We recently got the chance to chat with Chris McQuinn, designer at DrinkBox, about the studio’s upcoming Guacamelee! – a curious, Mexican-themed adventure brawler. Our review lands tomorrow, ahead of this week’s PSN release for PS3 and Vita (it’s all cross-buy enabled). In the meantime, find out what went into the game – it’s more than just tequila.
TheSixthAxis: Many of our readers will know you and the studio from Tales from Space: About a Blob on PS3 and its Vita sequel, When Mutant Blobs Attack. What sort of input does SCE have in your process, is there a lot of assistance available or is it a case of just submitting it when you’re done and waiting to hear if you’re approved?
Chris McQuinn: As a studio we’re completely independent with our development process – we decide what to make, how to make it, and what features to add/cut. Essentially we approach SCE and say “Hey, look, this is our game and we want to put it out on PSN – whatdya say?”. We really have as much independence as we want.
With that said – they have some really dedicated folks over there who are willing to provide feedback on early builds whenever we want it – and that helps a lot.
TSA: Your second game, Tales from Space: When Mutant Blobs Attack was a Vita launch title and, I believe, one of the most enjoyable but it seemed to also be one of the lesser known, do you feel like Sony could do more to promote smaller studios’ projects on the PSN Store, or perhaps simply offer more advice on effective self-promotion?
CMQ: That’s a tricky question. As a small studio we always want more promotion – and that’s a point we know is being heard loud and clear. Guacamelee! has really received great support from Sony this time around, and that’s something the studio has been really grateful for.
As far as self-promotion – well, I see that as something we need to learn for ourselves as a independent entity.
TSA: The release of your third game, Guacamelee!, is imminent. What prompted the move away from the Mutant Blobs, and the innovative platforming they partook in, towards a brawling Mexican luchador?
CMQ: The studio likes to make games that we want to play ourselves, so during our brainstorming design sessions there was a real desire to make a platforming brawler. The Mexican theme was suggested by our animator Augusto who is a Mexican native, and was feeling homesick.
TSA: Guacamelee! retains a lot of the same visual style that was present in the Tales from Space games. Do you think of Drinkbox’s art style as a kind of constant branding across all your games or are you secretly desperate to make something in muddy earth-tones, or orange and teal, for your next release?
CMQ: Ha. Well, since we’re a small team, you’re going to see the personality and preferences of our artists carry over from game to game. Despite the similarities though, I think the art team explored a much sharper feel in Guacamelee! Our next game will probably just me a mud simulator.
TSA: Having played through the game for the review I think it’s fair to say – and I mean this with the greatest respect – that you’re all slightly crazy. Is the world and character design in the game a large collaborative effort or do you branch off elements and, for example, have certain people work on dialogue while others think up the posters or the plentiful videogame references?
CMQ: It is really a collaborative effort. We get a kick out of sneaking in funny art, or dialogue, and then waiting until the rest of the team stumbles upon it.
If one of us has an idea for something stupidly hilarious, we roll our chair over to Steph (our main Art guy) and beg him to put it in. Things like the QR code in Santa Luchita are a good example of that.
TSA: Juan, the hero. has the ability to turn into a chicken. At what stage of development was that first suggested and how was such a weird idea pitched to the rest of the team?
CMQ: That idea came about in the middle of production. One of the designers realized that it was possible to take the chicken animation and rig it into the Juan’s main character. During a review meeting he showed it to the team, and we loved it. After that, being a chicken was written into the story as a pivotal plot point.
TSA: Obviously then there’s not much about this game that’s supposed to be taken too seriously. That said, the hero’s motivation is basically the traditional damsel in distress or love-interest kidnap routine. Do you worry that, given recent sensitivities around the issue of misogyny in games, that might receive some negative response?
CMQ: Whenever you do anything you get negative responses, it is the internet after all.
To be honest – we talked about that internally. I think Guacamelee! tackles some important stereotypes, and sometimes you can’t address them all. With that said it was important for us to make sure El Presidente’s Daughter was portrayed as a strong female character in an effort to avoid just that traditional story line.
When players read her dialogue I think they’ll see that.
TSA: Dia de los Muertos and its myths and imagery in Mexican culture seems to offer a huge opportunity for styling and character reference, as well as Guacamelee!’s two-world mechanic. How much research goes into getting that setting right and did you encounter any really weird stuff in the course of that research?
CMQ: A lot of effort and research was involved. The team addressed books, people, and the internet. Nothing was found that was weird, but certainly different. I think that is something that’ll happen a lot when exploring a culture that you didn’t grow up with. Imagine trying to explain poutine to a Mexican (or an American) and not sound crazy?
TSA: Some people will use the term “Metroid-vania” to describe Guacamelee!. Do you think that’s a fair shortcut to describe the systems in place and are you happy to hear the comparison?
CMQ: Guacamelee! is really a mashup of genres, so I can’t fault anyone if they describe the game in any way. Describing Guacamelee! as Metroid-vania is ok – and I think accurate. With that said, it is also accurate to call the game a platform brawler. :)
TSA: As part of the early discussion for our review process, it was suggested that I present a video review while wearing a luchador’s mask. Totally serious delivery, never even acknowledging that the mask was there. Do you know where we can buy a luchador mask?
CMQ: In Mexico? There are a few shops in our city (Toronto) that mostly sell Mexican merchandise and food, so we’re lucky. Whatever is closer, Mexico or Toronto.
TSA: Speaking of Toronto, what state is the studio in right now, are you working on extra content, tweaking for updates, moving on to the next project or biting your nails and waiting for its reception?
CMQ: Haha – the studio is actually working on all those things! Mostly nail biting though.
TSA: Do you ever yearn for the leap to a giant publisher and a AAA budget?
CMQ: Not often. It would be nice if everyone in the world knew your game was coming out, but, overall the advantages of working at a small independent games studio are pretty good. Everyone on the team has input into every aspect of the game, and that’s the way we like it.
TSA: And finally, the most important question, tequila or mezcal?
CMQ: I’m a tequila guy (my current favorite is La Cava Don Agustin).
We thank Chris for his time, and wish him all the best with the launch of the game this week. Our full review lands on TheSixthAxis tomorrow, so stay tuned for that. Luchador mask or not.