I came across a game not long ago that grabbed my attention. The game had interesting looking youthful characters, and bright colors dipped in varying hues. It looked like a runner of sorts, but there was something about it that seemed like it would be fun to play. I reached out to Lightbound Studios and made contact with Artak Avakyan, the founder of Lightbound Studios. I was impressed to find out that this game has been created solely by Mr. Avakyan. After interviewing him, I find Mr. Avakyan to be a brilliant and humble game designer, with big dreams for Lightbound Studios.
[UPDATE: Thursday, January 28th, 2016 – 12:56 AM, PST] In our interview with Lightbound Studios, we mentioned that the game would be releasing in a few days. If you like what you saw and read in the interview, now is the time to check out Star Chasers. The game is available to download in the Google Play Store for free. The link is just below this update.
Google Play: Star Chasers
Interview continues below…
Jaymes Carter: Artak, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for DroidGamers. Congratulations on the pending release of your new game Star Chasers. The beta has recently been made available to some gamers. I hope they find out like I have, that this is a really fun game to play. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how long you have been in the game industry?
Artak Avakyan: My name is Artak Avakyan and I’m the founder of Lightbound Studios. I’ve been in the games industry for 11 years and had the privilege of working on some great franchises like Medal of Honor, True Crime, and God of War.
JC: God of War. Now that is a popular franchise. Eleven years is a fair amount of time in the industry. I am sure you have seen and experienced quite a bit. Now you have your own studio. Where is Lightbound Studios? Why the name LightBound Studios?
AA: Lightbound Studios is located in Los Angeles, CA. Initially I came up with the name Lightbound as I was trying to describe a hero’s journey in a story. It represented the idea of heading towards light – heading towards good. As I thought about this idea, I realized that it doesn’t just apply to heroes in stories, but to most people in our lives. Eventually that became the name of the studio because it represented the path I want this studio to take and the kind of culture for it to have.
JC: How many people are in the Studio? What are their different tasks?
AA: Currently the studio consists of only one individual and Star Chasers is largely a one man project. Throughout the development, a few of my good friends were kind enough to take some time from their busy schedules and help me create some art assets. In addition, I worked closely with a talented composer to compose the score for Star Chasers. Aside from that, everything else was pretty much my responsibility. However, once Star Chasers launches and the necessary resources are available, the goal is to build the right team and grow into a solid game studio.
JC: I have played the game, so believe me when I say it is impressive that it was created by one person. I am often amazed about all the work that it takes to make a good game. You definitely have to have a passion to stick with the ups and downs in the industry. What made you fall in love with gaming? Or, why do you have a passion for creating games.
AA: My love for games started when I got a taste of Castlevania in my school computer lab. I was probably around 10 years old back then. I thought the only way I could get to play more of this awesomeness is to sign up for a computer programming class. And of course I was wrong. Instead of playing Castlevania, I got to learn how to draw lines and patterns using BASIC programming language. Did I mention that I loved drawing? Little did I know that these were the tiny seeds that would later grow and take over my life, transforming me into a game developer.
JC: It is always interesting to hear what game started it all for different developers. I remember playing the Atari 2600 and thinking that was pretty amazing, but it wasn’t until I played Donkey Kong that I got hooked on playing games. The rest you can say is history. At first glance, Star Chasers looks like it is an endless runner. The endless runner genre is flooded with games. Why pick this genre to create a game?
AA: I think nowadays every known genre is flooded with games. And, endless runner is no exception. There were many reasons why I decided to work on a runner. One was that I thought if I was going to tackle a game all by myself, then I’d better make one that plays well to my strengths. Second, I had a story in mind that I felt would make a good runner. And third, it was the kind of game that my 8 year old son loved to play. Since all the games I had worked on were meant for older audiences, I decided that it was time to make a game that my son could play. Thus, I left one of the best studios I’d worked in, Santa Monica Studio, and focused all my efforts on developing Star Chasers.
JC: I am sure that took a leap of faith, leaving an established studio like that. What I do like in hearing your response, is the audience that you have chosen to direct this game towards. Yes, adults will have fun playing it too, but I like seeing games that young people can enjoy with their friends or their parents. Where did the the idea of Star Chasers come from? Stars in the game…Lighting the night… any correlation between stars and Lightbound Studios perhaps?
AA: There is definitely a correlation between them all. They’re all about light, both in a literal and symbolic sense. And, Star Chasers are essentially the ones who are trying to protect and preserve that light.
The idea of the Star Chasers had been with me for many years. I recall lying outside one night and staring at the very few stars that are visible from Los Angeles. I was thinking how terrible it would be if there were no stars visible in the vast darkness of the sky. That tiny thought slowly evolved into a fun idea, which I thought could make for an interesting story. Then I forgot all about it. It wasn’t until much later that I recalled that idea and decided it would be a great game for my son.
JC: I am glad the idea came back to you. Since we are talking about stars, just the other night, I took my seven year old outside to show her the Big Dipper. She loves science, so it was a moment I wanted to seize. Thinking about it, it would be sad not having stars, or the constellations to marvel at from time to time. I guess it is a good thing that your game has Star Chasers. There are some pretty intriguing looking enemies, or creatures that oppose the Star Chasers. How did you come up with them?
AA: The creatures have an interesting back story, which the current version of the game does not reveal. As more of the story is told in the later updates, everything you’d have seen in the current version will start to make sense. I don’t want to give away too much but the designs of the creatures are a direct result of who they are and the role they play in this story and its universe.
JC: Okay, no spoilers then. But, it is good to hear that you are already thinking about later updates! I love the diversity in the characters you can play in the game. Even in 2016, I feel like a lot of games still lack diversity. Why did you choose to have such a diverse bunch of Star Chasers in your game?
AA: Diversity was something that was ingrained into the story right from the start. I always imagined Star Chasers as an organization that strongly believed that good talent can come from anywhere. It made this universe a lot richer and more relevant. It also helped make the story more interesting and gave a certain depth to the Star Chasers teams.
Of course, from the gameplay standpoint, this gave the game the added bonus of having a diverse set of characters that the players could identify with and pick from. I believe connecting with characters helps players become more immersed in the game, thus delivering a more gratifying and sometimes inspirational experience.
JC: I like the music in the game… it just fits perfectly. How did you go about choosing it, and was it hard to find the right sound?
AA: Right from the start, I had a pretty clear vision of the type of music I wanted for Star Chasers. So, we started working on the music at a very early stage of production.
I love movie scores composed by John Williams (Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., Indiana Jones, Superman and some of the Harry Potter films) and I thought that a couple of those scores would be perfect for Star Chasers. Unfortunately, that was way beyond my reach. So, I started looking on the internet for different musicians and composers who may be able to help.
Meanwhile, at the premiere of a friend’s short animated film, I met a young composer by the name of Robert Litton and got his contacts. A few months later I called him up and we met. I played for him what I thought was the perfect track for Star Chasers and his eyes instantly lit up. Then, he told me how much it was going to cost and my eyes instantly faded. Eventually, after a few months of back and forth, we were able to work things out and Robert started composing.
Once he started writing, we would have sessions together where he would play what he had written on the piano and I’d give my feedback. In most cases, my feedback was something like, “Wow, this is incredible!”. When the score was ready, Robert somehow (and it’s still a mystery to me) had managed to secure a recording session at Skywalker Ranch with a 50 person orchestra. The trip to the ranch became one of the highlights of developing Star Chasers, especially because my son was present on the recording stage, and got to be part of that whole experience. It was awesome!
JC: Skywalker Ranch?! What an experience for you and your son. The music is wonderful and it has that cinematic feeling about it. As you play the game as one of the characters, it makes you feel like your mission is a pretty important one. Mr. Litton did a wonderful job and it shows that you collaborate well together.
JC: As the game’s creator, are you an artist? How did you start drawing and/or coding? Do those two worlds seem vastly different?
AA: I like to consider myself an artist, although I feel like I may not be doing justice to people like my father, who has spent all of his life painting incredible works of art. But I too, started drawing at a very early age and continued on that path all the way to college. However, I was also intrigued what computers could do and how writing simple statements could make things happen on the screen. But it wasn’t until after high schools that I landed a job in a small web design firm where I really started getting into programming. Meanwhile, I was attending college to study animation.
I think art and coding are great complements to one another. They do share similarities but are also quite different. In many cases, they are both methods of creative problem solving. With the occasional overlaps, art usually deals with more of the emotional side of problem solving whereas coding deals with the more functional side. That is why they’re such amazing complements to one another. However, they do require vastly different skill sets. I think the left-brain, right-brain analogy is quite appropriate at this time.
JC: Did Temple Run (Imangi Studios) start it all for you, or was there another endless runner that inspired you?
AA: Temple Run was definitely the one that initially steered me towards that direction. But other endless runners like Subway Surfers and Minion Rush also had their influences.
JC: What do you hope players will get out of your game? I know a lot of people will say, “Another endless runner….yawn.” Why should they try Star Chasers?
AA: Actually, Star Chasers is not an endless runner. It is a runner but it’s level based. As the players progress through the different levels, they gain new abilities and power ups, get assigned new objectives, encounter new obstacles, and uncover bits of the story. So even though it’s a runner, the combination of story, progression, gameplay mechanics, visuals, and audio make this a very distinct game and a unique, memorable, experience.
JC: Will the game be free to play? if so, why choose this model?
AA: It will be free to play. I think this model works well for these types of game. For those who do not have the means to pay for the game (especially kids), I would still want them to experience the game and hopefully be inspired.
JC: Is this a dual Android/iOS release? Why the commitment to Android?
AA: The game is for both iOS and Android. Although the vast number of different devices make it harder to develop for Android, it is still an incredible platform, and a major opportunity to get Star Chasers in the hands of millions of people worldwide.
JC: Where do you see Lightbound Studios in a few years? What type of games do you hope to be making and playing?
AA: The goal of the studio is to continue making high quality games for kids and those that are kids at heart. I want to continue supporting Star Chasers and grow it into a recognizable franchise that people love and follow. Moreover, I see Lightbound becoming a self-sustaining studio, where talented minds thrive, and continue to develop great games and memorable experiences for our users and fans.
I want to again, thank Artak for answering our questions, and for allowing us to appear behind the curtain to see how some of the magic is made in creating games. People have had many positive things to say about the beta version of Star Chasers. The game is set to release for Android/iOS in a few days. As soon as the game goes live in the Play Store we will update this article for you and provide the link to download the game.
We know there are a lot of independent game developers out there. We hope the story behind Lightbound Studios will inspire you to keep pushing forward with that game or honing your craft, so that your game can be played and enjoyed by gamers all over the world. As for Lightbound Studios, we believe this is an great start with Star Chasers, that just may launch them into the stratosphere.