Interview with Jason Newman & Craig Collver - Akurra

Interview with Jason Newman & Craig Collver - Akurra
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Since we covered Jason Newman and Craig Collver’s Akurra in our Kickstarter Project of the Week series, we thought we’d reach out to ask a few more questions. Newman (programmer) and Collver (composer) were kind enough to sit down with us to reveal more about the progress of developing Akurra.

Alex: Please tell us a little bit about Akurra.

Jason: Akurra is a retro style, block pushing, island hopping, puzzle and exploration extravaganza similar to classics like Chip’s Challenge, Adventure’s of Lolo, Star Tropics, and Zelda! Akurra features a rich, high quality, and super mystical soundtrack created by one of my best buds, Craig Collver. I think the soundtrack goes perfectly with the relaxed atmosphere and the go-at-your-own-pace puzzle solving.

The puzzles in Akurra build complexity over time as you unlock new areas and islands with new puzzle pieces and mechanics. You can complete any puzzles available to you in any order you choose. The game is enjoyable for everyone from puzzle novices who just want to take their time and explore, to hardcore puzzle da Vinccis who want to try and find all the secrets to get a 100% completion rate.

A: How much can you (or are willing to) tell us about Akurra‘s protagonist?

J: Exploration and discovery are key aspects to the experience that Akurra has to offer. The backstory of the protagonist is a secret that the player will learn about as the story unfolds!

A: According to your Kickstarter campaign, you say that your character has “… a lot of freedom to move around and explore compared to many traditional single screen puzzle games.” and with the ability to ride around on a sea turtle, just how much freedom are we talking here?

J: Well, in a lot of puzzle games, the player progresses through levels, and puzzles are usually a single screen. The player must solve each puzzle one at a time before moving on to the next level. Akurra takes inspiration from Zelda style games in that the world is composed of multiple interconnected screens, with many screens containing one or more puzzles. There are also “meta puzzles” which are puzzles that must be solved across multiple screens to accomplish something. As the player explores each island, they can solve any puzzles they have access to in any order they choose, and solving some puzzles opens up new areas to explore. On top of that, there is an overworld that the player can explore featuring a few large islands and many small islands. In this way the game is a bit like a traditional JRPG where the player can move to different locations, and over time will gain new abilities and modes of transportation to explore the world further!

A: It seems obvious, but Akurra is clearly inspired by top-down Legend of Zelda entries. Have you taken inspiration from any other franchises?

J: Yeah! The game actually started out as a Chip’s Challenge style game, so there is still a bit of influence from that. In Chip’s Challenge the player must collect keys and items to solve a puzzle. In Akurra, certain locks in the game reset when you leave the screen. This makes these puzzles a bit like Chip’s Challenge in that you can’t complete the puzzle without “obtaining all the keys” and unlocking everything on the screen. In the full game there will also be some items which act similarly to items in Chip’s Challenge in that they permanently help you overcome certain obstacles. Which leads me to my next inspiration which is Super Metroid. Akurra features unlockable “powers” as you progress through the game which allow you to access new areas. But the twist on this concept is that the powers you unlock are mostly in the form of new puzzle pieces. So the player can move on to new puzzles, but also return to previously explored areas and find that puzzles that they thought were solved may have a new way of solving and more secrets to discover! One of my greatest gaming memories as a child was finishing Super Metroid and seeing my paltry completion rate. The idea that the game had so many secrets that I just didn’t even know existed was mind blowing! I started a new file immediately and started paying closer attention, it was like an entirely new experience! I want to capture that sense of wonder with Akurra.

A: You also state that Akurra is based around a game called Sokoban. Let’s assume that I’ve heard of this before but for those who haven’t, can you please provide an overview of this game and how you’ve used that inspiration in Akurra?

J: Sokoban, as far as I know, was the first block pushing game. The player would move blocks around a warehouse, and the puzzle was solved when the player pushed all the blocks onto the correct locations. Over time games innovated and expanded on this concept by adding more complexity, objects to interact with, and hazards. Akurra explores the concept further, while also staying true to the roots of the genre: Akurra should be intuitive to most people, especially those who have played any form of block pushing puzzle game. But it should also contain some surprises as players experiment and learn about how the various objects in the game interact.

A: I have to give a special mention to the game’s music because it is, for lack of a better word, incredible. Craig, please provide our readers with a background of your experience with video game music, your previous work and how you were brought on to compose the soundtrack for Akurra.

Craig: Many thanks for your supportive sentiment for my tunes! I’ve been creating music since I was a teenager and just to give you an idea of how long ago that was, I have now leveled up to the glorious days of having wizardly white hair growing out of my chin! 

I didn’t get serious into playing and creating music until I was in my early to mid 20s. I played keyboards with a Reggae/Rock/Hip Hop band called, “Pharmies”, throughout the San Francisco Bay area of California. During these jamin times of over 5 years, I really learned a ton about songwriting, song structure, chords, scales, progressions, you name it. Working with my talented musician friends absolutely improved my solo music projects.

My solo music also has influences from video game composers such as: Koji Kondo (Mario and Zelda), Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger), Grant Kirkhope (Goldeneye 007 and Banjo-Kazooie), and David Wise (Donkey Kong Country) just to shoutout a few. I’ve loved video games and music pretty much my whole life, and I’ve always wanted to merge these two passions together.

A: Did Jason provide any context or instructions for how he wanted the music themed or were you given complete creative freedom?

C: More often than not, I randomly create music built off expression and emotion with no real theme or guidelines. I just sort of record my free-flowing thoughts. If I make something cool, I’ll get excited and share it with my friends. Jason and I have been buds since we were kids, and I would often spam him with my random tunes as adults. When he decided to start a video game project, he gave me a shot at creating a song. His guidelines were, “make some righteously dope, mysterious, tribal beats.” (Just to paraphrase.) I believe the first song I made was the title screen song and he loved it as he sent me that hilarious GIF of Vince Mcmahon losing his mind. This has now become a new method of creating music for me. I actually have a theme to stick with and rules to go by. I do have creative freedom, however, if something is not right, Jason and my brother Dan will make sure I fix it. Jason has absolutely helped carve the direction of Akurra music. If it wasn’t for his visionary critiquing, the music wouldn’t sound the same.

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A: So why was Nintendo Switch your first choice of platform after PC/Mac/Linux?

J: I chose to focus on Switch first for a few reasons. First of all, there seemed to be a demand: During development many people have asked me about a Switch port, and there seems to be a decent indie game audience on the platform. From what I hear, Nintendo has made it quite easy for indie developers to publish on the console. With games like Animal Crossing being so popular right now, I think the style of Akurra will fit nicely on the Switch in a lot of ways. The controls are simple, it has a bright and colorful style, and the relaxed go at your own pace puzzle solving are things that I think will resonate with Switch players. Finally, I grew up gaming on the NES and SNES, so Nintendo has had a big impact on me as a gamer and game designer. It will feel like a great accomplishment for me to publish a game on a Nintendo console! But I’d be happy to port the game to additional consoles if there is a demand for it!

A: Have you released a game on Nintendo Switch before in the past?

J: No, this is my first major game release in general!

A: How was the process of approaching Nintendo to get your game on their console?

J: The game is still in early development, so I won’t be able to answer that question until later!

A: Do you have, or have you considered, any plans for exclusive Switch features (e.g. HD Rumble, touchscreen, etc.)?

J: Hmm, I have not. But that sounds radical! I love that Nintendo likes to experiment with their consoles, and I’ll be happy to explore how I can take advantage of those kinds of features and improve my game!

A: Can you please tell us a little bit more about how Akurra‘s development has been coming along, if there have been any challenges and how it stands in mid 2020?

J: The development has been great, but since we are a small two man team, we’ve had to pause for a bit to focus on marketing and running the Kickstarter. Once the Kickstarter wraps up we can dive back in, and as it stands I estimate the game will take 1 to 2 years to finish. An important part of the development process for me is to get feedback from players. It seems that after this Kickstarter we will have an even larger group of enthusiastic people ready to test the game and help us make some truly mind bending puzzles!

A: In regards to your Kickstarter campaign at the moment which we are about halfway through, has that been reaching your expectations?

J: You better believe it! I was honestly terrified that it would fail, so it has surpassed my expectations! Now I’m just hoping we can hit a couple stretch goals!!

A: Can you tell us more about your Stretch Goal plans and what we could expect?

J: Our first goal is to get the money we need to do a Switch port. After that, we would like to be able to get some better tools and more musical instruments for Craig to make some new funky jams! Further stretch goals might include some more physical goods and commissioned artwork for posters, the instruction manual, etc. If the Kickstarter does really well we can afford to give ourselves some pay. Especially Dan, Craig’s younger brother who is also our QA guy. He works really hard testing the game in his free time. All three of us are really invested in the project, and are happy to put in the time and energy to finish it. But I would be ecstatic if I could pay Craig and Dan something in the meantime!

A: Is there anything you’d like to say to backers or to people who are on the fence about backing?

J: I created a very large demo for this very reason! If you want to know if you will like the game, don’t take my word for it, go download the demo and try it for yourself! If you enjoy it, please consider supporting our project!

A: Provided your campaign reaches its stretch goal, when can we expect to play Akurra on Nintendo Switch?

J: Since this is my first release, it’s difficult to say. Game launches are not simple, and some people say your game release is not the finish line, but the starting line. We also want to make sure the game is the highest level of quality when it launches on the Switch. So our initial PC, MAC, and Linux launch will expose many ways that we can improve the game I’m sure. My guess for now is that the game will release on the Switch a few months after our initial release, in order to see what needs to be fixed, and to properly test the game on the platform.

A: Is there anything else that you’d like to say to our readers?

J: I really hope that you all will go try out the demo, and if you enjoy it, consider supporting us on Kickstarter. We want to make this game as great as we possibly can, and we need help from all of you to do it!

A: And where can our readers go to learn more about Akurra and keep up to date with the game’s progress?

J: The best place at the moment is the Kickstarter page:

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Thank you for checking out our Akurra interview, thank you to Jason and Craig for taking the time to answer our questions and thank you to our $5 and up Patreon Backers for their ongoing support: