Interview With Jorge Hernandez, Creator of “Astronaut: SpaceWalk”

Like the Sun cresting over a darkened Earth, Astronaut: SpaceWalk has sprung seemingly out of nowhere for its video debut! The title has actually been in development for quite some time, its step-by-step progress documented on Jorge Hernandez’ dev blog. We chat with the veteran game designer to find out more about his out-of-this-world iOS creation.

Let’s start out by having you tell our readers a little about your background – what led you into the iOS videogame industry? Is Astronaut: SpaceWalk your first game project or have you been doing this for a while?

I have been working in videogames for 11 years, helping to create AAA Xbox and PlayStation games. In that time I have enjoyed making MOD models for my favourite PC games like IL2 and Operation Flashpoint. Then I decided that if I was going to make 3D objects for other people’s games as a hobby, I might as well learn to program and make my own game.

I started a few projects for PC and was making another space simulator when the iPhone was released. I had always been interested in mobile games but there were so many different platforms that I didn’t think it was worth trying to release a mobile game until the iPhone appeared.

The best thing about the iPhone is that it is a standard market. There are loads of people with iPhone and all the iPhones are the same, unlike the Android Market. I have done another iPhone game which was quite good as a learning exercise. The graphics were quite nice and simple but the gameplay wasn’t as polished. It was released two and a half years ago.

Would you describe Astronaut as primarily a game in the point-scoring sense, or primarily as a realistic simulator? What makes space walking a good subject to build a videogame around in your opinion?

The game is neither a scoring game nor a full simulator. It gives scores based on your resource management and time but that is just a secondary thing. The main goal of the game is to enjoy using the “jetpack” in different missions, and maybe test yourself by improving your score. It is a game for space enthusiasts who want a real challenge but not all the complexity of checklists and other similar hurdles.

What was your approach to organizing the project – did the gameplay come together first with prototype assets, or did you start out by modeling all your space objects?

I had an idea of what I wanted to make a game about, which was an astronaut and not a spacecraft. From there it was quite easy to think that the objective was to repair different satellites. After that I started making the flight mechanics and designing the game controls. Once I had the controls I moved on to defining the waypoints and the repair points and so on.

I made the game before the 3D objects. I am an artist who has learned to program so I left the fun part for the end. That always gives you something to look forward to when the inspiration and will to continue are low.

How much research did you do for Astronaut? Do you feel you’ve learned a ton about space operations while working on this project, or have you always been following space developments closely?

I have always liked space and have read a lot about it, so it was a theme I already knew enough about to design the game. I have learned a lot more along the way but I could think I had a solid “amateur” background.

What are some of the missions we should expect to see in the game?

The “jetpack” wasn’t used in any of the missions that I have created, so taking that as a starting premise, I went for it and made a few anachronistic decisions.

There are missions around the Skylab and the Agena that are previous to the space shuttle. There are also missions around the Hubble telescope and the MIR Space Station on top of a few missions around other smaller satellites.

Tell us a little about the game’s interface. Did it change a lot over the course of the project, and does it reflect the actual controls on a Manned Maneuvering Unit in any way?

I had to review the whole control interface across the development process because I needed more and more precise controls to be at my fingertips. The end result is basically a product of the need for all those controls and the fact that I always liked the NASA photograph look with all the crosses on top.

Did you incorporate any real-world photographs into the Earth and Moon model textures? And did photographic references play a major role in your modeling process for all the other game objects?

I didn’t use any photographs for the Earth. It has been generated in 3D and rendered into textures. I used free texture resources from NASA to generate a 3D earth as accurate and realistic as possible. I then baked the textures to be used in the game.

To model the objects I used reference models, blueprints and photography. The reference models from NASA are very good to get an idea of how the objects are and their sizes, but they are not optimised for game development. I modeled all the objects with my game specifications in mind using all that as references.

Finally, have you decided on a price point, and which iDevices will Astronaut support?

The game is currently aimed at the iPhone and iPod Touch. I will be aiming to extend it to iPad, and then, who knows! I think that the Android Market is a bit strange and not as standardised.

Big thanks to Jorge for taking out the time to answer our questions about Astronaut: SpaceWalk while he puts the finishing touches on the game. Here’s that blog address again, where you can find the latest news — and tons of modeled satellite hardware!