Axiom Verge is the definition of an indie passion project. Developer Tom Happ spent five years working nights and weekends (in addition to a full-time job) as a one-man development team in order to make his dream a reality. All that hard work and dedication finally paid off in 2015 when the game released. Axiom Verge has since gone on to become of the most critically acclaimed and successful Metroidvania games around. Four years later, Happ finally stepped out of the shadows to reveal Axiom Verge 2 during a Nintendo Indie World showcase. As a huge fan of the first game, I immediately reached out for an interview.
Happ has been largely quiet for the past four years, but during our interview, I got the opportunity to pick his brain about life after Axiom Verge 2, inspirations, and the future of the series. Although he has to remain mostly tight-lipped, he teased a few hints about the plot as well. You can check out that interview below!
Happ’s life after Axiom Verge
Nintendo Enthusiast: After four years of working in almost total silence, you finally got to show off Axiom Verge 2, and during a Nintendo presentation, no less! How does it feel to finally get that first look out there in the wild?
Tom Happ: It’s kind of a relief because working alone you have no idea if the ideas are any good, but you can’t really talk about it because if you do it ruins the reveal. So it’s like a burden is lifted to reveal it and see everyone’s reaction.
NE: Axiom Verge was a bigger success than I think anyone was expecting. How has that impacted your day-to-day life? And did all of that success and attention impact your goals or vision for the sequel or the larger universe you’ve been writing for years? Has player feedback been a factor?
TH: Being a successful indie game dev opens up a whole new strange world. I am at home all day and work for myself, basically never seeing other people during the workday, and when I do it’s the parents of my kid’s friends and they basically are living my previous life of having employers and coworkers and such. It feels almost embarrassing in a way? We moved to a wealthy suburb in SoCal and we have some neighbors that are like TV sitcom caricatures of the rich… I miss where we used to live in Vegas, but we moved here for better healthcare and education.
I guess the main impact is that instead of Axiom Verge being a hobby, it is now a job. But in some ways, it is also what holds me together. I do read player feedback even if I don’t often respond to it. I’ll probably never turn Axiom Verge into a multiplayer game no matter how much people ask for it, but I try to address most other things if I can.
NE: So you do all of the writing, coding, artwork, programming, music… pretty much everything, and you also have a young son. When was the last time you slept?
TH: I do sleep, but it’s usually interrupted at least once each night.
A complicated story
NE: The original game left players with a lot of questions. Trace’s story didn’t exactly tie up all the loose ends in a neat and clean way. Now Axiom Verge 2 is switching to a new protagonist. That’s a bit of a bold choice!
TH: It’s kind of a necessary thing in order for those loose ends to make any sense. I probably should have made a less complex story so I could just wrap it all up more easily. Trace wakes up and Rambos his way to victory! Then I could take a long nap after.
NE: You’ve said Axiom Verge 2 will reveal more of the central plot of the universe you’ve been writing for the past decade, that in some ways it’s both a prequel and a sequel. Can players expect to get some hints about the first game through this new story and setting?
TH: I’ve always been surprised by how much players have been able to figure out about the first game. I think there will probably be those who plug in the new information and perhaps change or expand on their theories. But it will also just act as its own self-contained story for those who don’t wish to be bothered with the greater universe.
A new, familiar world
NE: I’m a huge enthusiast for ancient history and mythology, especially Mesopotamia. Based on how many references to Sumer I found in Axiom Verge, I’d guess you are too! And I see that theme is continuing in Axiom Verge 2. Can you shed some light on how and why that came to be?
TH: So I don’t want to get too far into it, but the Sumerians invented the first written language. That’s the main reason they appear in Axiom Verge versus some other culture.
NE: The Axiom Verge 2 website says we’re exploring a new world. So despite similarities, what we’re seeing in the trailer… it’s not Sudra from the first game?
TH: It’s not Sudra.
NE: Many people have pointed out that the visuals have been tweaked a bit this time around, including a significant change in the color palette. What led to this revised look?
TH: Mainly I was trying not to get bored making the same kind of art over and over, but also to accommodate a brighter environment with more outdoor locales.
Axiom Verge 2 inspirations
NE: Everyone knows Axiom Verge draws inspiration from Metroid, but you’ve also pointed to games like Bionic Commando and Blaster Master as influences. What non-Metroid titles are you drawing from in Axiom Verge 2?
TH: I think I’m pretty much always digesting every game I’ve ever played and using them to flavor my work in some way, but in Axiom Verge 2 there is a distinctly heavier Zelda influence. Also, the newer Prey has been very influential to me, as well as the modern Tomb Raider games, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Shadow of the Colossus.
NE: One of the most popular features from the first game was the ability to glitch enemies. Would it be fair to say that glitching has been replaced by hacking in Axiom Verge 2?
TH: That’s correct… in the Axiom Verge universe Trace is a “Patternmind,” so he has very specific abilities. Indra is another thing entirely, so she can do some similar stuff, but not identical.
Happ looks to the future
NE: Last question for the interview. Your website mentions thousands of years of in-game history spanning multiple characters. If Axiom Verge 2 replicates the success of the original, can we expect more games in this universe going forward?
TH: That’s the plan. Though I might be a bit burned out on AV after finishing 2 and interject a different kind of game in-between.
That’s it for this interview! You can look forward to Axiom Verge 2 launching on Nintendo Switch (and probably other platforms) later this year. Tom Happ is currently targeting a fall release for the highly anticipated sequel. In the meantime, you can learn more at the official website.
This interview has been edited for clarity.