There have been plenty of horror themed video games, but very few of them are set on the day that we use to celebrate all things spooky. That's where Halloween Forever comes in, a 2D platformer currently in Early Access all about everyone's favorite day of scares and candy. I was able to get in contact with Peter Lazarski, the developer and artist of Halloween Forever, to discuss the art, the holiday, and the future.
TechRaptor: There are a lot of spooky video games, but very few are themed around Halloween. Why did you base the game on the holiday?
Peter: I'm a Halloween freak. It's not so much that I decided to make a holiday themed game but I just really wanted to make a Halloween game (probably don't expect me to make Christmas Forever or Arbor Day Forever). Halloween has it all. Horror movies, special effects, insane costumes, terrible candy, and running around spooky places at night.
TechRaptor: Besides the holiday itself, what inspired Halloween Forever?
Peter: Horror movies are a big influence. Specifically Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. One of the things on my to do list for Halloween Forever is setting up some alternate playable characters. Right now you can play as Pumpkin Man but I want to let players unlock a Witch Woman and Skeleton Man (maybe not their actual names in the game, just spitballing). They would be a nice reference to the three Silver Shamrock masks from the movie. There's some stonehenge stuff going on in some of the levels that I want to play up some more too. Other than Halloween 3, the hockey mask chainsaw maniacs kind of resemble Jason Voorhees. There's a handful of original concepts getting mixed in with the horror and B-movie nods. I'd like to add in some more easter eggs and secrets that people can find and might recognize.
TechRaptor: Despite the simplicity of it all, Halloween Forever has some genuinely striking visuals. How did you come up with the art style?
Peter: The art style originally came from me browsing some of the games that were getting posted on RGCD.CO.UK, specifically some of the ZX Spectrum homebrew titles. Also I was looking at Abbaye Des Morts by Locomalito around then too. I liked the esthetic of those and started messing around some, but eventually added more colors instead of sticking with the strict sprite palette. I made an early tileset with some graveyard assets and the first design for Pumpkin Man and mostly put it down for a while, maybe a year or two. Then in 2014 our daughter was born and I was given sort of a new appreciation for my now more limited spare time. I had been wanting to learn game development for years but could never get something up and running teaching myself to program. That Summer of 2014 I was saying to myself "If I don't try this again now it's never going to get any easier," and I started looking at some GameMaker: Studio tutorials. Stuff I could find around TigSource written by Derek Yu way back in the day and Youtube tutorials that were getting made by Shaun Spalding doing GML stuff for platformers. Of all the platforms I had poked or tried at all I was finally getting some traction and results using GM:S. Once I decided I was going to try and make a self contained small game I looked back at this Halloween pixel tileset I had made before and it seemed like the right kind of match because the art was so simple. I do pixel art and other art that is a lot more developed (look at Deathstate) but the original Halloween Forever art was perfect for my first real game since I could get art assets up and running in minimal time. I wanted to give myself more time to spend struggling and learning how to code, and so far neither the art or the coding bits have been an impediment. I'm happy with how the game has been shaping up visually and it's a fun constraint trying to keep your art bold and a little low-fi.
TechRaptor: A lot of people these days tend to be dismissive of pixelated indie platformers, did you have any challenges trying to make Halloween Forever stand out from the crowd?
Peter: It's tough to say. I haven't really made any conscious decisions on how to make Halloween Forever stand apart from the pixel art indie platform scene. For every reaction of "Ugh, not another pixel art game" I've seen targeted at Halloween Forever, I'll have 50 people react positively or enthusiastically about the game and it's looks. Reaction has been pretty positive overall and it's been awesome getting to meet people wanting to ask me about the game, whether it's on Twitter, the Steam forums, or when I'm streaming game dev work nights at twitch.tv/imaginarymonsters.
TechRaptor: As it is, Halloween Forever is fairly short. Do you have any plans to extend the game's length in the future?
Peter: Absolutely. While Halloween Forever is in Early Access on Steam I've been working on new bosses, new worlds, plans for extending existing worlds, and also adding in new platform mechanics (recently I added jump through platforms and ladders). What I've been telling people so far is that Halloween Forever should net out at about 5 worlds with each world being longer than before. As I've been working on things I've found one of my favorite aspects has been making bosses (whether or not I'm any good on it, we'll see!) but things are shaping up that there may be minibosses in each world too. More secrets and character unlocks like I mentioned above are really something I want to work in also. Feels like some of those things are getting close on my to do list.
TechRaptor: Finally, once you're finished with Halloween Forever, do you have any plans for future projects?
Peter: I definitely want to make more games. I've always been an art, design, and comics guy and those alone are all great to do. Working on game stuff is different though. People that find my work get really charged up about seeing how I'm doing some of this when I'm posting process updates. It's really fun to share and talk about with people. I'd really like to make a small to medium sized Metroidvania game. Anything I do will probably be thematically similar to Halloween Forever, so more spooky, creepy 2d pixel games are a safe bet. I should take a little break when I'm done too!
TechRaptor: Thank you for your time!