Adam Robinson-Yu is the sterling Toronto-based developer behind A Short Hike, the Humble Original that knocked everyone’s socks off last April. A Short Hike is, without doubt, proof that small packages can still land with a staggering impact. A Short Hike enjoyed a full release in July after its initial Humble Bundle release, and it clocks in at roughly two hours of gameplay. This pint-sized treasure is jammed full of meaningful conversations, sparkling artwork, and a progression system that melds seamlessly into the story and the experience as a whole. We spoke with Adam Robinson-Yu about himself, his collaborators, and what it took to bring such a uniquely soulful project to life.
|| What was the catalyst that inspired you to pursue solo game development? Have video games been a lifelong love and passion for you? How did you find yourself doing what you’re doing now?
I’ve wanted to make video games for as long as I can remember! I was introduced to games through Commander Keen and other DOS shareware – and I’ve been chasing them ever since!
In elementary school, I downloaded a shareware RPG-maker called OHRRPGCE and I made a whole bunch of unfinished RPGs – including at least 3 attempted Pokémon games. Eventually, I started using Game Maker, and I continued making games as a hobby throughout high school and university. I studied computer science and eventually worked as a software engineer at a few different companies, but I continued to participate in game jams and release free games on sites like itch.io. After saving up a bit, I decided to take a chance on doing indie games full time, since it’s something I had always wanted to do.
|| How does A Short Hike owe its conception to your other project, an untitled paper RPG? Elsewhere it’s stated that you sought a break from the untitled paper RPG, and that break ultimately led to making A Short Hike. How did that happen, and did developing A Short Hike provide you the rest you needed for making the untitled paper RPG, or has it sent you in a different direction entirely?
Well, when I decided to start making indie games, I had a few different projects I wanted to pursue. The most promising one was an RPG I had started that was inspired by the original Paper Mario games. I started working away on it and I had picked up some momentum, but by the time a year had passed, I was feeling a little lost on the project. Although it had opened a lot of doors for me, I didn’t feel confident in the direction it was going, and I was starting to feel anxious about it and a little burnt out. I wasn’t sure if I was getting what I hoped I would out of indie development.
I had been wanting to experiment with other game ideas, but I always felt like I needed to keep myself disciplined and focused on my main project. However, in December 2018, I thought I’d give myself a little boost by working on something different for a bit. That eventually grew into A Short Hike. I had gotten the opportunity to fund the small project by making it a Humble Original, and I ended up deciding to switch gears to A Short Hike. It was really nice to work on a project that seemed like I could actually finish soon, as opposed to my RPG which still looked years away from completion. I was also inspired by other short games I had played that year, like Minit and The Haunted Island: A Frog Detective Game – they kind of showed me that small focused games could still be successful.
At the moment, I’m not sure what I’ll be working on next. I’d like to continue working on smaller scoped projects, so I can try out different things more quickly. I have a lot of concepts I’d like to explore! I think if I were to pick up my RPG’s development again, I’d want to approach the design of the game a bit differently and revamp the project.
|| How did you meet the other members of the team behind A Short Hike’s development? Mark Sparling is credited with the musical score, along with a few other names for contributions in art and writing. What was the collaboration process like for A Short Hike?
I’ve made a lot of creative friends through school and game jams. I’m lucky to know so many talented and wonderful people! I met Mark Sparling through some of my other game dev friends, and I worked with him before on a silly game jam game called I’ll Take You To Tomato Town. He also has been releasing songs daily for more than three years now! Once we got in touch about A Short Hike, we talked about musical inspirations and he sent me several demos to listen to. There was a little bit of back and forth there, as we tried to figure out the sound for the game. He really went the extra mile with his work – he really nailed the atmosphere and fleshed out the world with his music. He even created an amazing layered soundtrack, which we configured to progress dynamically as you visit different areas of the island!
My partner, Dawn Blair, also contributed a lot to A Short Hike. In the past, we’ve worked together on several game jam games. Every day when she got home from work, she’d take a look at the stuff I made that day and give me feedback. She also sketched out some character ideas for A Short Hike, and modeled a few of them herself! When I hit a writer’s block with some of the dialogue, she’d help me draft out some conversations. All in all, her support and encouragement really helped me get through the tougher parts of development, and the game wouldn’t have been the same without her.
I’d usually spend about half the day working at home, and the other half in a public space – like the library or a coffee shop. I’m not actually a huge fan of working at home! Whenever I could, I’d meet up with other friends at the library so I wasn’t working alone. A good friend of mine, Andrew Wong, would often come by to hang out while I was working. He is also a 3D modeler, so he contributed some models and sprites for the game!
Another friend, David Czarnowski, is a graphic designer that offered to make the game’s logo, which I’ve used in all my promotional stuff. I have worked with him before on our student game, Pitfall Planet. I also relied on friends for playtesting my game, and their feedback helped shape the game too!
|| Can you describe your philosophy behind A Short Hike’s thoughtful and charismatic dialogue? The text boldly defies standard sentence norms and has drawn favorable comparisons to games like Night in the Woods. How did you develop this style of conversation and why?
I really loved Night in the Woods, so it was definitely an influence on my game! When I was working on my RPG, the writing was one of the hardest parts for me. I really wanted the writing to be interesting, meaningful, or at least funny! On A Short Hike, I still struggled with the writing, but I made some design decisions to try and make it easier for me.
I tried to write dialogue the same way I write when I’m texting people. I avoided using capitalization and punctuation, and broke sentences up into little snippets. This is how most of my written communication is these days, so it felt a lot easier to write natural conversations using this style. I also avoided using a silent protagonist, as I was in my RPG, since conversations flow much more naturally when two people are talking. When I started working on A Short Hike, I didn’t expect the dialogue to be an important part of it – so I approached things in a very improvisational manner and didn’t toil over it trying to make it perfect. I think all these aspects helped me get over the difficulties I had writing for the game.
|| Does A Short Hike draw on any real-life experiences for its character interactions and main underlying narrative? Has your own life story inspired A Short Hike in any way? Conversely, is there any aspect of A Short Hike that you would aspire for your real life to be like?
For a while, I’ve really wanted to make a game that was more personal to me, and I tried to do that in A Short Hike. I think all of the dialogue is a reflection of parts of myself or experiences I’ve had. Thematically, I wanted the game to touch loosely on the feelings of self-doubt and anxiety, and what we can do to get away from them. The ending of the game was kind of about how your relationship with your parents changes as you get older. In general, I’d like to leave players with a warm feeling that, in spite of their worries, things are going to be OK.
As for how I wish my life was more like A Short Hike – I wish I had more access to nature! I think I partially made the game as a way to escape to somewhere beautiful!
|| Do you expect to expand A Short Hike into a larger title? If so, why, and what can current players look forward to? If not, why, and are there more games planned for the future? Untitled paper RPG, perhaps?
At the moment, I don’t have plans to expand A Short Hike into a larger game. Although there were several things that I could still add to the game, I’m pretty happy with it as it is. I think I’d face challenges trying to expand A Short Hike into a longer-form game – I’d have to find a way to draw out the player’s flying upgrades since it’s difficult to design interesting levels when the player can just fly anywhere. There are a lot of other game ideas I’d like to explore, however, I’m not sure right now which one I’ll be focusing on next.
|| You’re stationed alone at a mountain lookout tower for the winter and you have one mobile game, one PC game, and one tabletop game to entertain yourself with. What do you take with you and why?
Hmm, this is tough! I don’t play a lot of mobile games these days, but maybe some sort of good roguelike? Something with a lot of variety that will take me awhile to beat! As for a PC game, I’d probably pick some sort of multiplayer game to keep in touch with folks (assuming I can even get a connection up there!) …so, maybe Minecraft? Either that or some sort of big game like Skyrim! For the tabletop game, I don’t know how many visitors I’d get up there, but a deck of cards ain’t a bad bet! I could play Skull, Cribbage, Poker, Love Letter, or even Solitaire if I’m all alone.