Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

Erin Hoffman's Inside Job
Inside Job: Interview: Aquaria Creators Derek Yu, Alec Holowka

Erin Hoffman | 18 Jan 2008 17:00
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EH: Derek, you have a computer science degree, but your primary role on [i]Aquaria was producing the art that gives it its extremely professional polish. Why did you decide on the CS degree, and had you always intended to be an artist?

DY: I've always wanted to be an artist in some way or another! I started drawing when I was really young (I drew a lot of monster fish as a kid, actually!). I also got into videogames pretty early on. My parents bought an Atari 2600 for my mom when she was pregnant, because she couldn't move around too much.

So I knew to some extent that what I ended up doing would fall somewhere between drawing and making videogames. The CS degree seemed to be more practical, and in hindsight, I think it was the right choice to make. I ended up getting pretty burnt out on programming after my four-year program, and I can live with that. But I'd be pretty crushed if art school had taken any joy out of drawing for me.

And I still find that the technical knowledge I gained in university gives me a broader understanding about how the games I work on are made, and that's always useful.

EH: So why don't you guys work for regular game companies?

AH: I've always been partly interested in working for a so-called regular game company, but every time I'd apply some cool indie project would come up and I'd end up being busy. I think now it's hard to imagine working for such a company, because it would be so restrictive creatively. Since we're a small team of two people, we have a ton of flexibility and our voice actually gets heard in the final product of the game.

DY: I've gotten fairly cynical about making games for companies. Or making art for companies. I did freelance artwork during the early development of Aquaria, and, quite frankly, it sucks to have to be creative for someone else. At one point I was literally tracing Spongebob Squarepants for a living. ... I mean, I'm glad I did it. It's really amusing for me to think about now. But yeah, if you can get away with being indie, do it. I've heard some real horror stories about working for big game companies. I know it's not all bad, but ...

EH: Yeah, I’ve heard some of those, too. What was it like being only answerable to yourselves? What tensions arose between you during the game's development, and how did you overcome them?

AH: I think the hardest part for me was working over the internet. I started to feel really lonely after a while. We managed to work together in person in the states a few times, and that was a lot more fun.

The problem with being answerable to yourself is that you can't really be your own boss. We also don't like to boss each other around. Neither of us is the "team leader", we just discuss stuff and decide what to do. We got into some nasty arguments over the course of Aquaria's development, but now we have a better understanding of each other, so I think on this next project we should be able to avoid those crappy moments.

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