SLACK-O-TASTIC Magazine Interview

Early in Kite’s Greenlight Campaign I was approached by an enthusiastic fellow who wanted to start a German retro e-magazine. It seemed like a bit of a long shot, but he wanted an interview and what had I to lose? He was going to be writing it in German, translating the questions to English, I’d answer them and then he would translate them back to German for his magazine. Phew.

The questions that finally landed in my inbox were encouraging and well thought out. He had clearly done his research and felt passionate about indie games like mine. I had to go the extra mile for each answer and things got a bit long and windy, but he assured me it was all good!

otasticCover
Issue #1

Fast forward about a month, low and behold SLACK-O-TASTIC Magazine dropped all over my inbox and sent me into a fit with it’s 90s game mag style and nostalgic features. The work speaks for itself – I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.

Slack-O-Tastic Kite Special Collage
Kite’s Full Spread

Although it’s in German, please leaf through the downloadable PDF and devour every page of this fantastically composed retro mag, featuring old Horror VHS reviews and Ferris Bueller quotes:

Slack Wiz
Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

So let’s get to the good stuff! Being entirely in German, I’ll be giving you one page of the mag followed by the English version of that page. Much of the text was translated for me by Reddit user drkii1911 who selflessly reached out and offered a hand. Thanks again mate!

otasticIndiesPage 25: Forward

The first computer games were developed in the 50s/60s in US universities. In the 70s technology allowed independent (indie) developers to realize their vision inside their garages. Most of the time people worked alone: creative, programming, sound, and publishing was solely in the hands of one person. The pioneers later on earned high sums because people were busting down their doors to get their revolutionary titles. Small teams were formed to build even larger projects. At some point business executives saw the potential cash flow. So some nerd who just started with game dev because of their love of games became a cold business strategist. In the 80s large gaming companies were formed which brought in a high amount of revenue. Nowadays those big companies buy out smaller indie studios. Profit seems to be the motivation of the industry. The exciting and colorful world of computer games finally reached mainstream. Nevertheless some people were still holding up their indie banners. Individuals and small teams didn’t die off completely, they just became fewer in numbers and more underground. In the last couple of years indie gaming has become a phenomenon once more and gained attention from platforms like Steam. Through Steam’s Greenlight function, you can publish your own games. S-O- T-M presents three of those titles and gets insight from their developers. Step into the independent domain.

otastic p38Page 38: Kite Part 1

“One Woman, against a rebellion of robots”

In a far, distant future there is finally peace again on earth. Now Humanity uses technology to revitalize the planet instead of destroying it; every weapon factory is shut down and scientific progression in this area is strictly forbidden. If not for the secret “Arch City”, a giant city sized complex in which scientists eagerly experiment on utopian weapons. Which element is still missing for a classic “end-of- time” scenario? Right – a robot rebellion. We are in charge of Mags, a sort of female super soldier. Armed to the teeth with ultramodern technology… Well yea how else should it be: to eliminate the robot plague which is threatening the newly forged peace.

Genre: Action/Adventure

Release: End of 2016

Developer/Publisher: Lab Cat Games

“KITE” could perish in the vast amount of PC-Games with its generic story – if it wasn’t for the interesting gameplay which forms this action loaded Sci-Fi dungeon crawler into a real Indie sleeper hit: While we play the game we don’t only have a vast amount of weapons at our fingertips (Railguns, Lightsabers, Rockets- and  flamethrower, Revolver, etc.), but there are defensive drones which protect and circle us for protection. This secret technology is also capable of slowing down time – bullet-time anyone? Also the movement brings a breath of fresh air; Mags is capable of performing a quick dash (perfect to dodge things) or throwing on a boost for a longer period. Planting mines, teleport or even heal… all this is possible. Since we can choose between two sets and switch between three self-chosen weapons and customize special abilities as well, Kite offers many individual possibilities to destroy robot butts – especially since armor and body implants are upgradable and can be equipped with different stats.

First Image Top Right: The beta is already making a solid impression.

Second Image Bottom Right: Mag kicks properly into titananuses (translators note: yea it literally says anus).

otastic p39Page 39: Kite Part 2

There is a lot of action in game; a high tempo and enemy count. An isometric “Contra”. Direct influences were SNES titles like “The Chaos Engine”, “SmashTV” and “Zombies Ate my Neighbours”. Kite is right up there with it’s role models and enhances the genre of shoot ‘em ups with it’s RPG elements, fast paced gameplay and it’s perfect controls.

Graphically = Retrotastic eye candy

Music = Like taken out of an 80’s action movie.

What more do you want? Well yea a Steam release wouldn’t be bad. So please help make this ambitious indie project come to Steam’s broader audience. Give the super soldier a green light: Please vote!

otastic p40Page 40: Kite Part 3

The Creator of Kite gives the Slack-O-Tastic Magazine a Jumbo Interview

S-O-T-M: Hey, James! In 2014 you quit your management-job to give birth to ‘Lab Cat Games’. Now you’re living your dream and the first game is getting released soon. How hard was it for you to take the first step into independence? What was the final thing that pushed you to follow your dreams?

James Treneman: It seems cliche to say but I’ve wanted to make games since I can remember. In 1st grade, I would ink levels out in tiny notebooks and get whoever I could to ‘play’. Then I would give them a list of actions and start role playing. I’ve always sketched or been creating something. However once I could actually play video games my game making dream slowly faded into the background and I fell in love with all the worlds contained within each new game I discovered.

My grandpa gifted me a computer on my 12th birthday, it was a 486 that ran WIN ‘95. I wish I could say I put it to good use but honestly I was much more into playing games. However it turned me into the ‘computer wiz’ and pulled me away from my SNES long enough to dabble in programming.

Eventually I would go on to college for CS and learn several languages including Java, but I got extremely disenchanted with computer science and foolishly dropped out of college with about three-quarters of a degree. Again, I was far more into playing games than making them, and the Indie pipeline to success wasn’t established in those days. It seemed like you either got a database job or worked at a AAA shop or possibly did something interesting with cyber security. Either way I wasn’t looking forward to any of it! But I was still always creating. In those days I would produce these elaborate videos of my WoW exploits – so basically just slacking off. I really didn’t have much direction until I totally shifted gears – decided that I wanted to do autobody work!

I was hired on as an apprentice helping to restore an old Ford B. I learned a love for doing body work and the art of it; decided to go to school for that and saved up enough to move down to California and enter into this super intensive trade school. Upon graduation I landed a job back in Oregon at a collision shop. I still wasn’t making games, but I was writing a sci-fi novel for fun and it was extremely rewarding, and would come in handy later, like many of my random interests.

Ended up in a management position at a service center that had nothing to do with autobody, computers or anything I gave a shit about. The company itself was so royally fucked up that the mere fact that I was a relatively sane human being (the owner constantly told me I had great ‘energy’) meant that I couldn’t fail. However it was soul crushing work and I basically convinced the guy to lay me off after a year. This turned out to be my master-stroke.

I was at a crossroads. I had been feeling creatively stifled for some time. I’m a hip-hop dancer and I was making videos of that, but I knew I didn’t have a future in it or anything. I had to face the realities of my life: over 25 jobs and I’d never liked any of them for more than a couple years. I’d had a similar history with hobbies. What the shit was I to do?

All I knew was that I needed to fucking create something. I was done just punching the damn clock because I’d tried that, a bunch. I had a unique opportunity thanks to being laid off: there is a social program for unemployed people starting small businesses. This jobs program covered my very basic needs for about 6 months and gave me a time buffer to work with. I just had to decide what I was building.

Gamemaker Studio hit me like a sack of bricks. I learned Java in college and GM:S language is basically a toy version of Java and was easy for me to pick up. Maybe I could create that game I’ve always wanted to play? I dove in deep and hard. Had a prototype that was ‘fun’ in less than a week and that’s when I went all in and committed to gamedev.

otastic p41Page 41:  Kite Part 4

S-O-T-M: While playing ‘Kite’ it seems that a whole team is involved in the creation process. The truth is, that you’re responsible for it – all alone … except the music. Isn’t it a giant load of work to do all this solo? Looks like a full-time job with overtime hours. 😉

James Treneman: It’s a giant mess of work indeed. My perspective has changed in fact! I used to naively say “I don’t think I want any help, because only I can really understand what I’m trying to do.” But after working with Liam on the music I have a lot more confidence in collaboration and I know how powerful it would be to be in a small team with say an artist and programmer. It’s really all about communication and if you have chemistry with someone and can share a vision, you will make a great team I think.

It’s more than a full time job, but it’s the most rewarding one I’ve ever had and I haven’t gotten a paycheck yet! I basically invested everything I had in myself and was able to survive these last two years by liquidating my life savings and that jobs program. I feel that it’s a strong investment because even if Kite isn’t financially successful, it should break me into the indie game world and move my career forward.

S-O-T-M: You have been working at the game for many months. What keeps you motivated all the time?

James Treneman: Satisfaction comes in truckloads whenever I can translate something in my head onto the screen and into the game. It’s some sort of a megalomaniacal desire I’m pretty sure, but creating whole worlds from scratch every day is a bit too much fun for me.

However there is one clear fact: feedback is the best motivator for nearly all creators. Any time I hear any comment (positive or negative) about my work I excitedly look at it with fresh eyes. I also love brainstorming with my friends about how to implement features or ‘find the fun’ as I say.

So much support comes from family and friends! People taking the time to ask about the game or give input is one thing, but that’s not always enough to get you through life’s curve balls. My wife Dana and I have been through a real grinder to get here, and without loving friends and family who believe in us it wouldn’t have happened.

S-O-T-M: Are there any tips you can give to people who also want to become game-developer?

James Treneman: Go do it! Another cliche answer but here’s my take on it: never before has it been so easy to design your own game! GM:S is like a dream come true for me because it’s so easy to break into it and find answers as you go. You’re lucky to be alive right now! Art & Entertainment are becoming the #1 industry of the world and will be the currency of the future. Start now! So tomorrow, when you were going to start, you’ll just be getting better.

otastic p42Page 42:  Kite Part 5

S-O-T-M: Are there special SciFi movies of the 80s / 90s that inspired the story of ‘Kite’? If yes, which ones?

James Treneman: Umm yeah, of course! But to be fair, I’ve probably pulled more from reading. Books like Snowcrash, Diamond Age, Old Man’s War, Ender’s Game, Neuromancer, Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, The Dispossessed and Foundation have all been hugely impactful on my creative life and I can’t recommend any of those enough. I love stuff about nanotech. If we’re talking films the short list probably looks like Star Trek, Alien, Judge Dredd, Tron, Soilent Green, Logan’s Run, Equilibrium, Terminator, Starman, Alien Mind, Weird Science, … I could make it a long list real easy :]

S-O-T-M: I’ve read at Steam that you like to listen to New Retro Wave while working on the game. Can you recommend any fresh NRW-records to our readers?

James Treneman: For me Airglow is the gold standard of synthwave, but it’s a bit more vapor than most. I like low/mid bpm super hard hip-hop style glitchy beats with nebulous spacey synths.  Airglow – S.A.M. may go down as my all time favorite song. Com Truise (who does many of Trevor Something’s beats) is a lot like Airglow but has a crazier off-the-wall style that can be hit or miss. Vector Hold has a really fun more traditional synthwave sound but I love it too.

S-O-T-M: Liam Hanley composed the genius music for ‘Kite’ – did you give him concrete examples or directions on what the OST should sound like? Or how do you work together?

James Treneman: Yeah, it was a combination of things but we worked off a lot of reference material that we would swap back and forth. We would try to isolate sounds or beats that I liked from other songs and incorporate them into Kite’s music. We developed a quick and dirty scale that goes from ‘Retro’ to ‘Future’ and talk about new tracks in these terms. ‘Retro’ meant super nostalgic, classically composed 80’s sounding stuff, and ‘future’ meant more modern dub beats and glitchy snares and bass sweeps, etc.

At one point he said “So I want this album to sound like it was recovered by some far future civilization and played back through ancient technology that isn’t quite working.” and I went “Holy fuck, this guy gets it.” It was so much fun working with Liam and he was incredibly driven to make tracks sound the way I wanted. He would cut and edit and tweak without hesitation for hours on end to make me happy. Literally slaved away on this thing for months and I know he’s going to be so proud when it gets the recognition it deserves!

otastic p43Page 43:  Kite Part 6

S-O-T-M: There’s an old version of your game-logo at imgur.com – with the typical 80s-chrome-look (I love that style). The new version differs. How will the final variant look like? No chrome-stuff? ;(

James Treneman: It took a while to lock in on an art style and a lot of the earlier concept stuff is drawn with airbrush tools and gradients and things that I don’t use any more. I’m sticking with the lower rez pixelart style, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do any chrome pieces! You’re the first person to say they liked that one though!

S-O-T-M: The movement in ‘Kite’ is pretty quick. That’s nice. While playing I always imagined how it would feel to jump around. I think that would kick ass. Could you imagine adding that function to thegame?

James Treneman: I could imagine it, and I want to explore multi-level space that involves jumping and climbing, but probably not in Kite. There are going to be a load of movement powers though – like charging, sliding, floating, cloning and maybe shrinking :]

S-O-T-M: Will we meet NPCs in the final game that aren’t scientists?

James Treneman: Yes. A detailed story will unfold in the game and you will meeting other actors in the plot. Scientists themselves will also have the chance to level up through researching and crafting new tech for you.

S-O-T-M: Jens Kolhammar, the creator of ‘A Bastard’s Tale’, speaks in our interview about the fact that his release missed to get attention of big review-sites. This supposedly damaged the success of the game. Are there already strategies to promote ‘Kite’ in a good way?

James Treneman: I’ve started an email campaign to get the word out to YouTubers and streamers and there have been a handful of inquiries from indie review sites that I know will continue. I am constantly updating social media with new game assets and my following is slowly growing! I’m not leaving it to luck but I know that I will need to get a lucky break from a well known streamer or something to go viral, and that a has yet to happen.

S-O-T-M: What do you think about the ongoing hype for Indy-Games? I think it’s exciting, because it takes us back to the origin of videogames. Many indy-games are reliving the spirit of the revolutionary beginnings – ‘Kite’ is a part of this. Humans that creating those worlds … because of sheer love … without any giant financial coverage and only limited possibilities. Do you see this in the same light?

James Treneman:  Yeah I think it’s wonderful, but it’s also a time honored tradition. Every corner of entertainment has an indie scene, and it’s because there’s always a group of creative people who can’t handle being limited and shackled by huge budgets and expectations. So I think no matter what happens to the video game market or whatever market, indies will always exist. They pioneer more often, and are more agile and can adapt to changes in the market faster. So not only is it awesome to have full control, but it’s a financially responsible way to create.

S-O-T-M: Can you show us the place where you are creative? Where ‘Kite’ gets created? A fancy photo… to show our readers a look into the secret world of indie-development [I thought this is a cool idea. Send me anything you want! – per e-mail, please].

James Treneman:  We’ve got a corner room in the front of our house and my wife and I share it as our office. It’s got all the important stuff – a big ‘ol desk and a little kitten! I like to decorate with my wife’s paintings and post up concept sketches I draw.

S-O-T-M: In your alpha-version … at the tutorial level … the laboratory has triangle and unicorn tiles. Can you tell us what’s going on there? 😛

James Treneman: What a great detail to notice! So within the Arch City complex, where Kite takes place, I imagined there were several factions of researchers and educators, one might call them ‘fraternities’ and each one has it’s own symbol. You noticed the Unis (unicorn) and the Trinities (tri-force) hanging on the wall. You might see them on the walls of the labs and offices in Kite, where they hang to honor those groups for their scientific contributions.

otastic p44Page 44: Kite Part 7

S-O-T-M: Do you want to communicate a special thing to the folks outta there? Is there something on your mind?

James Treneman: There is so much good to say about game dev, I really encourage everyone to try it! I think it’s a very supportive community and will readily accept newcomers. Online help for almost any obstacle is trivial to find for any decent keyboard warrior and much of the resources are user generated, it’s incredible.

That being said, I want to bring up my biggest complaint about the video game industry as well. It’s an extremely sexist culture dominated by the white male perspective. There is very little support for gender equality among video gamers and women are extremely marginalized, objectified and under-represented in games themselves. Please include strong female characters in your games and don’t be afraid to ignore gender norms! Not everyone has a male hetero-normative point of view. The video game industry needs to welcome more women and minorities and it will be stronger for it.

S-O-T-M: I’m very grateful for this interview. May ‘Kite’ delight many gamers and bring you enough money … so you can build a new bomb! Do you have any ideas for a second project?

James Treneman: I do have ideas for a second! And a third. And a fourth. Yeah I’ve never had a problem with ideas. I keep pocketing them for a more simplified game, maybe one that could even be played on mobile. Some kind of endless runner / shooter that just has a jump and a shoot button but takes you on an epic bullet hell ride. Either that or a throwback to the monster battle genre, but where you’re the puny humans trying to contain the raging giants from destroying your metropolis. I need to get to a game jam and iterate!

The alpha seems already complete enough and full of potential. With the right “luck” it is possible for James to land a real hit. Especially interesting: How does the story unfold? What bosses will we have to fight? How deep are those RPG elements? We can expect a first class pixel firework.

Thanks to Clive, the creator of SLACK-O-TASTIC Magazine for the opportunity and to Dominic for translations :]

 

 

 

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