Interview: Nik Mihaylov Talks ‘Unlonely’, ‘Hyper Beam’ & More

Of all the many, many lovely and talented indie game developers I’ve gotten to know through iFanzine over the past year, Rinikulous Games’ Nik Mihaylov is without a doubt one of my favorites. And I’m not just saying that because his studio’s iOS debut, Lonely Sun, is superb (although it totally is), or because he’s making a game featuring this website in a starring role (although he totally is). No, what stands out to me about Nik is how genuinely enthusiastic and exuberant he is about every aspect of the job of being a game dev, from the creative side of things to interacting with fans and the press on social media. But why am I telling you this? I mean, you can find out for yourself how cool of a guy he is right here and right now by checking out the in-depth interview below.

Nik, it’s great to have you. I really appreciate you making time for this chat. Let’s start off by finding out a little more about you. Can you tell me about your background including how you came to found your own indie game studio, Rinikulous Games? 

Thank you for having me. Really appreciate it.

My name is Nik Mihaylov. I live in Calgary, AB, Canada. I’m a senior creative at Critical Mass, a digital design experience agency. I spend the majority of my time prototyping and designing multi-platform user experiences for a variety of leading brands while merging creativity and technology to create customer value.

Being part of the design industry you cannot ignore gaming. Game dev, in particular, has always been very interesting to me from a creative perspective. I grew up with Doom, Duke Nukem, Quake, and Hexen. Playing those games has always fascinated me — not only from a visual perspective but also how the overall gameplay subtleties made you feel.

So, once I got the courage and time to really delve into what goes into making a game, I started reading extensively on the matter, watched A LOT of interviews with John Romero (a personal inspiration of mine), read forums, started experimenting with multiple design and dev tools and platforms…the list goes on. After a while, the thought of “hey, why don’t you give it a try?” started circulating in my mind.

At that time, my current partner (Steven Ritchie) and I had been working together professionally for a bit and I knew that he was very interested in mobile game dev. So we decided to join forces (design and dev) and take a stab at making games.

As a result, Rinikulous Games was born.

Rinikulous Games’ first iOS title, the visually lush Lonely Sun

What would you say is your company’s philosophy and mission?

Our philosophy is simple — create mobile (game) experiences that engage and have value. Our mission? We haven’t gone that far yet but, I guess, our mission is to keep believing in our abilities, push forward, give back whenever and however we can, and keep creating games that have value — whether it’s art direction, gameplay or story.

Your first iOS title, Lonely Sun, launched on the App Store towards the end of last year. Where did the idea and inspiration for the game come from?

I’ve come to realize that anything we do in life serves a purpose, whether we see it or not. Every goal we set takes time. Reaching goals inevitably involves failure. Once we reach that point, we’re given two choices: pick yourself up and try again, or give up. Then I thought, failure is also an integral part of gaming — accomplishing objectives, overcoming dangers, navigating worlds. All those aspects mirror what cosmic planetary creation is all about — time, chaos, failure, patience…

Lonely Sun is a metaphor for life. And as such there are no checkpoints.

How happy were you with Lonely Sun’s reception, critically and commercially? 

When we started this game dev journey, we didn’t expect any attention from players, let alone review sites. It goes without saying that we’re super excited and proud of what we achieved as amateur devs. It was the proof we secretly hoped for. Lonely Sun was a thought experiment turned into a game. We never thought that our little experiment would be so well received considering Lonely Sun is our very first game. That being said, it’s a great feeling to know that whatever you’re doing is worth it and has a reason to exist.

Ever wondered what iFanzine would look like as a planet?

I’m ridiculously excited about your next game, UNLonely, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it’s a spin-off/sequel to Lonely Sun, which I absolutely loved; and secondly, because our website is actually going to be in it! For anyone who hasn’t heard the news yet, can you briefly synopsize what Unlonely is all about?

Just like Lonely Sun, Unlonely is a game about building a complete solar system with the help of gravity’s guiding hand. Unlike Lonely Sun though, Unlonely’s metaphor is a bit different. All 6 planets represent the 6 review sites. The 6 planets orbiting the sun symbolize how review sites share the same goal — gravitate around the same thing: the love of gaming (the sun).

Building a planet within the game takes time and skill — overcome obstacles, navigate unknown terrains, inevitable fails every now and then… All those pretty much resemble what establishing and running a game review site is all about.

What prompted you to make a game like this that features a ragtag bunch of iOS game review websites (including iFanzine) in starring roles?

It’s all about giving back. The game dev-reviewer relationship should be a two-way street. I firmly believe that it is our responsibility as game devs to do whatever we can to give back to this super passionate community and acknowledge the help and support we’ve received and still receive from others, especially game review sites.

In our case, the support we’ve received from you and the other 5 sites (Snappzilla, Orange Bison, Indie Hangover, Indie Game Launchpad and Game Skinny) has been and still is quite amazing. I got to know all of you on a somewhat personal level and after a while you realize that we’re all on the side here. So, Unlonely is just another way of saying thank you.

This might be a difficult question to answer since you’re currently knee-deep in development on it, but when do you expect Unlonely to release?

I don’t really have a launch date in mind yet as I’m still in the process of building the game but if all goes well I would say sometime around May. Unlike Lonely Sun which featured 15 levels in total, Unlonely will have 18. The easiest thing would be to rip off LS’s levels and tweak them. But I don’t want to do that — it’s cheap and won’t do justice to what I’m trying to achieve. So, I’ve started building all 18 levels from the ground up — new obstacles/challenges, new terrain, etc…

A sneak peek at Rinikulous Games’ Hyper Beam in action

In addition to Unlonely, you’re working on another upcoming game called Hyper Beam. I know it’s probably still quite a ways off at this point, but what can you tell me about that?

When we finished Lonely Sun, me and my partner wanted to do something different — different art direction and gameplay. Hyper Beam is a twin stick (endless) survival game, which features an old school arcade vibe to it. The premise is simple — you control two players (as one) linked by a beam and you have to eliminate enemies coming towards you. While killing enemies your beam charges — once it’s fully charged, you can go into hyper mode which transforms your regular beam into a much more powerful one (gets hyper). The player has the option of choosing between several different styles of beams that have their own hyper modes. We’re currently in the process of finalizing UI, creating all sound effects and game music, and tweaking difficulty levels and enemy behaviours.

Aside from the games we’ve already discussed, do you have anything else in the pre-development or planning stages that you can talk about?

I wish I could say yes but we don’t have anything else other than Hyper Beam and Unlonely in the works yet. The truth is, balancing our day jobs with game development is really tricky and you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. There’s always ideas floating in my head and I’ll definitely act on some of them once Hyper Beam and Unlonely are finished.

Okay, lets wrap up with a question I always like to ask the indie devs that I interview. Based on your experience, what advice would you give up-and-comers looking to break into the mobile games development scene?

This may sound cliché but my advice would be to create games that you personally would want to play — make games for yourself.

Games are experiences no matter the platform. Think of your gameplay, art direction, sound and interface design as mini experiences that contribute to the overall message you’re trying to convey. And keep things simple. Every game should be self-aware of what’s trying to be/achieve.

And that’s a wrap. Nik, thank you again for sparing your time for such a wonderful interview!

Lonely Sun is available now on the App Store for the very reasonable price of $1.99. Unlonely and Hyper Beam are both currently in development, and you can find out more about those titles by following @rinikulous on Twitter, or by visiting Rinikulous Games’ official site.