Most projects on Kickstarter can only dream of the success Blue Omen Operation had.
In just one day, the game reached its funding goal of $15,000. Now it raised nearly twice that with over $29,600 in funding from over 1,000 backers at the time of writing. It’s also currently featured on Kickstarter’s games section as one of the “Projects We Love.” Fans are showing their appreciation through fan art which Programmer & Game Designer Bryan Cox has been constantly retweeting. All this success is especially amazing considering the huge disasters that have happened on the crowdfunding site such as the infamous Mighty No. 9.
Blue Omen Operation has two heroes, Jiro and Yagiko, traveling the world in search of powerful treasures housing the souls of restless spirits while meeting colorful characters along the way. Jiro is a greaser with a cosmic parasite granting him great power at a deadly cost and Yagiko is a trouble making yet adept magus-in-training. In the background of all this is the Blue Omen, a mysterious and ancient sarcophagus said to contain a great, oppressive power.
Cox along with an artist known as Inker and Composer Michael Staple make up a newly formed team known as BananaSoft. They cite Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga as major influences. This can be seen not only in the game’s timing and reflex-based battle system with the player hitting buttons to dodge and attack more effectively but in the quirky characters and colorful art style. Of course the developers added their own spin to the game, with the game sporting a retro anime-inspired aesthetic and completing attacks with minigames instead of just simple button prompts.
Heavy asked Cox via email about the project’s success, the team’s plans for the game, and navigating the ups and downs of Kickstarter.
Your Kickstarter campaign reached its funding goal in less than a day and so far you are close to reaching twice that amount. That must feel incredible. Tell me just how incredible that must feel and why.
It’s hard to put it, but in the back of our mind we expected it to make it. We expected a good 15k and that would be that! We are honestly getting overwhelming positive responses for the game and that itself is just overwhelmingly good. We were worried right when we launched it that everyone one would just pass on it, but I guess we just got lucky and its hitting well with people. So it feels pretty good.
What do you owe all this success to?
Hard-work, presentation, and networking. We worked our buns off for over a year to get this demo-prototype ready for the world to see and through out that hard work we were very very vocal about our progress on Twitter. I think at least once or twice a week we would just post progress of the game and it slowly started creeping its way to the right people! Of course even if we kept posting, there had to be something else to catch people’s eyes. That’s where presentation comes in. No matter how technically impressive the thing you made is, if it ain’t pretty most people might pass on it. The next part was mostly just Cox talking to everyone and anyone about the game, just because he was passionate about it. People resonate with that.
Do you feel an increase in pressure to deliver on the game because of all this support?
Not really an increase, it just more apparent to us. People are having a great time with the demo-prototype, despite its flaws, already which is a super liberating feeling. We can only go up from here if we keep doing what we have been doing, except with the Kickstarter we will have some money to give the game the extra polish that it deserves.
Are you worried that the excess funding may cause your ambitions to outpace both your budget and deadlines, as was the case with games like Mighty No. 9 and Broken Age? What are you doing to temper your ambition in the face of your expanded budget?
People keep saying this to us and are worried about it. We understand, we are too. But we have a good idea of what we seriously want out of the game. We have done all the hard work already on a nothing budget, and the demo so far has been receiving nothing but great responses. The best thing we did for the Kickstarter was be up front with the demo-prototype and let everyone and anyone play it. Those who like it and understand supported the game, those that don’t passed on it. Which is fine!
As a brand new developer working on your very first game, how difficult is it to get attention for a new game? What do you feel is the best way to get publicity for a brand new property and project?
I touched on this a little bit but the best thing is passion. People love seeing others work their asses off for something they care about deeply. Specially when it comes to games. The worst thing an indie dev can do is not post anything about their game or share nothing with anyone. No one cares about a game they don’t know they need to care about, let alone exists.
You already made significant headway into the development of the game, going so far as to include a playable demo on the Kickstarter page. How important is having a playable build for selling a game to potential backers?
People do not trust Kickstarter games thanks to the like of Mighty No. 9 and Broken Age. Neither had a playable demo, so no one really knew what game they were gonna get besides “Megaman!” and “Monkey Island!” and I think that hurt them more than anything. A playable demo shows off what the game looks like on a nothing budget, the skill of those working on it, and just how dedicated they truly are. There are great games that passed the test of being pretty darn good and not having a demo, like A Hat in Time. I think we did well to show off what we are capable of.
Some have suggested that larger, big-named indie projects like Yooka-Laylee, Bloodstained, and Mighty No. 9 draw attention and resources away from smaller, “actual” indie projects. Do you feel that this could be the case, or do you think these larger projects could help crowdfunding rather than harm it?
The worst thing a big-named indie project can do, specially one funded by kickstater, is just not be good. I don’t mean those games outright sucked, but I can tell you people were not happy and still not happy. So because the bigger named stuff is kinda meh, that leaves a bad view for the smaller guys, which stinks! There seems to be a lot more smaller indie Kickstarters happening that have pretty good games and people are starting to trust again, of course those that have a playable demo.
Do you feel pressure to not fail the way those projects did?
Of course, we don’t want to become another Kickstarter that everyone loves to shit on because of bad planning, bad game, or just some third thing. Since the reception for those games was as bad and as large as it was, its really hard to do what they did. It’s like after you see a guy walk into oncoming traffic and get hit, you damn as sure know now that you don’t walk into traffic. It just becomes instinct.
Traditional, turn-based JRPGs like Paper Mario have been largely untouched by the AAA game industry as of late, with Square Enix announcing that their remake of Final Fantasy 7 will feature a more action-oriented combat system like the one featured in Final Fantasy 15 instead of the game’s original active time battle system. Why do you think that AAA publishers are shying away from turn-based battle systems and traditional JRPGs in general, despite the success of games like Bravely Default proving that the market is there?
They are too slow and boring. The only reason I enjoy Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi is because those games require you to pay attention and actually be good at the game. A lot of JRPG’s rely on you just pressing a button and a thing happens, most of the time there is very little strategy. Specially when you try to do something in those games and it fails, mostly in the Shin Megami Tensei games, you feel kinda cheated. “How am I supposed to know this was gonna happen?” You aren’t given the resources to react, unless of course you plan ahead. But we want players to charge into situations and keep going if they have the skill or the luck!
You cite Paper Mario, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and even WarioWare as major influences for Blue Omen Operation. What was it about those games that made them so captivating and made you want to adapt their gameplay into your own game?
We both grew up with these games and loved them to death. We constantly put these games in our top 10’s all the time. They are just timeless to us. The look, the feel, the music, and just everything in between brings home what we think to be just enjoyable games.
Many players believe that the recent iterations of Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi have felt bland and tired compared to their previous entries. Do you feel the same way? Do you seek to recapture the magic that has been absent from those games for Blue Omen Operation?
The worst part of it all is Nintendo is honestly mistreating these series, missing out on why we truly enjoyed these games. Which is a shame, we wanna take the ideas those games brought, put it with ours and make something great.
Many criticize games on Kickstarter for trading too much on nostalgia. That was certainly a major criticism of Yooka-Laylee, with many saying that the game tried too hard to recreate classic N64 platformers without fixing their numerous problems. Do you feel that relying too much on nostalgia both for marketing and game design can be a problem? How do you you put your own spin on Blue Omen Operation while clearly taking a lot of inspiration from classic games?
Relying on nostalgia is the worst thing any game can do. You might as well just go play the old game and ignore the new one. We don’t want to rely on the nostalgia, but we use it as a framework to capture what we really enjoyed from those games to maybe use it. If we can’t, oh well, we will work around it and create what we think works best for that situation.
I’m curious as to why you decided to go with a retro anime-inspired artstyle for the game. How does it fit with the game’s story and gameplay?
So the style is just a by-product of Ink’s own style which is inspired by all of the retro anime. I think the style helps create a more mature environment for the game so we can get away with talking about more adult themes. Of course with gameplay, its just super satisfying to see an anime punch take down an enemy. Specially when you timed your button press with it to make it happen. Feels super nice.
You mentioned that you wanted to include adult themes in the game. What adult themes can we expect?
If you have not noticed by the demo, we have a few characters that are dressed very lewd. We will never show nudity though. Plus we are gonna say a few swears here and there, but not needlessly.
The two shopkeepers featured in Blue Omen Operation, Pachi and Puncho, remind me of how the teachers in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga look vaguely reminiscent of the brothers in terms of color scheme and how they come in pairs. Can we expect other callbacks like this in the game?
Probably! We don’t want to do references, and if we do, they have to make sense in the world of Blue Omen. That stuff is stupid and dates the game. We want something timeless.
The music featured on the Kickstarter page rocks. I can definitely hear notes of Mario & Luigi in there, especially with the mini-boss theme. Was mimicking the musical style from the game your intention?
I wouldn’t say that Mario & Luigi is the inspiration alone. I would say all the Game Boy Advance games are. All the music on the system was very hyperactive since a lot of the games on there where very quick and fast paced, and since Blue Omen Operation is a faced paced game, we needed music to reflect that. It also helps that our music guy, Michael Staple, is just crazy talented and has done a bunch of work for GBA fan-games, and that is part of the reason we wanted him on in the first place!
I noticed in the demo that there’s a meter that increases as you walk around and you encounter an enemy when it gets full. However, you can deplete it if you stand still. What was the reasoning behind this take on random encounters? How do you balance the game if players can avoid every random encounter?
The enemy meter was a design choice made under time constraints. We personally think it solves what it needs, but there is better solutions. We are gonna go the route of overworld enemies, in the same vain as Paper Mario, Mario & Luigi, and Mother 3. It makes enemies more personal as well as more threatening.
Much of the demo involved following clues as you explore an open area in order to find items and progress much like in classic adventure games or RPGs. What was the though process behind this more open ended take on exploration and progression? How do you make this exploration challenging without being too cryptic for the player?
Most RPGs are incredibly linear, while that isn’t bad, it sometimes very boring to play. Making an area that you have to actually explore to get through is something that we find more enjoyment in. Though we try our best to keep it semi-linear, as to give a better control of the story at hand.
The Kickstarter page boldly claims that you can play the entirety of the game without taking even a single hit if you’re good enough at dodging and parrying. Are you going to hold yourselves up to that claim?
Yes, 100 percent. The more dedicated players will be able to do it, and those that do will be rewarded handsomely. Every fight is possible to beat without getting hit, the game actually rewards you for dodging and parrying correctly with more EXP, Money, and Items. Though we do hope to throw a few curve balls to those who think they have the skill to do it.