Since their debut title Tales from Space: About a Blob, DrinkBox Studios has been crafting fantastic gaming experiences. I recently had the opportunity to ask co-founder Graham Smith a few questions about the studio's history and the upcoming Guacamelee! 2.
[Tyler] Tell us about yourselves at DrinkBox Studios. How big is the team? Have you grown in size since releasing the original Guacamelee?
[Graham] We have grown a little bit since the original Guacamelee, but not drastically. We fluctuate in size, often growing somewhat near the end of our projects, but now that Guacamelee 2 has wrapped up production, we're at 12 full-time and 4 part-time people. We also work with a number of different external contractors for things like music composition, SFX creation, marketing, trailer creation, localization, etc.
[Tyler] DrinkBox Studios' name and logo are very original. Can you tell us the history behind them?
[Graham] When the company was first founded, we started as just 3 programmers and incorporated the company under the name "Not a Number Software". Shortly later, we added an artist and designer to the team, and they really hated this weird "programmer joke" name. So, we decided to brainstorm new names for the company, and after sifting through hundreds of suggestions and running the best ones past our friends, we arrived at DrinkBox Studios as our new (way better) name.
[Tyler] What made you choose Mexican heritage and folklore for the setting of the Guacamelee franchise?
[Graham] When trying to decide what to work on next, the studio often asks the whole team to come up with ideas and pitch them.
The setting and characters of Guacamelee were pitched to the team by Augusto Quijano, our concept lead who was born and grew up in Mexico. The team instantly fell in love with the world Augusto had visualized. We took gameplay ideas from pitches by other team members, like the world swapping mechanic, the Metroidvania structure, and the idea that abilities could be used for both platforming and combat, and combined all of these to make Guacamelee.
[Tyler] Chicken combat is a major new feature in Guacamelee 2. What made you want to have the chicken transformation as a more important part of the gameplay? Was designing chicken-based combat different to combat as Juan?
[Graham] When starting the design of Guacamelee! 2, we began by looking at all of the places that we thought the original game could be improved or extended. The chicken mechanics of the original game were very simple, essentially only allowing players to squeeze through small tunnels. For the sequel, we decided to push this further, giving the chicken many of Juan's abilities like throwing, performing wrestling moves (piledriver, suplex, etc.), wall jump, dodge. Then we decided to push it even further and give the chicken its own unique abilities, including a slow fall, a diagonal dash attack, a ground slide, and a few others that I won't spoil here.
[Tyler] Correct me if I'm wrong but in the console space, all 5 of your games released first on a PlayStation console with many of them later being ported to other consoles like Xbox and Nintendo. The same is true with Guacamelee 2, launching first on PS4 and PC. What makes you choose PlayStation as the first stop for your new releases?
[Graham] When our games are in the very early stages, we usually meet with all of the big publishers to show them a prototype of the game and discuss partnership opportunities. So far, all of our partnerships have ended up being with Sony, sometimes in the form of Pub Fund (a Sony program that gives developers an advance on royalties in exchange for an exclusivity period), and sometimes in the form of a more general "co-marketing" agreement. Sony has always been fantastic to work with, so it's not hard for us to keep going back to them.
[Tyler] As a huge fan of trophies and achievements, I'm always curious about how developers create trophies for their games. How much time do you spend coming up with and including trophies? Do you enjoy implementing them or does it feel more like an obligatory requirement to release games on PlayStation and Xbox?
[Graham] We really do love making trophies, and especially have fun coming up with silly titles for each of them. After an initial basic proposal is put together by one of our designers, we typically open a shared document for the entire team to contribute additional ideas for trophies that might be interesting, then narrow down the list to include only the best ones.
[Tyler] Very insightful, thanks. I'm sure you've been crazy busy working on Guacamelee 2 but have you played any other recent games? Are there any particularly memorable ones that you've enjoyed?
[Graham] Yes! Luckily at DrinkBox, we somehow manage to keep a good work-life balance, even during the intense "end of project" phase. Not surprisingly, I really enjoyed playing through God of War recently, which really blew me away with its incredible combat mechanics, the scope of its boss encounters, and the lore that they have built in their world. Some other slightly more hidden gems that I really liked were Yoku's Island Express (a pinball Metroidvania game that works surprisingly well), and I'm currently on my second playthrough of Hollow Knight, one of the best (if not the best) Metroidvania games I have ever played.
Guacamelee! 2 releases August 21, 2018 for PlayStation 4 so stay tuned for our full review!