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The Big Indie interviews: Treewood Studios tells us about indie life and their retro inspired game Hockey Heroes

The Big Indie interviews: Treewood Studios tells us about indie life and their retro inspired game Hockey Heroes

The Big Indie Pitch is a regular event run by the makers of Pocket Gamer and PC Games Insider. It sees indie developers engage in a speed-dating-styled pitching competition for fame and those sweet, sweet promotional packages.

The event gives indies five minutes to pitch their games to a panel of press, publishers and industry pundits. The judges then pick three winners and everybody gets valuable feedback.

The indie view

The Big Indie Pitch is getting bigger and bigger as we bring it to events all across the world. To give you an idea of what the event is like, who attends the events and the games on show, we've sat down with a number of past PC Indie Pitch contestants to offer their views.

Today, we're speaking to Christopher Atallah, who submitted Hockey Heroes to The Digital Big Indie Pitch (PC+Console Edition) #10 sponsored by our season sponsors Kwalee, and walked away as the winner.

The Big Indie Pitch goes digital

Sophia Aubrey Drake: Tell us a little about yourself and your indie studio - who is on the team, and what are their inspirations?

Christopher Atallah: My name is Christopher Atallah and I am the Founder & Game Developer at Treewood Studios. I started the studio and began developing our debut title Hockey Heroes after being inspired while playing Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey on the N64. For the past few years, I have been a solo-dev on the game while working out of a lakeside home north of Toronto, Canada.

Since then I have completed a couple of short term contracts with local artists, Jordan Yen and David Boyle, to help convey the general art direction of the game. Lately, I have been collaborating with the Toronto hip-hop producer SLWJMZ (Adrian Hogan) who has been working on the awesome OST and sound effects for the game.

Tell us about Hockey Heroes that you pitched at the competition.

Hockey Heroes is an arcade hockey role-playing party game in development for PC and console. Players create their skaters and draft their team from a roster of diverse characters before embarking on a journey to save the world...by playing hockey. Throughout their journey, players will meet new characters, compete in tournaments, unlock fantasy equipment and upgrade their characters on their way to becoming hockey legends.

Hockey Heroes combines the arcade hockey gameplay from Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey on the N64 with the equipment unlocks and character progression from Castle Crashers and the party game fun of Overcooked. Hockey Heroes is an over-the-top arcade hockey game with a fun and unique story mode that is a gong-show with your buddies on the ice and on your couch.

What do you think are the most unique and interesting aspects of Hockey Heroes that gamers may never have seen before.

The design of Hockey Heroes is to merge well-known aspects of different video games and genres to create a new and unique package of arcade hockey awesomeness. Hockey Heroes combines the pick-up-and-play gameplay from classic 90s arcade sports games with a story mode and character progression from a traditional role-playing game.

Some of the unique elements of Hockey Heroes include using an on-ice Power-Pickup to turn your opponent into a pigeon during a game, never-before-seen hockey equipment engulfed in flames and a fantasy style story mode where players interact with proudly hockey loving and Canadian characters.

Hockey Heroes merges arcade action with RPG elements but remains easy to pick up and play. What made you choose to blend these two genres, and what do you think you bring that may not have been seen before?

A few years ago, I was playing Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey on the N64 because I love the game’s fantastic and classic Midway arcade sports gameplay. Simple controls that always react quickly and predictably every time. Players would do double backflips when getting hit and games would regularly end with a score of 9 - 8 with 3 goals scored in the final 20 seconds, it is just awesome. The only thing is, to save a game on the N64, I would take a picture of a save-code and then input the code to get back to the same point in the playoffs.

So, my basic plan was to fuse together the fast-paced arcade hockey gameplay from the 90’s with some of the foundations of role-playing game design including a story mode, dialogue system, equipment unlocks and stat upgrades. The RPG elements help players connect with their team through the progression systems and their journey together.

Lastly, my friends and I love hockey but only have so much time to play games these days. For me it was important to have a game that, when my friends came over to play, they could pick up a controller and immediately start hitting each other into the boards and scoring goals.

How did you come to choose the platforms that you would develop Hockey Heroes for?

As a self-funded solo-dev studio I made a decision early on to focus on just one platform at a time. I determined that Steam has one of the lowest barriers of entry with a large audience and was the best option for me to start out with. Since then, I have found Steam’s tools to be fairly intuitive to use.

All that to say, the design of the game and its controls have always taken into consideration the Switch, PlayStation and Xbox as I hope to get the game on all of them at some point.

Looking at the studio a little more now. How hard is it to survive as an Indie developer?

It is definitely not easy, but it is also a great experience. When deciding to become an Indie developer I knew that I would need to sacrifice different things as I knew that I would not have any income coming in. I am very fortunate to have a very supportive wife and family that support me and accepted that for the next little while these would be the circumstances as I tried to start my own studio. At the same time, every morning I get to open up Unity and see a hockey rink with sticks that are on fire and ridiculous mullets. I am pretty happy working on this project every day and I hope that it will be successful. While I would love to just dev every day, I am also really enjoying learning all of the business and marketing aspects of indie game development.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is to SCOPE the game to what you can afford. The scope of the game is one of the main financial controls that you can adjust. I believe that scope is an extremely important aspect to keep in mind from the absolute beginning of a project and to keep it manageable for your team and available resources.

Are there any tips and advice you would give to independent developers out there who are just starting out?

Gather as much information from as many sources as possible. There is a ton of information out there and all of it combines to really help give you a structure of what to expect and how to prepare for the different stages of indie dev. Read books and websites, be honest with the people you speak to and ask questions.

Also, check with your local government programs that are there to help guide you and your project as I have found them to be incredibly helpful. OntarioCreates has been a great organization for me and they have really helped guide me when needed.

Spend as little money as possible for as long as you can. Focus your dev on the “fun” and “unique” aspect of your game and use your pitch to create as defined a picture of the rest of the game as you can.

How did you find your experience pitching as a part of the Big Indie Pitch?

I had a fantastic experience pitching during the Big Indie Pitch.

The team that runs the Big Indie Pitch continues to do really great work and everything went very smoothly. Through the event, I received great feedback from knowledgeable professionals regarding my pitch and I really appreciate them sharing their time and experience.

What do you feel you have gained from the experience, and what do you still hope to gain?

Every time that I pitch the game or speak to anyone about the game it helps me find what parts really connect with the gamer. The experience has also helped me to create some fantastic connections with great publishers. My goal is that the discussions turn into a partnership to make Hockey Heroes an amazing arcade hockey sports video game to play with your buddies.

What are your hopes for this game in the future, and do you have any plans for any future projects?

Always future projects in the back of the mind. But I love sports games and have a few ideas of different directions to take the next game. Whether it be a sports game using different gaming genres and tropes or maybe a completely different sport. I have also been designing a larger and expanded world of the current Hockey Heroes universe.

For now, I hope that gamers and hockey fans will see the unique elements of Hockey Heroes and have a great time smashing their friends into the boards and turning each other into pylons. 


Want to show off your exciting new game? We host Big Indie Pitch events throughout the year, so be sure to keep an eye out on our events page for an event near you, or even our new Digital pitches.

All our upcoming pitches including how to enter can be found over on our upcoming events page on BigIndiePitch.com.

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Developer Evangelist & Big Indie Pitch Manager / Special Features Writer

Queen of all things Indie. Sophia is Steel Media’s Big Indie Pitch Manager and Developer Evangelist. She’s also a global speaker and lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that she’s written a thesis on one and lived in the other.

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