Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield, a lushly-scored narrative runner, was published by Headup Games on PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch in May 2021. Neil Jones, the eponymous Aerial_Knight, joined me via email to discuss the game for The Avocado.
Please tell us about your history in the game industry.
My history in games is a bit complicated, but the summary is that I spent about 10 years trying to find an opportunity while working day jobs and even a few tech start-ups. I kept hitting this wall where everyone who seen my work would tell me that I had the skills, background and had been doing everything I should be doing. the few times I did get any kind of feedback from places that I’d apply to, it was often along the lines of me not fitting the studio culture they want to build. I try not to think to much about it as its just a “rabbit hole”. For a long time I just thought there was something wrong with me but then I started realizing the numbers of how many black people were in the games industry and that so many other black people I’ve talked to had the same experience as me.
So I said “fuck it” I’ma make this game (Never Yield) for me and so they can see what they missed out on and if people liked it, cool. If not, then I could have some closure about the whole thing and I could move on to something else.
For those unfamiliar with it, could you please give a brief description of Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield?
Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield is what I like to call a “Narrative Runner”. A runner that has a story/ending, levels, pickup and play style, and a very dope soundtrack
How long did it take to develop the game and what were the greatest or most surprising hurdles?
I spent a little over 2 years working on Never Yield while working 2 part-time jobs. I think the most surprising hurdle was the porting and some achievement issues. The game launched on everything at once and there was only going to be one real shot at getting the game out the door.
Like many others, I first became aware of and interested in the game via Nintendo’s Indie World Showcase. What was that experience like?
It was very cool to be a part of that showcase. They were really cool with what I wanted to say and I’m really grateful for them giving me a platform. I was in full crunch at the time and was a bit overwhelmed, but it was an amazing opportunity.
What specific works influenced Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield‘s distinctive cyberpunk vision of Detroit?
I draw inspiration from everywhere. Most of the models in the game come from something I’m a fan of. That’s how i kept it fun for myself when making all that stuff over the years. Mostly I referenced a lot of black media and anime.
Your game has one of the most memorable soundtracks in a year with so much competition. Could you tell readers about the process of your collaboration with composer Daniel Wilkins?
Yeah, Dan and I have known each other since we were kids. We work really well together because he understands what styles I like and what I’m looking for when it comes to mood. It was a very long process, however we would start with what going on in the story, he would start pulling loops, I would start building the level, then I’d send him a video of the level so he can try to match the mood. We would go back and forth a bunch, then the final step would be listening to the song on a loop for about two days. if we still liked it after that it would go in the game. This last step had us starting over many times but was worth it.
What is your favorite area or stage in Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield?
The last level is my favorite – it really tells what both characters are thinking and the song is the best. It took about 2 months to get that level working how it should with a lot of help. I ended up cutting other levels to make sure I could get that in there. The game doesn’t work without it.
Are there any gameplay mechanics or story sequences that didn’t make it into the finished product? If so, what caused them to be cut?
I had to cut 3 boss levels, the concept wasn’t proven. I really didn’t know if players would like levels like the Van level. So they were the first thing I held back on. And there was an after-credit scene showing what happens to the characters after their fight, but I don’t like cliff hangers so I’m going to just save all of these for if an opportunity for a sequel comes up.
What are your plans for the near future?
I have a few other things I’m working on that I hope people like. I really want to do more with Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield – the game is selling well but for what I want to do next with it I would need the help of a studio. I’m all about doing things differently, and a sequel would have to be something very different. I have the story and design mostly done, there is some wild shit in there that I don’t think would be realistic for me to pull off without a lot of help. The more people support Never Yield, the more likely I’ll get the opportunity to make more of it.
Follow Neil Jones/Aerial_Knight on Twitter and his website to keep up with all the latest on this game and future projects. You can find out more about publisher Headup Games at headup.com. If you’d like to see more from me, you can find me on Twitter under the handle @SinginBrakeman. Thanks for reading, and be sure to let everyone know what you think about Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield in the discussion below.