Developer Spotlight: Spread Shot Studios

Today, Platformalist’s Developer Spotlight is on Spread Shot Studios, a 2-person studio from San Francisco, currently developing the multiplayer bullet hell title Space Jammers.

Space Jammers Banner

The game looks great, Sorob! Can you talk for a minute about who you are, and what you’d like to achieve with Space Jammers?

Sorob Raissi: My name is Sorob Raissi, and I’m originally from Orlando, Florida but moved to the West Coast last year. I used to work in the military simulation industry as a 3D artist and level designer. I’m now working on 2D games and have been learning programming along the way, since I never got a formal education in that department. Frank Meijer (PR at Spread Shot Studios) expressed some interest in helping out with the campaign a few months before I launched the Kickstarter, so we’ve been planning release strategies together since then. He is based in the Netherlands, so we make sure to Skype at least once a week.

With Space Jammers, my goal is to set a benchmark for the company in terms of the tone, quality and features that gamers can expect in the future. I want the games coming out of Spread Shot Studios to be as inclusive as possible, with multiplayer features.

The game’s story revolves around a rock band comprised of alien pirates, trying to fund their musical tour. Are you musically inclined?

SR: I don’t think so …

Space Jammers Screenshot

The screens for Space Jammers look pretty impressive, running at a solid 60fps with a ton of sprites on the screen at once! Could you talk for a minute about some specific challenges you’ve encountered in developing a bullet hell game, and some tricks you’ve discovered in order to combat these challenges?

SR: This game was originally developed on an outdated Android tablet, and later for OUYA, so performance was a bare necessity from the start. The biggest bottleneck I encountered first was maintaining so many objects on the screen. Since I want to keep all the action on one screen, I simply don’t run code in objects that fall outside of the viewable game. This style of managing all objects in the game became the most practical performance enhancer.

Could you talk about what inspires you? Creatively, artistically, and what generally motivates you to put out solid work?

SR: I’m driven to make better versions of games or genres by trying to fix holes or mistakes, to make something better or special. Because I grew up in the nineties, my work comes out through that lens. I feel like games have gotten unnecessarily complicated, for how commoditized they’ve become. I want to eventually try to make games more approachable for people.

I noticed a sprite in your promo material that bears a striking resemblance to Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Is this an intentional reference?

SR: I dunno, but it’s a pretty good show.

Your website mentions that Spread Shot Studios aims to provide experiences that cater to both casual and hardcore gamers. How do you hope to achieve this?

SR: Some of the mechanics I include aim to help those who would struggle with this type of game. For example, bullet time which slows down everything except the player if they are near a bullet. There are plans to port to mobile as well, which will likely end up with much simpler input and gameplay mechanics for casual players. In the long term, I want to make games that use alternate interaction methods that take advantage of what people already know how to use. Not everyone understands gamepads.

If you could send a message to your past self, when you first started working in the game industry, what advice would you give yourself?

SR: Start making games sooner!

Favorite snack while developing?

SR: Scooby Snacks.

Most-used software during development work?

SR: Aseprite.

Favorite game of all time?

SR: Diablo 2.

Favorite console of all time?

SR: SNES.

If you could be any character from Space Jammers for a day, who would you choose?

SR: The one with the straw in his head, so I could “drink your milkshake”!

Any shout-outs you’d like to make? Indie games you’d like to recommend? Anyone I should follow on Twitter?

SR: @wizard_fu – Developing Songbringer, a procedural roguelike Zelda-style game.
@asquaredgames – Developed Sleep, a mysterious story-driven metroidvania game.

If you’d like to support Spread Shot Studios and get Space Jammers at a discount, check out their Kickstarter, follow them on Twitter, or wishlist the game on Steam!

Developer Spotlight: AwkwardNaut

Today’s Developer Spotlight is on AwkwardNaut, a 2-person team based out of Belgium, currently working on the space roguelike Far Ago.

AwkwardNaut

Thanks for chatting with me, guys! Can you talk for a minute about who you are, and what Far Ago is all about?

Thibaud Gayraud: I’m a Unity game developer, and I started AwkwardNaut one year ago. On the way I encountered Marcus Drake. He was interested in my work and I fell in love with his musical talent. We are now working together on this big project.

Marcus Drake: I’m an eccentric composer from Chicago. I’ve been running a DIY Chicago label called Grandpa Bay and performing in bands for many years, but I recently started to refocus more on composing for games and film. When I stumbled upon AwkwardNaut, I was so impressed that I reached out to Thibaud. We made a pact signed in blood and the rest is history!

Far Ago is an FTL-like kind of game. The game has a huge tactical aspect due to the different type of modules you can equip your ship with, and the destruction system that can strip apart important pieces of your build. With Far Ago, it’s all about choices. Some situations can be handled peacefully while some will require a less subtle approach. Another important part of the game is that every new level is a step back in time, meaning that you can cause ludicrous paradoxes. These paradoxes will be important, but in what way? This we will keep a secret.

As Far Ago is a roguelike, what are your primary considerations when it comes to developing your algorithms for procedurally generated content? How do you keep the content feeling fresh and purposeful when you don’t have complete control over every last pixel?

TG: This is the most challenging part, as keeping every bit of the scenario in line with every quest can quickly become a real mess. Add paradoxical events to that, and now you have your very own 42x42x42 Rubik’s cube! To achieve this, you have to carefully choose the conditions that will drive the creation of every level. Keep everything in easily reusable little boxes. If this is done correctly, you just have to make sure that those boxes are fun to play with and that they can mix together to create interesting challenges for players to overcome.

How long have the two of you been in game development? And when did you decide that you wanted to work in the industry in this capacity?

TG: It was always a dream of mine. I started creating some small Flash games inspired by what I found on websites like Newgrounds when I was 13. I later went into art school and graduated in infographic design with a specialization in video games.

MD: I’ve been a musician for a while, always very inspired by video game soundtracks and have always wanted to create them myself! It took me a while to build a decent portfolio, but through being very active in the Chicago music scene, it all eventually started to come together. Recently, I decided to pursue composing as a career. And I’m very honored to be working with someone as innovative and talented as Thibaud!

Far Ago looks really sharp! Could the two of you talk for a bit about your biggest visual and musical influences for the game?

TG: I’m a fan of the Youtube channel Kurzegesagt – In a Nutshell. I’m a big fan of the minimalist aspects in their videos. The visual universe of Edmund McMillen (The Binding of Isaac, Super Meat Boy) is also a big inspiration.

MD: I’m not the biggest aficionado of dubstep, but recently I have been very intrigued by the production and the futuristic/apocalyptic tone brought on by artists who dabble in that genre. So, while there will be a lot of different elements going on, some things I want to emulate are the emotions and production techniques of what one might call dubstep, but I will be using a wide variety of mostly live, nonsynthetic instruments to make it unique. Two soundtracks I am taking inspiration from are the Earthbound OST by Keiichi Suzuki and Machinarium OST by Tomáš Dvořák.

You’ve previously released a sports minigame called Tippin’ Ball. Can you talk about the most important lessons you learned from your previous release, and how you’re looking to improve for Far Ago?

TG: Tippin’ Ball was a way for me to start making some noise around the AwkwardNaut persona I created. It’s no more than a fun project I did for people to enjoy. The biggest mistake I’ve made was to think that I would be able to do everything by myself; making a game is one thing, but the marketing around it is as important as the game itself! Now that we’ve teamed up with Marcus, we have all the skills we need to create and promote Far Ago.

MD: Tippin’ Ball was the first OST I made for Awkwardnaut and it was one of the most enjoyable writing / recording processes. While the music was a hoot to make, we also learned a lot about how to market our games better. It was a great project that led to productive discussions between Thibaud and I about indie development in general, audience interactions and the importance of transparency.

As an avid iOS gamer, when a great-looking game shows up on Steam, I cross my fingers, hoping that it will eventually be ported to mobile. Any plans to port Far Ago to iOS?

TG: Far Ago is not the kind of project that would work on mobile devices, but I’m very interested in connections between an app and a game; if the game goes well, we may be able to add some mobile connectivity for someone with a smartphone to mess with the player or to rearrange modules on the fly.

Favorite snack while developing?

TG: Pecan nuts.

MD: Steak tartare.

Most-used software during development work?

TG: Unity3D.

MD: Reaper.

Favorite game of all time?

TG: Enter the Gungeon.

MD: Ikaruga tied with Katamari Damacy.

Favorite game console of all time?

TG: N64.

MD: PS2.

Favorite smell?

TG: My Potatoe.

MD: Defeat.

If you were trapped in the game world of Far Ago, what would be your preferred method of escape?

TG: Even if it’s a dystopian world, I wouldn’t want to leave it. I want to go to space so bad!

MD: Bending the code (like my homie, Keanu).

Before we finish this interview, are there any shout-outs you’d like to make? Other favorites in your own development community? Anyone I should follow on Twitter?

TG: @ElorynPartition They are working on a very gorgeous game. Lots of poetry and very unique gameplay.
@JailBreak3014 I met him on Facebook a few weeks ago. He is currently working on a game named Foot; if you like to spit whatever you’re drinking out of your nose, you should check out his work.

MD: @moblets This is a beautiful game about farming, creatures and adventure. It’s something like Harvest Moon meets Pokemon, but very unique. I’m overly excited for it!
@InnerSpaceGame A mesmerizing flight based game being developed by @PolyKnightGames. With a really great OST by Chris Miller.

If you’d like to help AwkwardNaut launch their game on Steam, visit Far Ago on Steam Greenlight and voice your support!