Interview with Justin Amirkhani (Vagabond Dog)

Justin Amirkhani Photo

First off, tell me about yourself? And Vagabond Dog?
Vagabond Dog is a small game studio from Canada. I’m the Creative Director at the company, which means I force my opinions on everyone else and make sure the games follow a core vision.

What advice would you give to someone trying to do what you do?
Don’t bother.

Has that advice changed over the years?
Yes. I think the industry is oversaturated with games, and the chances of your success are so miniscule it’s not worth joining the march-to-slaughter indie developers are in the midst of.

What games do you remember most from your childhood, and do you feel they influence/influenced how you make games?
My fondest memories of gaming as a kid are all related to playing with friends, or my family. This has seemingly had no impact on how I make games, as I’ve yet to work on a multiplayer title in any sort of significant capacity. Perhaps one day, though.

While we are talking about other games, what other indie developers do you like, and can you recommend any games from them?
Jason Rohrer has seemed like a very interesting dude, ever since I came to awareness of him after playing Passage in 2007. His latest game, One Hour, One Life is an enlightening experience I adore.

How many games have you developed, and how long does it typically take from the idea to the final product?
Always Sometimes Monsters was my first game, and it took about 2 years. The sequel has taken nearly 5 years to-date. In that span I’ve shat out a few enjoyable jam titles, most taking just days to make. It’s kind of amazing the variety in timescale for me to actually consider something complete.

Okay, so I reached out for this Interview because I enjoyed Always Sometimes Monsters, for my audience who may or may not have played the game can you tell us what it’s about? And how the story came to be?
Always Sometimes Monsters is a game about the hard climb in life. You start the game as a failed author, on the day you’re to be evicted from your apartment. The love of your life is marrying someone else at the end of the month, and they’re all the way across the country. It’s about the decisions you make within those 30 days in an attempt to make it to the wedding, before it’s all over.

I came to the narrative while spending some time travelling around North America, on a weird journalism project. I’d hitch to meet various game developers across the USA and Canada, to learn what I could from them via interviews. The process taught me a lot, and started my more creative path, away from reporting.

What in your opinion are the core themes of the game and why did you choose to make a game based around those themes?
The dichotomy between selfishness and selflessness has always been something that has resonated with me in a meaningful way. It’s much more interesting than the battle between good and evil, because it’s a far more real battle that we all have to deal with in life. Choosing between taking what you want, and giving up what you need isn’t easy, but we all have to deal with it. Game is a good medium to explore that kind of choice in a safe environment where real people don’t get hurt.

What was the best part of making Always Sometimes Monsters now that the game has been out for a few years?
The best part of making ASM was working with my team. It’s been a blessing to collaborate with such awesome people, and I feel eternally grateful that these folks were willing to join my dumb mission.

For people who haven’t played the game, can you give them any tips for the best ASM experience?
Live by your own moral compass. Don’t try for anything other than authenticity in the choices. It’s a lot more important than striving for a non-existent concept of best.

I’ve heard there’s going to be a sequel, Sometimes Always Monsters, is that still happening and if so what can you tell me about it?
Yeah, it’s still happening. It’s coming out next year.

The game’s a lot bigger than ASM, and a lot more complex in terms of how it’s structured. It’s about life after success, and the unique struggles that come with it. I also think it’s a lot more fun and joyous than ASM ever was, while exploring a lot of different topics (imposter syndrome, married life, and the fear/inevitability of decline). Whether the story and choices pack the same emotional weight, I’ll have to wait until release to be certain about. Though, I think fans will really enjoy it.

Lastly can we expect anything coming out in the near future/what are you working on right now?
Literally, just Sometimes Always Monsters. Next year is not that far away, and there’s still so much we want to do with this before release. After that, we’ll see. Maybe I retire, or something?

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