Over the past several weeks, motivated by hyperactive fandom and a selfish desire to learn about the inside world of making video games, I’ve set forth on a journey to discover the best and brightest projects active in the independent role-playing game scene.
First, I interviewed a team from Shanghai, a developer from Canada and a local student who dreamed of success in game development. Then, I spoke to a crew of undergrads at DePaul University whose Kickstarter garnered nearly $70,000. In the process, I was tipped off to possibly the most fascinating and promising project you’ve never heard of — Andy Brophy’s “Knuckle Sandwich.”
To put it simply, “Knuckle Sandwich” looks fucking rad. I would highly encourage you to check out the BATTLE SYSTEM PREVIEW video Brophy uploaded to YouTube — if your taste is anything like mine, you’ll be immediately struck by the saturated and colorful art style. Andy draws the graphics himself, but you wouldn’t know it just by looking at it. The look is unique: retro-inspired but not cloyingly so.
Next, you’ll chuckle at the clever fourth-wall-breaking dialogue, and the absolutely slappin’ battle music. Damn, that song. I don’t even know how to describe it — post-disco? Avant-garde digital funk? Regardless, calling it foot-tappingly orgasmic is an understatement.
Finally, you’ll see the brilliant innovations in the game’s combat. Some of the attacks go beyond the standard “press the button at the right time to do extra damage” and involve small-scale WarioWare-style mini-games, bouncing out of the screen and into a manic arena where the player is forced to confront a reflex-based challenge. I’ve never seen a game do something like this before.
I had to track down Andy’s email and hit him up for an interview. In an emailed response he was gracious and accommodating, but still a little cryptic — the perfect combination for an artist who knows he has something great in the works.
First the generic stuff — I'd love to hear about you, your history as a gamer and your history as a developer.
To be honest, it's a pretty regular origin story! I used to buy a bunch of video game magazines as a kid and often they'd include free games and software with each issue … I happened to find this neat little program called GameMaker when I was 11 and I just went from there. A year or so later, I got amongst a few maker communities online and I guess now I'm here?
You're based in Australia, right? What part of it? Is there an indie development scene there?
That's right! I'm from Melbourne, which has probably the biggest game development scene in the country. Last week, we literally had our International Games Week, which encompasses PAX, Unite and a few other conferences. It's ridiculous how far the scene has grown here in the last few years — I started getting involved about five years ago and it was this nice and cosy group of people … Now we have these major events that attract many big international guests. It's very cool.
Lots of people are comparing “Knuckle Sandwich” to the MOTHER series. Is that fair? Can you tell me about the games and people you've been inspired by as you've began developing “Knuckle Sandwich?”
It's pretty fair! I've personally only played Mother 3, but that series ooze so much style that I feel they influence many of my other inspirations. Outside of games, I'm really inspired by American Psycho … but that should probably be a secret, heh.
Holy crap, the visual effects and sprite work in “Knuckle Sandwich” are rad. I read somewhere that it's a GameMaker game, is that true? If so, how are you managing to accomplish such a visual complexity?
You'll find that being "good" at GameMaker usually means you know your way around its quirks. Honestly, it's mostly black magic that makes it work.
Are you the only one working on the game? What about the game's music? It's insanely awesome, by the way.
I'm working with some very cool musicians on the game, including Captain Beard, Barch and Gyms. Other than that, I'm doing all the design, code, writing, art and marketing for the game! It's exhausting, but it's 100% worth it.
What are some of the things you love about making independent games? What are some of the challenges?
I totally think the creative freedom is pretty sweet. I'm just making a game that's comprised of things I like, so it's really lovely to see that resonate with many other people. I also love the vibrant community … I've made so many close friends through making games, and that's really my favourite take away from doing it.
Like I said before though, it is exhausting, especially in my situation where I'm doing the bulk of the work on the game. It's very easy to feel burned out. Fortunately, I've gotten myself to a good place where I'm good at avoiding that!
Some aspects of the game's combat seem to be inspired by mini/microgames like those featured in Mario Party and WarioWare. Can you tell me more about them? Where did that idea come from?
I hate puzzles in RPGs! I find they waste the player's time more often than not. Minigames are more entertaining to me because they can be a completely fresh experience. With the tone of KS, it also means I can do something 100% unexpected, yet it won't feel out of place.
It appears that there was a coordinated attack on one of your gameplay videos coming from 4chan. Was that disheartening to receive so much hate? What keeps you going through the process of creating the game?
If 4chan don't like you, you're doing something right … right? If the response to the game was overwhelmingly terrible, I'd probably be very down about working on it. Fortunately, for every person who doesn't like it, there's ten people who super dig it. It's very lovely.
I know a lot of it's probably under wraps, but I'd love to know more about the plot of “Knuckle Sandwich.” Also, what are some of the emotional and moral themes of the game? Is there a particular aspect of humanity you're hoping to explore?
I can't reveal the major plot points, but I can say that a huge part of the story is about how people cope with loss, as well as how people's ambitions can affect others. Is that cryptic enough?