Jake Kazdal didn’t always know what he wanted to do with life. Having worked as a game counsellor on a Nintendo hotline in his teens, he left college with a little experience of the industry, and so began to petition a contact he’d made at Enix for a job. During a sustained campaign of bugging the Enix man, Kazdal’s contact got promoted, and so the artist found himself completing the loop by taking up the guy’s old role on the hotline. But while it was a second job related to his passion, Kazdal hadn’t yet drawn the link between his artistic talents and a career in game development. Then Enix subscribed to a magazine called Edge and all that changed Kazdal pored over the job ads in the back pages and realised which direction he wanted to go in. Art school came next, and then he secured his first job in game development. A little later, he found himself working at United Game Artists on Space Channel 5, which  is where he picks up his story.


“We’ve been through the wringer once, and learned all these lessons, so Galak-Z was able to get even bigger than Skulls, but [it will be] done in less time overall. Skulls was completely hand-rolled tech and we basically jettisoned all that and started over in Unity. I don’t know why we decided to use our own stuff for Skulls we ended up spending more time bug fixing the engine and the animation tools than working on the game. So it’s all Unity now, even though we’ve rolled a bunch of our own new tech into it. Even though we are over-budget and over-schedule on Galak-Z, it’s a great title,  I’m very proud of it and think it’s definitely going in the right direction, so I’m looking forward to shipping it.

The procedurally assembled elements are very hand-tuned: we spent a lot of time and effort designing rulesets and art assets that will work together. The whole team hesitates to call it completely procedurally generated. Each chunk of the map is largely hand-tuned and hand-designed, then tested and played with, and then they’re procedurally assembled through the code of the game. These different rooms are strung together and then decorated according to what zone they’re in, which enemies are appropriate and stuff like that.

We’re quite late in the game now, where we’re pretty close to getting ready to push this thing out, so we’re just doing a lot of playtesting and a lot of looking for those weird issues where maybe there’s not enough enemies in a certain stage or enemies getting stuck in the wall because they’re spawning in the wrong spot.

I was in [mainstream] development for so long, and to be able to make my own games is the greatest thing. People are like, “What’s your favourite game?” “Oh, Galak-Z by far.” I literally designed it to be my perfect idea of a game. Obviously I’m totally biased, but… yeah [laughs].

We’ve got really cutting edge AI I think our AI is as good as any other game out there. We teamed up with this company called Cyntient that’s starting up in Seattle; they’re really smart engineers and ex-game people, like from Chevron and NASA. I’m really into very organic, really fluid sandboxy combat with really intelligent enemies. And because our gameplay is so simple, they can have really high-level instincts to protect themselves: letting their shields recharge, calling for backup, etc. I mean, I’ve been playing a lot of these other games, even Bloodborne, and I’m like, ‘Wow, the AI here is so limited compared to what I’m used to dealing with now.’ They just see you from a couple of feet away, run at you blindly and just sort of start swinging…

For me, the original Halo was one of the greatest games of all time, if not the greatest. I played it on Legendary over and over, and it was never the same. [Enemies] would flank you. They would surprise you there was no ‘safe’ route through some of those fights. You just had to be really resourceful and scrappy and have really good reflexes. You’ve got to keep your cool in the heat of combat and that was just really, really formative for me as a game designer, where it’s more than just pattern recognition and reflex time: you’ve got to have some really tactical thinking going on. To me, that’s really where the high of the combat comes in that flow state where you stop thinking so much and it just feels like a fight, you know? It feels like you’re fighting another person, and to me that’s just infinitely interesting.”