October 3, 2023 I Can Art: Coding with Aaron Chatha Nick Heazell Recently I spoke with Angèle Bleackley, Calgary Arts Development’s digital specialist about her diamond dot art passion. To continue this series I’m going to speak with public art communications specialist Aaron Chatha about video game coding and his first foray into his game The Indestructible Moxy Boxy! So let’s find out more as we speak with Aaron and learn about his work. How long have you been at this? After a few failed attempts, in 2019 I finally sat down and taught myself some basic coding and art skills. My first video game featured a yellow ball rolling on a grey surface, giving the player a point if they rolled into a triangle. There were no animations, sometimes the triangles would give either double points or no points at all, and trying to quit the game would cause the computer to crash. I was so proud of it! How do you feel when you are doing the work? Occasionally frustrated, but more often relaxed. I love puzzles, and game design feels a lot like a puzzle, so I don’t mind quietly contemplating a problem for a few hours until the solution presents itself. Do you ever get some of the artist feelings of frustration, imposter syndrome, or anything like that? All. The. Time. For every great and productive day, there are weeks where I feel like a fraud, especially when others in the field/hobby are light years ahead when it comes to skill level. But on days where I can just focus on how much fun I’m having, it really makes it all worth it. Is this costly to undertake? To begin, not at all! Unity is a free and powerful game engine, with lots of tutorials and documentation available. Once you start looking into more advanced graphics and art though, you’ll find yourself paying for specialized programs and drawing tablets. What is something about your art, or the creation of it, that people don’t know? It’s easier than you think, and also more tedious than you think. It’s frustrating when all your code makes sense, but a single misplaced semi-colon causes the whole thing to crash. But when it does finally work, it’s so rewarding! Do you earn money from any of your practices? I earned enough money from my single (so far) commercial video game that it paid for my PS5. That felt pretty neat. What is the hardest part about your process? Time! Lives are busy, we just got our first real house and my friends and family do this weird thing where they actually want to see me every now and then. As much as I’d love to spend a weekend on a project, progress is often measured with an hour here, an hour there. Do you have an outcome for your work or practice? For example, would you like to improve your skills to a certain degree, or get work in the field, or host an exhibit, anything like that? I just want to keep making games – it’s fun and relaxing, and if my next one is just a bit better than my last one, I can feel good about myself. Do you have a couple examples of your favourite works to share? Can you speak about them, the process and maybe why they are your favourite? Sure! These photos are from The Indestructible Moxy Boxy, my first game! You can see how simple it is — the only shapes I used are squares and the entire palette is less than 20 colours. It crashes often, the text is riddled with spelling errors and plot holes, and combat slows to a crawl if there’s too many enemies on screen, but it’s my first commercial game and it still fills me with joy. Finally, what, if anything, are you working on right now, or what plans for future clay endeavours do you have? I’m working on a super-punchout type game, as an exercise to create different body types and practice making animations! Nick Heazell (he/him) is a communications specialist at Calgary Arts Development. Chances are if you have digital content — from classifieds, to news, to stories, to videos and more — he will post and publish it. Nick studied information design and illustration, which he uses to create and sell geek-culture t-shirts, and is a keen digital painter. Obviously he’s also a bit Star Wars obsessed. Aaron Chatha (he/him) is the public art communications specialist for Calgary Arts Development. A former arts reporter, Aaron has worked with organizations including Metro Newspaper, Arts Commons, and Alberta Theatre Projects. With a passion for public art in Calgary, Aaron is working to highlight the local scene in vibrant and compelling new ways.