May 5, 2021 - Technology

Interview: Aerial_Knight on making games as a Black developer

Screenshot from a video game
Courtesy: Aerial_Knight

Independent game developer Neil Jones is on the verge of launching "Aerial_Knight's Never Yield," and he's sizing up what it means to be a Black developer in an industry where few get good breaks.

Jones wanted to take a classic genre — endless runners — and add his own spin with a futuristic take on Detroit, including a hip hop soundtrack, cut scenes, and motion triggers, set in a stylish 3D world.

  • The game is coming to Nintendo Switch, PC, PS5, and Xbox Series S and X May 19.

The big picture: "Never Yield" is a passion project born out of Jones' frustration. “Like any Black person would tell you, you've got to be five times better to get just the entry level [job].”

  • Despite years spent building a portfolio and polishing his work, the jobs never came. "It was always some kind of excuse, you don't fit the culture. We're looking for somebody more locally."

He grew tired of being left out. "If they're not going to give me an opportunity, I'm just gonna make my own type of space where I can do whatever I want."

Between the lines: The industry, however slowly, is changing.

  • Reflecting on George Floyd's murder and a summer of worldwide protests in 2020, Jones noticed a change in the video game industry: "It was the first time a lot of studios said 'Black Lives Matter.'"
  • "I think that saying that you're going to do something or just saying that there's a problem, that's like the first step.”

Companies like Nintendo have allowed him to speak his mind when he announced the game for Switch, and he says Microsoft has quietly given him development support — a sign he sees as encouraging. "If you're just doing it for the credit or you know, the marketing, then it's not genuine."

Still, Jones says he struggles with the idea of being a role model, rather than an individual, and feels that he's found himself in a right time, right place situation, brought on by heartbreaking events.

  • "I don't speak for all Black people. I say that every time I make any kind of statement or something like, address some Black stuff ... I'm just trying to make my smaller games and exist."
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