Gunstone Studios is a small game development studio developing games for mobile devices. This is the second part in a two part series. Read the first one here.
Living in El Salvador, do you see game development as a viable business in the country?
It is a viable business if you sell outside of the country... if you take your products globally. Inside the country it has no market... partially because El Salvador is so small, and partially because, in my opinion, Salvadorans always prefer foreign products over national ones. Still, El Salvador is extremely small, so it's not a big loss when you take the whole picture. It has its challenges, of course. We don't have many professionals really qualified for it, and we are largely ignored since we are so few and very small. So, you have to get out of the country, visit these conferences we talked about (GCD and GC) or other, similar ones, and pitch your ideas and products in order to get foreign partners that will help you out. You also have to study the international market, and make products that will sell well anywhere in the world (or at least in the most important markets like the US). Send tons of emails, make connections on LinkedIn, basically look outside of the country. Still, it is not easy to make your way within the gaming industry. You also have to be ready for some of your projects to completely fail.
While I see advances in game development in the country, I think we are still a few years away from having a real game development industry. What do you think could improve our situation and help our industry grow?
Well, first of all I think we need professionals. We need people that know what they are doing, or at least have a good idea of what works and what does not and in many different disciplines, not just design, not just art, not just coding. Professionals with a broader concept of what the video game industry requires and the implications of developing and selling a game. For that, we need the government and the universities to start taking this industry seriously. Most of us that are developing games in El Salvador had to experiment a lot, and learn from many mistakes. Many of us are self-taught.
Also, we have had this idea of uniting in an organization or guild, which I think could definitely help us all in general since we could share ideas and resources to help each other.
When you develop your original IPs, what is the process you follow to come up with ideas and decide what to work on?
We have brainstorming sessions divided in different stages. On the first stage there are no rules, and the ideas and concepts can be as crazy (and sometimes offensive) as we want... Some ideas are born out of the description of a mechanic, others from the story or setting. Then on the next stages we start filtering based on: Has it been made before? How Original is it? How hard would it be to develop (based on art/animations and coding)? How trendy or does the concept have potential to become viral due to lots of people from different cultures and ideologies enjoying it?
Can you tell us a bit about a couple of your games? What are they about, and how did you come up with the idea?
One of them is “Fire Panda”, a fantasy 2.5D platformer for iOS and Android set in The Great China Wall. The player takes the role of Hóng, a young red panda soldier. Hóng discovers an invasion by the feared nomadic Mongrol tribes and has to warn the kingdom. The objective is to light all the signal fires that are located along the Great Wall in order to warn the kingdom.
Fire Panda's idea came from a story I read a while ago: A whole company was saved because of the timely intervention of one janitor that had noticed something was wrong during one of his rounds, preventing what could have become a huge fire with the potential to destroy the whole building. The idea is heroes can be found anywhere, no matter the rank or place in society.
I like this type of story: a brave little guy that saves a nation.
The story needed a setting, so we decided the Chinese Wall was great because it is a fantastic place that sparks our imaginations.
The character needed to convey what the story is about and be likable. This one was easy... it had to be an animal because, who doesn't love animals? And then our favorite Asian animal came to our minds: the Red Panda! It is cute, agile and small. Perfect fit! This is how the idea of Fire Panda came to be.
Another one is “Stretchy Legs!”, a Hyper Casual platformer for iOS and Android. It introduces a weird mechanic: tap to increase our leg length in order to reach the next platform. If the player does not calculate the length correctly, they will fall and die!
The main inspiration for Stretchy Legs is how love can help us overcome any obstacles and the great Lengths we are willing to go in order to be with the person we love. We live in such a busy world... At times, something as simple as reaching your date in time becomes a challenge. We also take many things for granted, and while we are waiting for our beloved to arrive we become impatient; but we don't know all the obstacles he or she had to go through in order to reach us. The good news is, in the end all is well when we are together. So we do the impossible, sometimes stretching our legs to the maximum; we brave any dangers and overcome all the obstacles, for at the end we will be rewarded with the best prize of all: our beloved's presence and embrace (And if we are lucky, maybe even a kiss!).
What are your thoughts on video game streaming services? Do you see them as a viable option, considering internet speeds and data caps (in some countries like the US), or do you think people would rather continue with the model we have now?
I think it's a great option if the player has the internet speed required. I don't see why those services should not continue and I don't think they will 'take over' as the preferred gaming experience or option, not until people have more powerful connections available at reasonable prices. But for those who can, good for them... sounds great.
In retrospective, are there things you know now you wish you had known before, and maybe do things differently?
Always fail cheap. What I mean by that is, sometimes we put too much effort into a prototype that we don't know if it will work or not. Make short and cheap prototypes and get a publisher to make a short soft launch for you and then analyze the results. Don't fall in love with your ideas and learn to let them go in time... before they become too expensive.
Any final words to our readers?
An invitation to all of you to download our games and see for yourselves what a small team of passionate devs can do! You won't regret it!
Gunstone Studios: https://www.gunstone-studios.com