Seriously, I did try to get Relentless Rex to break out of character for this interview but he is definitely and literally committed to being the relentless game dev predator you can see below... on a mission. If you haven't heard about him before, he's a guy making a game about a T-Rex while dressed up as a red T-Rex. At least, that's what he's been saying what his daily life is about.
In this interview, we talked about gaming, his current game project, his background, and his strategy for putting out a Kickstarter campaign to fund his game. Check it out and try keeping a serious mood as you read through. This is a very serious interview.
IndieWatch: Who are you and what did you go to school for?
My name is Relentless Rex, I’m a big, red T-Rex, and I went to school for communication arts. So my background is in art direction, multimedia, illustration, and advertising. I’ve side-stepped that path a bit, and I’m currently working on RELENTLESS REX: THE GAME—a video game about my life as an insatiable, rage-fueled devastator that hunts down and eviscerates my prey. As a T-Rex living in the modern world, I feel like humans today have lost touch with their caveman roots, and so I wanted to create a game that reminded people of what it’s like to be hunted and eaten… you know, so they can properly prepare themselves if we ever meet in-person.
IndieWatch: What is your favorite game genre?
(Don’t say Metroidvania, don’t say Metroidvania…) Just kidding… well, sort of. So this isn’t exactly answering your question, but like many kids from the 80’s and 90’s, I have a real soft spot for the games of the original NES and Super Nintendo. Some of my favorites are SECRET OF MANA, A LINK TO THE PAST, and yes, CASTLEVANIA. So I suppose if you extrapolated specifically from those you could say I’m into 2D animation, 3/4 top-down action-adventures, and side-scrolling metroidvanias.
Coincidentally, my game is a 2D side-scrolling, action-adventure platformer where players explore dangerous locations and use secret power-ups and weapons in the vain attempt to escape my bloodthirsty jaws. I like to say if Rayman made sweet, sweet love with RAMPAGE, and nine months later their illicit lovechild was raised by Bit. Trip Runner (the family butler), that unholy creation would be named RELENTLESS REX: THE GAME.
To dig a little deeper into those references, I’m a T-Rex that destroys everything in my path and stops at nothing to catch my next meal (both in the game and real life) so the building-busting carnage of RAMPAGE is an obvious parallel. There’s also a dark edge and humor in that game that influenced mine—it’s shocking when the RAMPAGE monsters start eating people because the graphics seem so “light” and “cartoony” at first glance.
RAYMAN is a series filled with quality 2D platforming that’s elevated an extra level with its gorgeous art style and animation. I kept this aesthetic in mind when hand-drawing… er, CLAW-drawing my prehistoric jungle levels.
There’s something smooth and hypnotic about BIT.TRIP RUNNER 2 in particular. It stands out from most other running games because you can tell that each level has been carefully crafted and everything just feels “right,” even when the difficulty ramps up. My goal was to pull from the best parts of BTR2, including some light musical cues that tie into the action, during the more intense parts of Relentless Rex.
IndieWatch: I enjoy the RAYMAN series. I have all the game! What about now? What have you been playing lately?
I suppose you want me to say Turok or Dino Crisis? (Not cool human… not cool.) Actually, my answer is pretty shameful. I’m one of those lame dinosaurs that says “I’m too busy to play games.” I mean, I still play a little here and there, but it’s tough to find solid chunks of time for that… and exercise…. and family… and sleep. You know, I’m not sure if this interview was meant to be a stealth intervention, but it worked… I QUIT. Okay, not really 🙂 But the long-winded point is that I can’t seem to find time for even basic things in life, much less the fun things. I’ve personally found making video games to be a path of hard sacrifices. So now that I’ve scared off half the population from a career in game development (mission accomplished—less competition for me), I’ll confess that I DO have a game-buying addiction…notice I said “buying,” not “playing.” Other than my Super NES Classic, the PS4 is my go-to console, and I’ve bought oh so many games over the past two or three years, with the intention of playing them when I’m less busy 🙂 I just counted… I’ve bought over 100 digital games for my PS4 (mostly when they went on sale), and I’ve played 35 of them. Witcher 3, Arkham Knight, Horizon: Zero dawn… I’ve never even seen their title screens. Terrible, right? Truth be told, I’m actually drawn to games that seem smaller in scope because they feel less daunting, and I don’t have time to sit down and play a game for three or four hours at a time. I only get my gaming in short bursts. If I have to invest 50+ hours in a game, it’s overwhelming because odds are I’ll never finish it. And to me, that’s important… I want to know I can make it to the end of a game and beat it—I want that final feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. I know the current trend is to buy expensive AAA games and expect there to be dozens of hours of content, but with a few exceptions, I’m convinced that most gamers don’t have the time or attention span to play a single game for that long. I would much rather play a beat three shorter games, than sink 20 hours into a 50+ hour game and never complete it. It may sound like sacrilege, but give me a Hellblade or Journey over a Persona 5 or Mass Effect game any day of the week. That’s why I tend to buy shorter, quality indie titles like Inside, Hyper Light Drifter, and What Remains of Edith Finch (although I ironically still haven’t played those either). You know, good indie games are like T-Rex arms—size doesn’t matter as long as you know what to do with them behind closed doors. (Does that simile properly translate to humans?) To that point, the ultimate goal of RELENTLESS REX: THE GAME is to create a fun, complete experience that has a satisfying and reasonably-attainable ending. Even if Kickstarter backers want to give me a million human dollars and we ported to Switch, PS4, PS5, and PS6—I would lean towards breaking all those levels down into several digestible games instead of one massively-imposing behemoth.
And to FINALLY circle back around and answer your question, the games I’ve played semi-recently are Flinthook, The Last Guardian, Lara Croft Go, and Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime. I’m not exactly current with my gaming, but I’m hopeful that I can test-drive the new God of War and Detroit: Become Human sooner than later—but again, there’s that whole “time commitment” thing 🙂
IndieWatch: Do you work as a full-time game developer or do you have another job?
If you mean “Have I worked on this indie game for a very long time without any kind of financial compensation?” then the answer is “Yes.” 🙂
I also help my human wife with the advertising and marketing of her child psychology practice, but I’ve taken a large step back from freelance art direction to have a crack at this crazy thing called game development. Plus I spend a fair amount of my time behind the Main Street Taco Bell at all hours of the night looking for “participants” to help me “verify the scientific authenticity” of the consumptions taking place in my game. (You couldn’t see me, but I was doing air quotes with my claws in that last sentence.)
IndieWatch: Are you making games on your own?
Yep, I’m a solo indie dev dinosaur. So it’s tough wearing all the hats required to create and push a video game out into the world. When I’m working on the game itself, I think “no one will ever know about it.” And when I’m marketing it, I think “I’m advertising something that still needs to be finished.” It’s an endless game of push-and-pulls, and it’s sometimes difficult to assess where my time should be invested.
While I have more than a few game ideas waiting in the wings, RELENTLESS REX: THE GAME is my one and only baby right now. The first few “jungle” levels are close to completion, minus some level design tweaking and a little polish. I’m really pleased with how things are coming along and how the game has evolved into this interesting action-adventure mashup where the player is sometimes running and screaming for his pitiful little life, and other times interacting with characters and going on little bite-sized quests. But perhaps the thing I’m most excited about is the game’s Kickstarter backer participation structure. Players that support the KS campaign (going on right now) get a unique opportunity to have a say in the direction of the game—backers throw out suggestions and then vote in polls for what they want to see added to future levels. They even get to vote on the NEXT PLAYABLE CHARACTER (don’t think too much about what that means for the first one). And higher-level backers get to bypass all that democracy crap and work directly with the Big Dino on Campus to design backgrounds, NPCs, weapons, and side quests. I’m encouraging these human participants to go as crazy and they want with their ideas, and I’m genuinely excited to see how it all comes together. If backers want an Alien Queen Rexzilla (complete with a chest-bursting parasite) chasing a transforming robot out through a space ship's airlock, they can totally get nuts and do that !! It’s an exciting chance to give supporters agency in the development of the game and it allows them to put their stamp on it without having to spend all those sleepless nights creating it on their own 🙂
IndieWatch: In today's world, that's rare. How do you manage to focus your attention to successfully go through the difficult and complex task of finishing a game?
I have ADDD (that’s ADD for dinosaurs) AND a never-ending stream of new ideas, so I’m very familiar with “distraction.” Even without the endless “to-do” lists of solo game development, simply living as a modern-day T-Rex in a human world can cause one to lose focus. A normal day might include preoccupied thoughts like “Do I chase those two chubby humans that just ran by my house?” Or when a rude teenage says “Bite me,” I may get lost in pondering the irony… and whether or not I should LITERALLY do it to teach him a lesson. Yeah, keeping focus can be a real struggle for a racing, creative mind. Then add to that all the individual game dev jobs and tasks I have to fulfill on my own. (There are 57 things that need to be done for the Kickstarter campaign alone!) It helps to have an amazing community surrounding and supporting me, offering tips and advice as I navigate this process… but then each person has her own unique experience and perspective regarding what’s most important. So it’s sometimes difficult to collect all this data, collate it, and break it all down into realistically achievable tasks.
It’s all about organization, prioritization, and time management I suppose… and sticky notes… lots and lots of sticky notes. There are stacks and stacks of papers and sticky notes on my desk, that get updated and replaced with new stacks and stacks of papers and sticky notes on a weekly basis. It’s daunting to say the least. Not only do you have to make time to put out the urgent fires each week, but you also have to lay the groundwork for longer-term goals (i.e. the “master plan”) so you can understand and anticipate what the journey is going to require of you. Expect things to take five times as long as twice the amount of time you’ve been told it will take… and then when you continue to fall desperately behind schedule, revise your plan for the 1,000th time, make cuts and compromises where you can, and keep pushing forward. You’re going to figure out sooner than later that time is limited, so you might as well mentally adjust (and abandon any perfectionist tendencies) from the very beginning. Even if all I did on RELENTLESS REX: THE GAME was claw-draw the artwork, ink it, scan it, clean it up, vectorize it, digitally color it, and optimize the graphics for the game (all with these tiny little arms), that’s easily 1 or 2 full-time jobs right there! It has taken time, but I’ve finally figured out I HAVE to compromise with myself on a regular basis if there’s ever any hope of actually releasing a video game.
The flip side to what sounds like all major downers is that working solo forces you to learn a heckuva lot about each and every piece of what goes into game development—AND having the opportunity to produce a pure, unadulterated creative vision is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives. That said, this will probably be my “once” experience because a giant revelation I’ve had in this process is that video games truly aren’t meant to be created and promoted “soup-to-nuts” by yourself… it simply takes too long. And frankly, that’s one of the major reasons for the game’s Kickstarter campaign—to bring in additional help so backers’ visions will be brought to life in a reasonable amount of time. Plus I’m a giant, carnivorous dinosaur, and Kickstarter should help with my daily requirement of meat. (500 pounds!!!—And have you seen the price of ground beef lately?) No, but seriously human-folks, wouldn't you sleep better at night knowing I'm feeding on legally-bought cow, not questionably-caught people? 🙂
IndieWatch: Are there any books you'd like to suggest your readers read so they can become better game developers and artists?
I’m sure there are plenty of “how-to” books out there on illustration and game development, but I’m more about absorbing visual inspiration and stories of experience.
I just started reading The Minds Behind the Games by Patrick Hickey Jr. It has some great interviews with cult and classic video game developers that really get into the personal struggles of creating video games and the innovative minds behind them. There’s a lot that can be gleaned from these stories and used as a resource on how to think outside the box and creatively solve problems. With those kinds of building blocks, you’re arming yourself with the tools to create things that are fresh and new. Plus there’s just some really engaging backstories about how your favorites games came to be 🙂
Much of my formal education was in commercial art, so I’m all about design that is both aesthetically pleasing AND functional. I recommend anything cataloguing large quantities of logo designs—the “art” of the logo is one in which you communicate as much as possible through an extremely limited amount of real estate—mood and meaning (both metaphorical and literal) can be communicated through a great logo design, and the problem-solving skills required to create masterful logos are ones that readily carry over into all kinds of artistic and development endeavors.
But I also grew up with a pencil in my claw, so there’s no denying my love for traditional, hand-drawn illustration. I would certainly point people towards books on the works of Alphose Mucha, a Czech Art Nouveau artist. Many of his elegant, human-form illustrations were produced for advertisements, and he was a pioneer in the creation of “poster art.”
(I know this is starting to sound like a laundry list but) I gravitate towards the simplified shapes and big, bold linework of animation. Batman: The Animated series, is one of my favorites, especially the character redesigns that Bruce Timm and company did in the last season—those are some of my favorite things ever! There’s actually a book called Batman: Animated by Paul Dini and Chipp Kid which is just an amazing reference for that series. If you’re a fan of Batman or that animation style, you should totally check it out. It’s filled with amazing character designs, cityscape backgrounds, concept art, and storyboards. And the chronicles of the Batman team pushing the darkness of the show as far as they could (and butting up against network censors) is absolutely captivating. In a way, there’s a lot of mood from BTAS that I absorbed and now carry over into my work. I love the dichotomy of something that seems “cartoony” on the surface but has an underlying atmosphere of menace—a hard-edged danger lurking just below the surface, where viewers (or players) are off-balance and not sure what’s going to happen next.
Imagine as a parent watching old-school Disney animation with your kids, but being uncomfortably concerned that the evil witch might gorily decapitate the virtuous prince at any moment, and thereby scar your children for life. That’s the uncertain, unsettling mood I’m going for with RELENTLESS REX: THE GAME—something that lives between Cartoon Network and Castlevania horror.
In a similar vein, I’m also a big Alfred Hitchcock fan. and I’m constantly taking notes from the master of suspense—learning the fine art of building dread through anticipation. And spoilers for a 60-year-old film, but Psycho is just flat out amazing in the way that Hitchcock had the stones to up and kill his main character right in the middle of the movie. That’s still shocking, even by today’s standards, and the kind of surprise I strive to emulate. (Oops, I fear I may have said too much.)
Ok fine, that answer was a random stream of consciousness, some of which had nothing to do with books. But there’s definitely value in intentionally seeking out and exposing yourself to as many varied mediums as possible. It stretches the brain. And anyways. I’m a T-Rex… what do you expect me to recommend—A Brief History of Time? 🙂
I DM’ed a lady on Twitter and said “Hey, human female! Go support my game on Kickstarter, or I’ll eat you AND your dog!” And she replied “Haha! You’re so funny. Ok, I’ll back your game.” I was really confused by this reaction, but I mean… it still ended with the intended result, so I didn’t question it much.
IndieWatch: How did you get the idea of dressing up as Rex to embody the very character of the game you're developing?
I’m quite certain I don’t know what you’re talking about 🙂 I wake up, roll out of bed, and put on my oversized pants, one giant leg at a time, just like all of you little humans. I can’t even fathom the implication that I might be a person that dresses up like a T-Rex every day and walks around town like everything is normal just to get reactions. Can you imagine how insane you would have to be to do that?!?!?… Although now that you mention it, that might be why I see people sometimes snickering when I walk into Wal-Mart… or chuckling when I’m being very serious. (I just thought they had super-low emotional intelligence.) Like there was this one time I DM’ed a lady on Twitter (@Relentless_Rex if you’re interested) and said “Hey, human female! Go support my game on Kickstarter, or I’ll eat you AND your dog!” And she replied “Haha! You’re so funny. Ok, I’ll back your game.” I was really confused by this reaction, but I mean… it still ended with the intended result, so I didn’t question it much.
Anyhow Mr. Silly-Interviewing-Human, I’m going to rephrase your question into something that makes more sense so I can give a proper response. “Why am I narcissistically making a video game about myself,” you ask? Well, I give you these three trite answers in the form of multiple choice—
A). I know a good thing when I see it (in the mirror).
B). I follow the classic adage “write (and draw) what you know.”
C). It’s only narcissistic if I’m not that great—AND I’M A MOTHER-LOVIN’ T-REX !!!
IndieWatch: When it comes to promoting an indie game and bringing it visibility in today's world, what do you think the best choices for developers are?
I’m halfway through my Kickstarter campaign, and will probably have a better, fuller picture once things wrap up. That said, reaching out to humans that have been down this road before has been invaluable. There are lots of smart people out there willing to share their experiences and help guide your efforts. I’ve tried to absorb as much as I can, and integrate it into what I’m trying to (and reasonably able to) achieve.
You have to be different to stand out these days, especially if you’re on your own. Ideally, you want that “different” to be a “good” different—not a “bad” different—so you always need to be thoughtfully assessing how you’re achieving that. Even with smaller details like Kickstarter rewards, I’ve tried to come up with things that supporters have never seen before—like custom posters with backers’ heads in my jaws and a fresh pair of Relentless Rex undies (for when my game jump scares the $#%@ out of you.)
This may sound cynical, but If you’re talented, have a great game with mass appeal, AND you have the money to spend, you should probably invest in a well-respected PR company to help you get the word out (even if you have a marketing/advertising background). But if you don’t meet ALL of those criteria, and you’re a little human with a modest, quality game… you simply need to be in game development for the love of it. (Those rules don’t apply to T-Rexes of course.)
Social media has been an important element regarding visibility, and I’ve tried to put myself out there as the charming, funny, deadly dino that I am. Overall, people have responded positively to my off-beat personality and twisted sense of humor. And they also seem to be on-board with the idea that a T-Rex is seeking humans to devour… uh… I mean DEVELOP a video game with him. MWA-HA-HAAAAAAA !!! Just kidding—Humans are great. I LOVE humans. That’s why I want to work with humans so munch… uh… MUCH. I genuinely believe the backers of this game are going to create something truly unique and inspiring… Something that will further open the door to human-dino relations, and show people that we T-Rexes do more than just stalk and consume humans… we also make games about it 🙂 All kidding aside, I know that we can create something amazing and live together in peaceful harmony… AS LONG AS YOU BACK MY GAME ON KICKSTARTER !!!