Insights into a young and thriving indie video game development studio
Blasphemous is a souls-like dark fantasy action adventure slated to release in 2018 across all platforms following a successful Kickstarter campaign by its indie developers, The Game Kitchen. I recently caught up with Mauricio García, the team’s marketing, and community relations manager, to talk about the formation of The Game Kitchen, the trials of starting an indie development studio, and how Blasphemous’ Kickstarter success will translate into some unique gameplay mechanics.
…Riddled with frustration at their insufficient devotion, The High Pontiff heaved his golden throne with and turned the entire throne back. Years passed and all of a sudden it appeared something was beginning to change in the state of the High Pontiff. Dried out, dying branches began to emerge from the ends of his fingers and slowly started growing out from all over his pallid, immobile body. The High Pontiff was transformed into a great, withered and barren tree and began to burn for ninety days and ninety nights…
…Once the tree had been entirely consumed by the flames, a huge mountain of ash stood in its place, topped by the infamous turned throne, unoccupied and unguarded. The remaining church leadership scrambled upwards to reach the top and assume the throne. But the mountain begins to shift beneath their feet and before long the mountain of ash had swallowed up each and every soul who had been present in the Cathedral. From the ashes rose those poor unfortunate souls who had been swallowed up, transformed into horrible, deformed and bloodthirsty beasts, wildly aggressive and violent in nature, but with their faith intact…
Hey Mauricio, how are you?
Well, I just finished speaking with my local newspaper who just found out who we are which is ironic given that I’ve been receiving phone calls from all over the world including you. That being said, everything is amazing.
Yeah to put it simply, The Game Kitchen is killing the Blasphemous Kickstarter.
We are doing spectacularly, but we are a bit tired. Any Kickstarter campaign can be very exhausting but when everything is going so well, I guess you can’t complain.
It seemed like you gained momentum and hit your initial goal rather quickly?
Well the initial goal of 50k was hit just within 24 hours. It was absolutely unexpected.
It’s always great to see a Kickstarter move so quickly, mostly for the developers but also for the backers. I think it’s really exciting for everyone involved in that community.
Let’s start by talking about The Game Kitchen, your team, how you came to know one another and what got you into game development?
So, I’m Mauricio and I am from The Game Kitchen, a small indie development studio in Seville, Spain. We are a bunch of friends who came together about 7 or 8 years ago with the common dream of making video games for a living and changing our lives. Making games was harder back then and game engines were less accessible but we were very committed. We started doing small video game projects one after the other. Eventually, we won second prize in a Microsoft contest for their XNA Technology and the XBOX Live Indie Games prior to The Last Door. This was the moment we decided to go all-in and set up the company for a living.
Tell me about the initial stages of Blasphemous and where the inspiration came from.
So, the initial spark that ignited this creative venture was through our team member Enrique Cabeza who is the lead artist and the master creative mind behind everything in The Game Kitchen. He was liberated from his responsibilities for The Last Door when it was completed artistically so he started to think about what could be next. He approaches all projects from the art perspective so he tried to practice some pixel art style inspired by the neo geo age like the late 16 bits and early 32 bits of the arcade machines. He was making these concepts in pixel directly. He was actually kind of building some stuff that was looking like a Castlevania or Metroidvania type of game.
We weren’t happy with all the characters he had made at first but suddenly we came up with an idea inspired by a religious custom we have in Spain. For instance, during the Easter season we have the holy week, which is the representation of the Via Crucis of Christ. We have these parades in the city and every church has its own parade and they all wear these tunics with cone hats. We were looking for some kind of silhouette that might make our character distinct from everything else so we tried to mash up this concept with our protagonist.
We ultimately liked it so much that we decided to make the entire artistic focus or goal of the project based on local folklore, art, and Christian heritage. Everything that we’ve experienced during our lives being raised in this particular city. After that everything began to take shape and in the end, we had Blasphemous. A very weird looking game that resembles equally dark fantasy from one side and the Christian church on the other.
That’s really cool and unique. The beautifully crafted hand painted pixels help, but I found myself enamored with the unusual enemies and strange cone headed protagonist that you’ve created.
Honestly, we weren’t sure if it was going to work initially because most people outside of our community might not know where the inspiration comes from. But I guess we thought that maybe most people would see there is a cohesion in the art and I guess it worked.
Apparently! You guys practically quadrupled your Kickstarter goal, which is super awesome
Could you speak to any challenges you as a team faced in the production of Blasphemous or The Last Door and how you overcame those challenges? Maybe something to share for other upcoming indie developers that could benefit from your insight and experience.
Well the major issue and later a breakthrough was this past Summer. We were doing so bad as a company due to low sales. Actually, we were very close to bankruptcy because while The Last Door is a well-received game, we didn’t really market it so it was really hard for us to sell it at the beginning. However, now it’s getting better. So, this has been a continuous problem, and because we used low-resolution graphics to pay homage to the same sensations you have when reading classic horror, which was our goal of the game, it was a very weird concept and I think most people judged it by this. I think the super low-resolution made some people disregard the game completely and miss the experience it has to offer. Additionally, when we released the Last Door, no one on the team was assuming the roles and responsibilities of marketing aspects.
And that’s your job now?
Yes, back then I was the lead programmer, but for us, the big realization was that the whole team came together and decided that I had to leave my responsibilities as a programmer and begin to manage the business, marketing and community side of The Game Kitchen. Basically, everything that isn’t making the game.
Mauricio, The Game Kitchen public relations, marketing and community management team.
And actually, it kind of worked. That would be my advice. If you’re trying to create a company and make games for a living you will benefit from having a very good programming and art design, however the last part is everything else, the marketing and production side of stuff, and this is a very huge endeavor that should not be overlooked. It may require someone on your team to do that 24/7. So now my partner, Enrique, fights for the artistic aspect of the game and I fight for the product that I can take to the market and tell people about. In the end, we have a nice balance of our efforts.
I think that’s great advice and I’m sure a lot of indie developers struggle with that, not only because they may have overlooked marketing, but because some are solo creators or on a minimal budget. I guess the moral of the story is to find a way to work marketing into your project at whatever the cost.
What kind of games are you guys playing?
We play a lot of Rime, which is another Spanish game that was just released from developers in Madrid.
Go Spain! Apparently, you have a great gaming scene over there!
It’s a great time for creativity over here. Obviously, we’re also huge fans of the souls saga.
One of your stretch goals is titled the “global persistent boss feature” which I think is a cool idea.
Yes. So, we came up with this optional fight with a boss creature that will be somewhere in the world of Blasphemous, but it won’t be mandatory to fight in order to complete the game. If you go in this room, wherever it is, and face the boss and you are so skilled that you are able to kill it, then it will be re-spawned for you and everyone else. Every other blasphemous player out there. However, it will be reborn a little bit tougher. It’s our hope that after about 3 or maybe 5 weeks that the boss will become so difficult that only about 1 percent of the player base will be able to defeat it.
This feature doesn’t really involve much technical complexity, so we’re pretty sure that we can make it happen. We’re trying to avoid as much as possible compromises that we are not sure we can deliver, however, with this feature we think it’s very possible. I think it could be easy to be tempted to make larger promises when your campaign is going well but we’re trying our best to not make false promises, or promise things that we cannot deliver.
Can you tell me more about the seed planting feature?
Yes, that’s one of the other fancy ideas we have for the game that’s a little inspired by the notes mechanic from Dark Souls. So, in this case you can plant seeds which grow into plants and can be accompanied by messages to all the players, however the player won’t know whether or not to trust your plant. For instance, this plant might be waiting for you outside of a difficult boss fight and the note might say, “take this,” but it could be poisonous. So, when you plant the seed you know the effects, but the rest of the players will have to make a bet and decide whether or not they want to take this plant. Over time, you’ll become familiar with what the effects are of each plant, so through trial and error you’ll gain a better idea about what you’re taking.
Do you plan on having secret puzzles or areas that might lead to a secret ending?
We don’t plan to have traditional puzzles like levers that you might find in traditional platformers like Limbo. We’re going to try to avoid this because we are coming from a point and click adventure and we’re here to try something different, but we’re going to have a lot of hidden stuff. So, maybe if you equip a particular item with another specific item then you will have an unexpected result. If you are wearing some kind of item in your inventory while you’re near an NPC, then a different dialogue will trigger and another part of the story unravels. There will also be hidden, tricky walls that are destructible that you can smash down with your sword. We really want to have several secrets because something that we love about games is when it sparkles interesting conversations through the community of players. We hope that when players find these secrets they will share them in the forums. We hope this cultivates more conversations in the Blasphemous community.
When do you expect to release a working demo?
We’re sort of releasing a demo after the Kickstarter. It’s more like an aesthetic prototype. It’s the first pliable thing we have after the first 6 months. It’s cool and fun to play but it’s not representative of what the game will actually be like. There won’t be much exploration or narrative and only about three different types of enemies. This is our way of showing the backers that “hey this isn’t smoke and mirrors, we’re actually doing this” and to more importantly say, “thank you” to all of our supporters and let them see this super early state of the project. We’re opening a new backing period until the end of August for all of those who didn’t learn about the game on time, and they’ll be getting this prototype as well, so if you are interested you can visit here.
Is there anything else that you would like to say to your fans?
I want to remind them that we love to make our games and development process open to the community. We’re going to offer a continuous stream of the development process and give the community countless opportunities to provide us feedback so we can make Blasphemous as awesome as it can possibly get.
I can’t wait to play Blasphemous. Thanks again for taking the time to chat. I know it’s much later in Spain right now so go take a break from Kickstarting.
It’s about the perfect time to go out and grab a beer!