πŸ’Ύ Lowtek Games | Interview With Alastair Low πŸ’Ύ @Wallmasterr #IndieGames #GameDev

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I first became aware of Lowtek when I covered the Dreamcast version of Flea! Last year for The Mighty Games Freezer. I really enjoyed developer Ally Low’s genial personality and approach to not only the promotion of his game but also the updates of the upcoming title Tapeworm and so wanted to know more about Lowtek and its history. Who better to ask than the brains behind the operation!

Hi Alastair and thank you for taking the time to talk to us! For those not familiar with Lowtek, can you tell us how you formed and also how you decided upon the name?

I've been in the game industry for years and Flea was the first step to me leaving my previous job to do Lowtek full time.

As for the name, I’m Ally “Low” and have had the name Lowtek for ages. I thought it was a nice play on words in that some of the stuff I was making was quite high tech. I added the ‘games’ to make it clear what we did.
Flea! was the game that put Lowtek on my radar, a fantastic puzzle platformer with bite! Can you talk about how that game came to be?

The concept of an infinite jumper came about when games like temple run were popular. I wanted to automate the jumping, not the running. The game was initially concepted to be a mobile game when the flea was always jumping and you slid the background underneath him. This is an idea that we may revisit in the future for a casual mobile title. 

How it ended up on the NES was through NESmaker. I had dabbled a little with Genesis homebrew in university and the NES was my favourite console so when I heard you could make NES games with little code, I was in. I looked for ideas I had that could be easily achieved with little modification to the NESmaker standard platform and the Flea game came to mind.

I entered it in the Byte off contest on nesmakers, which got me to a demo that I thought was solid enough to take to Kickstarter. That was funded right as all the Covid lockdowns hit so I had a lot more time to finish it off. I also had a lot of code help from Dale Coop on the NESmaker forums. The game would be nowhere near as good without him. 

I had someone in mind for the soundtrack, but schedules were not lining up and TuΓ― messaged me on the nesmakers forum asking if I had anyone. He had already done some work in the homebrew scene so I knew he would be a safe pair of hands and he did an amazing job in taking my reference tracks to the Flea soundtrack.

You are very involved in promoting dyslexic-friendly games. In the gaming industry, it seems that more games are catering for people who suffer from afflictions such as colour-blindness and epilepsy, is this also the case for those with dyslexia?

Yes, more and more developers are being more mindful of the issues of their players. It's very hard for all devs to include a lot of these features due to budget and experience. There have been a few games that tried to address the dyslexia problem specifically with Open Dyslexia Font which has been proven to be ineffective in a few studies. It was when I kept seeing this being used as the dyslexia golden bullet that I really thought I had to do something to help the change. It was through no fault of the developers; they were going on with the information they were given but it was misinformation.

I teamed up with a research company called InGame who helped me develop the prototype for Dislectek. It’s a unity plugin that allows developers to easily add dyslexia-friendly text to speech options in their games. I hope this will be more widely adopted in the indie community and become the standard way to address this issue.

A fellow Scottish developer (Simon Meeks, Secret Experiment) created Beckett, another game that has been a favourite of mine. How is the development scene in Scotland at the moment and are there any devs or games that you’d like to draw attention to?

The game dev scene in Scotland is pretty good. It's one of those where everyone knows everyone and we all want each other to succeed.

Loads but here's a few to keep an eye on:

Solas 128 @AmicableAnimal
Viewfinder  @mattstark256
Cloudjumper @HyperLuminalUK
Phogs @bitloomgames
Telocation-gemini  @Cobradile94

What games did you grow up with and which consoles/titles stuck in your mind?

I grew up playing games that we bought at the car boot sales. NES, Amiga , Acorn, Master System and then every console since.

I like platform games, puzzle games and adventure games.  I'm a big fan of Mario 3 and most of the Zeldas. Nowadays I like smaller titles with interesting art direction or good controls and story.

Tapeworm is the next game coming from Lowtek, and I’ve been following your updates throughout development - I love your TikTok promos (and shirts!) by the way, there’s always a positive brightness to them - can you describe for our readers the gameplay and background?

Thanks! I'm glad you're excited for Tapeworm and like the TikTok’s. I do try to keep them positive and to the point.

Tapeworm came about as a character in Flea who runs the local night club and people on the NESmaker forums loved the design instantly. When I was looking for games that could utilize the playdates’ crank I imagined using it to wind a cassette tape up and the idea was born. 

I like puzzle games and thought it could be a cool idea. I looked at making it in GB studio for Gameboy Color but it didn't support enough sprites or BG swapping to draw the whole worm.

The idea was on the shelf for a while until TuΓ― said that he was talking to a coder who was looking to team up. That coder was Valdir Salgueiro. He had been working on a NES engine. I pitched a couple of NES game ideas to him and he liked the sound of Tapeworm.

I sent him the mocks I had made for the Game Boy and Playdate concepts and some test tiles. He had a prototype up and running that night and it already showed a lot of promise.
I initially wanted it to also be a rhythm game since music was core to the Tapeworm character but it didn't feel good moving on the beat so we dropped it and I think it was the right decision.

The gameplay of tapeworm is that you are a worm in a cassette tape. You move on a grid, a bit like a turn-based Snake. You have a number of objectives in each single-screen level. Protect the fleas and help them get to the blood or the exit or collect all the music notes. You can collect power-ups that extend the length of the worm as well as a few ability tiles that cause you to slip or warp.

The boss levels are more like traditional snake where you automatically move and escape the cassette with some of tapeworms unique twists.

The game is a puzzle game, but it's not designed to be a real head-scratcher. You'll be stuck on some screens for a little bit but then feel really good when you figure out what you're supposed to do. Unlike in Flea, there are no lives so you can take your time and continue later with a password system.

It's set in the Flea universe and a bunch of familiar characters make a return as well as a few new ones and of course a bunch of puns along the way.

Which systems will Tapeworm be released on?
Tapeworm will release on NES, Dreamcast, PC and eventually Playdate.
I bought the Tapeworm T-shirt very quickly as I completely fell in love with the design, do you deal with all aspects of the games at Lowtek, as the music in Flea! As well as the artwork for your games are all top-notch.

Some games I do everything, but most are a team effort. Flea had help from TuΓ― for music and code from Dale Coop for NES code and Kilgariff for porting to Dreamcast and PC.

I come up with the game's concept, characters, art design and level design. There is a lot of collaboration from the team along the way to get the best out of the ideas and mechanics. If something isn't working, we will try a few ways and will cut anything that really doesn't work.

Lowtek seems to currently have a focus on creating games that are puzzle-based with quirky backstories and approaches, will this theme continue into your future games?

I do like puzzle games so there will always be elements of that in my work, but I'm always open to all types of games as long as I think it's a fun idea. I just don’t like games with overly complex menus and skill trees so I would like to stay away from that kinda thing if at all possible. I have a bunch of different ideas, some puzzles, some not. One of the next games I hope to focus on is Playhead. A game based inside an online video player where you use the video controls to manipulate time. 

Here at GF, we are HUGE fans of new games getting releases on classic systems, was this something that you set out to do from the start?

It is something I've wanted to do for ages and the market seems ready for it now. With Kickstarter and companies like Broke Studio handling the manufacture, it's a good time for us to focus on making cool games and easily connect to our audience and get the game in their hands. There is kind of a retro revolution happening now. I think spawning from Micromages, and NESmakers success on Kickstarter as well as the amazing work on GB studio.

It is very cool to hold a cart of a game I made for one of my favourite consoles of all time.

A question I must ask everyone, what are the games that spring to mind when you think of your top 5?

  1. Mario 3 (Too many memories playing as a kid. Great controls, cool worlds and powerups.)
  2. PokΓ©mon Gold (Playing in the car or in the playground. I like collecting and exploring.)
  3. Windwaker (This or OOT, but I enjoyed exploring and the characters and the style.)
  4. Prince of Persia SOT (Blown away by the fluid time mechanic and storytelling.)
  5. Unfinished swan (So many cool ideas and art styles and a nice story to frame it.)
Thank you again for taking the time to chat to us, what is the best way to keep up to date with Lowtek news?

I'm on Twitter and Discord most days and try to reply quickly.

1 comment:

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