Jonathan Mak

Jonathan Mak never expected things to go the way they did, but one fateful day in January 2007, he was approached by Sony Entertainment to showcase his abstract, vector-based, guitar heavy shoot’em up game Every Day Shooter, on Playstation’s Online Gaming network, as a paid download. This was an indie gaming developers wet dream. The game is a blissful escape from all the over-conceptualized games on the market these days. As he puts it, “Imagine God made you a little glowing dot, and the music in your head had no where to go but out.” If you don’t have a PS3, you can still check it out here, where it’s available for download to your PC.

“Yah, I was very lucky. I didn’t even want to go to that meeting, I was thinking like, ‘aw, this is going to suck.”

Format: Can you describe Every Day Shooter to someone who has never played it before?
Jon Mak: It’s like a music album, except that instead of being made up of songs, it’s a collection of abstract shoot’em-up games. As the player goes through the levels and shoots things, you end up making music. Like an enemy will explode and they will play a melody, guitar riff, or a note. There are eight levels, and they are all fairly different in game play but digitalized using a similar vector style. It works nicely because you can attach game play parameters to visuals so that it reacts with the music.

Format: What kind of music were you influenced by?
Jon Mak: The game is all lo-fi guitars in the background; the sound effects are guitars too, it has a very indie-rock feel. I don’t really have the skills to mimic the things I listen to but I was influenced by a lot of stuff they would play on like Death Cab for Cutie, Stars, Broken Social Scene, Spiritualized even.

Format: Could Every Day Shooter have been launched on an older generation system or did the new consoles have an impact on its development?
Jon Mak: It could have been launched on any system but it was originally made for PC. It didn’t make the transition to PS3 until I was approached by one of their reps that asked me to submit it to Playstation Network (PSN). One of the joys of modern technology is that you get to release your own programs. You could spend your time designing great code, or you can spend it designing a great game. In that sense, it couldn’t have run on a Nintendo DS for example. Well, ok, maybe some amazing programmer out there could have done it, but I probably can’t. In that sense you need a fairly modern system.

Format: Sony scouted you! That’s so cool.
Jon Mak: Yah, I was very lucky. I didn’t even want to go to that meeting, I was thinking like, ‘aw, this is going to suck.’ I felt like it was going to feel like some dude versus a giant but they were actually really cool. I don’t know the rest of Sony, they’re huge, but Rusty Peterson from Sony Entertainment, he was a good guy. I remember being in the meeting going through a mental checklist of things that developers could fuck up, and he reassured me that that wouldn’t happen…and they didn’t!

Format: What is your background?
Jon Mak: My background is in computers. My parents owned a computer shop. And my dad was too lazy to hire a technician, so I have a very techy background but the vectors didn’t really come till maybe 2004, I saw a game by a guy called Kenneth Cho, called Parsec 47. I didn’t know how to program that but I thought I wanted to do something using that style, so that’s how that started. So this would be an evolution of that style.

Format: So what can you tell us about the indie gaming movement?
Jon Mak: It’s still in its infancy. There’s a diversity, but with respect to what’s going on in the mainstream. For some people it’s about pushing boundaries, for others, they’re trying to make a game on a budget, for me, it’s just following what I like to do, to be independent from other media. That doesn’t mean different, to me, it means being independent from the market. I think that you really are indie provided that it’s your voice, or the voice of a cohesive band or person. If you put your whole heart and soul in to it, then it’s going to have your personality.

Format: Can you imagine an indie gaming console being created?
Jon Mak: Well I think the console would be instead of a hardware thing, it could be more of a software platform for example how Flash is a platform. A game in flash could probably run on a console, I’m not sure if console browsers have flash players but, yah I think it would be something like that. I think we’re close to that point but the challenge is finding a good way of making a game that everyone would buy in to. They actually do have something for PC called Game Maker. It would be really cool if we could see something like that that worked for every platform. It wouldn’t be an indie console per se, but something that would work on every platform. And like I said earlier, we would have to spend less time worrying about programming for specific consoles.

Format: What is your earliest gaming memory?
Jon Mak: One of my earliest memories, I don’t remember how old I was, but I was sort of afraid to play games, because I was afraid of dying, but I used to watch my older brothers play them. My first memorable experience was when my dad bought me a 386 with one of the first CD-ROM drives, and he gave me this disc with Ultima 6 and Wing Commander. I was actually more interested in this Monopoly knock-off that came with the disc. But seriously, the first game that I really got in to playing was Wing Commander. I thought it was great because the music reacted to how you were playing, and the visuals reacted as well. Like you get hit and you take a bit of damage, but your cockpit would start stroking and the screen would turn red. It really felt like it was the end of the world. It really put you in the mode.

Format: So what kind of games are you in to right now?
Jon Mak: Well I’m in Japan right now for the Tokyo Game Show, which I was supposed to attend but things got a bit side-tracked. However, I noticed right away that they had Street Fighter IV in the arcades, which isn’t out yet in North America. I’ve been really consumed with that since the get go. I went to this other arcade where they had this older game called Tank Wars; I really like old games. It’s so good and satisfying but it’s still really frustrating. I wish they could go back and make them better. They’ve also got this thing right now where they use the Microsoft Surface / reacTable where you move around these physical playing cards and the table screen interacts with them. It’s incredible; I would love to work on something like that, but the start-up costs, and learning the language…

Format: So, can you tell me about what you’re working on right now?
Jon Mak: Well, no sorry, that’s privileged information at the moment, but the last thing I produced was for a three day indie gaming conference called Toronto Independent Gaming Development Jam (TOJAM). The game is called Flowers of Error. We were imagining what a ‘shooter’ would be like on a touch screen, so we made it that you can move everything in the game, including the enemies, just by touching them. Of course for PC you have to use a mouse. You can drag the enemies away from you, or your own guy of course. You have these bombs that you have to set up and they turn the enemies into hiccups, which are points, but they’re also letters. So you pick these up and it spells out a story.

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Jesse Ship
I'm currently Managing Editor of this little web mag here.
Jesse Ship

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