The smile you receive from Neil "Aerial_Knight" Jones when he's talking about developing his own video game is infectious. There's no video gaming industry in his native Detroit, but that has not stopped him from pursuing his dreams.
"I always figured...I like video games, I can try to see if I can find anything to do in that," Jones told BESN.TV in an interview.
His time at a for-profit college helped him garner friendships with other people of color interested in similar work as him and great teachers.
"I took away from it as much as I could... My skill that everyone said that I should pursue more was 3D art.
"I looked at things a little bit different when it comes to game design," Jones explained, "and how you go about the process of making a game... People gravitated towards my ideas."
A lack of industry for video games in the Motor City resulted in Neil Jones getting different but helpful experiences in small studios that worked on automobile applications and virtual reality for the Detroit Auto Show. While part of these jobs, he saved up enough money to go to the Game Developer's Conference.
"More opportunities came from that, but I spent a long time--about ten years--trying to get one of those entry-level jobs in the game industry."
Even though the interviews went well, even though people told him he was qualified and had the abilities they were looking for, Jones describes a "hard wall" between himself and obtaining these opportunities.
This wall did not deter him--he began to help his friends with their projects and developing apps of his own.
Eventually, Jones said to himself, "You know, I'm pushing 30...I'm going to go all-in on making my own game."
From this promise emerged Aerial_Knight's Never Yield, a sidescrolling evasion game. In this indie game, you're Wally, a teenager trying to navigate a Detroit-inspired futuristic city and uncover evidence that could change Wally's hometown forever.
Wally--whose name was inspired by an uncle of Jones'--never fights someone or exerts physical violence because he's more about evading obstacles.
"He never hurts anyone," Jones said. "All he does is get out of the way and try to make it toward his goal. I picked this mechanic specifically because I didn't want to do anything that painted this character in a bad light. I wanted something different."
Different is what people get when they look at Never Yield's Steam page. The sidescrolling and the 3D art help give Never Yield its look. The music for the game is even composed by a Detroit artist and friend of Jones'.
Having basic controls for Never Yield was important so playing with either a controller or with your keyboard and mouse is the same.
"On a controller, up does the same thing as the up key on the keyboard," Jones explained. "The controls are simple...how you use them in-game can make it complicated if you want to. You can dash through the whole game...you can run a lot faster, but it makes the game a lot harder."
With how quickly game development moves and changes, it's hard for Jones to give solid advice on how someone can break into the industry in 2021.
"I go back and forth [on giving advice] because things change so much. The video game industry I first came into...was completely different five years later and is completely different now.
"It depends on what they're going for. If you're an artist, keep doing art," Neil Jones suggests. "The only advice I do give people: You gotta live. Try to be in the game industry...but also, do other stuff. The game industry isn't the end-all, be-all. Go live your life; go on an adventure, go outside. It doesn't always have to be about video games."