Greetings traveller, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. This week, pull up a pew and learn from the wisdom of Chris McQuinn, game designer at Drinkbox Studios. They’re currently wrapping up work on Guacamelee, a luchador-themed metroid-vania platformer with added dimension swapping. What? Yep, you heard right. This game is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Read on to learn more about the studio behind it!
Meet Chris McQuinn, designer extraordinaire
Who are you guys?
My name is Chris McQuinn. As for Drinkbox… Officially? We’re a bunch of goofs who just want to make distinct gaming experiences.
Why did a bunch of goofs call themselves ‘Drinkbox’?
The name came about after the whittling down from a list of a hundred. Essentially there were two camps for names – neither being Drinkbox, as it happens. After a week of fierce debate, mostly involving styrofoam swords, Drinkbox was chosen out of spite. Luckily, we’ve come to love the name.
How did you get into game design, and when? Is your background more in programming, or storytelling?
For me, game design started as an art internship that took place during high school for a kid’s game – I modeled the best circus trains you could ever imagine. My design background is a random combination of experiences that seemed to fit well together. This was a combination of programming, creating mods for Doom2, and reading way too many high fantasy novels.
You all came from a previous studio, Pseudo Interactive, which specialized in car combat games. How did your design aspirations change when you started Drinkbox?
When Pseudo closed, the team had been making car combat games fairly intensely for a long time, so there was a real desire to switch gears (get it?) for the next project, both in terms of game type and scope. Coming up with an idea and then publishing it within a year is a wonderful way to make games.
How did the Sony Pub Fund come around for you?
We had originally been in the Pub Fund program for our original title on PSN, Tales from Space: About a Blob, so there was already an existing relationship with Sony when it came to receiving Pub Fund for Guacamelee. It all started by demonstrating to Sony our drive to make original, engaging games, and this just seemed to mesh well with what they were hoping Pub Fund would achieve.
At E3 just passed, Guacamelee bathed in a wealth of praise, including prime focus from Sony themselves. Do you feel as if you might be on the cusp of something great?
The reception at E3 was really unexpectedly awesome. How I see it is that as a studio we’re never satisfied with the state of our game, and constantly see it as something to be improved. This makes it kind of tough to ever say, “This is going to be something great!”. All we strive to do is give players a unique experience that feels worth the hard-earned money that they paid for it.
Drinkbox pushing to include a subtle Dia De Los Muertos reference.
Do you think it is an exciting time to be an indie developer? What sort of challenges do you face because of it?
Being an indie developer has probably never been better. Although people have said this before, I’ll say it again, that the surge in games being available digitally on a large scale has really been a life force for indies. Despite this though, getting your game noticed among other games that have massive marketing machines propelling them will always be a tough challenge.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the moment?
The studio is busily working on a few projects, one being our PC release of Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack available on Steam, which you can expect to see later this summer. Of course, the majority of our time is being directed into Guacamelee, getting it to a playable alpha state and generating as much user feedback as possible.
What inspired and informed Guacamelee? Artistically, and in terms of gameplay?
The whole of Guacamelee is really a melting pot of ideas from the entire team. For example, the underlying Mexican theme was put forward by our animator, who himself is Mexican, and immediately was recognized as a wealth of brilliant material that hasn’t much been touched on in current games. Similarly, our director had always wanted to make a brawler where the attack moves were also used as a way to platform, so, we tossed that in too!
Finally, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
Lego. I don’t know how geeky Lego is, but I have a giant Lego city in my parent’s basement. My mom absolutely hates it, but it has nowhere to go.
Wonderful! Thanks for your time, Chris!
Thanks again for opportunity to chat!
Guacamelee will be a PlayStation exclusive, releasing on both PlayStation Network, and Vita.