Most of the time when a studio tries to start up a small new IP several things can happen, some of which can be good and some can be disappointing to say the least. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to see a new product finally hit the market but sometimes a developer can run into issues, the chief of which is finding money or simply the time required to finish a project no matter what the size is.
The interesting thing about the development of Bodoink is that Robomodo has now gone to the community to receive the funds needed for the final round of polish on the project. Utilizing the Kickstarter service, Robomodo is giving gamers the chance to back an indie project with potential, something I think we as gamers can all get behind.
I was able to chat with Robomodo President and Co-Founder Josh Tsui to discuss Bodoink as well as seeing what his thoughts were on a few industry topics that pertain to both small XBLA games and indie developers.
Ian Fisher: The first two projects Robomodo undertook were Tony Hawk Ride and Tony Hawk Shred for Activision. So at what point did the concept for Bodoink come along? Was it something that was lingering since the Kinect was first unveiled or did it come to fruition more recently?
Josh Tsui: It was a game concept that we had kind of toyed around with internally just as a small fun game for the Kinect. We had early access to Kinect technology so we already had a lot of ideas floating around. So we basically wrote a game design doc for Bodoink very early on and we just got busy with all these other projects so it never really got going even though we were all pretty excited about it. So what ended up happening is that we hired a group of junior designers to come help us out with our various projects and as things kind of winded down I felt that these guys might be a perfect small team to look at the old Bodoink document and just bring it back up again. These guys took it and they literally ran with the project and they got a great prototype of the game up and running.
Ian: Given the fidelity of the Kinect and how Bodoink is supposed to be fun for the whole family was it difficult trying to figure out how to design the motion controls for the game so it would not only be fun to play but accessible to a large audience?
Josh: We had a lot of experience with the Kinect and motion gaming in general so we knew all the things that it can do and the things we wanted to try to avoid. When we designed Bodoink it was really designed around the technology and we knew that right off the bat that it had to be something kids can play with their parents and the parents don’t feel like they’re completely left out since the controls were unnatural for them to do.
Ian: Bodoink has gotten some interest from gamers and the gaming press
since the game has gone the Kickstarter route to gain funding. Was it always the plan to utilize Kickstarter with Bodoink or was that something that grew once the game started to enter development?
Josh: It really just kind of came along. We wanted to get the game to a certain point first to decide what else we wanted to do with it. Once we got the game up and running and had the artwork in a lot of our guys got busy again with other projects so we felt that there would be a bit of a break before we got back into full development.
We had always done the development for publishing route which is our bread and butter business model and we just felt that for a game of this size it would be worth trying to see what other funding avenues are out there. Kickstarter is really something that has been popular lately and we knew of another team here in Chicago that was very successful with it and we thought it would be a fun experiment to try out. Just the idea of turning the funding of a game almost into a game itself was really appealing so we were just like let’s give it a try and see what happens.
Ian: To an extent it’s still somewhat hard for small developers or entirely indie studios to gain the funding necessary to get their project off the ground. So do you think what Robomodo is doing with Bodoink and Kickstarter could be the start of a growing trend in which we see even more indie studios look towards the community to receive funding?
Josh: It’s interesting and to be honest I’m not sure because we’re one of the first people to do a console game on Kickstarter. Most of the games on Kickstarter have been indie games that are usually PC or mobile based and with console games there’s a very high barrier of entry. Robomodo has been lucky in that we were able to fund a good chunk of the game leading up to this point and now all we’re asking for from the Kickstarter community is to just kind of finish it off. So we’re kind of in a unique situation that way and my hope is that one way or another we kind of show people that there are a lot of different ways to get funding and that this might be one of them.
Ian: With Bodoink being an XBLA game how much depth can gamers expect from it? Will it be a somewhat small game with only a few stages built around replaying stages to beat your high-score or will it have some substantial content in it to keep gamers busy for a while?
Josh: Our goal is not to make it feel like a mini-game, it really has to stand as its own standalone game experience. So being a XBLA game obviously it’s not going to be as large as a game that you would buy at a store but at the same time we’re putting in enough variety and progression in there that people feel like they’re getting a full product. The one interesting thing about games like this especially when they’re physics and motion based is that people always feel like they can do better. Just by nature this type of gameplay has a lot of life to it.
Ian: At this point the video game industry is slowly moving to a completely digital era in which gamers either download their games or play them via Cloud services. As a company what are your thoughts on the risk vs. reward of launching an original IP on XBLA or even the PSN for that matter? Obviously the initial costs will be lower going the digital route but you may also have a smaller window to make a profit back since a game will be on the main page or near the top for only a week and then it’s down a few notches, perhaps never to be seen again by gamers. So are you completely behind going the digital route or do you think there are still a few things that need to be worked out before the system is completely iron clad?
Josh: In my opinion having digitally distribution is just a great option on top of many options. I don’t see digital distribution completely replacing retail or completely replacing other distribution channels. The way I always kind of look at it is that when you’re home watching TV you expect a certain type of programming and when you go to a movie theater you expect a different type of programing. In a lot of ways the distribution channels kind of affect the scope or the quality of a project and I think it’s going to be like that for some time.
No matter how fast someone’s internet connection is if you’re playing a gigantic epic game with many gigabytes of data you’re better off going to the store and picking up the disc whereas you’re talking about a game that’s a little bit smaller in scope and that’s more of a pick up and play type of game then digital distribution right now is more set up for it. I don’t see one completely overtaking the other but the encouraging thing is that there are other channels of distribution and as an independent developer like us that’s great since we get access to people a lot easier.
: The video game industry is still thriving as far as hardware and software being sold but things isn’t completely solid when it comes to developers. In recent months we’ve seen quite a few studios close and most recently the Chicago based Day 1 had to make staff reductions
due to Konami pulling the as yet unannounced Silent Scope remake from the studio. As an industry veteran and a president of a company at what point do you think the industry needs to change or adapt so studios don’t need to be closed after millions of dollars are put into a game that may never see the light of day. Is that something that’s a concern for you or are gamers and to an extent the gaming press just blowing things out of proportion?
Josh: The one interesting thing about the question is that from one studio to another when things happen where a studio closes or lays off people there are many different reasons how that can happen so I don’t think there’s any one real answer to that. I don’t know how a developer’s relationship with a publisher may have been and what caused certain decisions and such. Just in general when you look at any industry you’ll see companies downsizing and shifting people around so I don’t think it’s any different for us. I do think there are times when the game press does blow it up out of proportion and if you kind of step back and look at what’s happening economically in every industry the game industry is no different than everyone else.
Ian: Yeah that’s definitely true. I’m sorry if my question was a bit odd and of course we may never know what exactly happened between Day 1 and Konami but I was just really bummed out when that happened.
Josh: Oh yeah same here. They’re right down the street from us and when you hear stuff like that just as a Chicago development community you never want anybody to have to go through that. Like I said I don’t know what exactly the details are but you want to support the community and make sure that talented people find places to go to. The one thing that was a little, not upsetting but irritating, is that I would read an article or a headline where I know that whoever wrote that article had very little information. So they would write it where they could cover themselves but it was very irresponsible to be so knee jerky.
Ian: Back on the topic of Bodoink, one of the things I really liked about the design of the game based on the video that’s on the Kickstarter page is the pinball design of the stages with the various pegs and bumpers. I know that Bodoink is a relatively small game but would it be possible to have customizable stages where gamers can design things themselves or is that something you’re thinking about implementing further down the road?
Josh: We wanted to start off with people’s face into the game in many different ways in not just the pegs themselves but in the big background screen in the game as well. In terms of designing their own levels that’s something that we have been talking about and we might be adding that as a reward [A Kickstarter reward]. The one issue with that is there are only so many levels so if we have a lot of people responding to that then it could be a scope issue. But I think the biggest appeal to people, especially to those who play games but aren’t hardcore gamers, is to see themselves in the game and that’s always been the biggest appeal.
Ian: Now since Bodoink is supposed to be fun for the whole family are there going to be any multiplayer elements or is it strictly a single-player experience?
Josh: We’re looking at multiplayer splitscreen and we started working on it but we’re still kind of developing it at the moment.
Ian: I know that Robomodo is still hard at work on Bodoink but does the game have a specific release window or is it a wait and see sort of thing?
Josh: it’s a little bit wait and see and we always thought of it as a Summer release but we don’t have a hard release. Like I said it’s a pet project of ours so we don’t want to ship it until we’re really happy with it. That’s really one of the benefits of funding it ourselves and going to Kickstarter is that we’re basically making it on our own terms.
Ian: Right now Robomodo is in a way reinventing itself by creating a unique IP in the form of Bodoink and other unannounced projects. Moving forward what sort of titles can we expect to see Robomodo produce? In a way both the Tony Hawk games and Bodoink fall under the fun for all label so is that the general path that Robomodo on?
Josh: The one thing that we did is that we created a separate label within the company for the family games called Robomite. Robomite is going to be doing Bodoink and it also recently did a Kinect sports game called Big League Sports so that’s kind of our separate family games label.
: I know that previously you were at Studio Gigante
and that some of the Robomodo staff used to be at EA through the Fight Night series so can we ever expect to see a fighting game come out of Robomodo or something radical like that?
Josh: Definitely. Fighting games have always been part of our DNA so internally we’re always working on fighting game concepts and like Bodoink we’re concepting that on our own time until we feel like we can trigger that ourselves. But yeah, that’s definitely in our future.
At this point Xbox 360 gamers have seen a lot of Kinect games, most of which are geared towards the casual audience, which vary in quality. We may not have seen a finished product yet, but Bodoink has the potential to be incredibly engaging since its straightforward and simple fun. The pinball based nature of the game combined with being able to see your Xbox Avatar bounce around an area should not only provide some good laughs but a pure arcade game experience.
It’s also just refreshing to see a developer out there work on a passion project and be dedicated to seeing it be released at some point. Robomodo may be busy with the new Tony Hawk game and other unannounced projects but it’s cool to see them be willing to experiment with not only a new type of game but a new type of way to receive partial funding via Kickstarter.
I want to thank Josh for taking out the time to chat with me about Bodoink as it was nice to hear how enthusiastic he is about the project. If you want to make a pledge towards Bodoink then head over to the Kickstarter page
for the game as you’ll be able to make pledges until December 28th.