Coming to PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC and Xbox early next year, Dead End Job is a new top down shooter from former Rockstar designer, Tony Gowland.
Mammoth Gamers had a chance to sit down with Tony to discuss his studio Ant Workshop, Dead End Job and life as an indie developer.
Q) Can you tell us a bit about Ant Workshop and how it came to be?
A) I’ve been working in the games industry since 2000, at quite a variety of companies – from small studios that don’t exist any more, to Rockstar and Activision, on AAA and high budget mobile. I’d been an indie developer once before in 2011, making Flash games, and in 2015 I had a real urge to go indie again. With platforms becoming more open to small developers, it felt like a great time and there were a couple of game ideas I really wanted to try making.
Q) How many of you are working on “Dead End Job”?
A) The core team is just myself and the artist Joe, though other people come and go if the game needs them – one of the benefits of being an indie of the scale I am is that everything is quite fluid and fast moving. So we’ve had a programmer (Dave), and UI artists (Steve and Searra). We’ll also be working with the Will again who did the audio for Binaries.
Q) Your previous title Binaries was BAFTA nominated and a gorgeous looking puzzle game, what made you want to make a jump to a top-down shooter?
A) I like to mix stuff up really. Though the gameplay is different in the games that Ant Workshop makes, there are a couple of recurring threads. First is the sense of humour, which is really just stuff that I find funny. The second is that our games tend to be ones where you’re not killing people. I’m not sure exactly when that became a pillar, I’ve got a couple of young kids and it’s lovely for me when they want to see what games I’m making, and even better when I can show them. So Dead End Job with the question of how to make a twin stick shooter without guns.
Q) What inspired you to make “Dead End Job”?
A) Dead End Job is a game I’ve wanted to make for a long time, though I didn’t know it. I’m a huge fan of Ghostbusters and have always wanted to do something along those lines. When I started thinking about the non-violent twin stick game it seemed like a perfect way to finally get it made. When the game started you were just using a vacuum to collect the ghosts but, as development has gone on, we’ve changed it so you do have a gun (it turns out guns solve a lot of readability problems and are kind of just great fun!)
Q) Both your games are very stylised and their designs really really jump out at you. Why were you drawn to this style?
A) Binaries had its clean geometric style because easily reading the environment was so important to avoiding frustration – if you couldn’t quite make out what was happening it would have felt very unfair.
Dead End Job’s art came from two pointers I gave to Joe – firstly I didn’t ant pixel art (because I feel like a lot of twin sticks use pixel art), and secondly that it had to be colourful and jump out at people. I think he really knocked it out of the park, we get a lot of people commenting about how much they love the art! The cartoony style really matches the sense of humour in the game as well, everything is very spring and squishy.
Q) What will the gameplay be like? It looks fast paced and chaotic, what else can you tell us about it?
A) Yeah it’s definitely chaotic! We really wanted the feeling of the ballroom scene from Ghostbusters, where you’d go into a nice tidy room and in the process of catching the ghosts you absolutely wreck the place. To me that’s just a funny setup to begin with. And it makes that core gameplay really entertaining. But around that we wanted players to have more to sink their teeth in to, which is where the concept of an “Employee of the Month” competition came in. You’re trying to be the best employee which, because your boss is this Mr Krabs type, means whoever makes him the most money. So over the in-game month you’re picking which jobs to do that will give the biggest rewards. Obviously harder jobs have bigger payouts, but there’s more risk of not finishing them and wasting that chance.
Q) The trailer showed a very animated, funny and colourful cast of characters. How would describe the character design in this game?
A) Yeah the characters again all lean in to our influences from 90s cartoons like Ren & Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life, etc. but also more modern stuff like Spongebob. We just wanted the cast to be weird and over the top and really go to town with that cartoon look. For example, we’ve never really talked about why the main character, Hector, has green skin. It’s just something that felt like it wasn’t out of place for the vibe of the game.
Q) What would you say is the best thing about being an Indie developer?
A) The best thing is definitely the more direct connection with players and fans of your games. At a big company there tends to be one or two people who are in that role, and the designers, coders, artists, etc. are kept a bit more hidden. For me, I love going to shows and chatting to players about the games.
Q) What can be the worst thing about an indie developer?
A) The worst thing is probably time – there’s so much to do that isn’t game development (like doing interviews!) everything takes time and it can feel like you’re not getting enough left over to work on the games, so progress can feel a little slow.
Q) What else can players expect from Dead End Job?
A) They can expect to have a great time, to catch a lot of ghosts, to meet some very weird characters!
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