The Team Behind the Gem Wars: Attack of the Jiblets
Having met a lot of game developers, we can never be tired of hearing their stories but this one who created the Gem Wars: Attack of the Jiblets is particularly different.
David Nunez, Founder and Lead Game Designer of Queen Birdface Productions has never met his partner Chris Hall, Programmer and Co-Designer, with whom he has been working for an impressive 12 years!
“We’ve never met. I’ve never even seen a picture of the guy. I have his brother on Facebook. I like to imagine he looks something like his brother”- smiles David. “We met on a Mega Man forum. We made a fan game together. After realizing that we could never sell it, we decided to create our own intellectual property. Aspects of Mega Man are still visible in our game” – he adds.
The concept of Gem Wars: Attack of the Jiblets that was originally born in 2007 got its inspiration from first generation party games like Super Smash Bros, Worms, Quake III Arena but intentionally was nothing like them. “There are even some elements of Pokemon, Twisted Metal and Mortal Kombat thrown in here”- admits David. When games like Duck Game, Towerfall and ChargeShot sprouted up into development, instead of taking it harshly, they embraced the concept of being a part of a rising “genre”.
“We even included Easter Eggs to all those games. We love ’em!”
Because the game is mainly a “party game,” story takes a backseat to the gameplay. In spite of that, they managed to create their own universe with their own characters who have their own motivations:
The original Gem Wars was so incredibly small in design that it could’ve been a mobile game for old-school Nokia phones. Little by little, they decided to increase the scope to compete with the likes of current big name indies. As the scope increased, David’s artistic vision had to evolve with it. He had some arguments about that with Chris but they usually resolved them within a day or two. Once they even changed the game from 4-players on a single screen game to a 2D scroller which set them back a year. “The feel of the game was completely off. It wasn’t bad. Just “off” – says David.
He recommends to be smart when adding something as it should always complement another part of the design. If it doesn’t and it feels forced, chances are it’s not meant for this game.
While David is experimenting with design, his secretive partner Chris is obsessed with the physics, polishing it until perfection. “Running being “too slippery” or “not fast enough” are things Chris will constantly tweak (even to this day)” – David grumbles.
“Chris and I argue about everything in the game, all the time. We just argue until we meet somewhere in the middle or someone backs down. It’s fun. Makes for a better game too. We’re not afraid to admit when we’re wrong, so it makes it for a hilarious reconciliation.”
Chris created the game engine from scratch. “Since my programming skills won’t even allow me to make a calculator, he made it so that everything in the game is drag and drop: this includes new characters, new challenges or new levels. All it takes is a few mouse movements and clicks and it’s implemented” – David sounds very pleased.
David and Chris experienced the lack of resources throughout their entire development. In order to meet their graphical resource need, David stepped in and drew the characters and background. Then they hired a real artist to come in and spruce it up a bit. Now they have their own dedicated artist in Sogeth Grimley. “He does great work”- adds David. Although they were asking everyone to help, they were very careful with selection, inviting only those who were in alignment with their vision of the game. Eventually, the game started looking good enough that people started asking them if they could help out.
They also did most of their own recordings or used creative-commons licensed sounds. Recently David’s friend Steve Krolikowski (singer/songwriter of Repeater and Fear and The Nervous System) has stepped in to redo the entire soundscape with another friend Michael Meza providing the score.
Although they’ve had all sorts of people coming in and out of the project over the past 6-7 years, Chris and David have been the only constants. “Sounds like an insane amount of time to invest on a game, but we were thrown a curveball in the form of an illness that impeded our progress” – he adds mysteriously.
Because of the scare of sudden illness, the team have adopted an Agile style of development, where they focused on each build as if it was the “final release.” So if anything could possibly happen to either Chris or himself, the other could just release the game and call it a day. This also allowed them to be able to publicly release each build, as they were “good enough.” “The actual Final, Final Build is going to be monumental”- David sounds confident.
Although working remotely, David and Chris were very cooperative managing to document their progress really well by updating a Google spreadsheet daily.
“Google spreadsheets. That’s all you need. Make a tab for each build and what that particular build needs. Finish that build. Release. Work on the next.”
They did a code review/testing round before every build and gathered game testing feedback and data after. David is convinced that it allowed them to find a lot of random bugs. “I am a QA manager at a software development firm. Been doing this for years. Thankfully that experience has allowed me look for bugs that no one would usually look for”- he says.
The Hardest Part
They used Kickstarter for fundraising, but they didn’t earn enough to cover the costs of actual production and development or even marketing. “We’re just as broke. The only good part about [crowdfunding] was that it forced us to settle on a release date and push towards that”- he explains. The most expensive aspect has been marketing and David thinks they didn’t put much effort in it telling us why the Kickstarter campaign failed.
Speaking about monetizing their game, David said DLC (Downloadable content) was definitely in the works. They published their game on Steam and currently planning to release it on PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo. “Never thought of Nintendo until recently with the advent of Nindies. We’ll see” – he says.
In order for their game to stand out they try to make their game fun with awesome characters, great lore, a ton of content – all for a low price. “That seems to be the thing that has made the game grab hold of the fans that have played it” – David hopes that this would help them to overcome discovery problems.
We asked David what they could do better if they had a chance to go back in time: “We probably should’ve released the prototypical Gem Wars we created 6-7 years ago before we began expanding the scope. The Gem Wars now is completely unrecognizable and should probably be considered a sequel to a game that was never released”.
Having worked on their mistakes, they are more confident now and are very ambitious planning to release next 2 games in the nearest future: Duck Squad and Gel Fighters. Look out for them!
“I will be reusing the same engine for the next 2 games to save on development time. Since Gem Wars is a shooter/fighting game, we are going to strip the fighting part and make a shooter and vice-versa to create a fighter.”
About Queen Birdface Productions
Queen Birdface Productions is a two-man game development company located partially in Miami that has steadily been working on its debut release “Gem Wars: Attack of the Jiblets.”