A short time ago we were lucky enough to chat with Axiom Verge developer Tom Happ about the challenges of making what many consider to be a spiritual successor to the iconic Super Metroid; a massive, open-ended 2D adventure which exercises your trigger finger and tests your grey matter at the same time. If you've already consulted our glowing 10/10 review then you'll know it's a must-have release, and the game appears to have been very well received across all of the formats it has launched on.
A recent blog post by Happ has added another layer of importance to that commercial success. In it, he explains that his young son Alastair suffers from Kernicterus, a bilirubin-induced brain dysfunction which is caused when newborn jaundice isn't treated in a timely manner.
If, like us, you have no idea what Kernicterus is and the impact it has, then allow Happ to explain exactly what this means in terms of his son's quality of life:
His mind is completely functional but his motor control is extremely damaged, so his movements are either super stiff or super random. He can't sit up or crawl, and it's doubtful he'll ever be able to walk. He might be able to play video games one day with eye tracking software or the like, but probably not reflex intensive games like Axiom Verge. He can eat but can't pick up food or even bring his hands to his mouth unassisted. He will eventually be able to hear - after a cochlear implant surgery he's undergoing in a few weeks - but everything's going to sound like an 8-bit NES sound sample.
Happ then outlines the various options open to him and his family when it comes to improving Alastair's quality of life - all of which are costly. It's here that he mentions what a massive, massive difference the success of Axiom Verge makes to his family's situation:
None of these things are covered by insurance (which, being an indie, I need to pay for in full), so you can imagine how thankful I am that Axiom Verge can support the tens of thousands of dollars this is costing. We have also begun a malpractice lawsuit - but this is a years long process that is just in its infancy, and may not really cover the overall costs anyway.
I wish I could reciprocate what Axiom Verge and its customers have done for us. But I don't get that much time to field questions in the comments, Steam forums, or Facebook. To be honest I don't even get to work a full 40 hour week, even though I work at home now. We regularly see a number of therapists and doctors - a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, a feeding therapist, 2 audiologists, a neurologist, a GDI doctor, various surgeons - as well as the associated scans and tests. It's hard to stay focused on anything for very long with so much going on. I've become that flaky person we all know who agrees to do something but then never replies to urgent mail about how the deadline is tomorrow and nothing's been done.
A lot of people say, "don't worry about work, focus on your son" - but bear in mind my work is directly correlated with my son's well being. Rather than just being a hobby, Axiom Verge (and whatever else I do in the future) has now become necessary for supporting him and his medical needs for the rest of his life.
Thanks for understanding.
As you can imagine, Happ's post has triggered a flood of support, and industry legend Dan Adelman - who worked with Happ on the game - has reported that many kindly souls have offered to donate money to offset medical costs.
That Happ has been able to create a game as polished and refined as Axiom Verge single-handed whilst dealing with such incredible pressures and worries is remarkable; what makes it all the more striking is that aside from the blog post in question and a post when his son was born, he's remained largely tight-lipped and laser-focused on getting Axiom Verge released on as many consoles as possible.
You might say that this Herculean effort has an end goal - supporting his young family, as Happ freely admits - but it's tempting to wonder how many other mere mortals would have thrown their hands up in despair and simply given up when faced with the same kind of reality.
If you haven't downloaded Axiom Verge yet then we'd recommend that you do so immediately - not just because it's an amazing experience, but also because you'll be giving Happ and his son vital support. If you'd like to donate as well, then do as Mr. Adelman says and point your browser over here.