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Interview with Robin Allen, creator of Hapland

“The absolute worst thing you can put in a game is invisible safety barriers.”
- Robin Allen of Foon

Foon is a generally humorous site that hosts the popular Flash series Hapland, which is unique for the way it encourages experimentation and discovery. The site was started in 2001 by Robin Allen, but it wasn’t until 2005 with the creation of Hapland that the site came into the spotlight. Although he was still in school at the time, Robin has since then begun to make a living off of Flash projects. He continues to develop new games for the site, but the commissioned work absorbs much of the time that his own personal collection otherwise would. As for future aspirations, the young man is tracking Nintendo’s willingness to allow the creation of original downloadable content for the Wii.

Recently I had the opportunity to conduct an email interview with Mr. Allen about his work at Foon:

Have you had any formal education in game design, Flash, or anything else applicable to the site?

Nope, I learned Flash from Internet tutorials and cereal packets. Actually, that's not entirely true -- we had Flash 4 at school and they showed us how to do buttons and text. But nothing really relevant to game design.

Is there some sort of overarching philosophy that you follow when designing a game? Something to guide you as you create?

Ooh, good question. I've never really thought about it but I guess there is. Try to keep the amount of text down to attract an international audience, and use made-up words in the title to make it easy to search for. Oh, and never make the game with crappy graphics and then 'fill in the graphics later'. It's easy to give up on a great game that looks awful.

Also, if a player really wants to do something, let them do it, even if it might have deadly and/or hilarious consequences. The absolute worst thing you can put in a game is invisible safety barriers.

Have you thought about the marketability of the games?

Not as such. I make the sort of games that I would like to play, and then I just hope that other people share my taste. And sometimes they do!

What inspirations and influences have you had to create your games? What types of games do you play yourself and are there any developers you favor?

Well, a lot of the inspiration for Hapland came from a game called Samorost (which, if you haven't played, you should! Google it). Personally, I'll play just about anything that isn't urbane and streetwise. Super Smash Bros is probably my most played game. As for developers, my absolute favourites are Nintendo and Treasure. Oh, and Interplay were good, back when they existed.

Have you had any interesting opportunities present themselves as a result of your work at Foon?

Well, as I said, some people have asked me to do stuff for their sites, and of course, any paid work is welcome. Nothing earth-shattering yet, I haven't been invited to E3 or anything, but we'll see.

Some of your games have instructions and some do not. What determines whether or not you explain things before the player begins?

Generally, the more complicated games have a help page. EFRI does, the Haplands do. Eye Defence probably should have done. I think it's a good idea to make the controls intuitive enough that you don't need any explanation, though it's up to you whether I've been successful with that.

There are some rather bizarre things going on at Foon. Do you ever get any strange reactions or responses to the site, via email for example?

Yes. I collect them.

It sounds like there would be a some interesting or funny stories along those lines. Could you perhaps share an example?

I hate to disappoint you, but if there were any particularly good ones I'd have shared one. I just get the odd silly email, is what I meant.

Are you generally happy with the reactions you get to your features?

Absolutely. For every person who's bored by Hapland, there's five who seem to love it. People don't usually comment on the other stuff besides the games, because it's mostly old and rarely updated. But my Still Life animation has a few fans.

If you're wondering about the texty bits, the Farticles and so on, that
all stems from my distant dream of being a writer. I've written saner things too, I just don't put them on the internet. I'm scared of it. And its itchy copy buttons.

There is a lot of variety of visual style among your games. How do you decide how a particular game is going to look?

Ah, you mean the ones I draw with the vector tools vs. the ones I draw with the Brush. I don't want to get stuck doing just one style of graphics. To be honest, it's just whichever style I feel like doing at the time. Except in the case of Eye Defence, that's vectors because I didn't have my tablet handy at the time.

What do you think is the most important element of game design?

Replay value, attention to detail, presentation. I couldn't choose between those.
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About RaspberryJowlsone of us since 2:22 PM on 11.10.2006

I am an intellectual and a scholar.
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