Talking Project Squish with Vintage Video Games TV
Posted by Alex Jordan on
I am not a creative prodigy. I don't automatically create pure gold when I sit down in front of a computer or open up Photoshop, so I try to make up for that with careful planning and intellectual rigor. And not just my own! I recently borrowed those traits from Ryan at Vintage Video Games TV so that I could get some useful feedback on how Project Squish was shaping up.
Ryan spent a couple of days with a pre-alpha build that I gave him and then called me on Skype to discuss it. That required me actually downloading and installing Skype, something which I'd managed to avoid doing lo these many years. Partying like it was 2006, I got Skype up and running and had a nice chat with Ryan over the course of an hour. Here's what we discussed:
- Those who don't learn history are doomed to not repeat it. Ryan suggested that I check out old school gems like Lemmings and Techno Kitten Adventure to see how other games handle similar mechanics involving cute things navigating their way around dangerous levels.
- Critter design. In what would turn out to be a theme, Ryan was up front in criticizing my art design, including that of the Critters themselves. I reminded him that most of the ingame artwork was of the placeholder variety, but I'm glad he brought these issues up, so that I didn't just make high-resolution versions of my current designs. The Critters in particular, he thought, needed some more weight and shadowing to give them more presence. Perhaps color variations.
- Level Design. Ryan wasn't impressed with the block-based level design, and suggested that I should really spruce it up. The placeholder caveat was still in place (those blocks will change based on the overall level style), but Ryan also suggested that when I finalize my background and foreground art, that they should be poppier than I was anticipating and maybe even be animated, to give a more cartoony feel.
- Blood. "People like blood," Ryan said earnestly. I agreed, and vow to give him - and everyone else - much much more.
- Gameplay. Ryan thought the base gameplay concept was really good, but he was wondering if it would sustain a player's interest for 60 levels. I responded by sketching out my plans for local multiplayer (which I haven't publicized yet), and that actually started a conversation about us theorizing on fun "bonus" types of gameplay. He suggested a bonus level where you have to trick-shoot Critters into difficult to reach buzzsaws and kill them on purpose. I expanded on that idea, thinking that players could race to see how many gallons of Critter blood they could spill in 10 or 30 seconds. Basically, the conversation (productively!) dissolved into an animated discussion that would make Caligula and Vlad the Impaler proud. Expect to see many of these ideas in the final version of the game.
- Music. Although I'm resistant on Ryan's suggestion of heavily emphasizing a 16-bit style with Project Squish's final graphics overhaul, I'm far more eager on utilizing chiptune music if I can get my hands on it. Chiptunes (8-bit style music), while not being musically consistent with a more up-to-date graphics style, capture a great deal of the childlike glee that I'm striving to present in the game. Ryan, being of a musical background himself, linked me to his own portfolio as well as other musicians that are quite active in the Xbox Live Indie Games community. This bears further study!
- Porting. We also had time to chat a bit about poor returns on investment in the XBLIG market, and how some of the best designers out there were only barely scraping by. Ryan and I agreed that XBLIG itself wasn't enough to sustain most developers, but Ryan actually pointed something else out: thanks to engines like Unity, porting XBLIG code to the iPad and iPhone is easier than ever. I made a frowny face, arguing that my game will take up 100% of the screen, inhibiting iOS touch controls. No problem, said Ryan: target the iPod Touch and iPad and advertise that people should play the game with a stylus. I didn't even know people used those!
The conversation ended thereabouts, as Ryan had to go and make himself pretty for a date with what I hope was a passably-attractive human female, or at least a classy, upscale tranny. However, we covered a lot of ground in an hour, and I was greatful for the advice he gave. I really hope that Project Squish is a hit with the community, and I appreciated all of the insight he gave into how that could be possible.