Hazelnut Hex Dev Talks Singleplayer Game Design and Navigating Player Comments

In a world of increasingly convoluted AAA titles – filled with branching narratives, side quests and detailed visuals – James, the solo indie developer behind the side-scrolling shooter Hazelnut Hex, think that there are still some who are looking for simpler concepts. This, along with a desire to create games that remind him of his childhood, drove James to create his first title, which was released in early October.

James, who asked to be referred to only by his first name, began work on Hazelnut four years ago as a passion project, largely alone. Game Rant spoke with James about what he learned during this process and how audiences have received the shmup so far.


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Hazelnut Hex and the tests of solo development

James has always had an interest in making video games, but he didn’t think to dabble in the process until he started. Hazelnut Hex. Before that, he worked as a programmer and did independent animation on the side, for example on Adult Swim’s Smiling friends animated series.

“Shortly after leaving my old programming job, I said, ‘Well, I’d still like to do some programming at my own pace,'” James said. He had already created a forward-looking Internet presence in the form of Chunderfins, a name he had previously attached to his work in music and animation. Around 2018, James made Chunderfins his development studio.

When he started building Hazelnuta hellish shmup in the style of classic arcade titles of the genre, James was optimistic about the game’s development schedule. in October 2019.” Hazelnut would not see a release until about three years later.

It turns out that developing a video game on your own is a little more complicated than expected. Something that started as a fun side project quickly turned into his full-time job, James said.

“I had never done game development outside of Flash games when I was in high school. I wasn’t sure what the most time-consuming parts of the process would be.

Although he has a lot of animation experience, it’s the part of development that James says takes the most time. Less complicated enemies in the game took around a full day to draw and animate, but characters with more complex moves and phases took several days. However, James was not completely alone in his work. He had “very talented friends” who helped him with voice acting and Hazelnut cover art.

Hazelnut was entirely self-funded and self-published, which James said was facilitated by the availability of developer tools. “I think creating video games is more accessible today than it’s ever been. I’m working on a computer that’s 10 years old. I don’t ride in it. But the PC development software that I used was very affordable.

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Hazelnut Hex Empty Run

Throughout the development process and in the perspective of Hazelnut release, James had the opportunity to gather valuable feedback on his work. The difficulty was one of the main sticking points, he said.

“The game was probably impossible for anyone but me before playing. Testers told me things like “bosses are downright impossible”.

James’ development goal was to make Hazelnut beaten in 10 lives by his best friend, whom he grew up playing shooting games with. His friend, who was the final tester, ended up finishing the game in just seven years and told him to “make it harder”.

This feedback allowed James to adapt Hazelnut enough gameplay to say it has found the “sweet spot” between difficulty and playability. “I may have overcorrected,” he said. “I heard several people say it was too difficult, but I also heard people say it was too easy.”

Perhaps the most valuable feedback opportunity for Hazelnut was at October’s Vintage Video Game Convention in Colorado, where James had a table. He said it was a particularly unique experience. “I’ve never been to a convention before or had a table like the one I had. I’m not made to stay up for so many hours.

Despite the tribulations of exposure, James said it was exciting to see people of all ages playing and enjoying Hazelnut. The speedrun world record holder for 1993 shmup Gunstar Hero even played the game. “He said the game ‘wasn’t asshole,'” James said, “which is probably one of the best reviews you can get from a speedrunner.”

One of the most striking things James noticed at the Colorado convention was that young people were especially captivated by Hazelnut. It wasn’t something he expected.

“I didn’t know if an old-school shoot ’em up could hold a kid’s attention for even two seconds, but there were a few kids under 10 who sat there for half an hour and who played it all.”

Observe children interact with Hazelnut simpler format made for some sobering observations on the state of the game, James said. “One of the most heartbreaking things I heard at the convention was from a kid who said he liked my game because it never makes you stop watching an ad. It was awful.

Despite this, James said he was happy to see that games like Hazelnut might still appeal to a wider audience. “Kids always appreciate a good shoot ’em up.”

Hazelnut Hex is now available for PC and Switch.

MORE: Hazelnut Hex Dev on How the Game Mirrors Classic Shoot ‘Em Up Titles

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