I imagine that building a robot is similar to developing a game. You start with a concept, plan out what you want the final product to look like, gather all of the necessary materials, and then begin piecing everything together, making adjustments as needed.
While I’ve never built a robot and I’ve never developed a game, I recently had the fortune of speaking with someone who’s developing a game about a robot named Haiku.
Haiku, the Robot is a 2D Metroidvania set in a post-apocalyptic world where a nuclear explosion has eliminated all life on earth.
The sole survivors of this catastrophe are machines like Haiku, an adorable little robot who hops, rolls, dashes, and fights their way past deadly foes who’ve been corrupted by a computer virus.
Haiku, the Robot has been in development since 2019 and is being developed by one person, Jordan Morris. After a successful Kickstarter campaign late last year, Jordan has been working on Haiku, the Robot full-time.
A Steam release is currently planned for late 2021 with a Nintendo Switch release to follow. After the game was brought to my attention, I found myself completely captivated by it.
The gorgeous color palette of just 16 colors draws you in while the nostalgic feel, charming protagonist, and world full of corrupted machines keeps you glued to your seat, eager to overcome all of the challenges the game throws at you.
Curious about how such a game came together and what players can expect from the Haiku, the Robot once it’s released, I sent an array of questions over to developer Jordan Morris who answered all of them in depth.
If you’re as charmed by the game as I am, join me in taking a closer look at the upcoming indie game Haiku, the Robot!
Building a Robot | Interview With Haiku, the Robot Developer Jordan Morris
For those who are unfamiliar with the game, how would you describe Haiku, the Robot?
Haiku, the Robot is a cute pixel art Metroidvania that has you playing as a small robot exploring a large, interconnect machine world full of weird and quirky characters.
Your job is to restore the world from a spreading corruption while also trying to figure out your own origins. Fans have described the game to be a mix of WALL-E, Hollow Knight, and Akira.
WALL-E for its post-apocalyptic robot vibes.
Hollow Knight for its curious world and tight controls.
And Akira for its “atom” bomb backstory.
What first inspired you to get into indie game development?
It all started with a bad day at work at my previous office job. I came home tired and frustrated so I thought, “You know what? I’m going to try and make a game.”
Nowadays, you can find most things online so I just opened YouTube and got started. It was hard at first but I learned by doing small tutorials and slowly improved over time.
I didn’t have any prior coding experience, yet I still managed to learn Unity’s game engine and C# after a lot of practice and trial-and-error. Testament to how accessible game development has become over the last couple of years.
I’ve always enjoyed playing video games and I’ve been drawing pretty much my whole life so making games felt like I was just combining those two hobbies.
Are you the sole developer of Haiku, the Robot or have you collaborated with anyone on aspects of the game like the game’s soundtrack?
Yes, currently I am the sole artist, animator, and programmer working on the game. I also do a lot of community management and marketing for the game, so there are a lot of hats to wear.
Fortunately, I enjoy the variety and it allows me to switch between different roles when I get tired of doing one thing for a long period of time. Luckily, I do have someone who is helping me with the soundtrack and sound design.
I quickly learned that making music is hard and I was fortunate enough to receive help from a talented musician and composer. We both share the same vision for the game and I get very excited when he creates music and sound effects.
It adds a whole other layer to the game’s ambiance.
How long has Haiku, the Robot been in development thus far, and what’s been the most challenging part in developing the game?
Ever since I started with game development back in summer 2019, Haiku has always been my bigger and more ambitious project. Back then I knew I didn’t have the skillset to make a bigger game so I focused on building smaller games to improve.
Even then, I was still working on Haiku’s world on the sidelines. So you could say that it’s been in development for almost 2 years already but a lot of that time was spent on learning the tools of the trade and improving my own game development skills.
More focused development started after the Kickstarter campaign which ended back in October 2020. Since then, I’ve been working on the game full-time and loving every minute of it even with all its challenges.
There are many challenges but the beauty of software development is that there is usually more than one way to approach and solve a problem. It’s very rewarding when you tackle a tough problem and then finally overcome it with a solution that you are satisfied with.
As I mentioned before, I enjoy having variety in my work so if I get stuck on something for too long, I can switch to something else more enjoyable and then come back to it later. Although I must say, my biggest challenge to date is making sure that all the game systems work on the Nintendo Switch.
There are lots of resources online about making PC games, but as soon as you dip into the console world then it’s a different story. Luckily, the online indie dev community is super approachable and I could ask for guidance from more experienced developers.
What is the story and setting of Haiku, the Robot and how did you come up and flesh out that story?
Haiku, the Robot takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where humans no longer exist. 200 years ago, a nuclear explosion wiped out all life on Earth and only machines survived.
Since then, machines have populated the world but now a deadly corruption threatens their existence. I love The Matrix and the idea that different computer programs serve different purposes in the world.
From there it evolved into having corrupted computer programs and it’s Haiku’s job to find out the main source of this corruption. All will become clear once you piece together the different hints and clues you find on your adventures.
The art design and aesthetics of Haiku, the Robot are gorgeous! Can you tell us a little bit more about the art direction in the game?
Thank you for the kind words! Early in the development process, I decided that I wanted to keep the visuals simple, mainly to help with the development speed, and I wanted them to feel reminiscent of Game Boy games.
My very first console was a Game Boy Color so it has a special connection to me. Keeping things simple is important if you’re making a game by yourself and I try to apply this idea to all aspects of the game, including the visuals.
These are my basic rules that I follow:
Use a limited palette to not spend too much time choosing colors.
Make characters, enemies, bosses out of basic shapes such as squares and circles with little bits of polish that help bring them to life. Also, use real-life objects for inspiration.
Use big blocks of colors for the environments and layer a bunch of more detailed silhouettes - this takes me back to the Game Boy games I loved as a kid.
And make sure that there is a clear contrast between the player and the environment.
However, I will admit I do spend a ridiculous amount of time making sure that everything is pixel perfect, for example, making sure that the UI aligns perfectly with the in-game pixels. I just can’t help it!
How does Haiku, the Robot progress in the game in terms of gameplay, and what sort of weapons, tools, skills, and items does Haiku have available to them?
Haiku, the Robot is a Metroidvania at heart so you can expect a lot of abilities and upgrades which in turn help you to travel through the world, defeat enemies, and progress through the story.
While the game does feature some trickier platforming, the main focus is on exploring a beautifully crafted machine world full of weird and quirky characters with lots of lore.
It still features tight movement controls, save points, upgrades to further enhance your abilities, and more.
What are some of the enemies that Haiku, the Robot will encounter, and are there boss fights in the game? If so, what’s one of your favorite boss enemies that you’ve designed so far?
Haiku encounters all sorts of corrupted robot machines on his journey. A lot of the machines are designed around everyday objects and there are some really scary bosses. One of my personal favorites is the Buzzsaw boss.
But I think my absolute favorite is the very first boss that I ever created, the Garbage Magnet, just because it was such a milestone for me to program a boss fight with multiple stages.
What’s the estimated release date for Haiku, the Robot and what platforms are you aiming to release the game on?
Haiku, the Robot is coming to Steam and the Nintendo Switch. The current estimated release date for Steam is late 2021 and for Switch at the beginning of 2022.
Finally, where can people go to get development updates about Haiku, the Robot, and how can people help support the game?
I post updates about the development directly on Steam, so you can follow and add the game to your wishlist from there if you’d like.