At 12 years old, Max Trest is already an established independent video game developer who has even created a game with the Unity engine.
That project, Astrolander, which Max developed by himself, currently has a demo on the Steam digital storefront, and is one of the games chosen for the Indie Games Showcase at this weekend’s Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. Max currently self-publishes the title through his company, Lost Cartridge Creations.
In Astrolander, two players control different systems on a single rocket ship, and must work together to solve puzzles, dodge obstacles, and avoid enemies. Max is a big fan of retro gaming and old computer systems, and Astrolander takes much of its inspiration from the 1979 Atari arcade game Lunar Lander.
Max has exhibited Astrolander at several virtual and real-life events this summer, including the Puddle Jump Games and Play festival in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, and the Steam Next Fest.
He’s also a member of the Seattle Indies development community, frequently coming down to participate from his home in British Columbia. Academically, Max is a homeschooled student who’s currently in 10th grade, and was one of the participants in this summer’s Mission to Mars competition by the Mars Society.
We caught up with Max to learn more about Astrolander, some of his favorite games and more. The conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
GeekWire: What got you started on Astrolander in the first place?
Max Trest: The freedom of being able to express myself, and putting my ideas into reality. When I was younger, I used to tinker around a lot with hardware and making things, and this basically expands on that.
Game engines today are really easy to use compared to some of the older stuff I’ve studied. Unity and Unreal both have visual scripting solutions, and I don’t know how good they are compared to other options, but they seem pretty good. It’s still somewhat hard to work with since you have to know the tools, the art, and everything if you want to create custom things, but overall it’s a lot easier than it was.
I use Blender on a daily basis for doing a lot of things. I’m self-taught on it; I started back when it was on 2.8 or something, when that revision came out. Before, I couldn’t use it, because it was super confusing, but they changed it with that revision and I was able to get into it.
So Astrolander is inspired by Lunar Lander, according to a conversation I had with your father.
Yeah, I really enjoyed playing that one, with the vector graphics. It’s really good-looking, and holds up today, honestly.
That would be a deep cut for somebody my age, let alone yours. What drew you to that game, as opposed to something newer?
Mainly, it’s the simplicity and the repetition. Predicting what you’re going to land on, and trying not to crash. I’ve been to lots of arcades and they’ve occasionally had that game there. I wanted to make a modern take on it.
What are some of your other favorite games?
I enjoy Civilization VI, and play that a lot. Lemmings, for the Commodore Amiga. Also, Populous. I like strategy games a lot.
We have a Raspberry Pi that runs RetroPie, and I play a lot of retro games on that. I was going to try to see if I could release my game on the Intellivision Amico, but it doesn’t look like that will ever come out.
That was something I was curious about, if you’d tried to get your game to run on any older hardware. I’d heard you gave former Xbox exec Ed Fries a non-functional Astrolander Atari 2600 cartridge at a New Tech Seattle event in June.
I was thinking about doing something like that. The only problem is coding in Assembly for legacy systems. It’s insane how complicated coding for older systems is. I’ve done some music, but nothing past that.
What are you thinking about long term?
For my next game, I’m planning a modern take on something like Lemmings, maybe in AR or VR.