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Alex Haisting, CEO of High Five Studios Inc – Interview Series

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Alex Haisting wears multiple hats, he is the CEO, Audio Lead, & Producer at High Five Studios Inc.

When did you first fall in love with gaming?

I’ve been an avid gamer for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, my sister and I played games like Super Mario World, Donkey Kong, and Street Fighter II on the Super Nintendo. I was hooked from there. As systems progressed, I found myself more in love with what Playstation and Xbox offered. That later evolved into what I primarily game on today, which is PC and Playstation. I get the exclusives for Playstation, and basically, everything else I could ever want is on the various marketplaces on PC.

You started playing guitar at age 10 and eventually received scholarships from your music. When did you first discover that you wanted to apply your musical skills to the gaming world?

Music was my first love, and it was the only thing I ever wanted to do other than gaming. I started my journey during my first year in college when I took “Into the Basics of the Theory.” This made me fall in love with music all over again, but this time from a more technical standpoint. After dedicating the first two and a half years of my education on track to becoming a composer, I found my way to a group focused on specific game development. It opened my eyes to the fact that I could merge the two things I’ve been most passionate about. From there, I changed my major to Interdisciplinary Studies and never looked back.

You joined a group on campus at The University of Alabama called Game Lab 142. What did you work on, and what did you learn from this experience?

I accredit a lot to Game Lab 142; it’s the real reason that I got into this. It was my eye-opener to the fact that I needed to change majors. I was not sure if it was because game audio is far more technical than composition, or maybe it’s because I already was deep in composing. Who knows! We worked on a slew of different projects, from VR to platformers, we just wanted to make stuff for the sake of making stuff. What makes this even crazier was that none of us knew what we were doing, but we treated it so unbelievably seriously. I stuck with the program from the beginning. The moment it was created, I jumped on the opportunity to be a part of it.

We chose pretty early on that Unreal Engine would be the best for us to learn. Given that it has the Blueprint system and it was a great decision because only two people were programmers, and the rest of us were somewhere in the spectrum of art, music, and design. I became familiar with Unreal Engine and then pivoted my attention to Wwise. We all quickly found our niche, and brute force learned what we needed to learn. I’m convinced we all gave more effort in Game Lab 142 than we did our actual degrees.

In 2017, you went on to launch High Five Studios Inc. What inspired you to launch your own company?

By that point, we had done a couple of projects. There was an evident “core” group of people in Game Lab 142. However, with our advisor leaving the university and the group founder graduating, it was an awkward transition phase into the next steps. When the graduating founder passed down leadership, I asked the core group of people what they thought about starting a real studio. When they expressed interest, I told the university to shut down Game Lab 142. This happened after our research trip to SXSW, where we met a plethora of indie developers with far fewer people than us making cool developments. We decided while in Austin that we could do the same. From there, my incredibly talented Co-Founders and I started the company.

What type of games did you want High Five Studios to be known for?

Honestly, like many people, I have my taste in games. Of course, I would love to make what I want. However, one of the greatest lessons that Game Lab 142 taught me was that making a game is far more significant than any of us, and collaboration is crucial. So, I want us to be known for creating unique games. We’re indie, so we get to do what we want, no matter how weird it is. I thought then, and I still believe that whatever we come up with, I will be immensely proud of it because we did it together. I personally love shooters and adventure games. Naughty Dog (as well as many others) is the most inspirational studio in the world to me, and everything they make is absolute gold. But you know what they say, “with great games comes greater budgets.”

The current flagship game is Prisoner: The Eighth Awakening. Could you tell us more about this game?

Prisoner: The Eighth Awakening is a World War II-based psychological horror game set in the fictional prison camp in Japan called Hell Eight. The game features a suite of monsters that we derived from traditional Japanese lore. Each has its adaptive behaviors. We created an A.I. that tracks how the player plays the game and will dynamically change the monsters’ behaviors accordingly to provide less predictability and leave the users on their toes. We decided to make the game based more on adaptability and survival instead of going the typical “horror shooter” route. We have a robust crafting system put into the game that each has its effect on the different monsters you encounter and the guards of the camp. With this in mind, there will be much scavenging for supplies and gameplay moments that shift between stealth and action.

You involve yourself in many aspects of game making from music all the way to production. What part of the game making process do you prefer?

Without a doubt in mind, it’s audio. Given that I’m the only aural wizard of the group, it’s given me a unique opportunity to learn niche aspects of game audio. From creating believable acoustic environments using Unreal’s Convolution, Resonance, Wwise, Reflect recording and editing at this point hundreds if not thousands of SFX and voice lines, I have my hand in every pot. I’m incredibly fortunate to be an in-house composer. Studios rarely have a composer with this much knowledge of in-game audio production. Because of that, I get to switch gears and create interactive music with the bounds that I set for myself. I’m trying to push the limits of what an adaptive music system is. We are adding an extra layer of depth with a plug-in that we wrote for the music and VFX that provide a bit of proceduralism while still maintaining a harmonic and rhythmic structure. It’s super nerdy, and I’m super excited for people to hear it.

Do you still find yourself playing games? Do you have any favorite systems or games?

Oh absolutely. Not as much as I’d like, but I do still play. It’s the best way for me to keep in contact with my friends. My favorite system is my PC. I’m a HUGE tech nerd, and I’ve built around 12 PCs at this point, and I’m continually upgrading mine. As far as games go, I’m good at half playing single-player games. I’m passively working my way through Chernobylite, Doom Eternal, Control, and Metro Exodus. The only two games I’ve played entirely through in the past year I’d say are Death Stranding and The Last of Us Part II. Like I said, Naughty Dog has a special place in my heart, and Kojima is an inspiration. Regularly, I’ve been playing Apex Legends. I always try to play the ranked mode, but it requires so much time I don’t get as high as I want, and the highest I’ve made it is Platinum 1. My favorite series of all time is the Brothers in Arms series produced by Gearbox Software. I’ve been patiently waiting 12 years for the fourth installment of that game, so I’m praying to the gaming gods that I get to see that one day. It’s lowkey my dream project.

What’s next on the horizon for High Five Studios Inc.?

Finding funding solutions seems to consume most of my time, as it still is, so currently, that is one of the main things on our horizon. We are finishing up a demo of the Prisoner: The Eighth Awakening, and we will be launching it on Steam soon. There is not a specific day yet, but it’s coming extremely soon. Accompanied with that, we will be releasing a trailer and Kickstarter campaign, so be on the lookout for that.

Once we get this game out the door, we haven’t fully decided what our next project will be. There are many aspects to Prisoner that can be expanded on, but we want to wait to see what the community says. Since High Five consists of gamers, we make our gamers with the player in mind. We make straightforward content that is wholesome fun for a fair price that will have people coming back, asking, “What’s next?”

Is there anything else that you would like to share about High Five Studios?

Stay on the lookout for our trailer, our demo, and our Kickstarter. We are incredibly eager to get this game to market and on the new consoles. However, we need the community to help us get across the finish line after three years. We also encourage everyone to follow us on our social accounts and interact with us! You have questions, and we have answers.

Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit High Five Studios Inc.

Antoine Tardif is the CEO of Gaming.net, and has always had a love affair for games, and has a special fondness for anything Nintendo related.