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Posted July 2, 2013 by Amy in Development
 
 

The Ageless Art of Development: An Interview With Maximillian Polhill

Maximillian Polhill
Maximillian Polhill

Games development is the great equalizer – anyone can sit at home and write a game, but it takes a lot of hard work, time, and a whole lot of luck to make something great that the public will notice. Today we talk with Maximillian Polhill, the fourteen year old developer behind Xavier Games, about his first game, his future games, and how he got started in development in the first place.

How did you first get started programming?
One of my older sisters was studying computer science in college. I overheard some things she said about it and thought it would be really cool to be able to develop computer software. When I was around 11 years old I asked my parents for books about programming and I went on to learn stuff like C++ and Java. The concepts just weren’t sinking in at the time and I lost interest. When I was 12 years old I was into graphic design and decided to do a little website where people would be able to request Twitter icons and backgrounds and I would design for them.  To make the website required some HTML, CSS, and JavaScript along with some knowledge of PHP so I went back to the books to learn what I needed to know. Maybe because I was a little older the programming concepts made more sense to me and I was able to understand it better. I was really happy to be able to do it by myself and my interest in programming was sparked again.

How have your parents helped you along your path from novice programmer to game developer?
My parents have helped me just by giving me their support. They thought it was cool that I was programming and I really enjoyed it. Oh and since I was homeschooled they allowed me to have programming, geometry, vector math, trigonometry, calculus and physics as a school subjects.  That really helped me develop my game.

 

How has your age affected your work? Do you think it has opened more doors for you, or made it more difficult to be taken seriously?
I’m answering this interview question which is pretty cool. That’s a door opened. Sometimes I do think others may not take me seriously but I don’t like to focus on what others think.  I like making games and I happen to be 14. Any 14 year old can do it if they really are interested in developing games.

 

Do you feel that you have a clearer idea of what today’s gamers are looking for, because you are closer to them in both age and experience?
Perhaps I do have an idea of what today’s gamers are looking for.  But I think it’s best for me to develop games that I think I would play and enjoy versus thinking what others would. There are just way too many different kinds of gamers today and it would be insane of me to try to please even half of them or just a small bit.

Tell us a bit about your first game, and how your techniques have evolved in subsequent games.
At first I was going to develop Stellar Alien in Java or Python because those were the programming languages I knew at the time. But, there was a lot of talk about HTML5 development and I was very curious to know what the buzz was about.  I did some research and I liked the idea of using open web standards to make games instead of browser plugins. After a couple of months of teaching myself about HTML5/JavaScript from online resources like MDN(Mozilla Developer Network), GitHub and html5rocks.com, and attending a Meetup group focused on JavaScript game development in Seattle, WA where I saw Ludei demo Cocoon JS, I felt confident enough to write a game in JavaScript. I liked how Stellar Alien turned out and I think I would program more games in HTML5 in the future.

Where do you get your inspiration for the games you create?
Stellar Alien was my first game. For Stellar Alien, I was inspired by the astronomy I studied in my schoolwork. Astronomy has always been an interest of mine. I play games that are related to space so making a space game seemed natural for my first game. Stellar Alien started out with me playing with Box2D, an open source physics engine. I made a physics simulation of a planet with a “gravitational pull” and a rectangle flying in space. I realized it was pretty hard to get the rectangle out of the planet’s gravitational pull and decided to make an actual game based off of that.

 
You have just formed your own game studio. What kinds of things can we expect to see from Xavier Games?
I plan to have a couple more games published this year for Xavier Games. I’ve been prototyping some game concepts focusing on the Brain & Puzzle genre in HTML5/JavaScript. There’s a second title currently in development. The game is going to be based a lot on Particle Physics, but I’m aiming for simple gameplay and focusing a lot more on the experience. Anything talking about Particles or Physics is going to sound a bit daunting to the average player but I’m taking the simplest concepts and adding them to the game so I think it’ll be a very easy game to pick up. So far it’s a lot of fun to develop and it’s nice to actually use the things I learn from my schoolwork and put them in the game.

Where do you hope to see the business in five years?
In five years, I want to be a college student (Hopefully at Stanford) and the owner of Xavier Games, who is still designing games and programming game prototypes, as well.  I hope to see myself with a good team of programmers, designers and artists who are passionate about making games they really think are great and who can be creative in their work.

 
Do you have any projects in the works that you can share with us?
In addition to the game based on Particle Physics I mentioned above, I released an open source project called PriorJS on GitHub. It’s a little piece of code for developers to use for preloading their images and sounds for their HTML5 game because I thought it would be useful for the HTML5 game developer community. I plan to do more open source projects in the future.

What kind of advice can you offer to other aspiring developers?

If you’re developing your first game I recommend starting off small. I mean very small, the smallest you can think of because you’ll be very discouraged if you go and try to make the next World of Warcraft or Call of Duty as your first game. Start small, get some experience, have some successes and then try to make your dream game. It’s not going to be the smoothest ride to your dream game. When I would hit road blocks with Stellar Alien, I researched the issues I was having online (Google, Bing and StackOverflow are your best friends) and my dad would always tell me to look at the best practices for doing what I wanted to do in game development.

 

If you had to choose a favorite game – the one that really got you hooked on gaming, and inspired you to start creating one – what would it be?
I don’t think there’s exactly one game that got me started on creating games, but the games I do love are Megaman Zero, Super Mario 64, Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past and Super Mario Bros 3. I guess those games are considered ‘old school’ these days.

Stellar Alien


Amy

 
U.S. Senior Editor & Deputy EIC, @averyzoe on Twitter, mother of 5, gamer, reader, wife to @macanthony, and all-around bad-ass (no, not really)