Fresh off the release of titles such as the Adventures of Shuggy and Gateway, Smudged Cat Games found themselves releasing two major titles for the indie studio in just a few short months. We decided to sit down with David Johnston and see how things have been going during this very busy time for them and learn more about these two great games.
NGN: First of all, could you explain a bit about what exactly the Adventures of Shuggy is, and why everyone should go buy it right now?
Dave: The Adventures of Shuggy is a 2D platform game set over 100 levels using a large number of different mechanics to keep things interesting. Some levels mess with gravity, in others you time travel, you can swing on ropes, control multiple versions of yourself, teleport, rotate levels, the whole idea was that you should never get bored at any point! There’s quite a mix of different difficulty levels in the game as well. I’ve tried to design the game so there is always a choice of levels to go for meaning beginner players can still get through to the end and complete the game but hardcore players will enjoy completing the more taxing levels required to get all the achievements.
NGN: What exactly is Shuggy the character supposed to be, and where did the idea for his design come from?
Chris: Shuggy is a vampire – not the heartthrob novel kind but the result of a ‘soft and cute washing cycle’ for computer game and comic book characters. There wasn’t much of an idea. Shuggy is the result of some creative vector bending. When you start out with basic the shape of a dwarf (which happened to be the alpha testing character) with a pointy hat and chubby body and add another pointy spike so to end up with two spike shaped ears that need some serious counterpart in the form of two big fangs. Et voila – there is a basic vampire shape. The colour had to be unique – white, gray, green vampires have been done before. Pink looked to girly, blue too much like the big round eyes already in place but purple had a cool and unique feel.
NGN: I’ve heard that the sales on XBLA were disappointing and Shuggy became a bit buried in the Xbox Live Marketplace not long after release. Have the sales on PC been better? Worse? About the same?
Dave: Sales on XBLA were pretty disappointing, but to be honest, sales on PC so far have been even worse! It’s great to see so many great reviews of the game but at the same time quite disappointing to not see that translate into sales. Still, I’ve had a lot of good feedback from people that have really enjoyed the game which always makes me happy.
NGN: One of the best parts of Adventures of Shuggy is the huge variety in mechanics. Where there any mechanics that were cut for time, money or playability reasons?
Dave: Yes, there were a few levels that got cut. There were quite a few levels using some of the existing mechanics that got cut from the game just because I felt there were too many levels using that same mechanic. I remember I had a couple of levels that used playing cards which you could pick up and had to place to make a poker hand that beat some other hand that was on display. It just didn’t really work that well so I decided to take it out!
NGN: Any plans for future content for Shuggy in the way of updates, new levels or a sequel?
Dave: Yes, I’m planning some extra levels for the game which I had originally started working on back when the XBLA version of the game came out. I don’t know when they’ll be ready but they expand on the teleporter levels by giving Shuggy two teleporters to use at the same time. There will be a bit more combining of the different game mechanics in those levels as well. I’d like to do a sequel and I have a few ideas but I’m going to see how sales of this game and my other game, Gateways, get on first.
NGN: As for Gateways, can you explain a little bit about how you would describe it?
Dave: Gateways is a 2D puzzle-platformer set in a single massive map which the player gradually unlocks by acquiring new power ups. When the game starts the player can only run and jump but very quickly find the gateway gun. The gateway gun lets you place two gateways on the walls of the map so that by travelling through one you emerge out of the other. Throughout the course of the game you acquire three other types of gateway gun that also let you change size, shift gravity and even travel in time. You also find a torch that lets you light up the darker areas of the map and a mirror that lets you deflect laser beams. The game is very focused on puzzle solving and exploration rather than action. Some of the puzzles get fairly taxing later on in the game but there is a help system which you can use to buy the solutions to puzzles if you get really stuck.
NGN: Obviously Portal is a huge influence, though I felt that Gateways managed to carve out some pretty unique mechanics in its own right. Was it a bit daunting to draw comparisons to such a big name in gaming?
Dave: There will obviously be comparisons drawn between Portal and Gateways and I can’t deny that I’m a fan of the games and have drawn inspiration from them. I wouldn’t say it’s daunting to be compared to Portal, it’s a great game so I’m quite happy for people to say that it’s quite similar. I just hope people see that Gateways does take things a good leap forward by adding the different gateway guns. Time travel using the gateways just works so amazingly well that I’m surprised there wasn’t a time travel element in Portal 2.
NGN: Another influence on Gateways that I noticed, unsurprisingly, is Adventures of Shuggy, particularly in certain shared mechanics like size changes and time travel. Were there any lessons learned from Shuggy that you were able to apply to Gateways?
Dave: Yes, working on similar elements in Shuggy has definitely made developing Gateways a bit easier. It’s been complicated enough working out how to implement the gateways themselves so having that background with the other stuff has made things slightly easier. I’ve been working with time travel stuff for a long time now. I originally made a game called TimeSlip back in 1999 using the Yaroze kit for the Playstation One where you travelled back in time continually to encounter past echoes of yourself.
Another major thing that I feel helped with developing Gateways was using fixed point maths after using floating point with Shuggy. Both systems work and, on the face of it, you’d think that using floating point would be better but I found it led to a lot of fiddly bugs.
NGN: Between working with a publisher on XBLA and working for yourself on XBLIG, which model do you think creates a better working environment for game developers?
Dave: XBLIG,… next!
Dave: Seriously though, trying to release Shuggy on XBLA through a publisher was an absolute nightmare whereas on XBLIG you can just do whatever you want and get a game out there. Of course, despite not selling as many copies of Shuggy on XBLA as I would have liked, it has sold a lot more than any XBLIG game I’ve released! It’s difficult to judge because the XBLIG games I’ve released were much smaller projects than Shuggy so it’s not really a fair comparison. It’ll be interesting to see how sales of Gateways compares when it’s released on XBLIG because it’s a much more comparable sized project to Shuggy.
NGN: Right now you’re selling Gateways on PC through the Humble Store with an XBLIG version coming later in the year. Is there any plans to work with other distributors like Steam or Desura, or any thoughts about expanding to other platforms?
Dave: Yes, the game has been submitted to both Steam and Desura so I’ll need to see if they’re interested in it. I’d like to port the game to Linux and Mac but after my experience with consoles I don’t have plans for any other versions at the moment.
NGN would like to thank David Johnston for his time in answering our questions about his game. If you want to learn more about either of these games check out our review of The Adventures of Shuggy and Gateway or go to their webpage at http://smudgedcat.com