BYU alumni and Utah residents Nathan Rees and Lee J. Hinkle dropped everything in January to work full time on a video game concept almost unheard of in today’s technologically savvy world. Together they created Rogue Invader, a high-definition video game made entirely out of a combination of black and white pixels.
Rees remembers spending his free time as a young boy a little bit differently than most. Instead of playing video games, he created them. Fast forward 22 years, a college degree and a business partner later, Rees finds himself right back where he started.
“I grew up with an original black-and-white Macintosh, I didn’t have a Nintendo or a Gameboy in the house, but I’m so glad I didn’t because I was more productive with my art skills by learning to make small animations on the Mac,” Rees said.
Toward the end of 2014 Rees found his work at an independent animation firm slowing down. Newly married, he began searching for ways to bring in more income. After watching the movie “Indie Game,” a documentary about the independent video game culture and industry, Rees found himself asking, “Why can’t I make a game?”
With a degree in animation, Rees had the background and experience to create the graphics. He enlisted the help of his former roommate, Hinkle, an information systems graduate, to code the game. Together they work under the name of Squishy Games.
“When Nathan first contacted me about partnering with him to create a game I thought he was crazy,” Hinkle said.
After realizing that their idea might actually become a reality, Hinkle quit his job teaching computer science at Hunter High School in Salt Lake City in January and has since worked full time on Rogue Invader.
According to Hinkle, Rogue Invader is a dark comedy science fiction satire. Players become rogue invaders attacking aliens, but with a caveat — they only have one pistol to take on the enemy.
Rogue Invaders is based on one of Rees’ old animation ideas from when he was a kid. Paying tribute to the old gaming systems, the two decided to go with an all-black-and-white game instead of color.
“There are a lot of indie games out there, so we decided to pay tribute to our childhood. In doing so we went backward in color but forward in graphic quality,” Hinkle said.
The two released a public trailer of Rogue Invader in June and put their game up for approval on Steam, the world’s leading distributer of PC games. The Steam community votes on proposed games, indicating whether they would buy them or not. If a game gets a certain number of votes, the game is guaranteed to be published.
“I watched the demo of Rogue Invaders on Steam, and I thought it looked really cool,” said John Jackson, BYU animation student. “I really liked how they tried to replicate the 1-bit style of the Gameboy.”
The Steam community green-lighted the game on July 3.
“Up until the green light I have been so nervous; we both have been on edge because we have put in six months of risk into this. That green light is the first time I have felt something lift off my chest since January,” Rees said.
The next step for Rogue Invaders is a Kickstarter launching in August. This Kickstarter will raise money for a professional composer to create a custom score for the game. Money will also go toward marketing and further development.