VGB Feature: Guacamelee! Interview with DrinkBox Studios Co-founder and Producer Graham Smith

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By now you should know DrinkBox Studios for the excellent Tales from Space 2D platformers, About a Blob and Mutant Blobs Attack. Soon you’re going to know the indie Toronto studio for what has to be the world’s first dimension-hopping Metroid-vania beat-em-up platformer inspired by Mexican culture and folklore.

If that description doesn’t catch your attention enough already, maybe the title will: Guacamelee. Yes, Guacamelee! Come on, how can you not want to play a game with a name like Guacamelee? Thankfully, Guacamelee is shaping up to be something special, not merely some ordinary game trying to get attention with a silly title and little substance to back it up.

DrinkBox’s tasty dip of gaming goodness is currently slated for PlayStation Network release early next year on both PS3 and Vita. As development continues along, studio co-founder and producer Graham Smith tells us more about Guacamelee! in our latest developer interview.

VGBlogger: Guacamelee is quite possibly the greatest video game title in the history of the universe. Who can we credit as the genius for coming up with such an awesome title? Were there any other funny titles kicked around that you almost went with or did Guacamelee click right away?

Graham Smith: This was actually the title of the game from Day 1. Our Mexican animator, Augusto, pitched the game back at the beginning of 2011. The gameplay design has changed a lot since that day, but the title and the main overlying themes of the game have remained the same.

VGB: What inspired the choice to theme the game after Mexican culture and folklore?

GS: In a period of nostalgia, Augusto came up with the original idea, pulling from childhood memories of Mexican folklore and traditions. Being based in Canada, the rest of the team was really unfamiliar with a lot of this stuff, and found much of it fascinating.

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VGB: Will the game have a matching “en Español” option for the dialogue?

GS: Definitely! There will be some Spanish mixed in with the English dialog as well, when appropriate.

VGB: Other than “for kicks” or “the challenge of it,” is there any reward for pulling off long and varied combos in the game?

GS: We’re still a bit in flux with the combo system, experimenting with different things. The current build does give rewards for long and varied combo chains, with different thresholds giving different rewards.

VGB: How did you keep the unlocking of combat abilities and exploration abilities separate? Or are they even separate (i.e. uppercuts also break cracked walls)?

GS: Many of the abilities can be used in both combat and platforming/exploration. As an example, the uppercut is the first special move that is unlocked by the player. It’s kind of a Street Fighter style dragon uppercut, that lifts both the player and an attacked enemy up in to the air, where the enemy can be attacked more safely away from other enemies on the ground. It can also be used to break through weak ceilings, or as a double jump when performed after a regular jump.

VGB: Where did the idea for the dimension-switching mechanic come from and how does it integrate with the storyline?

GS: This gameplay idea came from another game that was pitched by co-founder Chris Harvey at the same time as Guacamelee was being pitched. We saw an interesting potential with this type of gameplay and really wanted to explore it.

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VGB: What sort of replay features will the game offer as far as things like New Game+, hidden areas, collectibles etc?

GS: We’re pretty excited by the things we have planned here, but don’t want to ruin the surprise. The player can definitely expect a lot of hidden areas spread throughout the game world.

VGB: With Guacamelee coming to both PS3 and Vita, will the game support the four crosses: cross-buy, cross-save, cross-controller remote play (using the Vita as a controller for PS3) and cross-play for co-op?

GS: We don’t know for sure about cross-buy yet. We might want to offer a discounted purchase for people who just want a single version of the game. We do expect that we’re going to support cross-control and cross-save, but probably not cross-play.

VGB: Is there any difference in content/playability between the two platforms? Touch screen/rear touch on the Vita versus any use of 3D, Sixaxis or PS Move on the PS3?

GS: We have been experimenting with use of the front and back touch for special moves on the Vita version. On the Vita we definitely expect to be able to use the touch screen to navigate and zoom the in-game minimap in an intuitive way.

VGB: Will the two versions share trophies for players who are able to play both or will trophy progress be tracked separately?

GS: It will probably be the same trophy set across both versions.

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VGB: Is co-op drop-in/drop-out? Local, online, or both?

GS: The co-op is drop-in/drop out, and is local only. The cost of adding online co-op is pretty large and we felt we’d rather apply this cost more towards a stronger single player experience.

VGB: How does the game balance out between single player and co-op? Are there more enemies, do enemies become tougher, does the story/level design change to factor in the second character?

GS: We’re experimenting with increasing enemy difficulty (and rewards) when a second player joins in to the game. The second character, Tostada, does play a smaller role in the story, but the main story is mostly focused on Juan’s journey.

VGB: The Tales from Space games have a lot of funny in-jokes and background parodies of other indie games. Can we expect the same from Guacamelee? Are there any special cameo surprises players can look forward to? (Perhaps a certain hungry blob makes an appearance somewhere?)

GS: We are definitely trying to apply more game homages/jokes throughout Guacamelee. Definitely keep your eyes out for footage from the new PAX demo for some of these.

VGB: How did working with the Canada Media Fund impact the development of Guacamelee? Was there any sort of government oversight or other circumstances that ended up restricting the game’s content?

GS: The Canada Media Fund put us in a position where we could self-fund the development of the entire game. Once approved, they are really hands off, allowing us full creative control of the product. There are some rules around certain things that restrict the type of content that the game is allowed to have (i.e. no racism). These are all very reasonable restrictions and in place because the fund partially built from taxpayer money.

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VGB: With backing from the PlayStation Pub Fund, does that mean Guacamelee is locked into exclusivity on PlayStation platforms or is there a possibility we’ll eventually see the game on PC (or other platforms) like with the Mutant Blob titles?

GS: Other platforms are possible after some exclusivity period. We’re mostly focused on the PS3 and Vita versions right now though.

VGB: How far along is development and when, generally speaking of course, can members of PlayStation Nation expect to be able to download the game onto their favorite console/portable? (And will both platforms launch simultaneously?)

GS: We expect to launch both platforms simultaneously early next year.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!