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Indie Corner Spotlight – Paul Helman

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Next to step into the Indie Corner Spotlight is Paul Helman. Along with Sean Scaplehorn, Paul has recently released Horace on the Steam store. Read on to find out what inspired Paul to make games, and discover the games development journey he has been on.

How long have you been a developer?

25 years professionally this December! I started as an artist at Probe Entertainment working on ‘Die Hard Trilogy’ and worked on a few other games there before leaving to join Simon Pick (lead coder on ‘Die Hard Trilogy’) at his then-new dev studio, Picturehouse.

Sadly, Picturehouse only released one game ‘Terracon’, it was very well received critically but hardly sold anything, it was a last-gen PS1 game released the same month as the PS2!

When Picturehouse wound down in 2003, I decided I’d had enough of the four-hour daily commute to and from to London, so I turned to freelancing on various game contracts from home.

While this paid my bills, I often found the work unrewarding. So, around 2010, I decided to learn enough coding to put a game together, which, after many failed prototypes, led to me starting ‘Horace’ in July 2012, literally 7 years ago!

How many years has your team been developing games?

I worked for the first 3 years on Horace by myself during evenings and weekends while still working on freelance contracts during the day to pay the bills. I was able to do everything myself having worked as an artist for decades and having also played in various bands and being a massive fan of TV and Film, and I had the cinematic side covered. Plus, with the coding, I’d learned I’d quickly put together something I thought was decent.

But even now there’s only 2 of us on the ‘team’! I realised around the start of 2015 that if I were going to get Horace finished quicker than a decade or two, I would need to work on the project full time, and I would need some help. As coding was my weakest side, I contacted my coder friend Sean Scaplehorn, who had worked with me at Picturehouse. Officially, Sean came on board in late 2015 and well, here we are 4 years later!

Who, or what, inspired you to become a games developer?

I’ve been a professional game developer since I was 17 in 1994. It’s all I’ve ever done! Some of my earliest memories are playing Space Invaders, and Pacman aged around 3 years old, so I guess I’ve just always wanted to make games!

There has never been a point in my life where I haven’t wanted to make video games! Thankfully I’ve had the opportunity to spend more than half my life doing just that!

Describe a usual day in the life of an indie development team.

Both I and Sean work from home, so there’s not a massive amount of actual team interactions. We’ll often talk on Skype in the morning then again in the afternoon if necessary.

We use an online repository for all our assets and code, so conversations were more along the lines of, ‘I’m working on ‘X’or ‘have you touched that recently?’. This normally avoids conflicts and lost work, but it’s not 100% foolproof!

As far as my day goes, I’m usually up around 7 am then work in 3 shifts with breaks in between to eat. Sometimes, I will work until midnight or 1 am if there’s stuff I need to get done.

I’m sure I don’t have to explain I don’t get out much! But I get lots done working in this way!

Can you describe the process/timeline of developing a game?

With Horace it wasn’t particularly ‘normal’, the whole process was pretty drawn out, but that’s expected with such a tiny ‘team’.

As I say, I worked for 3 years by myself, whereby I designed most of the game. This was a relatively quick process but I soon I realised I needed someone else on board!

Then once Sean had joined me, the ‘real’ work began! We would make the gameplay elements then test, fix and iterate! At this point, it was just lots of passing my ideas to Sean and then playing around with them until we got a games worth of ‘fun’.

But as the old cliche says, the final 1% always takes as long as the other 99% of the work! Meaning it feels like we’ve been fixing bugs and issues for the last couple of years straight!

How do you juggle all of the aspects of games development?

Badly! Seriously though, I’ve worked on every aspect of creating Horace so when I got overwhelmed by the gameplay or technical side of things, I tended to move on to graphics, music or animation.

By continually moving round like this from ‘left brain’ to ‘right-brain’ work, I found it quite easy to keep going and stay motivated. Well, sometimes, at least!

7 years is a long time to stay 100% motivated, and I have still often found myself getting completely exhausted, especially when there’s so much to be created by hand by me personally!

What is your ambition as an Indie Developer?

Probably a bit of another old cliché but I want to make a game people enjoy playing and, not to sound like some evil capitalist, I’d like to make enough money to fund my next game. Or at the very least support the next demo.

I don’t want to change the world, or even the world of video games, I want to make something that other people will enjoy.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into the games industry?

I suppose the most appropriate quote would be the ancient Roman philosopher ‘Horace’, “Begin! Be bold and venture to be wise!”, in other words, get your hands dirty and get started!

There’s so much freeware and cheap software these days that the only thing holding someone back would be their time and dedication.

Just get on with it, start drawing some sprites or making some 3d models and chucking them around the screen. You’ll soon end up with something exciting!

Where do you see gaming heading in the next decade?

I can imagine there would be even more of a divide between big triple-A titles and small indie games. Whether that’s a bad thing or not, I honestly don’t know!

I expect to see lots more progress with 3d and VR technology which, while very technically impressive, I don’t personally have much interest in. Hopefully, it will lead to better stories and better integration of narrative rather than more realistic guns and guts!

My younger self always thought that video games of the future would be 2d pixel art, sprawling narrative adventure platform games. I’m hopeful that Horace is proof that this can still be true!

I’d like to thank Paul for giving up his previous tome to take part in the Indie Corner Spotlight Interview. if you, or your team, would like to feature, please get in touch.

You can purchase Horace from the Steam Store by using the link below.

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