The Development of Axiom Verge: A 5-year Retrospective

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The Development of Axiom Verge: A 5-year Retrospective

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. — Lao Tzu

It was about 5 years ago that I kicked off a side hobby project. At the time I was working at Petroglyph on an RTS game as a programmer during the day, and just wanted a fun side project to work on as a hobby for my evenings and weekends. Some people build model airplanes, some collect stamps. My hobby is making games.

I didn’t start off with Axiom Verge fully designed in my head. It really more started off as an exercise in game design. I wanted to deconstruct my favorite games from my youth and see what would happen if I took the best elements of each and put them together. The Yo-Yo weapon of Rygar and the grapple hook of Bionic Commando in the setting of Blaster Master and Shatterhand. What would fit together? What wouldn’t work?

I’m trained as both an artist and programmer, and since I was doing a lot of programming as part of my day job, I started my hobby project with art. I started off just by drawing map areas. Nothing inside each of the rooms, just a collection of rooms linked together with an overall flow, including where people would need to get something to open up a new area. I then filled in the rooms with different platforms and obstacles to create a path.

Axiom Verge, Early Map

Here’s part of an early map — to show the whole thing would be a bit spoilery. This dates from May 2010. The names of the areas and characters have changed a lot since then!

Next I spent about 6 months to a year doing nothing but drawing art — particularly the environmental tilesets. This one is dated June 21, 2010:

Axiom Verge,  EarlyTile Set

Gradually the theme of the game started to come together. The more I drew, the more it started to coalesce into a unified, consistent world. Around this time it went from a side hobby to really becoming an all-encompassing passion for me. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with an idea for a new boss, and immediately grab my sketch pad and draw. Here are some of my early sketches and what they eventually became.

Axiom Verge, Trap Claw

The TrapClaw was one of the first enemies I designed. I sketched it out around November 2010 and had it animated by March 2011.

Axiom Verge, Uruku

I sketched and pixelated one of the boss characters, Uruku, sometime in January 2011 and had him animated in February 2011. I didn’t code any of his gameplay until July 2013, at which point I also went back and revised his body segments to have a more tiled appearance.

Writing music has been a hobby of mine since I was 19 or so, but I never actually had any formal training in it. I had finalized the music by January 2011.

As the story came together with the art and the music, the idea of glitching came to mind. I think it occurred to me while I was animating the first pass on Trace, sometime in March 2011. I was thinking back to when I used to make games glitch by swapping out cartridges during gameplay or using my Game Genie. It used to fascinate me as a kid that I could walk through a glitched wall into an area that was never intended to be seen. Or I could make enemies behave in strange ways. Sometimes it would freeze the game, and sometimes it would do something useful, but I just loved being able to experiment with all of that stuff.

It wasn’t until after most of the art and level design was done on paper that I actually started coding. I wanted to make sure I had all of the art assets done, because needing to stop programming right in the middle because you need an asset for a creature can really pull you out of your rhythm. It was important to me to get the feel of the game just right. An exploration action adventure game shouldn’t feel floaty. It needs to be precise and responsive. The enemies should be challenging but not impossible.

3 or 4 years into the entire process, the game was really starting to come together. There were long playable areas with polished art and music and an interesting game mechanic. But I was still working on it weekends and evenings, because I needed an income. I attended IndieCade and got a chance to show the game to Sony, and almost 6 months later, they offered to include me in the Pub Fund program.

About one year ago, I switched from full-time to part-time at Petroglyph (essentially reversing the priorities I had for the previous 4 years) and 6 months ago quit my day job altogether.

Axiom Verge was fully playable from beginning to end at that point, so my main focus was polish — figuring out good hiding spots for different weapons and powerups, having playtesters go through the game and see where they struggled, and fixing lots and lots of little bugs.

A lot of people have told me they admire my tenacity for being able to stay dedicated to a project for so long. I’ve heard people remark that I must be a workaholic to come home from my day job and then work on my own game as well. I don’t see it that way. It’s been a true joy every step, and there was never really a point where I felt like I was grinding. It started as a hobby and ended the same way.

And now, at long last, I get to share Axiom Verge with the world.

Spring Fever 2015 features eight new games launching over an eight week period, with a 10% discount for PlayStation Plus members for the first week each game is available. Click here for full details.

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11 Author Replies

  • Looking good. Grats on 1st release Sir.

  • Congrats. Game looks awesome and I look forward to buying it today. Impressed by the stellar reviews.

  • And finally the game that I have been waiting for is here. Going to see if I can buy this now & start playing it gotta luv the indies!!!!!!!!!!

  • Looks great! Can’t wait until it comes to Vita.

  • Congrats, Tom! Nice meeting you at PAX East, too. Looking forward to playing Axiom Verge again in the comfort of my own home :-)

  • So when will this be available to purchase, i’m jonesing. I’ve been waiting for this since I seen it last year at E3. Maybe for the future spring fever week you can let us pre order and pre load them. I don’t see why not. Thank You.

    • It should be up sometime between 11 AM and 2:45 PM … sorry I can’t be more precise! I’ll post on twitter (@axiomverge) as soon as I know.

  • Congrats on the finished product and the great reviews! I’ll be buying it once the store updates today!

  • Even if I wasn’t excited for this game I still would want to support you in some way because of your story! So excited for your future, can’t wait to get my hands on this! Really excited for the music!

  • SHUTUPANDTAKEMYMONEY.gif. Seriously, cannot wait for this, congrats Mr. Happ!

  • Looks awesome – Will be buying this as soon as the Vita version is released! It would be great if you could patch in a level editor somehow…

  • Definitely gonna pick this one up. And I don’t care what anyone says, I love these retro style games.

  • As soon as I heard/saw this announced, it has been one of my most anticipated games of this console generation, by far. I’m so excited to get to play it today. Congrats, Mr. Happ, and thank you for all your hard work. Cheers!

  • Congrats on finally being able to bring this game to fruition. I am in the early stages of my own game, as well as a comic book series that is top priority at the moment.

    Maybe in a few years time, it’ll be me sharing my story on PlayStation Blog!

    Can’t wait to get Axiom Verge on PS4, but I’m really waiting for the Vita version!

  • Sotry to be late to the convo but one question….

    We’re you part of Westwood studios that made red alert 2? I remember hearing how a lot of devs from Westwood were working on a mmorts that worked on ra2. We’re you part of that team?

    There is still a community dedicated to ra2
    Just fyi.
    Back on topic
    Axiom verge looks sweet though. Looks like something if I start playing I wouldn’t be able to put down.

  • Is there an estimate for when the Vita version will be available? This looks pretty sweet and I really want to try it out.

  • I am greatly looking forward to for this game. Great work and congratulations on sticking with it for so long to get to this day. I think a lot of people are excited about Axiom Verge.

    I enjoy the art a lot. Great work! Any chance you could share what program/software you used?

  • I can’t believe the day is finally here. I’ve been watching your game evolve over the past year, trying to be patient, I can’t imagine your 5yr journey! Well done, time to play!

  • Great job, congrats on the positive reviews.

  • i have a important question does the game have controller rumble.its the difference between me buying it or not so please someone give me a answer.

  • Thank you so much Mr. Happ for your hard work and dedication to creating Axiom Verge. This is one of my most anticipated games of 2015! Now it is time for you to sit back and relax while the positive comments flow to you because I think many people will really enjoy this game! I can’t wait to buy it today!

  • I’m seriously anticipating this I thought it came out at 12 and I checked every hour on the hour.

  • Also is that 11 a.m. – 2:45 p.m.eastern standard time or is it pacific time on the release or what? This game seriously has given me hope for the old school gaming feel and future.

    • It’s PST. BUT we just discovered that you can order the game on the web version of Playstation Store. The CATCH: No PS+ discount yet.

  • this article at the end made me jealous,happy for you and almost made me cry because i always wanted to make my own game since i first held that snes controller when i was 8 years old but because of a struggling childhood,lack of parenting and support from my parents and friends that dream has not come true and probably never will,but when i see games developed by only one person it brings a smile to my face hell one of my top 5 games of all time is cave story,i love super metroid and i know this will be 20 bucks well spent and maybe one of the best games of the year.

    anyway tom i cant wait to jump in to the world you have created.

    • Don’t ever give up on that dream. I’m 38 but I didn’t try to make a game until I was 20 … if you start tinkering with making games now you can get there eventually, even if it’s just as a hobby.

  • Will Axiom Verge be released for PS3?

  • I see Axiom Verge for sale on the store but it doesn’t have the PS+ 10% off, it’s only for sale at full price. What’s up with that?

  • Congrats on your first game release! I have been beside myself with anticipation since I heard Axiom Verge was a game that existed. It not only looks like a labor of love, but it looks like one of few retro-styled games that will actually capture the style of the good ol’ days…as opposed to trying to just capitalize on the “feel” of them.

    I cannot wait until this sucker pops up on the store. I am checking every 30 minutes, in-between Bloodborne sessions.
    I have been absolutely addicted to that game since its release, so to want to put that down to play your game….them’s high marks, my friend! :-)

    Take care, thank you, and congrats again!

  • From what I saw on the Spring Fever Sales, I booked the money to get the game.

    I think this game will make history like the Super Metroid SNES.

    Congratulations and you can count on my purchase. I will spread the game to the maximum possible friends. Good games are worth mentioning.

  • Wow what an inspiring story.Congrats bro! I hope your game does well and you find success!

  • Downloaded Axiom Verge at full price and I don’t care. Can’t wait to play it!

  • Have been following this game’s development for ages. If it’s half as good as it looks to be, we’re in for a real treat. Picking it up as soon as the store updates.

  • It discounts it 10% once you put it in your shopping cart. Happy downloading everyone!

  • I am so inspired by you Tom Happ. You are like a modern day Leonardo da Vinci with so much skill in so many different fields. You must have so much passion and dedication to be able to stick with this for 5 years, and the end product based on the reviews I read shows.

    I am just curious, because being an engineer myself, I know most of us are wired to be good at one thing and not the other. Are you a technical artist by trade? Knowing to do both art and engineering so well is fascinating to me.

    • I spent most of my career as a 3D animator or an engineer; I was a “technical artist” as they call it for a few years at EA; I found it to be a little too “inbetweeny”, though, since I never really got to work directly on things you see in the game. The one exception was shader writing, which not all technical artists do, but whenever I had the chance, it was quite addictive.

  • Tom Happ, I never write on these blog posts, but this is for you man lol. Freakin awesome job on the game. When I first saw this trailer long ago, many childhood memories came back to me. Ever since then, I’ve been anxiously waiting for this. Heck, I even held off on playing the demo version at a retail store, to avoid wasting some of my “fun level” there. I said, “No! Gotta play this on MY system.” My only regret is not having Spring Break right now. Dang college life. Anyways, you did fine work Tom. Loved your entire progress leading up to this point. Will download this as soon as the store updates. Just wanted to say thank you and let you know of one more supporter. Congrats again and good luck on Axiom Verge Part 2. ;)

  • Great work. Thanks for hanging in there when it got arduous!

    A lot of people are going to enjoy playing this!

    I really hope it pays off for you because I, for one, would love to see much more of this in the future!!!

  • Great article, Tom. HUGE congratulations on the release! I hope it’s the biggest thing this year!

  • When the Vita version comes out, will it be cross buy and/or cross save with the PS4 version?

    • It’ll be retroactively cross buy with PS4. We think it’ll probably have Cross Save but can’t say for certain.

  • Any word on what will be added in April for PS Now subscriptions?

  • Thank you for making this Tom!! Downloading as we speak, I CANNOT wait to start playing this! :)

  • Many congratulations Mr. Happ!! Very inspiring story, and as a software engineering undergrad this really makes me want to start a building a game for fun as well :). Not many games would take me away from Bloodborne at the moment haha but this definitely one of them, can’t wait to dive in later today!

  • When is come out the Vita Version?
    I hope this month cus i have 20 bucks already for this !!
    Congrats For make this, litle Master piece, cant wait for played and Vita Need Axiom Verge. ..

    • Sadly we don’t know when the Vita version will be out, only that it’s definitely coming and it’ll be 2015.

  • Very inspiring. I love the before and after pictures. Great work on the game and congrats on the release!

  • This game looks fascinating, but I don’t own a PS4 or a Vita. Is there any chance that it will come out for PS3?

  • That’s one heck of a platinum Tom! How do I “glitch” an enemy?

  • I bought it when it went up and all I have to say is this game is incredible. Good job Dev. Brings back so many memories, with the fx, music, pixel art, hidden passages. This game has it all. Thank you so much for dedicated your time to creating this great game.

  • Great game Tom Happ: congratulations! It brought to my memory a NES game called Abadox, have you played it? Although Abadox is a shum’up, it also looks very “organic”, like Axiom verge. Good memories!

  • @Tom Happ.
    donwloaded Axiom Verge yesterday and its awsome.
    two Bosses done, hopefully more to come :-)

    And i found a secret weapon behind a wall what ist brilliant cause i didn´t expected this.
    Some Power-Ups okay, but not a new weapon, Holymoly

    For me one of the best Indititle 2015 so far. thx a lot and bring it ASAP on PS-VIta

  • You did an amazing job. Loving the game so far…and pretty sure I’m going to go for 100%. I’ll be streaming this during my schedule.

  • Ever since I first hit that grey button on my NES as a child, I have dreamed of making games. Now that I am a salary-man, husband, and proud father of 3, I have tasted success but have still not yet been able to realize my dream of creating and shareing my own game with the world.

    Your story is nothing short of awe inspiring! Mr. Happ, you are an inspiration to all budding and prospective would-be developers who have a dream. I was glad to buy this Day 1 and continue to spout praise for your game. This is one game I will work hard to Platinum!

    Thank you very much for your hard work and beautiful creation!

  • We need this for the PS3, NOW!!

    … Pretty please…?

  • Congrats on the game release, bought it on the first day, I’ve been playing and loving it, waiting for the ps vita version :)

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