We speak to Dugan from Tikipod and Dave Parsons about Iron Crypticle as it releases on the Nintendo Switch.
On the 13th of February 2019, Iron Crypticle smashed onto the Nintendo Switch. It has been a long road for this Gauntlet/Smash TV inspired arcade game. Originally released on Steam back in 2014 called Iron Fisticle, the game had a big update, a name change and added a few new platforms along the way.
It certainly seems like Switch owners are impressed by the game so far. Nintendo life said it “hits all the right notes in recreating that gameplay that made Smash TV such a smash hit” and awarded it an 8/10. The Switch Effect gave it 4/5. Gamers Xtreme gave it an 8/10 too. As Rossko has been so keen on saying in his reviews of indie games finally making the leap to the Switch “It looks as though this game has found its natural home on the Switch”.
I recently got the chance to pose some questions to the developers Dugan and Paul Parsons about the development of Iron Crypticle and they kindly took the time to answer them, all of which you can find here for your viewing pleasure…
Finger Guns: Could you talk me through your path into and through the games industry?
Dugan – I studied an animation film making course at Uni, and in its final year I tried digital animation using Lightwave on Amigas. That led to a job making edutainment titles at a small company which happened to use Lightwave (most were using Max at the time). Following that I went to work at my first `proper` games company called Intelligent Games, based in London. They very kindly took a punt on me learning 3DSMax on the job! That all went ok and over the years I managed to work up to Lead Art and Art Director roles, helping out on all sorts of projects big and small.
Dave – I started making games (initially on the 8-bit Acorn Electron) when I was still at school, because that was the aspect of computers that excited me. I eventually got a couple of games published (on a budget label), and used the money I earned from those to upgrade to better computers (initially an Atari ST, and then a Commodore Amiga). I went straight into the industry after university, working as a programmer at a very small studio in London. Funnily enough, I then moved on to work at Intelligent Games, but had left before Dugan began working there.
Can you describe the development path for Iron Crypticle? What originally inspired the idea and how did it develop?
Dave – It sort of developed out of nowhere, really. I’d had this idea that I wanted to build a 2D engine to make some retro-styled games and was making a sort of Gauntlet-like game to test the features and work out what I’d need. At some point I must have shown it to Dugan, and he offered to do some art for it. From then, it slowly morphed into Iron Fisticle over quite a long period of time, just working on it in our spare time, coming up with ideas and changing the direction as we went.
Sometime after the release of Iron Fisticle, we decided to do console ports, but we also wanted to improve some areas of the game we felt could be better. So, we tweaked it, added a bunch of new stuff, and did the console ports. We were actually planning to call it “Iron Fisticle: Reforged”, but the name generated “some resistance” from one of the platform holders, so we decided to change it to Iron Crypticle.
It has been sixteen months since you released Iron Crypticle on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Are you happy with the way the game was received critically and commercially?
Dave – I think on the whole, the critical reception was fairly good (better than Iron Fisticle), but the whole market was getting a bit saturated by the time we got to release, so commercially it didn’t do particularly well. For the Steam version I really felt that owners of Iron Fisticle shouldn’t have to buy the new version of the game, since this was really just an updated remix, despite the name change – and we couldn’t exactly do it as an update, replacing the version people had already bought. So, we worked with Curve Digital, who had published Iron Fisticle, to ensure that any existing owners would get the new game for free. I still feel this was the morally right choice, but it obviously impacted our sales – our main audience all got the game for free! Additionally, Steam reviews from people getting the game for free didn’t count towards our steam rating, so we still don’t have enough reviews to get anything other than a basic positive/negative rating.
All of your published titles – Aqua Kitty, Rock Boshers and Iron Crypticle – take a retro game formula, from game play, art style and music, then refine them for modern day audiences. What is it about this type of classic gaming that keeps drawing you back?
Dugan – I think it comes down to a number of reasons. For one thing the people working on these games all love the 80s/90s era of arcades and 16bit computers/consoles – so it’s a lot of fun making games that are a nod to that era but not limited by the hardware of that time. Going the 2D route also helps a bit with keeping development time manageable, though that’s not to say we wouldn’t do 3D in the future.
Another staple of a Tikipod game is a charming and occasionally bonkers storyline. For Aqua Kitty, it’s submarine driving kittens defending deep sea milk miners from mechanical sea creatures. Rock Boshers is about a young and rebellious Queen Victoria adventuring on Mars. How do you come up with these ideas?
Dugan – The plots just bubble up over time during development as we throw ideas about. I think it’s important to give games as much character as possible, and offer something unusual and interesting.
Dave – Dugan seems to have a knack for this stuff, so when it came to the story for Iron Crypticle, he basically came up with the idea. We then thrashed out the details together to ensure it was all consistent with the New Game + mode etc, and to figure out what should happen in the intro/outros.
You’ve now released 2 games on the Switch with Iron Crypticle on the way ‘soon’. How have you found developing for Nintendo’s hybrid console?
Dave – I can only speak for Iron Crypticle, but it was a fairly quick process (less than 2 months of person-hours for the coding). I do quite a lot of porting to consoles for my day job, but usually for things written in Unity etc, and this was a C++ game. I hadn’t really done much on Switch before either, but at least I had the advantage of knowing how all the code worked! I started doing it in evenings/weekends, and initially it was quite slow going due to lack of time, but as soon as I had the opportunity to do it full-time, it got finished fairly quickly. There were a couple of areas which caused some head-scratching – how to deal with the players/controllers was one of them. But I think we arrived at a decent solution which allows players to play on any type of controller (including a single joycon), so it was all worth it – anyone with a Switch and a friend can play 2-player without needing additional controllers.
One thing that people might not know about Tikipod is that you’ve released quite a number of high quality dynamic themes for the PlayStation 4. The excellent Keyboard Cats is still my go-to theme, by the way. Have you found this to be a worthwhile venture?
Dugan – The Aqua Kitty ones did particularly well, I think we got lucky with timing there before the store got too cluttered with themes. Keyboard Cats took the longest to make, along with the Astronaut theme – and they paid back the time spend making them.
You worked together back in 2008/9 on the excellent Gravity Crash and then again on Iron Crypticle. In the decade between releases, did you stay in touch with one another?
Dugan – We first met working on game ports together, and years later Dave asked me to help him work on his title Gravity Crash on PS3. Then after than we worked on Iron Fisticle (a precursor to Crypticle) as well working together at Curve for a while.
In the Switch version of Icon Crypticle, are you making use of the platform specific functions like touch screen or the Joy-Con Rumble?
Dave – We don’t use the touch screen at all. Menu items are fairly small, and we didn’t think touch screen would add very much – I don’t think people really want to switch between the sticks/buttons for the game and the touch screen for menus. As for the joy-con rumble, we did investigate using the more nuanced control available on the Switch. But in the end – because it’s a fairly action-heavy game – we felt it just worked better with a more simple approach, similar to that we’d used on the other console versions.
Lastly, What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone looking to get into indie game development?
Dugan – Hmm, interesting question. I guess the big thing is try making things on the side of paid work before diving in head first. Practice making small games and finishing them.
Dave – Firstly, I’d say you should only do it if you love doing it, and don’t start off assuming you can do it for a living. If you enjoy making games, or think you might, then definitely start making something – make lots of things! But the chances of it becoming a full-time thing are pretty slim nowadays, unfortunately.