This week, we’ve been chatting to the super-creative Queen Bee Games – developers of action-packed tower defence Onion Force – about learning to code, Cuphead, Canada and why onions make some people laugh.
So Queen Bee Games – you seem to be something of a two-person powerhouse! Is it really just the two of you, or is there a team of worker bees buzzing away behind the scenes?
Kathleen: You got us! It’s predominantly two of us [Steve and Kathleen Cassidy]. However, we did hire a background artist, because we wanted a really particular style to have a bit of contrast with the characters. We hired our awesome music composer buddy, oxygenfad for the tunes. Towards the very end of production, we hired on a game designer friend to help us balance the game. But otherwise just the two of us.
Going forward we plan to keep it small but to do some amazing collaborations with major focus on the artists; next game in the works is with a world renowned indie comic artist and we are pumped to start sharing screens and gifs. Soon, very soon.
We were immediately drawn in by the art style, it’s absolutely gorgeous and, to us, a little reminiscent of the Disney cartoons from way back in the 1930s. Was this an inspiration? What else have you drawn on in perfecting your style?
Steve: Thanks very much! It’s funny you say Disney because I’m an animator by trade, and that was the last client I worked for before blasting off into the world of game development. I love Disney cartoons, and when I draw I don’t consciously try to draw like any style in particular but I guess my preferences somehow come out into my designs. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve been told that the art of Onion Force reminds them of John K; who I also admire but I never set out with the intention of emulating styles. I just try to draw cool, sharp looking characters.
Although the gameplay is very different, Cuphead is another recent game with a somewhat similar style! Is this something you guys are looking forward to playing?
Kathleen: YES!!! We are SO beyond pumped for this game. Cuphead is super inspiring, and we set out to do what the devs have done, by really pushing art-styles and animation in our games. Not sure we can come close to that genius though. We’re huge cartoon fans, and this is a dream game come true.
It seems like Onion Force is your first game, which is impressive considering how well polished it is. Have you worked on video games in the past? It would be great to hear a little about how you got into game development…
Steve: First game. I learned how to code as I went along. Literally googling ‘Make man move’. I made a lot of mistakes, but learned a ton. I feel really confident with coding now, and am really excited to dive into our next projects because I feel way more confident now than I did then. I don’t have to google everything now. XD
The game itself is deceptively tricky. Despite, or perhaps because of, the challenge it’s utterly satisfying; we’d love to know a little about the principles behind the game’s mechanics and your thought processes behind them.
Steve: I wanted to make a difficult game, but one that wasn’t so hard that you raged the whole way through. You certainly start sweating and maybe swearing when things get wild and frantic, but the rush you get when you beat the level is very satisfying. I love when people get that, so thank-you. If people complain about how hard the game is, all I can say is ‘Git Gud’. We have had non-gamers come in and beat the game. It’s possible, you just have to find a strategy that works for you.
As far as mechanics, etc. in Onion Force, we wanted to create more of a ‘living’ Tower Defense game where you could actively be in involved in everything, because much of the Tower Defense genre seems to be waiting around for things to happen. Often these games have very stiff, robotic animation. The animation in Onion Force really brings the game to life. We have a pinball type mechanic in the mobile version of the game that really keeps the action going. Some people don’t understand it because it’s generally not how players move around in games, but when people do grasp that ‘yes, your character is pin-balling around and it’s supposed to be happening’- they have a blast! I could go on and on for this question, I’m just gonna stop here.
How long does it take you to create a game, from start to finish? Are there any parts of the process that you find frustrating?
Steve: This game took almost 2 years. But it was a completely different genre, different style, different animations, everything. It turned into a beast of a project. Like I said previously, I made a ton of mistakes. The whole game was essentially a huge project which involved learning every step of the way. Most frustrating part is bugs that crop up that can take days to figure out. UGH!!!
Do you think there’s enough support for indie games developers such as yourself?
Kathleen: To be honest, we’ve been pretty fortunate living on a small island in Canada, and having the support of the local entrepreneur community. There are a few programs here we have been able to take advantage of to get up and running. As long as you are prepared to dive in and do the research, do up a solid business plan, then Canada has some pretty stellar programs for new businesses. As far as the industry in general, It’s really hard to stand out when you are an unknown studio, it’s an extremely noisy industry and we’re still trying to navigate through and see where we fit in. Discoverability is the challenge. If we continue to build our portfolio of quality and quirky games, we hope to leave some sort of mark. That’s the plan.
Last but not least, we have to ask… why onions? Any hidden layers (pardon the pun) behind such a wonderfully leftfield choice?
Kathleen: Please don’t cry – the answer will probably let you down. But we literally just wanted a different form of currency for purchasing power-ups, and onions made us laugh for whatever reason. So we kept them. It’s one of those weird, type of inside joke things that is probably not funny to anyone else but us. We just like hearing people say ‘Onions’.