Last week we took notice of a new offering on the Windows Phone Store called Gunhouse that takes elements from puzzle and tower defense games. This is the first time I've seen this style and Necrosoft, the developers of the game, mixed the elements perfectly. Surprisingly, this beautiful and unique title is not available on iOS or Android. The only other system you'll find it on is the PlayStation Vita, another underdog platform.
The guys over at Necrosoft enjoyed our previous coverage so much, they offered to share their inside story with us. This week we had the pleasure of chatting with Brandon Sheffield, Director of Necrosoft Games and former editor-in-chief of Game Developer Magazine. A true industry veteran, he has also contributed to Dragon's Crown, Sine Mora, and Baynard Blast: Swine of the Night.
Tell us about yourself, Brandon. What do you do when you aren't developing games?
"I live in Oakland, California, and am a Bay Area native. When not working on games, I spend a lot of time listening to weird music from around the world - I've got a pretty size-able collection of sixties and seventies rock music from around the globe."
"I also go to noise music shows at local DIY venues, bake bread, and basically try to figure out how to live as cheaply as possible. It's tough in the Bay Area, but I was born here, and I'm not gonna let people with money push me out!"
"Oh, and I have a pretty big collection of retro games for most consoles. I love the PC Engine/TurboGrafx, and have about 300 games for the console. I've got about 200 Saturn games, so... I like the underdog, I guess."
"But Gunhouse wasn't made just by me of course! We also had Jim Crawford who did Frog Fractions coding the original game (he also helped with some design stuff), a guy named Takashi who did the WP port, Juan Ramirez's unique artwork, Jack Menhorn's SFX, and of course Rich Vreeland on music duty. Juan's art is the real star of this thing. I just did design and production stuff; it was really all the team that made it happen!"
Gunhouse first launched on PlayStation. How did that go?
"The game was actually launched on the PlayStation Mobile platform, which now is Vita exclusive, but when it launched was also on Sony smartphones. They killed that part of the program a few months ago, unfortunately. It was a fine platform, but the store was too hard to find (and still is!), so not as many people got to play it as I would have liked."
Why did you guys choose Windows Phone as the first proper mobile platform for Gunhouse?
"Technically WP was the second mobile OS, since it was briefly on Xperia smartphones, but we decided to come to WP because Microsoft asked us! They had this great program called AppCampus, which is now unfortunately over. AppCampus granted developers a budget to bring good games to Windows Phone."
"We were part of that program, and that's a big part of why we chose Windows Phone! Having development costs for the port funded was a big deal for us. It was also a good opportunity to port the game to Unity from the original PlayStation Mobile SDK. Now the game is more versatile and future proof!"
What made you guys decide to launch Gunhouse as a free game?
"We decided to make it free since Microsoft paid for development, basically. We felt that the best thing would just be to get the game in the hands of players, since our financial needs for the port were met. We're not greedy! As long as we have enough money to live, we just want people to play our games."
Where did your motto, "Stupid games for jerks like us" come from? Gunhouse seems to embody that wacky ethos.
"Brandon: Hmmm, the motto came from me basically liking really specific weird stuff, pretty much. I like very specific kinds of games - lots of strange, imperfect older Japanese games, like the Valis series on TurboGrafx and SNES, Ghost in the Shell for the original PlayStation, or Puyo Puyo~n on Dreamcast. I like games that try something new, even if they fail."
"Even if they're not perfect, if they try to make me feel or think or wonder, I appreciate that. The whole point of Necrosoft Games is to make the kinds of games that I'm not seeing out there anymore. I don't know if Gunhouse is the best example of that, but I think you'll see more of that from us going forward."
Where did the idea of Gunhouse come from? What games inspired it?
"Gunhouse actually came from a game jam! I don't know if you heard about the Molyjam, but it was a game jam based on the tweets of the Peter Molyneux parody account, @petermolydeux. I was one of the organizers of the jam, and it was super popular in its two year run, with thousands of participants across dozens of cities."
"So the game came from the parody account's tweet: "You live in a little house made of guns. You need many guns to fight invaders but also need to keep a roof on top of your many children."
"We used that original tweet and made something that has absolutely nothing to do with how the game turned out. The original game took place inside the house, in fact! It was originally called Orphanage Arsenal. I've got an image of that for you, here."
"When we decided to make this thing, we made some tweaks, then some more, and then some more, and then, little by little, it turned into the game you see here. It's a huge story how we got from there to here... I'll tell it some day!"
"In terms of games that inspired it, well… I think it was inspired more by genres than specific games. Tower defense and puzzle were the main ones, of course - at one point we had a mechanic that was inspired by the equip screen in Solatorobo for the Nintendo DS, but we scrapped that!"
Your team recruited the composer of Fez's music for Gunhouse's soundtrack. How did that happen?
"Well, Rich (aka Disasterpeace) lives near me and comes to our game dev meetups. I just showed him the art and told him about the game, and he said okay! He used a totally different approach for this game than for his others, using loops and sequences rather than composing from start to finish. He would create smaller chunks of music, and then mix and match them around for maximum effect."
"In terms of workflow, basically he'd send me a track, and I'd tell him what I thought, ask for some tweaks, or some different instruments here or there, and he'd come back with something different. For one track, I asked for him to take inspiration from the Balinese monkey chant and some gamelan here:) and gamelan music. If you play the game, you can pretty much tell which one that is!"
Gunhouse has a vividly unique art style that reminds me of a mixture of graffiti and comic books. How did the art style come about?
"So the art is pretty much just a natural style that Juan Ramirez has fallen into. I met him on a message board back in the late 90s, and watched his art progress over time, and eventually started hiring him to do illustrations for Game Developer magazine, back when I was editor in chief. Over the years, he sort of learned what I liked, and developed his style even further."
"He has a pretty unique way of doing art, compared to most folks doing game work. He actually draws everything by hand, on actual paper! He then scans it and cleans it up, but everything you're seeing in the game is actually physically hand drawn on paper before anything else. It's pretty cool! We should exhibit some of this stuff somewhere."
Do you plan on adding more levels to the game in the future?
"Right now, we're just bug-hunting. Unless we get more funding for a new version, we can't afford to put more new content in the game since we decided not to monetize it. We'd really like to, though! Cross your fingers that we find a publisher to sponsor new content!"
You have more projects in the works, such as Oh Deer! and Gunsport. Do you plan on bringing those to Windows Phone?
"Gunsport would unfortunately not work on any mobile device, but Oh, Deer! - that's another story! It's a driving game that could work well with tilt control... If the demand is strong enough, we would definitely consider it, but we would need to know that the market is there, since it would be a significant cost to port. Right now we're targeting consoles only, but you never know what the future may bring!"