Andi Hagen has turned his hand to a lot of things, but he’s clearly passionate about RPGs. Writer of Pen and Paper RPG resources and creator of Void Pyramid, a free old-school inspired RPG (available now on PC, Mac, Linux and Android) it’s a love he wears openly. MBU managed to grab a moment of his time to discuss role playing, and the development of Void Pyramid.
MBU: Obviously, a massive thank you for taking the time to answer questions for us. Can you introduce yourself for those who are perhaps not acquainted with your work?
ANDI: One time, I was interviewing someone for a job and they described themselves like this, “If you give me a book on brain surgery, I can probably get a C+ in it.” That describes me pretty well too. Obviously, I’ve made some video games. There’s Void Pyramid, Alien Squatter, Ramble Planet, and lots of others. But I also write tabletop RPG books, draw, make music, and pretty much anything else that seems interesting. Anything creative, I can probably get a C+ in.
MBU: I imagine most people visiting MBU will be most familiar with you through Void Pyramid, which is available free across multiple platforms. When did you decide that you wanted to sit down and commit your time to the creation of an RPG?
ANDI: Anytime I see something cool, I always think, “I’m going to try and do that.” That’s probably why I’ve got so many interests. I’ve always been into video games, especially RPGs, so I’ve wanted to make one my whole life. I really got into game development when I found a game engine (OHRRPGCE) that was simple enough for me to use. Now the flood gates have been opened and I’m making games all the time. I love it. I can’t stop.
MBU: Was the futuristic Egyptian theme something that came first, or did that develop as a concept organically throughout the course of development?
ANDI: Whenever I start imagining a new game, I always try to have a strong hook. This is something that immediately sets the game apart from similar games. The Egyptian theme in Void Pyramid was a deliberate attempt to do something weird and eye-catching. I did a similar thing with my newest game, Alien Squatter, which is about homeless extraterrestrials living in a capitalist dystopia.
MBU: What tools did you use to develop the game and how long would you estimate development lasted?
ANDI: Void Pyramid was created using a game engine called OHRRPGCE. It’s like a simpler, more flexible version of RPG Maker. It’s very easy to use and is still updated regularly by its original creator who is a really nice person. I could spend this entire article talking about the merits of OHRRPGCE, but I won’t. Basically, it’s pretty awesome.
Creating Void Pyramid took 12 months of regular, daily work. I did the writing, design, and coding. Shea Kennedy made the artwork. CJ Paz produced the music. Despite all that time, Void Pyramid isn’t a very long game, but it’s dense, and that should count for something. I don’t know, maybe I just work slow. I’m also sort of a perfectionist.
MBU: Did you encounter any serious issues that needed you to re-think elements of the title that you had planned to include? Was any content ultimately cut?
ANDI: Not really. I made 5 or so games before Void Pyramid so I had gotten pretty comfortable with the game design process. I outlined the game’s setting and systems before starting, and I stuck to my plan. However, I’m detail oriented and a little obsessed, so once I started filling the dungeon with various things to do and interact with, I got totally carried away. Every room has special encounters, hidden treasures, and detailed descriptions of things. That’s probably why Void Pyramid took forever to make.
MBU: What has the feedback from players been like since launch?
ANDI: People like Void Pyramid. That makes me feel good. I especially like that people like it for the same reasons I do: the weird, gritty setting; the sense of exploration and mystery; and the unusual but intuitive character advancement system. Some people think that trying to find all the game’s hidden stuff is frustrating. They’re probably right.
MBU: Void Pyramid has nods in its advertising to a number of classic RPGs such as Ultima, and an art style reminiscent of classic Dragon Quest titles. What was the biggest influence on the game?
ANDI: The SaGa series of games from Square was a major influence on Void Pyramid’s systems. Those games don’t use traditional level-up mechanics. Instead, the characters randomly gain stats and abilities under various circumstances. It feels very organic. I used a similar advancement system in Void Pyramid.
The Warhammer 40,000 universe from Games Workshop provided inspiration for Void Pyramid’s setting. In WH40K, mankind has been consumed by various never-ending galactic wars. Development of science and culture has basically stopped. I wanted to create a similarly futuristic yet primitive setting for Void Pyramid. I also wanted to capture some of WH40K’s bleakness and strangeness. I am a regular gamemaster for tabletop RPGs.
All my roleplaying experience also had a big effect on Void Pyramid. Tabletop RPGs are much better than video games at modeling activities aside from combat. That’s why I added the brawn, wits, and agility stats to Void Pyramid. I wanted to have the character’s abilities matter while exploring the dungeon, not just while fighting enemies.
MBU: You’ve also developed a number of RPG supplements and books for pen and paper roleplaying. Have you considered producing Void Pyramid as a stand-alone pen and paper campaign?
ANDI: I spent a long time agonizing over the answer to this question. After a really unnecessary amount of thought, I decided that Void Pyramid wouldn’t make a very good tabletop RPG setting. The things that make Void Pyramid interesting are visual (i.e. the grungy, decrepit atmosphere and the Egyptian motifs). With a tabletop RPG, so much of that visual information would be lost and the setting would seem generic as a result.
MBU: Which pen and paper systems do you prefer and what originally got you into roleplaying?
ANDI: I got into roleplaying the same way (almost) everyone else does, by playing Dungeons & Dragons. I don’t play D&D too much anymore. Mostly, I prefer science fiction settings. The wackier, the better! One of my all-time favorites is Rifts. That game has everything! It’s a post-apocalypse setting with aliens, vampires, wizards, Nazis, cowboys, and lots of anthropomorphic animals. There are two whole source books just about South America and three about the Wild West! Craziness!
MBU: Do you have a favourite supplement you’d like to shout out about?
ANDI: Aside from Rifts, I also have a lot of admiration for an old game called World of Synnibarr. This RPG has sort of a cult status because it’s totally weird and wild. It’s basically one man’s over-the-top science fiction version of D&D. The premise is that Mars is actually a giant spaceship filled with dragons, gods, giants, and other fantasy stuff. There are also robots and spaceships. The whole thing is wrapped in an impenetrable set of rules. The enormous rulebook includes systems for magic, martial arts, psychic powers, alchemy, vehicle combat, and vehicle construction. I wish I had made it! I doubt anyone aside from its creator has ever actually played it.
MBU: How do you think your experience with pen and paper systems fed into the development of Void Pyramid?
ANDI: Tabletop RPG systems tend to be simpler than video game systems since they are dependent on human brains to handle all the calculating. With tabletop RPGs, it’s nice that all the players understand the rules and can make informed decisions using them. I tried to create very simple and streamlined systems for Void Pyramid so that the player could understand them and feel like nothing was being hidden from them behind the scenes.
MBU: Would you ever consider a revamped HD version of Void Pyramid with a crisp new art style or do you think that the retro CRPG feel it has is a part of its draw?
ANDI: Remaking an old game is pretty boring to me. Developing a game takes a precious months or years out of my life, and I would hate to waste all that time doing something I’ve already done before. That being said, maybe I could be talked into a Void Pyramid sequel.
MBU: The game hasn’t seen an update since 2016, is the book now closed on Void Pyramid?
ANDI: Void Pyramid is done. I might update it again if anyone finds any game breaking bugs, but I’ve moved onto new projects now.
MBU Are you considering making another RPG?
ANDI: I actually have made another RPG! My newest game is an RPG called Alien Squatter, and it’s currently available for PC, Mac, and Android. In Alien Squatter, you play a homeless extraterrestrial in a futuristic version of Japan. You have to do what it takes to survive in a totally decrepit, corrupt, and hostile urban dystopia. Alien Squatter’s artwork and music is by Shea Kennedy, who also did the art for Void Pyramid.
MBU: The game was released across a multitude of platforms but never saw release on iOS, what was the reasoning behind that?
ANDI: I don’t know how! Void Pyramid’s game engine (OHRRPGCE) has built-in functionality for making Android games, but not iOS.
MBU: Looking back on Void Pyramid, are you happy with your work on the project?
ANDI: Yeah, I am! Part of the reason that Void Pyramid took forever to finish is because I slaved away until I was really happy with it. Of course there is always room for improvement, but I made Void Pyramid to be the kind of game I would want to play, and I think it’s pretty fun!
Don’t think I’m a total egomaniac though. I’m really not.
MBU: What advise do you have for budding game developers who may want to create their own RPG?
ANDI: In my opinion, making a game isn’t hard for the reasons most people might think. Some people don’t try making games because they think learning to code or creating graphics is too hard. Those things can be easily overcome. Find an easy-to-use game engine like OHRRPGCE, RPG Maker, or Game Maker. Create a simple graphical style that doesn’t rely on great artistry.
The hardest part of making a game is actually just sitting down and doing it. It’s hard to make a plan and stick to it. It’s hard to work on the game every day even though it’s often boring and exhausting. Basically, creating anything complex requires a huge amount of time and discipline. Of course, everyone knows that, but it’s worth repeating because people still underestimate it.
There are a few ways to tackle these hurdles. One, plan everything out in advance. This saves a lot of wasted effort and frustration. Two, don’t be too ambitious. If you’re working alone, creating an epic RPG opus isn’t going to happen unless you have years to spend, and you’ll probably go insane doing it. Try creating something smaller and expanding on it if you have time later. Three, force yourself to work on your game every day, even if only for a half hour. Once you lose momentum, it gets harder and harder to get it back. An extreme amount of willpower is pretty much required.
Anyone who has ever finished a game, even a crappy one, should be commended. There is really a lot to it!
MBU: Thanks again for taking the time to answer questions for us today. For those who want to learn more, Andi’s regularly available on twitter under the handle @WilyElektrix and runs a website that can be found HERE where many of his projects can be found. Void Pyramid’s android release can also be located HERE.
ANDI: Thanks for taking the time to write for and maintain My Boxed Universe! I’m sure it’s a hell of a lot of work, and I don’t take what you’re doing for granted!