Rex Rocket draws from Maher and Bud's Nintendo-fueled childhood, taking cues from Mega Man, Metroid and Mario, telling the story of a has-been hero drawn once more into the line of fire. Now, with the project fully funded, Maher and the team can focus on the game full-time. There are still 20 days left to earn more, however, and the team has big plans, including possibly achieving another dream, seeing Rex Rocket published on a Nintendo platform. And, even now, before the Rex Rocket Kickstarter is closed, Maher is planning the team's next game, Blossom Tales.
But let's take it one thing at a time. "Really the main goal of our Kickstarter was to alleviate some of the stresses, financial stresses that some of us are going through. I have a full-time job, so it's pretty hard for me to find time, and I also get a lot of freelance work too." Maher works as a web developer, and his development partner Tyler Bud is a full-time student, he says. "So, yeah, the main point of the Kickstarter was really just to get time for everybody to work on it."
"We should have enough money to last us until the release date. And then after that, hopefully, sales will be able to support us and keep us going while we port it to other platforms and, ultimately, start working on the next game." If the game is successful, he hopes to continue making games for a living. "Absolutely, that would be really a dream come true for me, and probably everyone else on the team as well. That's the angle."
Maher met Bud while searching for a new developer for his previous project, a Zelda-like game called Blossom Tales. "That project, a bunch of developers flaked out on it, and the whole programming side of it just kind of fell apart and dissipated." He connected with Bud through a mutual friend, but Bud was more interested in a different project, which would go on to become Rex Rocket. "I also had a lot of concept screens for Rex Rocket done. I had been working on it on the side. I was actually planning on releasing it after Blossom Tales." Rex Rocket, he says, seemed like a smaller project, and that drove the pair to start with it instead.
Rex Rocket may be a relatively small project, but it still has a ways to go. I've played an early alpha version, and while everything functions and some of the game's environments have been completed, none of them are connected and there's clearly some work to be done in terms of building the world, fleshing out the story and implementing features. Now that the project's funding goal has been reached, I ask what's next.
"The next step is to really strap ourselves in and laser-focus on making Rex Rocket a really great game." The level editor is complete, he says, which was one of most important parts of the project. "The majority of the time up to this point has been Tyler building out this really great level editor that we can use to build the levels and add in enemies. It really makes it easy to iterate on level designs and things of that nature. So, from this point onward we're just building out lots of game objects, focusing on different gameplay mechanics, and kind of getting to the really fun part."
Maher makes note of Nitnendo recently lifting many of its restrictions for independent developers trying to release games on the eShop. Most notably, the company no longer requires studios to have a physical office space. "Over the past couple of months, Nintendo has just become this very attractive platform that we'd love to get on. So it's definitely a primary goal." Indeed, many independent developers have sung the praises of Nintendo's new friendlier stance toward indie games, and hopefully Maher and Bud will soon be doing the same.
Sony has also been garnering significant attention among independent developers, with many studios releasing their games across the PS3 and PlayStation Vita via PSN – often with one purchase granting access to both versions. "We would love to get on PS Vita as well," he says. "We're fully aware of the great indie scene that's going on there. I know a couple PS Vita devs that have pushed their games up there, they've had great success. So, yeah, that's definitely one of the platforms that we eventually want to get on to."
Bud suggested starting a Kickstarter much earlier in the development process, says Maher, but he wanted to wait. "I said no, I don't want to just put up a concept. I want to put up something that looks like it could be done, like it could be playable right now." That commitment, the work that's already on display, he says, is what will reassure backers. "I think, really, the only question now is 'will the game be good?'"
With the editor complete, and plenty of content and assets already created, the small team seems to have cleared one of the major hurdles that independent developers face. "I've been working on art assets for Rex Rocket forever, and the stuff that is up there right now is almost like the tip of the iceberg, in terms of all the work that's been put into it by the three of us."
A screen from Maher's previous, unfinished game, Blossom Tales
Even so, Maher is already looking toward the future, hoping to return to his previous game, Blossom Tales, after Rex Rocket is complete. Even though its original programmers abandoned the project, Maher says he put a lot of work into the project, creating "tons and tons and tons" of assets, including screens and animations. "It's definitely one of those projects I think about every single day, about finishing it." As it happens, waiting on the programmers to create a level editor was what caused development on Blossom Tales to fall through, he says. Now, thanks to Bud's level editor, Blossom Tales could become a reality. "We have this amazing level editor that we can use to make Rex Rocket and, eventually, we'll be using the same editor to make Blossom Tales."
Rex Rocket is aiming for a January 2014 launch.