Interview: SleepNinja Games Talks Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake
In the days of yore, Indie developers had to schlep their designs to festivals and competitions to be seen and played. Now, thanks to fundraising platforms like Kickstarter, newbie developers like SleepNinja Games can generate production funding directly from their customers. Just launched a week ago, the Kickstarter for Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake hit their $15,000 goal and will likely a hit a stretch goal or two along the way. We had the opportunity to chat with Justin Baldwin, Creative Director at SleepNinja, to discuss the upcoming game, Kickstarter, and some his influences. Enjoy!
AS: So, Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake is SleepNinja Games’ first official release. Can you share the games that you’ve worked on before creating SleepNinja?
Baldwin: We actually have another game that we originally started with that is going to end up being our next game. It was more ambitious so we decided to run with something a little less risky. A lot of the stuff I've worked on are actually things I have signed contracts saying I can't talk about, because they were for big companies that like to keep the impression that everything is done in-house. Which is a bummer for me. I do some work for an creative agency called Seven2. I design and animate quite a few of the online and iOS games that they do. I've worked on games for Nickelodeon, Voltron, Tuff Puppy, and Kung Fu Panda. But unfortunately a lot of stuff I've worked on I'm not allowed to even say. I've made a bunch of other ideas and prototypes that I've never really tried to make a full release out of. Brandon does software development for his day job but has made plenty of personal games as well. We really just decided we were tired of waiting to make something with the level of polish we wanted. So we just decided to jump in!
AS: When planning Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake, was the game planned as an iOS or PC game first? Now that your Kickstarter goal is in sight, are you looking at other platforms too?
Baldwin: Contrary to what people might be thinking, we actually started with the Desktop build first. I know some people might think it's just a port of the iOS version, it's not. It actually has some additional visual effects and includes some extra content. We will be submitting to Greenlight for Steam, and If we reach our $20k stretch goal we are absolutely supporting Android.
As far as Android goes we are also looking into Ouya and GameStick. But we can't promise anything. If we meet our $30k or higher goal that would definitely give us even more options to consider.
AS: What are your biggest gaming and non-gaming influences in the creation of Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake?
Baldwin: For gaming I'd have to say flat out Legend Of Zelda, moreso Link To The Past and Wind Waker. Some others would be Little Nemo: The Dream Master, Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and Super Bomberman. I personally have drawn quite a bit of inspiration from newer indie games like Spelunky and FEZ as well. FEZ was the first game in a long time to give me that sense of calm and awe that I had as a kid. Which is what drew us so much to asking Disasterpeace to be involved with the project. That and the fact that everything he does is great.
Non-Gaming influences are all over the board. Some of the more major ones are Japanese style pop-art, vinyl toys, and designers and artists like Amanda Visell, Tokidoki, and Colorblok. Also has a lot from Miyazaki films, shows like Adventure Time, books like Where The Wild Things Are.
AS: We sensed the love for FEZ, but I am especially stoked to hear that you're a fan of Spelunky. Any chance you'll sneak in FEZ or Spelunky as secret characters?
Baldwin: We'll see if we can get in touch with those guys, we've been considering a few Easter eggs related to them. I can see Niko running around with a little Fez hat.
AS: How far along is the game currently and what is the biggest hurdle to jump to get the game released and completed on schedule?
Baldwin: The game is still somewhat early in development. The visuals are very nailed down, a bit of the work is just getting a lot of level design and things finished and touched up and figuring out some additional mechanics and levels for Monsters we want to add. We just brought on Disasterpeace a couple weeks ago too, so we also have quite a bit of music and audio work that needs doing. We reached out a little early because are hands were tied without the licensing and devices we are asking for. Missing a lot of those features and testing capabilities forced us to have to reach out for help. There are many hurdles in game development, and most you don't really notice until they come up. Most likely it will be some fussy bug that takes a week to figure out or something. So I'm not quite sure, but I'll let you know when we find out.
AS: Are you surprised by the success of the Kickstarter so far? Had you always planned on using the platform to wrap up the development of the game?
Baldwin: We are extremely surprised at the amount of love we've gotten so far on that game. It's heartwarming to know that so many people are into it and want to support us in making it happen. For the most part we knew we would try Kickstarter first. While having investors and publishers can be a positive thing, too much input can adversely affect the creative vision of the game designers. And we wanted full creative control. When I play indie games, I feel more of a connection to what the game designer is trying to communicate. It's a lot more personal and intriguing, and this is what we want with MAMBC.
AS: Do you have a goal in mind for how long the game will take a player to complete?
Baldwin: We actually are trying to leave it up to the player. Being an environmental puzzle game it really depends on the player. We also are doing a lot to add replay value to every stage in the game. You earn three ranks for each stage by meeting challenges in each level. Like solving an area without using a specific monsters power, this forces you to think a little differently than the obvious approach. Others are things like beating the stage in under a certain amount of time, finding all the secrets in the level, etc. Earning these allows you to unlock new costumes for Niko, hints to secrets, and even hidden stages in the game. So you're definitely going to want to try and earn as many as possible. There are also lots of optional branching paths that are not required to complete the main story. We also are still actively adding more and more to the game so it's too early to say.
AS: Have you seen Indie Game: The Movie and did that affect your approach to development, like avoiding XBLA?
Baldwin: Yes. Yes. and Yes. I've watched it multiple times. It almost scared me away from making games as an indie studio. I actually felt really depressed after watching it for a few days. But it forced me to think about how much it actually meant to me to make something I love. I decided it was worth the blood, sweat, and tears it takes, even if it means failing horribly. But the amazing reception we've gotten so far has been awesome, it feels great to know there are other people out there that want something like this and want to support us.
AS: Lastly, what would you like those gamers unaware of your project to know about Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake?
Baldwin: Well, if you like games with a relaxing atmosphere, with a beautiful soundtrack, if you've always loved the challenge of the dungeon areas in Zelda, and humor from shows like Adventure Time, hopefully you would enjoy our game. We tried to do an art style that is somewhat different than what most games out there are doing, and hope that you'll give us a look.
Stick with Arcade Sushi for more coverage of Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake in the months to come. Thanks to Justin and SleepNinja Games for the interview!