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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Inner Ramblings Of A Videogamer Interviews Indie Developer Kitatus Studios

(Please note. Unfortunately Distro Horizons Vs. Galaximo's Army Kickstarter campaign was unsucesful. Kitatus Studios have moved on now to launch a Indiegogo campaign that can be found here Distro Horizons - 3D Collectathon Project,

"Distro Horizons Vs. Galaximo's Army" is a 3D collectathon project created by Kitatus Studios. Inspired by the greats (Banjo Kazooie, Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot, Conker's Bad Fur Day), Distro Horizons takes what made the collectathon genre so great and propels the genre into the modern day!"

Recently I had the privilege of conducting yet another exclusive, in depth interview with UK based indie developer Kitatus Studios, where I was offered a sneak peak into the world of their up and coming 3D open world collectathon project, Distro Horizons Vs. Galaximo's Army.

Many of the members of Kitatus Studios have prior experience in videogame development, and with Distro Horizons Vs. Galaximo's Army, they hope to offer gamers a new and enjoyable experience that old fans of  collectathon games can enjoy as well as newcomers to the genre. Distro Horizons draws strong inspiration from past 3D collectathon titles, such as Banjo Kazooie, Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot and Conker's Bad Fur Day. But also offers new and unique ideas, as well  implementing modern day gameplay mechanics the likes not seen in past collectathon titles.

Check out the exclusive interview below, along with some screenshots from the Kickstarter demo of Distro Horizons Vs. Galaximo's Army.

(This Interview was conducted over Skype chat.)



TIR: So, first of all. Tell me a little about your company Kitatus Studios, and the people involved in creating Distro Horizons VS Galaximo's Army?

KS: Well, we're quite a small indie company, about as small as indie companies get. There's 10 members as of now, but we all double up on our work. For example, we have our art director who also doubles up as our marketing director. So even though we're a small group, we have a few people doing many things, as apposed to a large company like say EA, who has many people doing a single thing.

KS: This really helps with communication, so we don't have to worry about anyone being left out of the loop if say, we decide to shift direction or implement new ideas.

TIR: It is true that in many large developer companies, there does tend be a lot of miscommunication going on due to the sheer size of the teams.

KS: Definitely, it's a big positive that comes with a having a small company. Also, I might be the project lead, but it doesn't mean I'm captain of the ship and I say "full speed ahead," everyone here has their say on how we should go forward or what should happen next. But from the outset, we always wanted to make a collectathon game.To be honest they're one of personal favourite genres of all time.

TIR: Same here, (laughs)

KS: Fantastic (laughs)

KS: Well, in the beginning, the art director and myself were sitting there discussing what kind of main character for Distro Horizons wouldn't "suck", and suddenly a cat came into the conversation, and then a cat-man and well there you have it. It's the same way Hideo Kojima went about developing Metal Gear Solid 2, where yeah, you might have job that doesn't involve actually designing anything but it doesn't mean you don't have input on the project because at the end of the day, everyone who's part of the teams name is going to be associated with the game, so you may as well be making something you're proud of.

KS: Basically, everyone here gets to have input, and we have all contributed to what is now known as Distro Horizon.

TIR: That sounds like fair approach. So, onto the next question.


TIR: The collectathon genre has been somewhat absent from video gaming for a while now, why is it that you chose to develop a game like Distro Horizons, as apposed to a game for a more popular genre?

KS: The art director laughed when I explained this to her, but basically I'm getting board of shooting things. Everyday you go down the to your local video games retailer, or go online or check out Steam daily deals, and pretty much everything is about shooting things. The industry has become oversaturated with shooting games, and yes they sell well, but they're not the only genre worth playing. Indie developers should be the ones trying to break the mould, we should be the ones to go against industry trends and to try to provide gamers with something fresh, interesting and enjoyable to play.

KS: As I said earlier, collectathon games are one of my favourite genre of games. So when I was discussing what kind of game to make with Scarlet, our art director and marketing manager. Conkers Bad Fur Day came up and we starting think "Why aren't there many collectathon games around these days" and that got us thinking about games such as Banjo Kazooie, Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot. They're the types of games that you can think back on and recall all the memorable experiences, exploring unique worlds and meeting fun, interesting characters. You can't really get that same experience with games like Call Of Duty or Battlefield because they're grounded so firmly in reality.

TIR: It's true that a lot of games we played in the past are still good games in their own right, many still hold up well today.

KS: That's the thing. Just look at the recent HD port of Banjo Kazooie 2, it still stands the test of time today, and it's success serves to prove that the genre is still relevant. I know people that never go the chance to play it when it first came out, and many of them really enjoy it because the gameplay mechanics are timeless.

TIR: I agree, the game holds up very well considering how long ago it was released.

KS: Exactly. What we want to do is bring back the collectathon genre, but use new skills and tools that weren't available back when these games were first released, and improve upon them by adding our own ideas, and unique gameplay mechanics. I want to create something that I would sit down with and think "Wow! This a really fun game" because that's what Kitatus Studios is all about, creating fun and unique games, that hopefully other people will find just as fun and timeless as the games I enjoyed playing in the past.

TIR: Ok, so we'll move on to the next question.



TIR: You recently started a Kickstarter campaign for Distro Horizons. Can you tell me a little about why you turned to crowd funding? And what a successful campaign will mean for the future of Distro?

KS: We've turned to crowd funding because up until now, Distro Horizons has been funded purely by the art director and myself. And, I'm not going to lie, making a video game puts a tremendous amount of strain on your resources. Realistically, yes we could make a game without crowd funding but it's not going to be the Distro Horizons that we want to give gamers, it's just not going to have the polish and everything that we so want to offer.

KS: When creating a game, you need animators, you need riggers, and you need to live at the end of the day. We do have funds of our own, that we got together before I quit my job to focus on the project. But obviously, that's not going to last forever, so we need help from gamers so that we can bring the world of Distro alive in a way that's not just to our tastes, but that we feel other gamers will enjoy and want t be a part of making a reality.

KS: The great thing about Kickstarter, is it lets gamers have their say about what they want to see and what they think doesn't work. With Kickstarter, gamers can help shape the game and feel more a part of the world, the characters and the story. We really want this to be a community drive project as apposed to just some guy in the a suit giving us a check to do what we want with.

TIR: I'm sure people will be glad to hear that. Allowing potential consumers to have input in a project they like the look of really is one of Kickstarters greatest strengths.

KS: Exactly, that's why I always want Kitatus Studios to be an indie company. I don't want a big publisher pulling the strings to make more money, I want to create games that people will enjoy.

KS: We want it have it so that people can say "Oh, wouldn't it be cool if in this boss battle, he would transform into to some giant Hoover or something" That would just make it more of a community driven project, instead of just about making money. That's not what we're about, we don't do this to make money we do this to create experiences for people to enjoy.

TIR: Ok, sounds great.

KS: Thanks.

TIR: Moving on again. You've stated on you Kickstarter page that you won't be making any DLC for Distro Horizon, is there any reason in particular for that decision?

KS: That's correct. It was hard to explain to the team exactly why at first, because they just heard "No DLC" and well everyone does it these days right? But I think people need to realise that DLC can actually be a bad thing, because some companies, especially large AAA developers, like to hold back content to sell to you later down the line.

KS: The main idea here is, we're not going to hold back content to sell you later. If you buy Distro Horizons you won't need to worry about us trying to charge you £10 down the line. When you buy the game that means you'll be getting the whole game, and if we ever feel like we want to add something down the line, we'll save that for the sequel if the consumers want one. Actually I wouldn't really call them consumers, big companies see people as consumers and just focus on how many more they can acquire by making their game accessible, and how much money they can get through DLC, or expansions, or charging for horse armour.

KS: But that's not who we are, we're about making games for gamers. If someone purchases our game then we want them to be getting all of it. We want gamers to feel like "I'll get a game from these guys, because at least I know they won't be trying to charge me for cut content a few weeks or months from now"

TIR: I'm sure a lot of people will be happy to hear that, it has become somewhat of an industry trend to hold back content to be sold to consumers at a later date.

TIR: I'll move onto the next question now.


TIR: Can you tell me a little about the plot and story of Distro Horizons?

KS: It's pretty simple when compared to many other games, but basically. The story goes, Distro lives with his family and has this little stuffed animal called Teddy, who he plays with like a little friend. It's a nice little family, all Hunky-dory. But one night, as Distro is going to bed a shooting start flies across the sky, but instead of Distro making a wish for his stuffed Teddy friend to come to life as many would probably expect.

KS: There's instead, a huge crashing sound from outside, Distro goes out to check what it was and sees that his parents were abducted by Aliens. He then chases after the Aliens who have his parents, with his little Teddy on his back, but then he also gets abducted by the Aliens.

KS: Afterwards Distro and his family get taken to Galaximo's big Alien space ship. Galaximo is the villain in the story and his plan is to abduct all the creatures from many different planets, and make them his slaves in order to build his Mega Kingdom.

TIR: Oh,  right. He does sound like a villain.

KS: Distro is then sent the the prisons on the huge Alien ship, but at that time notices that Teddy isn't with him anymore. So he's confused and worried because Teddy is his best friend, even though Teddy isn't real he's still his best friend, because, well Distro's a bit special like that. But, at that moment Teddy swoops down and saves the day, and breaks Distro free from the Aliens keeping him captive.

KS: We've not yet come up with a name for the Aliens, we'll maybe go with something weird, I like weird. (laughs)

TIR: (Laughs)

KS: Although, maybe we'll ask the community for some ideas, since I think that kind of community input would be great.

TIR: That sounds like a good idea.

KS: So, anyway it seems that Teddy has become "real" somehow. The story then moves onto Distro and Teddy breaking into this big control room, which is going to be the hub world that links to many different dimensions by collecting vinyls. Yeah vinyls (laughs).

TIR: Oh, really? (Laughs)

KS: Yeah, music vinyls that will power up a massive music system that's going to break down the shield on Galaximo's little chamber, so they can get in, stop him and save all the people who've been abducted. So, yeah it's pretty random, but we here at Kitatus, as you've probably guessed right now, don't do normal (laughs)

TIR: It seems so (laughs) But it's certainly interesting.

KS: Thank you.

TIR: I'll move onto the next question now.


TIR: Are there any video games in particular that helped inspire the creation of Distro Horizons?

KS: Yes, actually I've got a small list of them. I've listed a few of them on our Kickstarter page already but I'll just run down the list here.

KS: We've got Banjo Kazooie, because how can you not be inspired by that game? We've got Conkers Bad Fur Day, and we've then got Crash Bandicoot. Saying that though, the finished product will be far more open world than Crash Bandicoot, but we've still drawn heavy inspiration from that franchise. Obviously we've also got Super Mario 64 because that was the king of collectathon games as well as platformers.

TIR: That's certainly true.

KS: And you may or may not have guessed already, but we've also drawn inspiration from The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker, not to mention pulling a leaf out of the Jet Set Radio art style. Now, we're not trying to make the game look "Cartoony" but we certainly wanted a cartoony element to be present.

TIR: Iwas going to say that the character design looks similar to those you'd find in Wind waker.

KS: It's funny how that happened. You see we're using the Unity engine to build the game, and whilst testing the animations of some fat type of monster whilst using Distro's character model, it swelled his his head up to a stupid size. But oddly enough it worked, it fits the kind of world we're looking to create.


TIR: So, in what way does Distro being a "cat-man" play into the game?

KS: Well, he was actually going to be a "cat-vampire" just prove how weird we can get (laughs) But we decided to tone it back a bit because Vampires are obviously closely associated with blood, so in the end we felt that such a character would remove the kind of child like daydream feel to the game.

KS: There is a reason we went with a "cat-man" design, some of which have to do with the skills you'll learn or the way you'll traverse the world. So.we Have a few ideas of what we're going to do, however because we're still so very early into developing Distro Horizons, I don't want to say anything definite that unfortunately might not make it into the finished product.

TIR: Well, that's understandable

TIR: I'll move onto the next question.


TIR: What aspects of the collectathon genre do you hope to bring forward to today's gamers?

KS: The main aspect we want to offer gamers is big open worlds, those where you can go off the beaten path and discover hidden areas. For, example imagine coming across a tiny mouse hole, but when entering it you suddenly come to this massive room that you never knew existed .We want to give gamers a sense of achievement and wonder when discovering something hidden away.

KS: Obviously it's important that gamers know where they should be heading, but we don't want to force them down path A to B. We're not looking to hold gamers hands, we want to encourage gamers to cut loose and try to discover all the secrets scattered throughout the games world themselves. So, that' definitely the biggest aspect of the genre we're looking to incorporate.

KS: But at the same time, we want to incorporate modern gameplay mechanics such as gaining experience from killing enemies, that can be then used gain new skills and to make Distro more powerful. In a lot of collectathon games, enemies are just there to get in the way and can often be a chore to fight, but by incorporating a level up system, it adds an additional layer and gives the enemies a bigger purpose as apposed to just being an annoying inconvenience for the player.

KS: We want to keep the collectathon genre as intact as possible, but while at the same time adding new layers that don't seem intrusive but feel natural. There have been a few gameplay mechanics that we put in, but had to remove because we felt they didn't work or fit well in the genre.

TIR: I do like the idea of including a levelling system.


TIR: Can you tell me how many levels the game will have? Also, do you plan on having any boss battles?

KS: The levels are actually split into different dimensions. We call them "Dimensions" because each new stage is actually a new world, completely different from one another.

KS: We have 9 main dimension and then the boss battles at the end of each. But when I say "dimensions" instead of "worlds," it's because they all have a completely different art style. They all work as if they are part of a separate game whilst still offering players the same basic controls. Basically, each dimension will require the player to traverse them in unique ways and will offer unique and interesting obstacles.

KS: I'll let the lid off of this just for our exclusive interview. We hav very a special dimension, dimension No. 7 I think it is, called "Master Ginrei's Video Game Challenge" It's going to be very much in the style of something you'd find in a Saints Row game. Where we'll be basically taking the mick out of various video games all one after the other as quickly as possible.

KS: What we want, is to have it to so that even though you're jumping from one dimension to another, you still feel like you're playing Distro Horizons, you still feel like you're in the same game. It sounds really confusing when taking about it, but it will make sense when players get to experience it themselves.

KS: As for the boss battles, we were actually really inspired by Crash Bandicoot's boss battles, specifically in Crash Bandicoot 3. I'm not sure if you've ever played the game, but you'd complete a certain number of levels and I think on the 3rd level you'd enter a Boss battle, the level would be completely different to those before hand and would also offer different gameplay when compared to the how you normally played the game. Some would require you to use new skills you'd learnt in the previous levels, or use the environment to your advantage. Basically they were just very fun, well crafted Boss battles.

KS: What we plan to d,o is to have the different dimensions in the game centred around the bosses, and have each boss battle be unique and require the player to use new skills and tactics in order to beat them.

TIR: That sounds very interesting. The way you travel to different dimensions and fight unique boss battles, sounds very much in the spirit of the classic collectathon games many of us played whilst growing up.


TIR: So moving on, Who are your intended target demographic? For example are you aiming to appeal old-school fans of the collectathon genre, or are you hoping to appeal to as wide an audience as possible?

KS: We want a wide audience, but then again we don't. I know that's kind of odd for a company to say, but we want to attract a specific group of people. Yes, amongst those people are the fans who enjoyed collectathon games growing up, but we also want to attract gamers who like the idea of Distro, who enjoy the concept, and also those who may never have gotten a chance to play a collectathon game before.

KS: Personally, the main audience for Distro as far as I'm concerned is for kids and teenagers, those who may find themselves alone a lot or who've got nothing to do. Of course kids and teenagers have many other games to play these days, but do we really want them growing up and looking back on COD or Battlefield and the like? Or would they have better memories of playing a game similar to the fun, open world collectathon games we grew up playing, tand hat still hold up today?

KS: Of course that's not so say adults won't find enjoyment in the game, in fact I'm certain they will.

TIR: It's true that young gamers today, tend to play many games that have a heavy focus on visceral gore, sex and guns. Instead of, well not "child friendly games" but games that can be enjoyed by all ages.

KS: Exactly, that's why I'd like to encourage younger gamers to start playing not "child friendly games" but "child compatible games" Where, yeah, the game may be aimed at an older audience, but you haven't got all the graphic violence, sex and gun crime that appear in many of the games younger gamers tend to want to play today.

KS: What I want to offer gamers with Distro, is a more innocent alternative. Something that gamers of any age can sit down with and enjoy, simply for it being a fun and enjoyable game.


TIR: So, moving on gain. On What platforms are you planning on making Distro Horizons VS Galaximo's Army available?

KS: Well, we have four main platforms currently in mind, those being PC / Mac / Linux & Ouya, yes even the Ouya (laughs)

KS: I know some people see the Ouya as a "failed console" but personally, I see it as a console lacking in worth while games. I'm not saying Distro Horizons will suddenly make the console appealing to gamers, but it certainly can't hurt having more games available on the platform. Also, having our game available on as many platforms as possible could only be a good thing.

KS: We have more platforms we'd like to have Distro Horizons available on, such as mobiles and the like, but we'd want to incorporate a model where gamers get to purchase the parts of the game they want to play. We're not sure if that kind of thing would work since it's a very foreign method of distribution, but we'd like to try, if the game reaches the stretch goal. For now though, the four platforms mentioned above are what we're currently developing for.

TIR: Ok, next question. Will the characters in Distro Horizons be voiced? Or are you going with written text only?

KS: Well, we're in talks with an actor who's very interested in voicing Distro. However, we're currently not ready to announce whether we'll be using voice actors or just text, because to be honest we're not 100% sure about that ourselves at the moment.

KS: It comes down to the question of whether or not people will be bored just reading a bunch of text on screen, or whether or not people would even want voices in a game like this.

TIR: That's understandable, there are many pros and cons either way. The Legend Of Zelda for example, has been without voice acting for years, and the fanbase is split right down the middle with people arguing for or against voice acting.

KS: With the Zelda franchise, I think that it's become such a staple of the series now, that if Nintendo were to add voice actors it would just alienate the fanbase. We really just want to weigh out the pros and cons and see what the best choice for us would be.

KS: Actually, that many be a good question to bring up the community.

TIR: That sounds like a good idea. It's a question many gamers will have an opinion on, so it's certainly worth bringing up with the community.

KS: I think we'll do that, we'll bring it up with our Kickstarter backers. After all that's the beauty of Kickstarter, we get to turn to the community and say "Hey, this is your game what would you want?"

TIR: So  moving to the final question. Is there anything else, you as the developer would like to say about your project, that I might not have asked already?

KS: What I will say is, a lot of people have been viewing the Kickstarter page lately, and reading the indie database page, but sadly not watching our video and just scrolling through or clicking off altogether. 

KS: Yes, we're an indie company, so we're not going to get the most exposure. But just because we don't have thousands upon thousands of pounds in order to create a AAA title, doesn't mean we're going to make a terrible game.

KS: A small indie developers game is just as much a game as say COD, Zelda or even Braid and Super Meat Boy. The ideas behind Distro Horizon are built on love for games, we may not have the budget needed to market the game and get it on the side of busses or whatever, but that doesn't make Distro Horizons any less of a game compared to those coming from big publishers.

KS: If you love games then support indie developers, because we're making games that gamers will want to play and enjoy. Not because we want to make a ton of money, money isn't what we're in it for, we're in it because we love making games and we want to offer gamers the best experiance that we can provide for them.

TIR: Ok, I think we'll end it there. Thanks for joining me today Ryan, it's been a pleasure talking with you and I wish you the best of look with Distro Horizons VS. Galaximo's Army.

KS: Thank you, it's been pleasure talking with you too.

(This concludes the interview with Kitatus Studios)

And there you have it, Kitatus Studios Distro Horizons Vs. Galaximo's Army, certainly sounds very interesting. Personally, I really like the ideas behind the project and look forward to seeing more of the game, as well as what unique elements Kitatus Studios can bring to the collectathon genre.

If you're interested in finding out more about Distro Horizons Vs. Galaximo's Army, or want to help fund the project. Head over to Kitatus Studios new Indiegogo page Distro Horizons - 3D Collectathon Project, where you can also play a bare-bones demonstration of what the team are hoping to offer.

You can also follow Kitatus Studios at their official Facebook page @kitatus_studios_facebook and Twitter page @kitatus_studios_twitter to keep updated with their project.

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