Kickstarter Interview #1: Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake

by Brooks Weaver. 0 Comments

W hen you first bring up www.kickstarter.com, the title graphic reads: “Fund & Follow Creativity”.  It then lists websites like CNN , The New York Times and even WIRED magazine where Kickstarter has been featured.  Though impressive for anyone to be featured by these media giants, Kickstarter would be nothing if it weren’t for the thousands of projects that seek monetary and community assistance to help bring their creativity to life.

The medium of videogames has always been about creativity.  They take months, if not years to write, develop, code and distribute - always with possibility that they will flop...hard.  But the beauty behind the industry is that there is no magic formula for making the perfect game.  To use the old adage: you can’t please everyone .

But every now and then a game comes along that catches you off guard.  You might be out shopping or even browsing online for a video that everyone is talking about and see a title that, for some odd reason, makes you want to try it.

For me, this has happened countless times.  I am a child of the 80’s, so I grew up playing video games.  It’s in me to try a new title “just because”.  But lately, that saying over the past 3 - 4 years, I’ve had a lot more luck in choosing which games I want to play because they are games that need to be played.  No matter their scale, level of detail or platform (mobile, console, etc.), they grab a hold of me and make me remember why I love gaming in the first place.

Thanks to Kickstarter, I have a new avenue for finding games that need to be played because, once again, they get back to the roots of what gaming is all about - creativity.  Independent game developers that use Kickstarter, in my opinion, really show that they want to make games for people that want to play great games - and not just another large game development company pushing out a title just to make another couple million bucks.

WHO ATE MY CAKE?

Other than being an Ice-Tea addict (the drink, not the rapper), I’ve never been much of a sweets kind of guy.  But when I came across the title Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake (MAMBC) on Kickstarter I had one of those moments where I had to check it out.

Developed by Sleep Ninja Games (SNG) in Portland, Oregon, this game is, “an environmental puzzler (like The Legend of Zelda )...where you take control of a young boy named Niko who is about ready to celebrate his birthday.  He goes to sleep that night and wakes the next morning to find that his cake is gone.  He’s pretty frustrated about this, and he goes on a quest across Gogapoe Island to get his cake back.  Along the way he meets all of these interesting - looking monsters that, he finds, actually aren’t evil like some of the other monsters.  And they help him on his journey.”

Now, my favorite Zelda game is not the original; it’s actually The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for Nintendo GameCube.  But after watching the video introduction (see above) to the game on Kickstarter and checking out the initial gameplay and artwork, I knew that I had to get a hold the Creative Director of SNG, Justin Baldwin, in order to find out more about Monsters :

[W2W] Why Birthday Cake?  

[JB] “Well, other than it being the idea that just sort of fell onto my head, I think it’s a good representation of something that you, as a child, looked forward to - this sort of abstract concept that you associated with incredible excitement and happiness.

Presents on your birthday are one thing, but the cake is something else entirely - it’s much more than just sugar and flour and eggs.

Any child, if their cake had been stolen, would just go and get more cake.  But in our story, Niko decides to do something about the problem instead and becomes a better person for it in the end - having made new friends and discovering things about himself that he would not have known otherwise.”

[W2W] Why good and bad Monsters?  Is there a message here that you are trying to convey?

[JB] “I've actually been waiting for someone to ask this: I project a lot of myself into my work.  Part of the underlying tone of the game has to do a lot with my anxiety.

Sometimes what you're afraid of can ruin days you’re looking forward too; hence the monsters and ruined birthday.  It can really control your life being afraid of things all the time.

The good monsters really come in as a reflection that sometimes working with your fears can become a good thing, and you can use it to your advantage.”

[W2W] ?Why Kickstarter.com?  Can you provide some Pros and Cons of using this website for funding your project?

[JB] “We decided to go with Kickstarter to have full creative control of our game.  While having investors and publishers can be a good thing, we didn't want to have any of that affecting the direction we took the game in.

Another Pro would be that it helps generate a sense of community and a fan base right off that bat; instead of having to cold-market and gather fans later.   It also helped give us a better connection with our fans and backers.

There aren't a lot of Cons, although giving out rewards and shipping them can be a lot of extra work and money on top of the project. Obviously we love offering such things, and we want to thank our backers, but you have to try your best to keep that in mind when creating a Kickstarter campaign.”

[W2W] What is Sleep Ninja Games (SNG) and how did it come to be?

[JB] “Well Brandon and I have been friends for over 20 years.  We grew up together.  We both got into making our own programs and games at a young age, and we were always sharing new things and ideas with each other.  We also played a heck of a lot of games together growing up.  So we really shared that whole playing games with your friends - thing together in our adolescence.

I had been kicking around some ideas for two games I've wanted to make on my own for over 4 years or so now.  I really sat down and got serious about it about 2 years ago.  I called Brandon up and asked him if he would be interested in tackling this with me.  I had also been working with Alex on some ideas for another game we are working on that is currently on the back burner and asked him to get involved on MAMBC as well.

That’s kind of how it all started.  We reached a point where we decided to make our own company out of this.”

[W2W] Describe a "day in the life" at SNG.

[JB] “A lot of time on Skype.  Alex and I live in Portland, OR and Brandon lives in Texas.  So we spend a lot of time on Video Chat over Skype and pushing and pulling builds.

Basically what you would expect: lots of hard work, going over and revising game design documents, play-testing, design, animation, level design, coding mechanics, story design - all that good stuff.  Other than that, (there is) a lot of staring at (the) computer, phone, and tablet screens.”

[W2W] What would you say has been the most challenging part of the game development and distribution process and why?

[JB] “Well we are still in the middle of development, so we have quite a bit of work and long nights ahead.

Really the hardest thing for me is putting in the long hours, but that comes with game development.  I think we still have a lot of challenges ahead of us, but I'm not too worried about it.  The fun of making games outweighs a lot of hard stuff.”

[W2W] What would you say has been the least challenging part...and why?

[JB] “Hmm.  Well I'd say we are pretty lucky in the fact that we haven't had a lot of issues.  We haven't really hit any creative walls with story or the game at all, so I'm super thankful for that.

So far things have been spilling out of our minds and working out really well, (and) hopefully that keeps up.

We’ve also been incredibly lucky to have such an awesome response from people through our Kickstarter, pretty much right off the bat. Some pretty big figures in the gaming world have taken notice of us and it’s really awesome to see.

Not that we didn’t put a lot of work into our Kickstarter, because we did, but it really has been the focal point of creating all the buzz that we’ve gathered so far and we haven’t had a hard time getting noticed.”

[W2W] How has this experience been different from your previous game development endeavors?

[JB] “For me personally I'm used to working for clients that want a game made and it's usually tied to an existing property.  This is our first real game of our own that will be released that isn't made for someone else and is something that isn't an existing property.

It's nice being able to get our ideas down without having any outside influence(s) dictating design, direction or the game mechanics.  We are also working on our own personal time, so in a lot of areas we aren’t tied down to a specific budget for gameplay polish, animation, and design.

The things we need help funding with are really the only areas where we need help to make the game or make it better.”

FROM DISASTER TO UNITY

[W2W] Like MAMBC, FEZ is another title that I can't wait to see on other platforms (starting with it's release on Steam ).  The graphics are stunning and the gameplay is unique, but straightforward.  But what truly brings everything together is the soundtrack by Disasterpeace (which I listen to at least once a week).  How did you come to work with Disasterpeace for Monsters ?

[JB] “I reached out to him ; I showed him some of the stuff from the game and asked him if he'd be interested in helping us bring this world to life with his awesome musical skills.

We are super thankful he was willing to work with us.  We couldn't be more excited about how much life it's going to bring to the game.”

[W2W] How do you collaborate with Disasterpeace in order to get the soundtrack that you want for each aspect / section of the game?

[JB] “Well, we brought him on not too long ago actually.  So far it's been pretty good, but he is mostly exploring some ideas that fit best with aesthetic of the game.  He is really great at seeing what is going on and making something that fits.  But a lot of his contribution will be happening after the Kickstarter is over.”

[W2W] What Game Engine do you use for Monsters and how did you come to select it over others like the Unity game engine?

[JB] “We actually are using the Unity Engine . Which is designed for 3D games, but there are plenty of 2D games out there made with Unity.  It just has too good of performance and scalability to platforms not to use it over other engines.  It really came down to saving time and being able to publish so easily.”

[W2W] For other artists, programmers, etc. out there that want to go "indie" (independent) and develop their own games, do you have any lessons that you have learned and would like to pass on?  If so, what are a few?

[JB] “You really need to ask yourself if it's something you have the commitment for.  Get ready to work unbelievably hard, and also get ready to not be noticed or for anyone to care.

Also be ready to take on at least 5 jobs.  You're going to be a PR manager, and programmer, a designer, an animator, and beyond.  I know that sounds scary, but that's the reality of it.

The best advice I can give is to really make sure that you’re passionate enough to do it, and know how much work you're signing up for.  You really have to love making games to be cool with the rest of the hard stuff.”

IN CONCLUSION... FOR NOW

Well there you have it: a small crew of talented developers working in different states across the US making a game that has already captured the imaginations of nearly 1,000 backers on Kickstarter.  I can only imagine how this game will take off once it finally launches later this year.

Tune in next week for the second part of the Kickstarter Interview series focusing on Ambient Studios' Death, Inc - now featured on Kickstarter homepage as the "Staff Pick".  

Thanks for reading, and please let me know your thoughts on Kickstarter, Independent Game Developers and Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake  in the comments section below.

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