Kevin Hanley is a prolific game developer. Since 2009, his company K-Han Games has released seven new titles. However, what's truly amazing is that all of these games are for the original NES system. Recently, I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask him eight questions about his work, as well as his latest game: The Incident.
1. A lot of our audience aren't familiar with homebrew games. Could you explain what homebrew games are and what makes them unique from vintage NES cartridges?
Homebrew games are basically brand new games made by a single person or a very small team of people typically as a hobby, made outside of a professional setting. In newer platforms this is typically referred to as an indie game, but on older gaming systems, for whatever reason, people have been using the term "homebrew" since its inception.
This is of course different from hacking, which has been done since the advent of emulators on computers. In a hack, people are taking existing games and changing graphics or some settings in a hex editor and rebranding it as something new, but with homebrew games, the games are made from scratch using (in my case) the same programming language they used to make original NES games, 6502 assembly. But some other people are using more modern languages like C and converting everything over.
are unique from vintage NES games in a few ways. For one, obviously,
they are brand new games. In some instances we've taken modern ideas,
like achievements, and implemented them into our new games. In addition
to that, a lot of us are using brand new parts, including circuit boards
and cartridge plastics, for our new products.
2. What got you started in homebrew manufacturing?
Honestly the whole idea of making my own games was never even a thought in my brain. While the NES has always been my favorite system, I never had any idea how to program, so the idea of making an entire game from scratch seemed like an impossibility.
Back in 2008 I had moved to Dallas to be with my then girlfriend, and the job market had just taken a pretty big crash. The economy was in terrible shape and no one was hiring. I found myself with a lot of time on my hands, because turning in 20 applications a day and not ever hearing anything back became really depressing. I needed to find some way to keep my brain occupied.
In what I consider really coincidental timing, a brilliant man over in California who runs retrousb.com (formerly called RetroZone), named Brian, released a series of tutorials on NintendoAge.com detailing how to program in assembly language for the Nintendo NES.
I took things slow, going through maybe one tutorial every week, because like I said, I had no programming knowledge at this point. And by going through them one at a time, and asking a serious buttload of questions, I eventually had a game done. Looking back at that code today, it's pretty terrifying, and I wonder how the heck it ever worked, but with each game release, I learn more and more. And I'm still learning and making games today!
3. Today, there are plenty of convenient digital distribution services like Steam for indie game developers to access. So why did you decide to make games exclusively for the NES?
I'm asked this question a lot, since there is seemingly no market for the NES community. Well, that isn't entirely fair. There is definitely a market, but not nearly the size of a service like Steam, or PC gaming in general.
The NES has always been near and dear to my heart. And to be honest, pushing the power button the machine and seeing something I created from scratch on the system that I grew up with is really damn exciting. I don't have that sentimental attachment to any other systems, so despite it taking roughly 8 months to make even a simple game, it is all worth it when I see the pixelated graphics pop up on the TV.
And with each game release, it
seems like more and more people are finding out about what we're doing,
so the market is slowly growing.
4. Okay, let's get down to brass tacks! Tell me, what is The Incident?
The Incident is my most recent, and definitely biggest, game. It's a block pushing puzzle game, with over 100 levels. I added some pretty cool features like automatic puzzle solutions that you can unlock on levels that you're having trouble with, and a full level builder with import/export functions. Lots of really cool ideas that, to my knowledge, had never been done on the NES before. It was a pretty big undertaking, but everyone seems to love it, which is great.
5. A lot of reviewers are comparing The Incident to Sokoban. Was it an inspiration? And if so, why did you choose to imitate its style of level progression to tell a larger narrative? Puzzle games aren't usually known for their deep plots.
To be honest, I had never even heard of Sokoban at the time I was making this game. I actually played an iOS game, which name I forget at this point, which makes me a little sad, but it was basically the same thing as Sokoban. Pushing blocks around into specific goals to complete a level. Such a simple concept, but to me it was really addicting, and I wanted to bring that to the NES.
The reason for my
deep plot was a pretty selfish reason. I just thought it would be
really fun to have such a deep storyline to a basic puzzle game. It
makes me want to keep playing to find out what happens. My testers and I
really put a lot of thought into the story, and the way that it's
played out is very inspired by the indie game "Thomas Was Alone." I
played that game at the same time I was making The Incident and a lot of
those ideas definitely seeped their way into my game. It's impossible
to not be inspired by such a great game like that.
6. I couldn't help but notice that your robot Sam bears an uncanny resemblance to Nintendo's own R.O.B. Is there any specific reason you wanted to place the little guy in your game world?
R.O.B. never gets enough love, and sadly the games that he is tied to are pretty terrible. I wanted to bring him back and give him another chance to explore some more exciting things!
7. What are the games that have most inspired you as a developer?
If you look at the previous games I've made, it's pretty clear that I lack a lot of original ideas. I think my shtick is to bring games that I loved as a kid over to the system that I love the most. That's why you see a lot of older Atari games in my list of games I've made. Frogger, Sneak n Peek, Biplane (from Intellivision), E.T., Leisure Suit Larry, etc. The Incident, so far, has been the only truly original thing I've done, so in a lot of ways it was the most exciting for me, getting to stretch my legs a little and explore new, fresh ideas.
I am always on the hunt for new indie games. I love seeing what things people are coming up with, and I am often inspired by a lot of their creations.
So in a nutshell, I've always been inspired by old Sierra computer games, and more recently, some of the new indie games.
And I'm inspired by my testers. They keep me going and always have really good (and sometimes farfetched) ideas.
8. Any plans for what your next project will be?
Right now I'm working on a 4-in-1 cartridge that is taking some of my smaller, older games, that are now discontinued and putting them all in one package. That will be coming out in the coming months, to hopefully give people another chance to play the games I've made in the past that are now discontinued. After that, though, I have a lot of projects that are either half done or started in one way or another. It takes such a long time to finish a game that I get sidetracked and I tend to jump around from project to project, so there's no telling what game will pop up next. Hopefully I have the courage to finish one of the scrolling games I'm working on, whether that's a port of the flash PC Great Gatsby game, or my original skateboarding game based on the OlliOlli (another indie PC game) ideas.
Either way, if anyone is interested in any of my projects, please check out my website http://www.khangames.com. I'm also on Facebook and Instagram, and I tend to give too many of my games away, so feel free to stop by and show me some love.
Thanks for the interest, everyone!
Visit khangames.com to pick up a copy of The Incident