Game Dev Interview Series 003: Sam Hardy

1-bit return game dev sam hardy interview

Sam Hardy, an indie game dev and founder of the UK based studio, Aaro Arts has been successfully creating games since 2015. He has over 40 games under his belt, achieved multiple Apple features, and has recently joined forces with the team at Nanovation.

We had the opportunity to chat with Sam Hardy about his game dev journey, his game concept process, the inspiration behind 1-Bit Return, and the quintessential strategies that a game dev should follow to help get their game published. What is your background, and what inspired you to pursue making games?

Sam Hardy: Well, originally I’m from an Architectural background where I spent a few years learning and developing the art of Architectural Illustration and Designing. For a long time, it was my job to reimagine boring conceptual plans and turn them into wonderful, realistic pieces of art. I’ve always considered myself reasonably creative, and this helped me discover a passion for creating something from nothing.

From here my aspirations began to change as I wanted to move away from hand-drawn Illustration and learn more about creating Photorealistic Architecture using 3D Software. Truthfully, this is where my journey to creating games began, and to cut a long story short, I switched to a role that was better suited for learning 3D Software packages and Computing.

I was lucky enough to gain the experience I needed from this role, to then get into University and study Computing Science. The plan was, of course, to focus on 3D modeling and programming. However, I found myself fascinated by the coding aspect of Computing and quickly moved over to Programming and Developing before completing my Degree.

I’ve played video games for as long as I can remember, so naturally, the more I understood about Programming, the more I wanted to create my own. It was around the same time the Mobile Games Industry started to grow phenomenally, and if I wasn’t playing games in-between my studies, I was trying to create them.

What was the first mobile game that you ever made and what lesson did you learn from the process?

The first mobile game I ever made was a reference guide for a video game I was playing at the time, but that along with many others were never released or published. So, the first game I published to the App Store was a one-tap game called HamStar, which was a really simple game, where the user had to tap to boost and avoid oncoming asteroids.

Although I was incredibly excited to put my first game on the AppStore, I probably learned the most valuable lesson surrounding game making; never publish a game that isn’t finished!

As I started to develop more, it became increasingly obvious that even the most basic games require time and dedication, especially when writing them yourself. I quickly learned never to rush or cut corners during the development because if you do, your game will suffer, or worse, you cause more work down the line.

The experience I gained from this, was to channel the excitement of releasing a game into ensuring the game is 100% polished and is of the highest standard I can create.

Aaro Arts Studio is also part of Nanovation, how did you end up joining forces?

I have been incredibly fortunate to start working with the team and given a chance to learn more about developing games as well as the publishing side of the industry.

Starting out as a fan of Nanovation games, our relationship developed from a presence on social media to becoming inspired by the hard work these guys do and wanting to learn more. One thing led to another, and I was lucky enough jump aboard.

Primarily I work closely with developers, discussing their games and what goals they’ve set themselves. I’m there for any questions the developers have regarding the process of publishing and guiding them from finalizing a polished game, through to launch.

Of course, working with Nanovation is super fun because it gives me the opportunity to meet new developers and review or test flight all kinds of new and exciting games. I also push for a heavy social media presence as it’s a fantastic way to connect with our audience.

The opportunity is second to none, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be given a chance to work with some real players in the Mobile Games Industry.

I have a long way to go before I could consider myself worthy of this opportunity, but I hope to continue working closely with Nanovation and become more and more involved further down the line.

You currently have 40+ games available on the App Store, what are the techniques or strategies that you use to help you to come up with great game ideas?

I’m not sure all of my games can be considered great game ideas, but no matter the complexity I draw a little sketch of every idea, every mechanic and every character that pops into my head.

The notes folder on my phone is filled with scribbles, drawings, and descriptions of possible games. Many of my games have come from looking at all my sketches and combining aspects of each design to create something new.

For example these two doodles, created weeks apart, eventually became Tricky Tower when I tried merging the two concepts.

Tricky Tower Concept Image

Sam’s concept for the game, Tricky Tower.

Another strategy I’ve become accustomed to is cherry-picking features I like from a successful game and imagining how it would function in one of my sketches.

Recently, I’ve learned so much more on how to develop ideas further from both Trey Smith, founder of Buildbox and David Reichelt, creator of Color Switch. Both these guys have helped me so much by highlighting the importance of modeling and improving, as well as the art of conceptual blending, to invent brand new, unique concepts no-one’s thought of before.

How has using Buildbox helped you with your game development process overall?

I personally moved across to Buildbox from writing games in C++ with frameworks like SpriteKit, and honestly, Buildbox has been a game changer for me.

It’s not only helped me to save time by developing concepts faster but has allowed me to integrate features I never thought I’d be able to put in a game.

For example, Buildbox includes super-easy to use features like Character Selection, which are essential in current AppStore trends and the retention of our games. It would normally take hours for me to add features like this on my own, but with Buildbox I can integrate these quickly and concentrate more on the game creation itself.

Buildbox has almost certainly made me a better Game Developer. My games generally have more content and features, in turn offering more engaging gameplay. You can even see this if you compare my earlier work to the games I create now. After all, Buildbox is the reason I saw my first Apple Feature.

One of your more unique games is 1-Bit Return, what were your inspirations and how long did it take you to make?

1-Bit Return is a game I’m extremely proud of, and it’s definitely the game that I spent the longest developing. In fact, 1-Bit Return is a result of the first time I tried Conceptual Blending. At the time, I was playing a game called 1-Bit Rogue, which is a Monochromatic Pixel Style game and I wanted to try and make a game in Buildbox using this Art Style.

So with 2-Colour Pixel Art in mind, I started looking through the AppStore Charts, imagining how the Artwork would look in different gameplay styles. Of course, just as it is now, Isometric Zig Zag type gameplay was very popular, so I drew up a Sketch of what a Monochromic Pixelated version of a Zig Zag game would look like and straight away I knew I’d never seen anything like it before.

Of course, I was extremely excited to get started because I knew I had something unique, but instead of rushing the development of a game and releasing it for the immediate gratification, I put all my creative energy into working harder. I added features I had not used before (such as daily rewards and challenges) and aimed only to release a 100%, completely polished game when it was ready!

I was working on 1-Bit Return for around two months and needless to say, I was pretty sick of playing it by the time it was ready to ship. However, it was worth the hard work and repetitive polishing when I uploaded the final product, and a week later Apple Featured it in several countries around the World.

1-Bit Return Teaser Trailer:

Can you tell us about your latest game or project?

I’ve just started working on an all-new project based on a concept I came up with a few weeks ago. It’s like nothing I’ve personally worked on so far, and I’m very excited about it.

No doubt I will be posting a few spoilers on Twitter (@AaroArts) the further through the development I get. Watch this space!

With experience on both sides of the mobile game industry, what do you think indie developers should focus on if they want to get their game published?

While I am no expert, I would say if you’re a developer who is looking for an Apple Feature, or, to get your game published, I recommend you focus on creating a game that YOU would download if you saw it in an App Store search result. If you’re aiming to work with a top publisher, you’ll have to create a flawless game that’s unique, engaging and even better than what the publisher is already releasing.

If you’re targeting a specific publisher, design your game, artwork, and features around the qualities you see in the publisher’s top titles. You’ll have a much greater chance of catching their eye if your game includes similar and popular attributes.

When it’s time to approach them, it’s paramount you haven’t cut corners and that the level of detail is consistent throughout your game – ensure all artwork is 100% pixel perfect! You want your game to stand above the rest and grab the publisher’s attention.

Of course, publishers are extremely busy and receive an unbelievable amount of games daily, so don’t be disheartened if a publisher decides the game isn’t suitable. You’ve still established that relationship, so take what you’ve learned and the contacts you’ve made. And let it influence your next game. Be patient, work hard and don’t give up.

What would be one piece of advice that you’d give to a game dev that is having trouble staying motivated to finish their game?

That’s actually a great question and something I think we’ve all experienced at some point.

As my games become more complex, and the more I learn about game design, the bigger my projects are getting and the longer they’re taking to develop, so maintaining motivation is key. Fortunately, I continually see myself surrounded by a thriving community of other developers who are more than happy to help out, offer advice or simply cheer you on.

So the one piece of advice I would give is to talk to other game devs whenever you get the chance. If THEY don’t inspire you to finish your project, they’ll more than likely introduce you to a new game that will.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Right now I’m working hard on a new game that I hope to release in the coming months. I’m super-excited about it and can’t wait to show off some previews very soon.

With that said, I’m eagerly awaiting Buildbox 3.0, so I can aim for new heights as a game developer. Creating a 3D game is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I can’t wait to see what the Buildbox team are working on.

In the meantime, I hope to complete a few projects, update some older games and develop further in the publishing world.

You can learn more about Sam Hardy’s games and Aaro Arts on Twitter and his website.

Tiana Crump

About Tiana Crump

Tiana Crump is a journalist and social media manager at Buildbox with a passion for inspiring others and driving brand awareness. As a gamer and creator, she enjoys sharing game development insights, tips, and success stories from the Buildbox community.