Review Fix chats with Jim Awesome – MD of Spikkeee (Lead of Team Spikkeee), who discusses his new indie platform Peanut and how classic games the likes of Super Mario Bros and Duck Tales were a guiding force in his creation process.
Review Fix: How was this game born?
Jim Awesome: Peanut was created from two loves;
One was the love of corgis; they are never unhappy dogs and bemusing dogs when you consider their playful behaviour – any corgi owner knows the term ‘derp’ for periods of random energy that they run around to burn off periodically while pulling silly faces. The creator of the game loves corgis as they reflect how the human spirit should be more akin to unlike the more aggressive persona that most modern people have adopted out of fear from a world in flux.
The other influence was the contempt for modern video games. There is an enjoyment that is lost these days of not knowing what is going on in terms of not just story but the visual and audio interpretation of what is happening which is not commonly adopted. Someone said that as a kid I had a better time with the cardboard box than the Christmas present inside. Others compare it to a circle with an open loop that needs to be spanned by the player, too small or large a gap and the player is not satisfied with the solution. We can see this in gameplay and story in equal measure.
Review Fix: How did you get involved in the industry?
Awesome: Wanted to get into games for many years, grew up with Mario and the classics. Had to leave my previous job as a software implementation consultant to look after my elderly folks; they are great and as the only son I just did not want anyone else looking after them. So, have been doing this around their needs. Some days are more productive than others due to circumstances.
Review Fix: What was development like?
Awesome: Essentially this was our first game so it was a steep learning curve throughout the project. The team is small but highly skilled and we are learning from a multitude of rooky mistakes. A wise person makes mistakes but never twice. We are hoping to grow and any slack from my part taken up by a counterpart in the near future; at least for the time being.
Review Fix: What makes this game special?
Awesome: Many have created 2D platformers trying to chase the dragon of bygone days. In terms of showing skill in creating them, it is not advancing the field of games technology. The difference with Peanut is yes you can speed run it by either choosing fireballs to clear the way or to run without this without the convention of finding powerups to enable this but at the cost of not scoring points for destroying enemies. We thought that this would add a more of a discussion point that there could be more ways to complete a speed run. In addition to this we also wanted a storyline that was not explicit, the cutscenes are pieces of minimum information and it is the visual aids working through the levels that you then need to think about as you complete the game. There are a few twists and turns that we are not going to spoil. At face value, the game plays like a standard 2D platformer however it is the story and the speedrunning that will keep players coming back to it. We hope that this will grow a community of zeolites that will keep a place in their heart for Peanut in an uncertain world.
Review Fix: What games influenced this one the most?
Awesome: The mechanics are influenced by Mario and Duck Tales, it would be rough trying to get back to a retro 2D platformer feel without their influence. The story was influenced by ‘the Princess is in another castle’ trope of Mario initially with the main issue with the original Mario story raising the question of why has the Princess been captured. We can see this trope being used for Super Meat Boy which influenced the need for a more indie storyline, however, one of the joys of retro games was a simple explicit storyline, unlike Super Meat Boy that raised more questions as a child. We make assumptions in life and these are based on different prompts so we wanted to make an implicit not explicit story where the player’s input is heavily visual through the levels and not driven by didactic cutscenes. We hope that there will be a joy there that will keep the game strong in the hearts of people and as time goes by becomes more and more cherished than just a shopping list activity. People have accessibility to more games than time to play them. If approached as work there is no joy. Play is an activity that happens for a set period of time where consequences to actions do not occur. In Mario the joy is found by breaking blocks and getting to run Mario to the end of a level next to score; we hope players find joy in taking their time and thinking about the storyline as now they are more discerning than they were as a child, so we stir the pot in terms of plot should the player actively seek it.
Review Fix: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Awesome: Ironically things went pretty smoothly, especially with all the ‘known unknowns’. The funniest thing perhaps was finding out that Russians love Peanut, we have had many reviews from Russia and we suspect it was the fact that the Corgi looks uncannily like a bear, which we didn’t somehow notice until near the end of the project! We are eager to see the worldwide sales figures and how Russia does because of this.
Review Fix: What were the major lessons learned?
Awesome: A whole list, there is not enough space! Many of the critical lessons revolved around marketing and not so much technical detail. The key thing learned was those banner ads (Google ads and likewise) to act as traffic funnels appeared for us to be a complete waste of time. We had a short run way and this from a learning perspective pointed us finally to the fact that it is streamers and reviewers that sell units. You can either do as a magician and with a long enough runway have organic social growth through beta testing groups etc or you force the issue. Either way, this appears to take people only so far, you will always need reviews in various media forms; steaming and social media points along with curative and external media reviews; these are crucial! Also, if you are lacking time with a short runway get a good PR company onboard which we have; Contacts are key, and if you are new this comes at a finance investment.
Otherwise for technical issues you just need an internet connection. But never work with people that assume that data access e.g. YouTube is knowledge, get people that are driven and have a measured critical eye!
Review Fix: Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new games is important?
Awesome: One of the worst mistakes modern Indies make is add new mechanics to a game and think this will get them a mansion made of supercars! Only if these new behaviors are honed do they become a perceived quality. Ducktales inspired Shovel Knight mechanics, but if not honed either game would not have been successful regardless of timeline.
Review Fix: What’s your favourite memory as a gamer?
Awesome: Mario and Duck Hunt. The joy came from finding out small intricacies such as breaking the game in Mario only just enough that you knew it was planned by the developer. Duck Hunt had the smirking dog that would change his look over time the more and more you played it you found this out. Many people treat games as a part of a shopping list, play once perhaps not complete it and put it on the digital shelf and move on. Why play the game in the first place if you are not trying to break it and find something new in it. For Peanut this is story predominantly and homages to the past. We want people to see something and go, oh isn’t that meant to be from this or that. In fact, our target audience although the game look child friendly is middle aged adults who remember these things and time from the 80’s and 90’s, some are quite niche.
Review Fix: How do you want this game to be remembered?
Awesome: This game should not be remembering in terms of game play but the feeling you get as you uncover the story or the feeling that you have put in a game cartridge and you smell a slight butadiene styrene smell as the console heats up! Or that feeling when you realise if you do something a different way you get a different result; changing your macro perception of a situation.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Awesome: We are chewing the dog bone on doing ‘Peanut 2 – Vet’s Revenge’ where we take the initial game and refine gameplay and story and asset quality into something even more palatable; we have learnt a lot in a short space of time and striking while the iron is hot may be a great idea. Conversely, we may decide to do something else and comeback to this down the road when more rested.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Awesome: I think Peanut will be a game of the ages in the long run. At some point people will get board of mainstream zombie and gore games and we hope they will turn to Peanut for some more family friendly enjoyment. People are becoming more aggressive because of lack of resources and environmental factors and other social factors etc that are completely out of their control, they vent their anger (ambiguity is the root of most anger) through angry games. The brain is a computer essentially, if you fill it with bad experiences – bad will influence their personality; if you add something more joyful and more light hearted experiences it helps balance things out and calms the self. If your glass is half empty, why not fill it with Peanut to make it half full.