Interview With Ash Jackson of Monster Robot Studios

Let’s start off by learning a little more about Monster Robot Studios. How many people work behind the label, and are the Monster Robot projects your first videogame industry experience?

As of right now I (Ash Jackson) do the bulk of the work, but I get a good amount of help from my brother (Silas Jackson) and from friends who beta test, give ideas, etc.

My background is in art. I was the artist for comics such as Eve: Vampire Diva by arcana comic, Beautiful Creatures by RED 5, and Kenneth the Conjuror by Sunset Graphic, to name a few. I also do a lot of work for the online (soon to be print) comic, Afterlife Inc.  It is a very cool project any comic fans should definitely check out. But over the years I’ve had chances to work on various cell phone games, iPhone games, and so on. I’ve always been a huge fan of classic games like Super Mario, Zelda and Metroid since I was young. As a five year old I was drawing ideas for games in my sketch pads, so it feels natural to make games. Only now people can really play them, instead of just looking at drawings and listening to a rambling kid explain how great it is…and hopefully they have improved slightly since those old drawings!

Why has GameSalad become your engine of choice? What are its strengths and weaknesses in your opinion? 

GameSalad is very user friendly, which is great for someone who is stronger with art than programming, but also, if you work hard and think creatively you can really do some impressive stuff with the engine. My only real complaint would be that the load times can be rough on occasion, but they are always improving them so for the most part I’m happy with it.

GravCat came as a complete surprise after Bridge the Gap because they’re so stylistically different. Do you see yourselves as exploring every genre you possibly can, or do you think Monster Robot will eventually settle into a certain niche?

I’m not sure we’ll ever make just one type of game. I do think we’ll always revisit genres, though (I already have a lot of concepts for Bridge the Gap II piling up).  But there are also concepts for three other games, all different styles…so I’m not sure which comes next.

So tell us about your upcoming game, SZC. What genre are you going for this time around, and just how big will this game be compared to your previous releases? Any technical achievements you’re especially proud of mastering this time around?

SZC is an amalgamation of my love for Super Metroid and the Resident Evil series. As in Super Metroid, you don’t have to go right to the boss/next mission objective; you can search the station for research logs to learn the back story, visit the space merchant and buy new weapons and upgrades, or search for the first 10 medals he has hidden within the station (which will unlock extras in upcoming chapters).  So there is a good amount to do, and a lot more on the way.

It is definitely the most complex game so far. I’m most happy with the depth of detail — the little bullet shells, how you have a reflection in the water, how your weapon sounds better as you upgrade it, etc. I’ve always been a fan of those little extras. I’m not sure how big the game will be by the end. Chapter One takes roughly 20-30 minutes to beat if you know just where you are going. It has two bosses, one primary weapon upgrade and three purchasable guns (with game money, no IAP in this game, you get it all for a dollar). There’s a special weapon called the Rock Saw that will be available only in version 1.0.0.

SZC also auto-saves with every room change. Metroid is more of a “sit down and focus” kind of game, whereas with iPhone games you can often only play while you have a second. So with the auto-save you could play five minutes on a bus ride or 45 on the couch and jump right back to where you were when you left off last time.