Interview with Kova developers Mandy and Blake Lowry

Last week, Gamer’s Almanac reported on the new metroidvania sidescroller Kova from Black Hive Media. Now we’ve sat down for an interview with Mandy and Blake—Black Hive Media’s head coder and artist, respectively—to talk about their game from concept to kickstarter and learn more about what it takes to tackle the mysteries of space. I’d like to thank the whole team at Black Hive Media for taking the time to interview with Gamer’s Almanac. Kova seems like a very exciting project, and we were excited to learn more about it from the developers themselves.

Mandy and Blake, lead developers at Black Hive Media

Gamer’s Almanac (GA): On your Kickstarter page you say that Kova is a project that has been a long time coming. When did the idea for this game first originate?

Mandy: Our very first project that we worked on together was when we formed the company in 2009.  We did it in hopes of eventually releasing a game that took all the elements that we love across genres and putting them through a science fiction filter then spitting it out into something we could play and share with others. The project was a sci-fi digital comic book called Chibi Chaingun and we released it on the iOS App store. It followed the adventures of a crew composed of space grunts that explored the galaxy for a research corporation. When we decided to go back to independent development, we revived that IP and have slowly evolved it into Kova.

GA: Speaking of big ideas, tackling the problem of humanity’s loneliness is an awesome task. What drew your team to address the Fermi Paradox with Kova?

Mandy: The idea of intelligent alien life is something that everyone has thought about, yet no one knows the answers to(or at least, so we think). We love watching documentaries and videos about the different concepts and conspiracies of alien life, so addressing this idea and mixing it with our love for video games was a natural combination for us.

GA: Kova’s blend of Sidescroller, FPS, and RPG isn’t something you see every day. How did your team decide what genre elements were necessary for your vision of how the game would play?

Mandy: We have a love for games across all genres, but some have features that we love more than others.  We picked the features that we enjoy the most and designed a game that would just be fun to play and that would give you a reason to keep playing.

Concept to game art in Kova, developed by Black Hive media

One of my favorite things about Kova is its “concept first” art style, and I think it’s really wonderful that you are bringing the behind the scenes beauty of game development to the forefront. How does it feel to show this often hidden side of your work to the gaming public?

Blake: It’s a bit of a hurdle as we’ve always done the traditional method of develop first, market later.  This time, development is much more in the open, including the conceptual art, as part of getting the community involved.  So, there will likely be times where we release a piece of concept art then realize later that it doesn’t fit well into the game.  Normally this would be something revealed well after release, but it’s literally flip-flopped for us.  It will probably be quite an adventure for everyone, including ourselves!

GA: You’ve mentioned that Kova draws on your love of classic sci-fi titles. What would you say have been your biggest influences for crafting Kova’s story and world?

Blake: In a sense, Kova has been a long time in the making.  Meaning, we’ve been soaking up so much sci-fi material over DECADES and it’s all coming back out.  However, I think work from James Cameron and Ridley Scott were probably the initial trigger for our obsession in the genre.  Their vision of the future and space felt so real and visceral and oozed with atmosphere; their films had a major impact on Kova.  There is no single influence, though, especially for narrative.  We really do pull from elements of everything we like; whether [that] be other games, movies, anime, or even short films.

GA: Kova is Black Hive Media’s first exclusive PC title. What have been the biggest challenges for your team as you shift from mobile games to the PC, Mac, and Linux platforms? Do you foresee Kova, or any future Black Hive Media Games, moving onto consoles in the future?

Mandy: Honestly, when we were developing for mobile, we had so many challenges with visibility in the stores, fitting the game we wanted to make into a freemium design, device fragmentation and engine limitations.  For some of those challenges, making the move to PC (and yes, eventually to console in the future) we’ve been able to overcome some of those obstacles.  But when we do get to something challenging, we’ll definitely let you know on our developer blog!

GA: Why did Black Hive Media end up going the crowdfunding route with a kickstarter, and after your success on Steam Greenlight, how are you feeling about reaching your goal?

Mandy: Crowdfunding has not only allowed independent developers to keep their game pure without the meddling of a publisher, but it is also a great way to build a community around a game. Community involvement is an invaluable tool to indies for feedback, testing and moral support, so we want to harness that.

Kova was well received by the Steam community and we feel so inspired by all the wonderful comments that we received.  We do not really know how that will translate to backers on Kickstarter, but we are anxious to see the results!

GA: Mandy, you taught yourself coding for Black Hive Media’s first title Chibi Chaingun and now you’re putting that to work with Kova. What is one piece of advice you have for other aspiring game developers, whether they’re teaching themselves how to code and create or going to school?

Mandy: I could go the cliche route here and say never give up or persistence pays off… but in reality you have to have the passion first, then take baby steps to get there. Start with a simple game like Space Invaders, to get you through the fundamentals of programming and then grow from there. It isn’t easy, but keep building projects and your portfolio, eventually you will get where you want.

Kova is currently running a kickstarter campaign. To support Black Hive Media and the game’s development, visit their kickstarter. For more information visit their website and check out Gamer’s Almanac’s article about the launch of the game’s kickstarter.

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