Jeff Minter is a respected video game developer who has built a reputation for creating a brand of colorful, quirky, irreverent and challenging games over a career spanning over 40 years. He’s credited with over 75 games, and we wouldn’t be surprised to find a few unreleased gems on his computer.
For a decade, Jeff has produced games for PlayStation devices, including the PlayStation Vita, PlayStation VR, PlayStation 4, and with Akka Arr, now the PS4 and PS5. Akka Arr is impressed with Jeff’s sense of humor, his love of psychedelic colors and light, and his ability to create games that are fun to play.
Following the release of Akka Arrh, we had the opportunity to speak with Jeff and learn more about the new game.
Q. Why Akka Arrh?
I’ve been interested in Akka Arrh ever since I first heard the story of this incredibly rare arcade game being kept secret by a collector for 30 years and how the ROM was “released” for anyone to try.
When I got a chance to play the game, I loved its abstract nature, the flowery form of the platforms. I also thought the separation of levels between the upper and lower floors was interesting, as was the lighting of sections of the upper level to “electrify” approaching enemies. There are some cool ideas in the original, but they don’t quite come together in a way that I find satisfying. So when Atari asked me which of their gaming IPs I was most interested in working with, I saw it as an opportunity to explore the ideas of the original and make them work.
Q. Despite the ROM controversy, Akka Arrh is still not a household name. How would you describe the new game?
The original felt almost like a real-time strategy game to me, so I took it a bit further and made the levels almost like a series of puzzles. You can flash bombs and level easily enough, but to get the most points out of it you need to learn the attack patterns and learn how to be effective.
It’s almost a cross between a shooter and a puzzle game. One friend described it as “cerebral,” which is not something anyone would normally say about my rapid-fire stuff.
Q. How did you approach game design?
To me, the design process isn’t something you do at the beginning and then code a spec, it’s something that’s constantly evolving as you build the thing. There was a lot of evolution and some dead ends before I ended up where I thought it should be. There were times when I was in despair because I thought I would never be able to get the game to work properly. So it’s a very iterative process.
Q. You mentioned that the original was cool, but the gameplay wasn’t as satisfying. How do you think this new version will satisfy PlayStation gamers?
I changed more things from the original design than I would if I were working with a more well-known classic. I had to go from “interesting but a little meh” to “interesting and fun”, which took longer than I expected.
I wanted to introduce a chain scoring mechanic where defeating consecutive enemies would increase the bonus multiplier, and to do that I wanted something that worked over a period of time rather than instantaneously. This creates “shock waves” of distance fields on surfaces that expand over time, so when you shoot an enemy, the impact creates a shock wave that spreads to other enemies. These chain reactions are really nice when they work. Each level has its own shapes and patterns, and if you learn how to work with them, you can start a mass disappearance of sound and color.
Q. What else have you introduced in gameplay?
I wanted the enemies to have a more visible mission than just “go down and do some damage and then run away”, so I came up with some “energy containers” for them to steal. You lose the game by losing all the capsules. Some enemies go down there, grab the pods and climb up with them to drag them away; you can intercept them and get capsules. Later on there are enemies that will just drop down and sit there eating pods if you don’t intervene. There are others that can pull pods up with traction beams without going down.
Q. Do you have any advice for players?
It’s basically a tower defense game where “you” are the tower. Swarms of enemies attack your tower; and you try to destroy them before they get too close. If they manage to get to you, they drop down and deal damage; it’s up to you to go there and sort them out before they escape.
You have two types of shots: bombs and bullets. Bombs create a very destructive shockwave, but using one resets the score multiplier to zero. But for every enemy you destroy with the shock program, the bonus multiplier increases. You can shoot bullets and they don’t reset the multiplier, but they are a finite resource – you get more bullets by destroying enemies with shockwaves.
So ideally you want to start off by dropping one bomb to start a chain to increase the bonus multiplier and accumulate orbs, then use as few of those orbs as possible to complete the level with the highest score.
Some levels can be completely beaten with a single bomb and a smug look on your face as the devastating chain reaction consumes the entire level and awards the ultimate bonuses.
Q. The original Akka Arrh used a trackball, which is not a common controller in most households. How did you adapt the gameplay to work with modern controllers?
The game works well with the analog stick. I’ve expanded the weaponry so that you can shoot both from the cursor itself and from the turret, which opens up the gameplay and nicely reflects the operation of the analog sticks on the controller. But you can use the touchpad on PlayStation controllers.
Q. Many of your games are known for their music. What can players expect from Akka Arrh?
I didn’t really know what kind of music I was going to add to the game. I was interested in creating some semi-generative music. So I dug through a big bag of audio samples I’ve been collecting for decades…things I’ve been interested in that I’ve kept, including some samples from my previous games and an old woman’s voice saying various things. Then I created a very simple little sequencer that plays instrument samples and this sound pack based on what’s going on in the game. It creates a sequence of tones that are created by enemies and your actions when you shoot enemies. Each level has its own tonal “theme” that helps make each level special. In the end, I think “music” is too grand a word, but I actually quite like the result.
Fans of incredible psychedelic arcade gameplay can look forward to the release of Akka Arrh on February 21st!