Have you ever been so wrapped up in a project that it began to seep into your personal life? What if your passion became your day-to-day? Imagine spending so much time and energy working on something that it eventually outgrew your expectations and became your bread and butter. It's the dream of so many indie developers, and the reality for Tom Happ, sole creator of Axiom Verge.

Since its initial release in March of 2015, Axiom Verge has been met with rave reviews, including our own analysis of the recently released Wii U version. Now that the game has permeated almost every current gaming platform, we caught up with Tom to discuss it. We can see how much Axiom Verge has effected his family and his personal life through recent blog posts, so we decided to dig a little deeper and get to know the man behind the masterpiece.

And no, we didn't talk about Metroid.

Tom Happ


Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?

I'm Tom Happ. I'm the developer of Axiom Verge.

Axiom Verge came together over a number of years with you working on it singlehandedly. Did the overall vision and plan change a lot from day one to the final product?

Yeah, kind of. The first couple of years working on it I think portions of it were largely in development. I was making art and so forth, but I was also doing research and development concurrently. So, you know, just trying to think of what I wanted to do, and as more and more of the game was complete, the more solid the design came to be. I think it was around the second year of development that everything was more of less solidified into what it was going to be. I did make some minor changes after that, but nothing too unrecognizable.

Did personally producing all aspects of the game help, to ensure a unified and consistent vision across the whole project?

You remove a lot of thrashing from team meetings and going back and forth to figure out what the committee thinks would be best. If there was something that I knew needed to be different, or knew needed to be done, I just did it.

If there was something that I knew needed to be different, or knew needed to be done, I just did it.

When you sat down and began development, what were your initial expectations for the scope of this game? Did you plan on releasing it on every platform known to man?

When I began development, it was before the current generation of consoles even existed. I developed it using XNA , because the Xbox 360 was the only platform that had a publicly available API that someone could use. That was the reason for that decision. I kind of anticipated that it would go onto Microsoft's indie store and maybe make enough every month to help pay the phone bill. That's how things went for most games on there, and my expectations were what you would expect of your hobby. You don't expect anything to come of it.

Has Axiom Verge become full-time employment for you?

Yeah, it's basically the only thing that I do.

With the Wii U release now complete, will you be following the reaction and feedback of Nintendo gamers in particular?

I think it's largely just gamers in general. I've found that every time it releases on a new platform, it's almost like I released it for the first time ever. I get all kinds of different feedback and it's like a different personality between each. Nintendo players are very different from Sony players. Even PS Vita players are very different from PlayStation 4 players. They each have their own different kind of feedback.

For example, PC players always want to be able to aim with the mouse and they're a little confounded by D-Pad controls. The game is basically designed to play like a SNES or NES kind of game. That's why it's all digital and the analogues are kind of superfluous.

Axiom Verge.jpg

Some are speculating that this may be the final generation of dedicated gaming consoles before the industry shifts to a streaming based model. With a game that has permeated so many different platforms, what are your thoughts on this potential shift?

That would make things a lot easier for development. One thing I worry about is if the games are streaming, is it going to be a subscription model? Is it now going to be like SoundCloud but for games? I'm not too fond of that – as both a consumer and as a producer. I'm not a fan of having to subscribe to things like Adobe Photoshop. I feel like I'm paying every month for something that I might not even use.

But you like the idea of the ease in development and accessibility?

Right, right. There could definitely be some complexities once it's streaming. It'll be more like the PC model where you don't know what the user has on their end of the stream. Is your game going to be able to support what kind of wacky input device they treasure and feel all games should support?

My business partner, Dan Adelman, threatens my life whenever I try to say anything about that. There's actually a bomb implanted in my skull that detonates if I say the wrong thing.

What's next for Thomas Happ Games? Can we expect to see more in the Axiom Verge series, or are you considering any new projects?

My business partner, Dan Adelman, threatens my life whenever I try to say anything about that. There's actually a bomb implanted in my skull that detonates if I say the wrong thing.

How has it been working with Dan? How did you start working together?

Bomb chips in the head aside, it's been really good. I would say that, in many ways, the things that a person like Dan Adelman brings to the table are the things that a developer doesn't even know that he needs yet. That was part of why I contacted him. Like, I know that I need to get on social media, but what is it that I don't know? Dan is very experienced on the business side of the industry. He worked for Nintendo and he has many contacts from that time. He knows how to negotiate a contract, he knows who to contact for marketing and distribution, and all of these (other) things that I would never think of on my own. Probably, if it was (just) me, the game would release and that would be it.

You used to review video games on your website. How did you get into game reviewing?

That was just for fun and because I wanted to. I've never been asked to review anything. It was more that I wanted to share my thoughts with people.

How did it feel to make the jump from reviewer to developer? Was it strange to put yourself on the opposite side of that?

It wasn't strange. I've been a game developer since around 2002 or 2003. Before that, when I was in college, I was making games for a pretty long time. I think I started when I was 20, sort of developing and never finishing anything. Lots of side projects.

Did the way that you review games help to inform your development decisions with Axiom Verge?

No, I don't think so. I think I just had a part of me that felt the need to write about games and offer my thoughts. I know that a lot of people debate ratings, but for some reason, the numerical part of me that grew up playing D&D (where even your charisma can be assigned a number) makes me want to assign numbers to things. I find that gratifying.

If it wasn't for the feedback that I got in reviews, the next game I made would make all of the same mistakes. That's how you grow.

In a post from 2007, you say that "Ultimately I think it's up to readers to use their brains when they're reading reviews, and not feel like it's the end of the world if the review disagrees with their own opinion." Do you still feel the same now that your own work is being critiqued?

I feel the same way. It's interesting with Axiom Verge because it's almost not a concern. When I worked for EA, or when I worked for Petroglyph, none of those games were reviewed as Axiom Verge was. I remember feeling defensive when I was at EA and I worked on this game called Arena Football that wasn't especially good. We got reviews that were a 5 or 6. I would read them and I would be like, "No! How can you say that about this game that I worked so hard on?" But, you know, you need reviewers to be honest. If it wasn't for the feedback that I got in reviews, the next game I made would make all of the same mistakes. That's how you grow.

In the liner notes you mention that you have no formal training as a musician, but your music for Axiom Verge went on to be named the #1 Video Game Soundtrack of 2015 by FACT Magazine. How does that feel?

That's very weird and surreal because I have no knowledge or experience with the music industry. I purely made the music for the game and then I figured out how to release it on Bandcamp. Dan actually negotiated a contract with the vinyl distributor, Ship to Shore. It feels kind of weird and almost like I don't belong there. I know that there are people who all they work on is music, and they work so hard and never get the best video game soundtrack award, for example. I feel like I kind of took that from them in a way because it was, I don't want to say incidental, but it kind of was.

Were all of the songs on the soundtrack written exclusively for Axiom Verge?

All of them except for one, I believe. There are two different boss themes, one for the biggest bosses and one for the regular bosses. The end boss theme is actually from a piece that I wrote around 2001 or 2002 that was meant to go into a school project that I was working. I ended up changing what the project was and I didn't feel like that track worked anymore, so it was just sitting on my hard drive for years and years until I started writing the soundtrack for Axiom Verge. I went through my old tracks and I thought that it worked.

You mentioned Ship to Shore's vinyl release of the Axiom Verge soundtrack. That release was limited to 1,000 copies. Were you able to get your hands on one?

I think they gave me like three copies, and Dan got two. Unfortunately, I didn't have a record player, but my wife bought me one so that I could listen to it, but then we moved. Since we moved, my office has been a giant mess and we're still doing construction on that room, like putting a door on it, for example. So I have yet to hear how the vinyl sounds.

So you're not a vinyl collector yourself?

No, I wouldn't say so. It does feel a little weird to me that I wrote the soundtrack on the computer and everything was mastered on the computer with a digital soundcard and headphones. It almost seems to me that, if you're going for the purity of sound, you would actually want a FLAC, or uncompressed audio.

What advice do you have for indie devs, musicians, artists or anyone working on games?

My impression is that this is a very risky business to drop everything and be an indie. I would say don't be afraid to go work for someone else or some other game company and work on your independent dreams after hours. Definitely tell your employer what you need to do and add it to your contract when you get hired in the first place, that way there are no surprises. Always make sure that it's enjoyable for yourself. If you have this dream of making a game and you always wanted to make your own Grand Theft Auto but it turns out that making Grand Theft Auto isn't enjoyable to make, consider doing something where the actual day-to-day of crafting the game is fun. That way you keep motivated to keep on going to actually finish because it might take five years for that to happen.


Thanks again to Tom Happ for taking the time to speak with us, and to Dan Adelman for scheduling the interview.