Developer Spotlight: Sky9 Games

Sky9 Games has heard your questions and answered! The creators of the acclaimed Strike Force Heroes, Raze and Siegius series discuss everything from what inspires their games to the proper way to make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.






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What was your inspiration for Strike Force Heroes?

Mike: I had never worked on a shooter and I really wanted to, but we couldn’t work on Raze without Addison, so we agreed on a modern shooter akin to CoD. We wanted it to feel more like GI Joe than CoD with a lighter tone, lots of colourful characters and a “good guy” organization and a “bad guy” organization. One thing that really sets SFH apart from Raze is the weapon system which was something we wanted to expand on with tons of guns and customization options.

Justin: We really wanted to make something that felt very different from Raze so it would feel like a brand new series, rather than an upgraded Raze with a modern theme. Because of that, we took cues from Call of Duty, and Team Fortress 2 to add a leveling system and classes to the game. In Strike Force Heroes 2, we had a huge inspiration with the weapon system in Diablo and Borderlands. We really wanted a huge amount of replayability, and so we made a weapon system that would have familiar weapons that had slight stat randomization and quality types with many unique properties. The result was a weapon system that rewards experimentation, allowing you to keep buying and trying out many weapons until you find the one you like and then keep buying stronger versions of it while you level up.


Will there be a Strike Force Heroes 3?

Justin: We don’t usually force ourselves into sequels. Instead, we think of ideas over time while working on other projects, and create a game/sequel when we have enough fun/creative content. This helps us create more defined games as we have a much larger time to think of and discuss new and creative ideas. Because of this, we can’t put a definate yes or no on Strike Force Heroes 3 as we don’t want to force anything less than awesome. However we’ll continue to think of new features and story elements as we work on other projects, and if we come up with enough suitable for SFH3 then it may be a future possibility. 🙂

Mike: It depends on what you mean by 3.


What are your thoughts on introducing multiplayer into the Strike Force Heroes series?

Justin: I’ve personally never been a fan of multiplayer in Flash games. There’s a lot of technical limitations that really hold back how much Flash games can achieve, especially in regards to online multiplayer. Because of the fast paced and platformy nature of our shooters, Flash simply wouldn’t be able to run them in multiplayer without it being a very poor experience. Even if the game was coded by a team of 100 gods of coding, it would still mean players teleporting everywhere, extreme lag, etc. Although multiplayer would definitely be awesome, I only want the best performance and user experience out of my games. I know that can’t be achieved very well with multiplayer in Flash, so it’s not very high in my to-do list. However, it’s not completely ruled out as I know how high in demand it is. So there are no plans for it as of now, but who knows what might change in the future!


SFH2 is laggy on my computer; do you have suggestions that might help?

Justin: There are many settings in the options to lower game quality, but I’m sure you’ve already tried that! We always try to make each of our games look better than the last. With SFH2 we introduced much higher detailed backgrounds and more realistic weapons and soldiers with full camo’s. Every year new games come out that require more powerful computers (Bioshock, Call of Duty, Crysis, etc). Luckily Flash games don’t require very much computer power, but we try to make games that feel like more than just Flash games. If you’re finding that more and more games are starting to lag on your computer, it may be time to upgrade.

Mike: This is probably more my fault than Justin’s so, I’m sorry.


Which part of the game was your favorite to develop?

Justin: The entire game was pretty fun to create! After staring at pages of code for long periods, running the game and seeing your hard work actually… working, feels great! The only thing that was actually a pain in the butt was putting together the map code (setting up the AI waypoints, setting the spawns, objectives, etc) because it was pretty repetitive doing the same things over and over for each map.

Mike: The guns were great fun. Coming up with wacky guns and ammo types was great and just pushing the limits to how many guns could even be in the game. I actually drew more guns than ended up in SFH2. I also really like doing the reload animations…and I’m just now realizing that this makes me sound like an insane gun-nut so…my favourite part was drawing the Scientist’s hair.


What are your favorite characters, classes and weapons?

Justin: I personally like them all! We designed the game, so we know the strengths and weaknesses of each class. I tend to switch around a lot as every character feels so different, though I am a big fan of shotguns and rockets. 🙂

Mike: My favourite character in the story is the Globex Leader and that’s like 90% due to the voice that Sean gave him. My favourite character to play as is the Juggernaut especially with the Judgement that we used for development (OHK and it has a force that blasts guys across the screen).


What are your thoughts about mines/bombs in Strike Force Heroes?

Justin: I’ve got no problem with mines in Strike Force Heroes. They were removed in SFH2 however, because we changed the entire feel of killstreaks. We wanted all the killstreaks to feel more personal, like the player himself was powered up, rather than some small external force. In the end the Engineer was the only class that would really fit with the mine, but it still just didn’t feel “good enough”. We decided to go with big turrets and drones rather than dropping a tiny mine on the floor. It just didn’t feel like this amazing thing that was happening when you used a killstreak.


Will there be more weapons/equipment added to SFH2?

Justin: We don’t specifically plan to keep making additions to the game as we have other big projects in our sights, but it’s always fun to add a little something in bug-fix updates. 🙂

Mike: Technically we’ve already added a couple of weapons since the release, so there’s always something to look forward to especially if you’ve been playing since it came out.



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What was your inspiration for Raze?

Justin: Addison actually always wanted to make a game similar to Unreal Tournament  He went through a few programmers, and eventually contacted me. We started working on the game and adding so many crazy things that we eventually decided to go our own route and be as crazy with it as possible. We wanted to make sure every gun was original (Flame Shotgun, Ice Minigun, etc).

When it came time to make Raze 2, a big inspiration was the abilities from Halo Reach, and the overall world of Bulletstorm. Bulletstorm did an incredible job of creating a huge colourful world, that made you feel so tiny in comparison. We really wanted to capture that in Raze 2 with the multiple background layers, bright colours, level variety. Not to mention the waterfalls, wildlife, flickering lights, and other particles that helped bring the maps to life.


Will there be a Raze 3?

Justin: As mentioned above, it depends on what we come up with, if we can think of something great to create that will be both original and fun. Another big factor however is the original artist with Raze, who’s been away full time at school for quite a while now. Raze 3 hugely depends on when he’s done school and what he decides when that time comes.


Have you ever considered blending Raze with Strike Force Heroes?

Justin: The thought has come up, but we’d really rather keep the two games seperate. We like the way Raze has abilities and many weapons to pick up in the battlefield, while SFH has killstreaks, classes, and loadouts that are chosen beforehand. We like to keep that seperation as combining them could end up as a sloppy mess, not to mention trying to make a story that makes sense. Again, although it sounds cool in theory, it would be very messy in practice, and may end up ruining the future of both Raze itself and SFH.

Mike: SFH2 went about as close to sci-fi as we’re going to get. I just think once you add aliens and laser weapons it ceases to be SFH anymore. That being said, I love sci-fi and haven’t done a sci-fi game yet so I’m really looking forward to working on something in the genre.






Do you make games for a living? If not, what are your other professions?

Justin: We do make games for a living!


What is a typical work day like for you?

Justin: We both head over to work by 10am. We usually spend the first 30 minutes talking about random stuff, games, our forums, etc. After a few hours of work, we break for lunch and watch a Let’s Play from Achievement Hunter (Rooster Teeth), an episode of the Office, or some other random funny/gaming video. Then back to work for a few hours and at 5pm-6pm it’s quitin’ time! Though sometimes we’ll have just too much work to do and will need to work pretty late (with a few gaming breaks in between of course!)

Mike: We’re both “night people” so many more late nights than early mornings when it’s crunch time.


How long does it take to create an entire game?

Justin: All of our big games (Raze series, SFH series, Siegius series) have taken closer to 4 months to create, due to their huge size. However smaller games like That Gravity Game, and A Knight’s Quest can take between 2 weeks and a month.


What was the first thing you ever programmed or drew professionally?

Justin: My first games that I did professionally were Vector Effect and That Gravity Game, though before that I have a harddrive full of hundreds and hundreds of unfinished games that I played around and practiced with while growing up.

Mike: Justin and I dabbled a bit with a bunch of prototypes before finally releasing Siegius, my first game, to the masses. The first game we released as Sky9 was the original SFH.


I’ve found a glitch for your game, what is the best way to report it to you and get it fixed?

Justin: We usually look through our forums and ArmorGames’ forums to find bug reports. We can’t be making updates every day as there’s a lot of work on our plates, but when it comes time to make a bug fix update, you can bet that if you’ve reported it somewhere, we’ll see it. 🙂


Would you consider collaborating with any other developers to create a game?

Justin: It depends really, with Mike doing the art and me programming, there’s little else we need. We do occasionally use an outsider to make custom music, though we’ve already got a few guys lined up for that. Fortunately for us we’ve usually already got everything we need to dive into our next project, and we’re all local so we usually work pretty quick. To make a long story short, we haven’t collaborated with other developers in the past, but we’re not completely against the idea.

Mike: If the idea was good and all the pieces that need to fit together did, then why not?


Would you use a medium other than Flash to create a game?

Justin: Of course, we want to start some bigger projects on bigger platforms, though Flash will always be superior! (Except in performance)

Mike: We’ve dabbled in Unity and other platforms but Flash is my weapon of choice for 2D animation so it’s always a part of development.


What’s the next game you guys are working on?

Justin: If I told you I’d have to kill you.


What is the most common mistake a new developer makes?

Justin: We often get questions like “I want to make a game like Raze, can you tell me how?” One of the biggest problems a new developer can make, is trying to make a game bigger than he/she is capable of. Trying to make something big when you’re just starting out will turn into a nightmare. You won’t see very much progress, and the majority of the time you’ll just be scratching your head trying to figure things out. It’s best to stick to small projects and tests. Just fiddle around with getting small things working and build up from there.

When you are ready to work on a bigger project, it’s easy to look at a big game like Raze and thing “Wow, how’d they do that?”. Once again it’s best to break everything down. First try to get some simple platforming working, then some simple shooting into an empty area, then try creating an AI opponent that just stand there, etc. Taking things one small step at a time is always the best way to ensure progress and not get overwhelmed.

Mike: Be honest with yourself as to what your strengths are. If you’re not a great artist, stick to programming and work with an artist, or limit the amount of art that is in the game. Always play to your strengths, don’t just try to ape what’s popular or what you think will make money. The biggest mistake a new developer (even one who is very skilled) can make is trying to make a game they don’t really like or don’t really understand in the pursuit of money.


Do you have any advice for new developers?

Justin: In addition to the above, remember that everyone programs in their own style. Because of this, it’s probably not best to view too many tutorials from the same source, as you will end up adopting their style. It might be better to view tutorials from all different sources, books, websites, etc. This way you get to see the programming styles of many different developers, which should help you develop your own style that works for you.

Mike: You should do your homework whenever you make a game. Before making SFH we played tons of shooters so we have an intimate knowledge of how the weapons work, balancing, classes etc. The pros are working on a larger scale than you are but the logic and balance behind the game is there whether you’re working on a game with a $100 million budget or no budget at all.


What program do you use to draw out the game? Do you also draw in real life, or just graphic art?

Mike: I use a Wacom Intuos 3 tablet and Flash and Photoshop CS6. For SFH2 I used PS to draw all the backgrounds as well as the character portraits (to get that high level of detail). All of the characters and effects were done in Flash. I draw in real life as well, I like to sketch with pencil or charcoal.


What programs do you use to actually develop the game?

Justin: We use Flash Professional CS6 to build the game (though any Flash Professional version will work just as good). This is the tool that allows us to put all the animations and other assets together and then compile them into a game. For the coding side, I use Flash Develop, which does the same coding job that Flash Professional does, but much much much better. (Flash Develop is also Free!)






Where is the picture of you guys posing with the dagger award you received?

Sorry, we’ve been meaning to take one but have been busy lately. The picture is here!



What is your favorite soup/sandwich?

Justin: I don’t have many favorites, I like to always have something different. That said, put any mixture of food/meat between two pieces of bread, and I’ll love it. As for soup, any liquid + food in a bowl, and I’ll love it just as much.

Mike: I hate soup except for butternut squash soup. Delish. My favourite sandwich is fresh mortadella, provolone, tomato and olive oil on crusty bread. Or a Reuben. I could go for a Reuben right about now.


What is your favorite breakfast food?

Justin: See above. Though an Eggo sandwich is pretty awesome (2 toasted Eggos with jam in the middle, basically use Eggos like toast)

Mike: Dottie’s True Blue Cafe in San Francisco is the best breakfast I’ve ever had. Other than that, coffee.


How often do you play other games and which are your favorites?

Justin: The only game I really play on a regular basis is League Of Legends. I love how every match can feel like a completely different game. And no I don’t have a favorite champion. Like everything, I pick a different one every single match. Though I play nearly as many games as I can, mainly to see what interesting mechanics and game worlds they’ve created. The funnest part of playing games for me isn’t actually playing through them and beating them, but instead seeing what sort of creative and unique ideas were put in by the developers. I absolutely love innovation in games!

Mike: My favourite game is Shenmue 2 for the Dreamcast. I’m a huge fan of adventure games from the old Lucasarts classics to new stuff like the Walking Dead. I play games for the experiences and I’m a lot more forgiving of bad mechanics in favour of good pacing or an interesting story. Spec Ops: The Line is a great example of a game that I loved even though the gameplay left a lot to be desired. I play as many games as I can and I have a pretty healthy Steam library but I really like the overlooked gems like Anachronox, Grim Fandango, and No One Lives Forever. You gotta know your roots.


What is a fun fact about the Sheep Cannon?

Justin: It was literally put right into the game at the very end. A user on the forums named ‘Sheep’ suggested the Sheep Cannon. I thought it was a hilarious idea, so I put it in the game with my own crappy graphics while Mike was busy drawing something else. The Dooty Launcher was also added as a joke in the lawitin future Sky9 Games!


Can Justin make a video of him causing a keyboard fire?

Mike: Unfortunately no. We’ve tried to film it once before, but there were some serious problems. First of all, his speed is so fast that he actually breaks both the sound barrier and the speed of light, causing a blinding flash and loud screech that disrupts all camera equipment. Secondly, because of the fires he sometimes codes with scuba gear, fully submerged in 9 feet of water, and our camera is not waterproof, sadly.

Justin: He exaggerates, it’s only 7 feet of water.


Do you like pickles?

Justin: Gross.
Mike: Delicious.


Thanks for everybody’s questions and Justin & Mike for taking the time to answer them!  Remember you can follow them on their website