Studio: Capybara Games
Of all of the devs that made up the Indie Megabooth, Capybara probably had the most consistently crowded booth. The game they had on display, Super TIME Force, had distinctive retro graphics, and the unique gameplay mechanic was downright hypnotic. I spent more time than I probably should have watching an endless legion of players controlling an endless legion of… well, themselves in this time-bending game that amounts to essentially a weaponized instant replay. I mean, the game uses a time paradox as a checkpoint system. What more do I need to say?
Task: Stare at the beautiful pixels!
Oh I stared alright. Slack-jawed and drooling all the while.
Dev: Sean Lohrisch
BrainLazy: What title would you like to discuss?
Sean Lohrisch: Super TIME Force
BL: What was the inspiration for this title? How did you conceive of the idea?
SL: Super TIME Force is best described as a mash up of Contra/Gun Star Heroes and Braid. The game spawned at a game jam, that a bunch of Capy guys went to, called TO Jam (specifically Mike Nguyen, Vic Nguyen and Ken Yeung). The theme of the jam was “What just happened?” which made them think of time travel. So this is where the main hook of the game, the time mechanic, came from. The art style (pixel art) came from Mike and Vic being superb pixel artists and from that style being relatively quick for them to work in (which is important during a game jam). As a company, we have our roots in pixel art, so we’re all fans of that art style and wanted the project to continue in that style. The next Monday, after the jam, they showed the game to the rest of the company and everyone got super excited about it. So, although we were already busy with other projects, we wanted to keep working on it and nurture this cool concept, so we’ve been working away at it as a bit of a side project.
BL: Does the game differ greatly from the original concept? What inspired the change and how did it evolve? Why did you choose your current direction?
SL: A big part of the evolution of the concept has come from what character classes exist and how they work. In our IGF submission (Independent Games Festival) we had a ninja character that was later removed for the PAX East demo due to the fact that his attacks could break levels. For that demo, we also added a shield character that largely differs from the other characters in that he’s more defensive and can only do close range attacks. We’re continuing to explore new character classes, and tweaks on the existing ones, until we feel that we’ve maximized the fun and given each character class a clear purpose.
One key change came from what happens when you ‘save’ one of your previous lives (aka a ghost) from being killed. If you manage to save a ghost, and change the future, we now let you resume that ghost’s life and continue his/her run through the level once you die. So, there’s a good incentive to protect your ghost squad-mates since it effectively gives you a temporary checkpoint in the level. In theory, you could save a ghost, then die, and then resume that ghost’s run-through to save yourself! Prior to this change, we were simply giving you a life back when you saved a ghost.
BL: Regarding being an indie developer. Are there any prototype games that never came to fruition?
SL: We’ve had a few over the years. Two of which had some of their gameplay/ideas brought over into other games that actually did ship. So, fortunately we don’t feel like we’ve burned up a lot of time on projects that never went anywhere.
BL: What attracted you to indie development?
SL: We have always wanted to develop our own concepts/IP, and we haven’t wanted to grow to be big enough to develop AAA disc-based games. We also saw friends and other small studios doing really well with their small downloadable titles. So the indie route felt achievable and ultimately has been the perfect fit for us. With smaller games, we can explore crazier concepts and concepts that may ultimately only work for a small downloadable title. We can also use art styles that may not be a good fit for a much larger game (particular 2D art styles), since I think people still expect bleeding edge 3D when it comes to $60 AAA games.
BL: Would you ever work for one of the big developers/publishers? If you already have, would you ever go back to it?
SL: We’ve worked with a number of big publishers over the years. Particular when the studio was just getting started. During those first few years, being able to say that you’ve done work for some of the biggest publishers was very useful for making us look credible and working with them taught us a lot about the industry. Ideally, we like to self-fund and self-publish as often as we can, or work under publisher funding circumstances that are more beneficial to a developer than the terms that are typically seen when working with a large publisher. We had originally hoped that working on enough big publisher projects would eventually give us enough money to self fund one of our own projects, but for us that proved to be difficult. This was partly because we’ve always been really careful about not sacrificing quality. This quality focus would often drive us to invest more into the project budget, in order to make sure we we’re proud of the end result, and would therefore leave us with little money to put towards our own projects. Couple this with the fact that, with publisher funded projects, it’s difficult to get to the stage where you’re actually earning royalties. So this makes it difficult to make up for the extra money spent on the development budget.
BL: Before we wrap up, would you like to tell us a bit about your studio?
SL: The company was founded back in 2003, when we all met via the Toronto chapter of the IGDA forum. None of us had worked in the game industry before and we initially just wanted to work on a volunteer/part-time project to get some experience (build up our portfolios), so that we could go off and gets jobs with an already established company. We started off doing small mobile Java games (i.e. something that we could actually complete) and eventually realized that we might actually have the beginnings of a real company. After 2 years of working evenings and weekends, and basically having minimal social lives, we eventually landed a publisher funded project and set up an office. Things snowballed from there, as we landed more and more mobile projects, and we eventually decided that we wanted to, and were ready to, move into console games around 2007. That’s when we started on Might & Magic Clash of Heroes for the DS, and around the start of 2008 we started on Critter Crunch for PSN. Around that same time we shipped Critter Crunch for iOS and also started seeing our indie friends doing well on XBLA and PSN, so we really wanted to move into that area. By the end of 2009, Critter Crunch for PSN and Might & Magic Clash of Heroes for the DS had shipped and we started working on Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery for iOS and Clash of Heroes for XBLA, PSN and PC. By early 2011 both of those games had shipped and that’s when a really exciting phase began for us. We were now working on nothing but our IP/concepts (including Super TIME Force). Since then, we’ve shipped Sword & Sworcery for PC, Mac and Linux and continue to work on Super TIME Force and other unannounced titles.
That it for this installment of our Indie Megabooth look back. Many thanks to Sean Lohrisch for taking the time to share his insight and artwork. Visit Cabybara at http://www.capybaragames.com/ to learn more about this and other projects.
Join us Wednesday for the next installment of our continuing coverage!