Army is like a Michael Bay movie in its perfect over-the-top plot and big action. That said, press have been surprised that it was created by a female. What are your thoughts on the overall perception that the action genre in games (or other media) is a “guy’s thing”?
VV: It’s interesting when I show people the game I created they often have a similar reaction. They seem to think it’s either really cool or really surprising! I think when you play One Man Army you realize it’s not just an over-the-top action game. I put a lot of thought into One Man Army and didn’t ever want it to be full of mindless action.
I don’t find games like that fun and although I think there’s nothing wrong with cool explosions and fight scenes I think they should be used in a complimentary way. I think most girls enjoy a good action movie and would enjoy a good action game, as long as there’s something creative and thoughtful about it. I think the perception of the action genre in games being a “guy’s thing” is only true when the game relies solely on action to make it popular. Girls like action too, just not action alone.
Chillingo: Any last words for aspiring game makers or artists out there?
VV: I always say dream big! I believe everyone has their gifts for a reason - so use them!