Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Nathan Vella of Capy

Take a seat, youngling, and be welcomed unto this week’s Sunday Sidebar. Today marks a momentous occasion: the final instalment of the PAX East Indie Megabooth developer interview series. I’m surprised and pleased to say that I managed to get speaking to every team involved. It’s been a pleasure and a truly insightful few months. I’ve learned a whole lot about independent game development that I had never expected to glean from the series. I hope it was as valuable for you as it was for me. This week I got speaking to Nathan Vella, co-founder and president of Capy, an independent developer based in Toronto, Canada.
Nathan 1 218x300 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Capy
Meet Nathan Vella, as he stares off into the middle distance.
Who is Capy?
Capy is an independent studio from Toronto, Canada. We’re the team behind Critter Crunch,Might & Magic Clash of Heroes and most recently we collaborated on Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. Right now we’re working on Super TIME Forcefor XBLA.
You originally went by ‘Capybara Games’. What caused the reduction to ‘Capy’?
It’s sort of a long story: Way back at the inception of the studio we were a collective of a whole bunch of people and ‘Capybara’ was just one of a host of name suggestions. In the end, ‘Capybara Games’ was voted through because it was everyone’s second choice; nobody really loved it… and nobody really hated it. The meaning of the name was fitting, though: The Capybara is the world’s largest rodent, which, to us, felt like a fitting mascot at the time–the biggest of the small. We started off making small, cool mobile games and we never really set out to become a giant AAA developer. We just wanted to be a quality studio in the space we worked in, and we’re still following that philosophy. Over time, many of the original collective fell away, and we eventually starting making downloadable games and focusing on being more and more independent, so along with that change came a much needed update to our cumbersome studio name: CAPY is nice and simple.  Only our parents really call us Capybara anymore.
What led you to game design?
A few of us actually started in film and new media, and several of us actually met in film school. The common denominator was that we were all gamers. Eventually we all moved off to less-than-satisfying day jobs, but finally came to our senses and said “Let’s make games!” Most of the studio had no prior game development experience, but we came together, worked as a team and managed to make some pretty cool things together.
How is it to be an independent developer in 2012?
It’s an exciting time to be in videogames, and especially on the independent side. There’s so many opportunities for creating interesting games, and independent developers seem to be the ones really providing vastly different experiences – from JS Joust to SpelunkyBaraBariBallto Spelltower, and so on.
There are definitely still a great many challenges, but they vary a lot from project to project. Some projects have a tough time on promotion, competing against games with much larger budgets. Others have issues convincing distributors that their weird, crazy thing will find an audience. Perhaps the biggest challenge lies in sticking to your guns and finishing your project your way, despite all of the challenges throughout development.
 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Capy
The Capy offices further support my theory that indie game development takes place primarily in exposed brick offices the world over.
As a successful indie operation, how was the Indie Megabooth for you and your team? Did you take on more of a mentor role?
While we have definitely seen some success, up until PAX East 2012 our entire exhibiting experience was at other people’s booths – for example, showing Critter Crunch at E3 in Sony’s PSN area. Because of our limited experience, we’re definitely not the mentors. We just do our best to help all of our Megabooth friends and ensure the PAX attendees get a chance to play our stuff.
Will you be taking part in future Megabooths?
Our hope is that the Megabooth becomes a core component of PAX – something that gamers in Boston or Seattle can expect and rely on for quality independent gaming experiences at the show. In a perfect world, the megabooth would also grow in size, and encompass a huge portion of PAX. Fingers crossed!
Your current project is Super TIME Force. Tell us more about its origins.
The fact that we’re even making Super TIME Force I think speaks to the nimbleness of independent developers; how we have the freedom to switch course based on what we believe in. Super TIME Force started as a little prototype that a small team of the Capy guys banged out at a TOJam event one weekend. It was Ken Yeung , our Lead Programmer, and Mike and Vic Nguyen, twin brothers who also happen to be the raddest pixel artists this side of 1987. They brought the ‘prototype’ back to work on the Monday after the jam, showed it to the whole office, and we all just flipped for it. We asked them if they wanted to keep working on it and they were like “Hell yeah”. Capy designer Greg Georgiadis immediately started making amazing levels and now the game is on our slate as the next Capy title. It’s extremely exciting to have that freedom.
As for the creative drive behind it, the gameplay hook is just so compelling to us, and the chance to dress it up in jokes and hilarious pixel madness makes us smile.
Will the game be single-player only?
It’s too early to tell. There’s a great many things we want to try during development. Some will work, others will fall flat. If some flavor of multiplayer works perfectly, that would be great. If it breaks the design of the game or isn’t fun, we’ll swap it out for something better.
Right now we’re working on one of the more ‘ancient’ settings for the game, while simultaneously adding in a couple of very unique character classes.
What engine is being used to develop it?
We’re using our own completely home-grown 2D pixel game engine.  It’s got Mode 7 and blast processing, because we’re always trying to push the envelope… Or something. It also has pixel art ragdoll physics.
The game is coming to XBLA. Are there any other releases in the pipeline?
Right now we’re squarely focused on XBLA and making sure that Xbox 360 gamers are getting the best experience possible. Beyond that, who knows!
Are you anywhere closer to a release date?
We’re still exploring the game mechanic, adding crazy character classes and most of all, having fun. We’ll sort out a date in the coming months, but for now our focus is on seeing how far we can bend space and time in a run-and-gun platformer.
 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Capy
Finally, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
I still have a copy of the original Nintendo Power Final Fantasy strategy guide hiding somewhere at Capy. It’s a masterpiece.
Super TIME Force is currently in development for XBLA.

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