Cold Hill Interview – Marek Drábek

Last week, I had the chance to chat with Game Developer, Marek Drábek about his upcoming game release Cold Hill — which is releasing today on PC (via Steam). Cold Hill is a 2D pixel art action platformer where you explore forests, jump over obstacles and fight enemies.

Marek is currently an IT student in the Czech Republic. It was very cool to hear what he had to say about building and publishing his first game, Cold Hill, on his own.

Check out my questions and his answers below:

What was your intro to games and have games always been a big part of your life?

MAREK: I first started playing games when I was around four years old. My family got a completely new PC and I believe that it was actually the first time I saw a PC in my life. In the beginning I was not allowed to be on PC, so I always watched my big brother play a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) game called Metin2

Later, I was finally allowed to play on PC. My brother taught me how to log into an account. He also taught me how to write a few words on keyboard and I remembered which keys I should press to write them. I basically knew how to type on the keyboard before I learned the alphabet. I have always loved games and I believe I always will.

What are some of your most memorable gaming moments?

MAREK: I don’t have many memorable gaming moments, but one of them is for sure the whole Mafia II game, because at the time that I played it I could not speak English at all and this was one of few games that I played that also had Czech dubbing in it. It is also an absolutely brilliant game that I have finished like four times and I’m pretty sure that I will play it again. 

My most memorable moment was also the moment when I thought to myself that one day I will be making games. When I was around ten years old my brother studied at the same IT school where I currently study. I went into his room and saw him playing some random game. I asked him what that game was and he told me that he made that game for his school project. At first I did not believe him at all because I thought you need dozens of people to make games. But then he showed me how he made it and I was completely amazed. Since then I wanted to learn how to make games.

What was the gaming scene like growing up in the Czech Republic?

MAREK: At first I played games on my own, but when my friends and I were around six years old we started going to each other’s house and we played two-player flash games. One of the most memorable flash games for us is a game called Oheň a voda in Czech (I believe that in English it’s Fireboy and Watergirl). I think that almost everyone my age in Czech Republic has played that game at least once. 

When we got a bit older we started playing Metin2 and World Of Tanks with Skype. Metin2 was for sure one of the most popular games in Czech Republic because it was one of few MMORPG games that had Czech language in it. I also played Nostale but my friends didn’t like this game. We also played a lot of offline games which were a bit harder to get to. But one of us always somehow managed to get the game we wanted and others just uploaded it to their Flash Disk and played it on their own PC. So some games were a bit harder to find but we always managed to get to them.

Tell me a little about your game, Cold Hill?

MAREK: Cold Hill is a 2D pixel art action side-scrolling platformer. Since it is my first game I wanted to make it really simple. The mechanics are fairly simple, but because of that you can combine them easily and make some good jumping combos.

Players won’t know the character’s background. The game is set in a forest where the character is told that people from the mountains kidnapped a small girl from the forest. So, in the beginning it all looks like people from the mountains are evil. Throughout his journey the player finds a lot of sheets from an unknown child’s diary. By talking to people the player meets on his way and by reading sheets from the diary, the player will find out the truth about what actually happened and also why it all happened.

What are some of the influences behind Cold Hill?

MAREK: My childhood influenced me a lot for this game. Since I was small every summer my family went to a hunting lodge and our parents and grandparents always prepared a ton of games for us. The lodge was near the forest and there were hills all around. One of those hills is called “Studený vrch” which can be translated to “Cold Hill.”

For the story, I wanted to put something that I saw many times in my life. I met a lot of people who blamed someone for doing something wrong, and the other person also blamed the first one for doing something wrong, but none of them actually saw that they personally did something wrong. The pixel art style is for sure influenced by games like Celeste, Undertale and Katana Zero because I never liked pixel art, but after finding those games I fell in love with it.

You’re currently in school studying IT, has this program helped with the process of making a game?

MAREK: Yes, I’m currently studying IT and after summer I’m going to third year. I’ve made a few games for school projects but Cold Hill is not one of them. I wouldn’t say that school helped me a lot with making games, but it had a small influence for sure.

The main programming language we use in school is Java which is somewhat similar to C# that I use for making games. What helped me the most with making games was for sure my brother. For one of my birthdays he told me that he would buy me an online course as a gift and told me to choose any course that I wanted. He showed me a course on Udemy called Complete C# Unity Game Developer 2D and I chose it. That’s where I learned all of the basics for making games. I also took a lot of other courses but this was the main one.

Are you doing both game dev and publishing on your own? What has the process been like?

MAREK: Yes, I’m developing and publishing on my own. I honestly enjoyed the process of making and preparing to publish my first game. At first, I kind of didn’t know what I was doing, but as time passed I learned a ton of things about publishing and showing my game to people. During quarantine I had a lot of time for developing so it helped me a lot for sure.

I would say that the hardest part for me was creating the player’s character because since the beginning I did not want the story to be only about the player’s character, but I had to make the character anyway. I drew like twenty different characters which maybe does not seem like a very big number, but for the scope of this game it is a pretty big number. I didn’t care much about Steam until I was like two months away from actually publishing it.

For exposure I chose Twitter and I honestly enjoyed this part. I have made dozens of GIFs for Twitter and people seemed to like it which motivated me a lot. I wanted to publish this game a lot sooner but I was not satisfied with a lot of things in Cold Hill, so I have decided to take more time and make it better. It all seemed so far away when I wrote my first line of code for this game, but now I’m just a few moments before publishing and I can’t wait for it.

Do you want to continue making games? Do you have any ideas for what’s next after Cold Hill?

MAREK: Definitely. I want to make games for a living. I know that it’s still pretty far away, but I do believe that one day it will be true. I have had an idea for a new game for quite a while. I actually already started writing game design for this game. It’s gonna be a 3D city builder mixed with 4X and other genres. 

The player will be set on an island in the Caribbean called Nassau. Their task will be to conquer the whole Caribbean. They will be able to choose between many different ways to do it. Every way will have its pros and cons. This time the process of making it will be much more professional and I’m not gonna make this game on my own because my brother will help me with programming and architecture.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of gaming?

MAREK: Outside of gaming I really love going to the gym. Since I was small I loved sports and I still do. When I was small my friends and I played in-line hockey on the street. Later we started playing floorball and we even went to some tournaments. I also played volleyball and table tennis for a few months. When I turned fifteen years old I started lifting weights and I’m still doing that till this day.

What kind of games do you like to play? What games have made an impact on you?

MAREK: I do not have any kind of games that I prefer. I like playing everything from 2D top down story games to 3D high graphics FPS (First-person shooter) games. There are not many games that have made an impact on me. 

But for example I played World Of Tanks for hundreds of hours when I was smaller and there were a lot of things from WW2. I began to be very curious and started to learn more about WW2 and in the process I started liking history overall.

What are you currently playing?

MAREK: Currently I’m playing Teamfight Tactics on my PC. A few weeks ago I finished the latest God Of War and Days Gone on my PlayStation 5. I’m also playing For Honor.

Cold Hill is out today on Steam and I will have a few steam keys to giveaway, so make sure to follow @myVGBC on Twitter and check later today for more details on how to get your hands on one of these codes.

Thanks so much to Marek Drábek for taking the time to answer my questions. I look forward to giving Cold Hill a try later today.

For now you can check out Marek’s Twitter profile below with some gameplay GIFs and more info…

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