Roque Rey (R) and Sebastian Gioseffi (S) are the guys running Coffee Powered Machine, an indie studio from Argentina making Okhlos (a game about an Ancient mob of ancient Greek in amazing pixel art?! Shut up and take ALL our money! ) And now they answer our questions.
1. How long have you been making games?
R: I started doing freelance work like 7 years ago doing banners for early mobile games. Then I started working for a casual games company, and around 4 years ago, we started Coffee Powered Machine. I started with another partner, Diego, doing a mobile game, but the game flopped and we ran out of money. At that time, he was offered an important job in some US startup setting here in Buenos Aires, and the opportunity was too good to pass it out. I didn’t want to accept the idea of working for a salary again, so that’s when I contacted Sebastian to see if we could squeeze a dollar out of the defunct game (spoilers= we couldn’t).
S: Aside from some experiments with Basic, AGS and level editors during my childhood and teens, my first foray into the videogames industry was a bit over eight years ago, when I started working as a programmer in Gameloft. After that I went on to work as a game designer in the same company as Roque, and a few years later I went on to join him in Coffee Powered Machine.
2. Where do you ﬁnd ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.
S: We usually got lots of game ideas lying around so the problem is to narrow them down. We start by trying to find something we both want to make, which often means ruling out games we wouldn’t normally play (e.g.: we rarely play any mobile social games, so we rule them out). Then we start mixing in some more restrictions: “It would be great if there were X in the game”, “I would love a game where you could do this”, and so on. By this point get to a point where there are only a few ideas that fill all the requirements so we move on to prototyping.
When it comes to adding new features, game elements or trying to solve an issue in the game we first sit down to talk about what we need to do. We try to detail what want to accomplish, what the game needs or what is not turning out as we would’ve wanted. Then we think for a while, toss a some solutions and discuss them. After that we choose one to prototype and playtest, and we do that. Does it work? If it does, then great, if not, back to the drawing board. Some features take lots of iterations, others one or a few, but the process is always pretty much the same.
R: We don’t have a formal process, but is pretty much as Sebastian says. In Spanish, we have a proverb that goes “In the track, you see the horses” (literal translation) which implies that you can only see how good a thing is in the context that is supposed to be good at. In the last three years we’ve been mostly working in Okhlos, so I’m more used these days to the implementation of a feature than the prototyping of a new idea. When we are implementing new things, we usually try to break the game, doing drastic things, and explore something new with the mob, and the features we came up usually sounds amazing and that will fix all of our design problems. But when we implement the feature, it’s quite difficult to know if we fixed something or we broke it. Once you play sooo much your own game, you start losing objectivity about the fun in your game. In this process, usually determining what should we keep and what we should discard is the hardest.
3. Okhlos is “a roguelike action game in which you control an angry mob of ancient Greeks who have set out to overthrow the Olympian Gods and destroy everything and everyone that stands in their way! It blends 16-bit styled pixel art characters with fully interactive 3D environments and features procedurally generated cities to rampage through. ” (Wow, that was a great one-plus-one-plus-one-liner to describe your game). Where did Okhlos’ idea come from?
S: Once again, we started narrowing down possibilities. The premise in this case was to make a game with lots of different characters. Soon the idea of the mob came up, and it felt right. The ancient Greece setting soon followed. It was a good fit because we both loved Greek Mythology, and it also provided tons of characters and stories to draw upon. Right after that we started working on the prototype, with the rest of the mechanics coming afterwards, but with the core concept, the idea of the mob, of trying to control something chaotic and messy, as the guiding principle.
R: The secret part of that which we don’t say often is that the idea of an angry mob came while we were brainstorming about what should we do as our next project. I can’t really recall exactly why, but we ended quoting the Simpsons’ episode Bart After Dark, where Bart had to work at a burlesque house, and when Marge finds out, gathers an angry mob to close the burlesque house. The angry mob part must had really stick with us.
I can remember that the Greek setting was reached in the same brainstorming session, but I can’t recall how we ended there.
4. Okhlos has an amazing art direction. Do you recognise any inﬂuence from other game artists? Which game artists do you like the most? And what about artists in general?
R: I love Paul Robertson and Simon Andersen. They are not particular influences for Okhlos, but I really enjoy following their works. As a direct influence in the Okhlos style, I really dug into the aesthetics of the Pokemon games, particularly the Black & White versions which merge 3D and pixel Art. Another early influence was Ragnarok, which also merged both styles (but I think it didn’t age well).
S: The art direction is really great indeed! And it’s all Roque’s fault. I told him this crazy pixelated thing wouldn’t work, that no one would like it, but we wouldn’t listen.
5. Okhlos is going to be published by the amazing guys at Devolver Digital. How did this happen? Did they reach out to you? Did you contact them? What is like to work with a publisher? Have you met Fork Parker?
S: We met Andrew from Devolver at the BIG Festival in São Paulo. He got a chance to play the game, we hanged out with him and got along very well. He then got back home he showed Okhlos to the rest of the folks. Soon after that they said they would be interested in working with us and after some deliberation (the word publisher was still scary for us) we hopped on board. From then on, everything went straight on. They are as cool as they seem and working with them is a breeze. It is very reassuring to be working with people who are great at what they do, and that lets us focus our efforts and worries on the thing we do the best, making the game itself.
And we did have a meeting scheduled with Mr. Parker but, he ended up being way too hungover from the previous’ day party so we had to settle with his underlings.
R: I think it’s very early to say how it’s been working with Devolver yet. So far, they were really cool, but we’ve been working with them for only two months now. The most comforting part is that they really know what they are doing, so we can relax a bit in issues that in other scenario we might had neglected or completely freaked out. We weren’t planning any kind of testing scheme or localization before talking to them, and they know how to deal with that kind of stuff. We had a very shitty experience with an Argentinian publisher in the past, so I’m trying to be very cautious.
6. There are tons of Okhlos Let’s Play videos… Which ones are your favorite and why?
R: I think my favorite ones where The Sparrow Journey and MegapiemanPHD, particularly because they seemed to enjoy very much the game, which is always very, very satisfactory, and they gave us a few very good ideas. I think it was Sparrow which thought that the mob gauge in the HUD changed the morale of the mob, which it didn’t at that point, and we ended up changing it that way thanks to the video. I don’t quite remember why I liked the MegapiemanPHD video so much, but I think he was pretty funny.
S: We get very excited every time someone uploads an Okhlos Let’s Play video. As Roque said, it is wonderful feeling watching someone enjoy the game. It is probably one of the best things about being a game developer. That’s way it is very hard to pick any favorites. The first one that comes into mind though, is the one that Price from Stumpt did. The video was great, and they are such nice folks, that it is hard not to love it.
7. You guys have won Best Gameplay at Brazil Independent Games Festival. Wow. Congratulations! How did it feel? Did you expect it? Also, what do you think of Game Festivals in general? Are they important for indies? Why?
S: Thanks! It was truly great! We didn’t really expected it. At least not after seeing the games we were up to. There had so many games submitted to the festival, and such good games, that we thought our chances were slim. So it was a surprise. An amazing surprise!
And speaking of festivals in general, they are definitely very important for indies. I’d even go as far as to say they are crucial.
First of all, they are a great way to show off your game. The press, the rest of the industry and players, all in different degrees, pay close attention to the festivals. Secondly, they help build up communities. Festivals are a great excuse for everyone to gather, mingle and forge beautiful friendships. We met a lot of really cool Brazilian developers at the BIG Festival, for instance, and, like we said, it was also there that we first met the Devolver folks.
And even if your games doesn’t get selected into a festival or you can attend it, you can still benefit from it. Not only it is a chance to show your game to some of the most knowledgeable and experienced people in the industry, as is often the case of the judges, but simply trying to reach a festival’s submission deadline can be a big help to the game’s production. Most of Okhlos’ largest milestones have been around festival’s deadlines.
R: We weren’t expecting it. The thing is that I was toying around with my cellphone when our category was announced, and when they were saying the nominees, a stage manager from the BIG came and told us “Guys, get ready, you are next”, so it was kind of a spoiler, but we were too happy to care.
As Sebastian pointed out, submitting your game is very important, no matter how alpha it is. When you are independant, you don’t have a boss, and you usually don’t have dates to fulfil, so trying to have something playable or something stable-ish is super useful for general progress.
Also, from the game festival point of view, it really helps attracting dev of the region that otherwise wouldn’t be attending at your show. When you award someone, that someone usually makes a lot of noise about winning in your event, so it’s pretty symbiotic in that regard. Right now, it’s like the IGF is the most important festival out there, but if we had more festivals in that vein (and in a variety of countries) we would all benefit from that.
8. Okhlos is set for a 2016 PC, Mac and Linux release. What are your plans for release day? Also, what are you working on right now (game-wise speaking)? Any scoop you can share with us?
R: I’m finishing content right now. I’m working in Okhlos last world, Olympus, and I have to do a few more bosses and heroes.
As for the game, we are constantly tweaking values, and making small changes to see which feels best. We have a few things that don’t feel quite well yet, and we are still experimenting a lot.
For the release day, we don’t have a particular plan yet, but as we said before, publishing with Devolver makes us relax a little bit about that, and let them handle that. I think Devolver wants to have a final trailer just a few months before launch (the trailer we have now is absurdly old), and when the trailer launches, they will get very aggressive PR wise. TL-DR, I have no idea how the release day will be like.
S: In terms of scoop, the first thing I can think of are some of the secrets and hidden things in Okhlos but I wouldn’t want to spoil them. What I can share is that there is an Okhlos card game that we playtested recently and it is really cool. I don’t know what will happen to the game, even if it will ever see the light of day, but I sure hope so.
9. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?
S: Jonathan Blow, because he’s not only a brilliant game designer, he is also constantly challenging preconceptions in games, challenging the way games are made, what they are and what they can be. Jason Rohrer, who is another amazing designer trying to expand the borders of the videogame world. All of his games are wonderful experiments that can lead in any direction. That he manages all of that being a father of three, makes him all the more of a role model. Finally, Cactus, Jonatan Soderstrom, who is immensely creative and prolific, and whose games are always worth playing.
R: I love Edmund Mcmillen games. They are very visceral in a sense that all game design choices are driven by some kind of intuitive feeling of the overall game. There is something almost palpable in his style, and with very simple premises he can do something extremely rewarding and fun.
Derek Yu is another amazing developer which I love to follow. He always tweets about amazing arcane art stuff from old video games, and he really loves indie games. Also, Spelunky is one of my favorite games.
This might sound a little demagogic, but i will say it anyways, Daniel Benmergui. His early work is amazing (I wish I were the moon, Today I Die), but besides that, he really tries to analyze the game design process, and learn from it. Listening speak about game design is really illuminating.
10. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?
R: Another spanish phrase I usually use a lot when talking about this is El que toca no baila (the one who plays music doesn’t dance, literal translation). For starters, I don’t have the time to play a lot, and I really enjoy developing, so I spend my free time doing exactly the same thing I do in my work hours. I love to play games but very briefly, and I almost never finish games. I try a game, I might like it or not, but then I pass on to other games.
Right now, I’m playing a lot of roguelike-like games, like Downwell. I really love the feeling of an infinite game. Obviously is not infinite, and you can get bored five minutes after you started (not the case with Downwell), but the idea of a game that might surprise you in every new run is what I love the most these days. I’m a fighting games enthusiast, but these days I don’t play them so often, mainly because I need a partner in crime available to really enjoy them.
S: Yeah, it gets harder and harder to find time to sit down and play games just for the fun of it. But the last time I did, I played The Talos Principle and 7 Grand Steps. Both great games I really enjoyed.
11. One last random question. If you could have a cup of tea with any God of any mythology/religion, which one would it be and why?
S: I’d go for a cup of “tea” with Dionysus. That sounds like fun, with a brutal mortal morning after, but fun.
R: With Greek gods, the chances of that meeting going particularly bad and end up transformed in a cow are incredible big, so I should stay out of it. I think having a cup of tea with Buddha could be fun. He will grasp the tea irony.