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Interview: Wan Hazmer (The Last Canopy)

MAY 6, 2008

An interview with Wan Hazmer, developer of Ballistic Wars and The Last Canopy.

Hi Haz, can you introduce yourself for the benefit of our readers?

Sure thing! I'm Wan Hazmer, a Malaysian independent game developer. I have my own little set-up called Easy Only! Games. Now EOG has only one employee: me!

Thanks to my background in Computing and IT, I program all of my games, and I'm the main game designer as well. I can't draw to save my life, so I usually get my wonderful cousins and friends to be freelance artists.

People tell me that I'm a happy-go-lucky guy with a knack for entertaining others. I do not know as much about game design concepts and terminologies as many other game designers do, but I do know how to make games entertaining. I just happen to have a very simple view of how games can be fun.

Are you doing game development full-time?

When I'm not scratching my head for the next game idea, I work as a part-time lecturer in The One Academy, teaching interaction design and Flash programming to budding young multimedia designers.

I've always believed that everyone can understand programming, since everyone's logical in some way or another. The One Academy got to know of this passion of mine and decided to hire me to teach programming to multimedia design students. Since I have experience in Digital Advertising, I also teach interaction design and supervise students on their multimedia final year projects.

It's also my passion to teach others anyway, so I'm really enjoying myself at the moment.

Has any of your students played your games by now? Or are you keeping your game development activites a secret?

Yes they have seen my games. They knew about my passion for game design since I started working here, and I always try to seep in my game design knowledge into my lectures. They expressed their delight when they saw my passion come into fruition. My colleagues and students are very supportive. One of my students even blamed The Last Canopy for making her procrastinate on her college projects! XD

Can you introduce some of your team members who worked on Ballistic Wars?

For Ballistic Wars, I had Daim to work on the character designs and Leenyin on the interface. Daim is my close cousin and is an extremely talented character designer and animator. He's been drawing game fanart as far as I can remember and I always depend on him to create characters for my college projects! He's now working for a popular 3D Animation company Polygon Pictures in Japan. His portfolio site:

Leenyin is very close friend of mine whom I met in (if )interactive. She has a really good sense of commercial design and understand human-interface design to the tee. Now she's a freelance designer and is part of the design team for my next game! Her portfolio site:

Right, how about your mates who worked on The Last Canopy?

For The Last Canopy, I had Aidi to work on the enemy ship designs and Dzaid to work on the illustrations and the background design. Aidi is another close cousin of mine, and is well-known to be a big fan of anything futuristic, and so when I needed someone for ship designs, he was the first on my list! He's into mechanical designs, and you can see his passion through the enemy ship designs, which were superb!

Dzaid is yet another close cousin of mine and takes his time to appreciate animation masterpieces from Japan. Always a big fan of King of Fighters and J-RPGs, he carried forward his passion for animation into The Last Canopy, with awesome illustrated backgrounds and characters.

Without the artists, the games would never be as beautiful as they would be now, so I owe a lot to them for their great efforts in the games.

How has the response for Ballistic Wars and The Last Canopy been so far?

The responses have been great! As I mentioned on JayisGames, I never ever expected such a huge response from the community. I was first surprised when I finished Ballistic Wars, which had positive responses from both the JIG community and my family and friends. I hope that the sequel (coming out next month) answers most of the requests given by the game community.

As for The Last Canopy, I was eyeing the viral award too, so I was pushed to promote the game all over the Web. And again, I was taken by surprise. Support came in through various channels: thru the competition page, thru blogs, thru forums, etc, it was really overwhelming! I was amazed at how The Last Canopy was reviewed in many different languages!

Also, thanks to MochiAds, I get to know how many people played the game. I didn't expect for that number to reach 6 digits! It also helped to see people from all across the world to enter their name in the high score board. I'm so grateful to the online community for playing and supporting the game, and this has rekindled my passion to make better games in the future!

You've mentioned once that you had only discovered about the Casual Game Design Competition back in August 2007, and have since participated in two of them. Has anything changed for you since your recent wins?

Definitely, a whole lot of changes! Prior to my Ballistic Wars win last year, I didn't have much drive to make games for game's sake. Probably due to the common mindset here and my experience in the advertising industry, I keep questioning the financial feasibility of my game ideas.

Easy Only! Games was created initially to create advergames, 'cause I knew that would definitely pay the bills. On one fateful day in August 2007, I was doing my usual stuff, surfing endlessly through friends' blogs and funny YouTube videos, when suddenly I stumbled upon the fourth Jayis Casual Game Design Competition. It was open to everyone all over the world, so I thought I'd give it a shot! After many sleepless nights, Ballistic Wars was born.

Surprisingly it came in third place! The support from the international casual game community was so overwhelming that it rekindled my passion to create games for everyone to play. From that day onwards, Easy Only! Games changed its business direction. Till today, I've been making games only for game's sake, and I will continue to do so for a very long time!

Will you be participating in the next CGDC?

Yes, definitely I'll participate in the next CGDC! What I like about this competition is that it follows a certain theme, and I love limitations! The more limitations, the more creative one gets! And I love the folks at Jayisgames, they encouraged me to get into indie game development, so I shall continue to support them to the very end!

The casual games community isn't particularly fond of difficult games - did you receive any such feedbacks for The Last Canopy? Will you be making games with similar difficulty, or perhaps easier ones to accomodate their needs?

I was quite worried about that too. I mean, shmup as a casual game? And yes, The Last Canopy did turn out to be quite difficult. My student even used up all her 99 lives to reach Level 3! However, that very same student also played the game a whole lot of times, and even made it to the top 50 high score board. The lesson that I've learned here is that with difficulty comes addiction.

It's not really the difficulty that's the issue, it's more of the learning curve. If the game gets difficult too quickly, it becomes frustrating; too slowly, then it becomes boring. The community has responded positively, stating the amount of fun they had while climbing that curve. With The Last Canopy, I learned a lot from the JIG community about balancing this difficulty curve.

Since you've discovered JayisGames last year, and have played a couple of casual and indie games in that period, do you happen to have any favorites bookmarked?

Thanks to JayisGames, my favourites folder is now filled to the brim with all the fantastic indie games out there! People used to think that Flash games are created in just a day or two, but I have a whole folder of favourites to prove them wrong! I'd rather not list them all, too many!

Does Audiosurf counts? Since Vib Ribbon for PSOne, I've always wanted to make a game that takes in your MP3s and make a game out of it. I've been beaten. XD

My favourites are Audiosurf, all those Crayon Physics clones, those Liner games and of course, Shmups. :)

Any trivia about your games that we might not know about?

Believe it or not, half of the production time of The Last Canopy was done in Starbucks. I'm a self-confessed Starbucks addict!

So, what can we expect next from Easy Only! Games?

Easy Only! Games has three Flash games in the lineup right now: a match-3 game, a driving game and a platformer. Also, there are immediate plans to convert Ballistic Wars and The Last Canopy into stand-alone games, either for pay-per-download sites or for the PSN and XBLA.

I'm also very excited about the game pitch I'm writing for an MMO Casual game. It's still in its early stages, but I have a clear vision of its gameplay and its premise. I can't tell you more than that, but I'm confident that it'll work. :)

Do you plan to expand your production staff anytime soon? Or will you keep to small teams of three for the foreseeable future?

Well, not in the near future, unless any of the stand-alone game pitches get the green light. I love the current working structure that I have right now, because I'm so blessed with talented designers around me, so the 3-person team is ideal for Flash games at the moment.

Any advice for budding game developers out there?

Start small. It's a very big mistake to think that your first game is going to be your greatest. Save your big projects for later; aim to create small games regularly to train your game development skills.

Also, for starters, throw financial feasibility out of the window. What's worse than a horrible idea is a potentially great idea not executed just because everyone is too concerned about whether it makes money or not.

Lastly, remember to have fun while making your games. All the best to everyone!

Anything you'd like to say to fans of Easy Only! Games?

Thanks so much for supporting the games so far! I couldn't have got this far without you guys, so I hope that you continue to play my future games and give your honest opinions as always! Thanks, everyone!

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