If you’re a fan of our magazine, you can probably tell that we at Hardcore Droid really like Sarah Northway. We’ve lavished her work with praise, written strategy guides for her games, spoken with her, and even asked her how to make it big in the Indie game design world. And why not? Even aside from the time she puts in to engage with her fans, she makes some of the best android games out there that eschew outrageous IAPs and are ridiculously fun to play.
So if we wanted to feature an interview with a game designer, it’s only fitting we catch up with Sarah Northway, especially now that her mammoth project, the eagerly awaited Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville, has come to a close. The game was released on multiple platforms, to much praise; 4.6 stars on Google Play (at the time of writing this, with 965 reviews), and I myself called the game “engrossing” and “incredibly fun.”
Having taken almost three years to finish, Rebuild 3 was Northway’s most ambitious game to date. Unlike her other games, which she mainly works on by herself or with some help from her husband (fellow game designer Colin Northway), Rebuild 3 required an entire team to help finish, including a squad of four artists (to improve upon what Northway calls the “stick figures” of the previous titles). The process included a failed Kickstarter, bouts of self-doubt, brutal eliminations, and hours upon hoursf of hard work.
How does she feel about being done with the game? “I totally feel like I’m finally done here,” she tells me over our phone-interview, the relief apparent in her voice. There are no current plans for a Rebuild 4. But she’s quick to add that the whole thing was worth it. In fact, Northway refuses to make games she’s not passionate about. For her, designing a game “that you really want to make” is key to being a successful designer.
What about the theme of the game, I asked her. Is there something about zombies that calls to her? “Oh yeah!” she immediately exclaims. I’m a huge fan!” Northway readily consumes zombie and sci-fi filled literature, movies and other games: “I really love post-apocalyptic stuff,” she says. “I really like ones that are not necessarily about the zombies, but about people, and how they cope, and what happens after the initial fighting.” The influence clearly shows in the Rebuild series, where the micro-narratives of the survivors that the player controls are just as important as scavenging for supplies and shooting the walking dead. “I wanted you to care about these people,” she asserts.
What about practical tips for a budding game designer? Northway is happy to talk about her process. “Start with the most… big part of the game that you can have working in the shortest amount of time,” she advises. Once you have that working, she claims, everything is easier. And learn Unity: “Anyone going into game design should just go straight to Unity. If nothing else, it’ll be much easier for you to work with the team, because so many people use Unity now.”
What’s next for Northway Games? Northway is excited about exploring a whole new medium for games: virtual reality. She’s currently working on a sequel to the 2008 title Fantastic Contraptions, where players would be able to build and manipulate their “contraptions” in 3-D with gestural controls. We at Hardcore Droid wish her all the best and look forward to its release!