Gun Monkeys is a surprise new multiplayer 2D shooter from Size Five Games, creator of Time Gentlemen, Please, Privates and the upcoming The Swindle. It has monkeys in it. Is has guns in it. It has Gun Monkeys in it. It's out this Summer, before The Swindle, which will be out when it's ready. It stars monkeys with guns, sent to the future to swipe energy for corrupt power companies, and fighting each other in procedurally-generated levels. I spoke to Size Five's Dan Marshall to find out more, what other animals he could use, why he took a break from The Swindle and something something Timesplitters. In case you're allergic to reading, the game's first trailer is also below.
RPS: Why this now and not the Swindle first?
Dan Marshall: One way or another I'd been working on The Swindle for a couple of years. It's a beast of a game and it's long and complex and really involved. I'd started to get really bogged down in it and wasn't enjoying making it anymore. It started to feel like a slog, like a job. So one weekend I decided to take all this tech that I'd written for The Swindle and just make something small and silly out of it.
So I basically had a sort of mini game-jam all of my own over a weekend, and had a playable game at the end of it. I looked at it and thought I should continue this through, this is fun, this is a great little game, and then come back to The Swindle once I feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
RPS: I did think when I saw the most recent Swindle stuff that it was looking pretty big and involved, like it couldn't be a quick turnaround.
Dan Marshall: Yeah, it's kind of involved. There's basically a functioning level up and running, and running really nicely, but it's like if you've got the booster upgrades can you get up here, can you get all to all the areas in various stages of your progress... Level design wise it's a pain in the arse. It was becoming a big of a slog, so I just wanted to get something out, make something that people would enjoy, because there was no end in sight for The Swindle. So Gun Monkeys happened.
It's been funny, it's been crazy. I basically started it towards the end of February and within about four weeks the game was up and running, and playable online, that sort of thing. There's basically been a month of closed alpha, tweaking stuff, making sure it's nice to play and bug-free. It's pretty much ready to go now, there are few boring bits and pieces which need to go in, but it's there and running and working.
RPS: I don't understand the name. It's quite cryptic. I just have no idea what it might be referring to.
Dan Marshall: Do you know what, they were little men until last week. Because the game's a remake of Gibbage, which no-one could ever pronounce correctly. This was called Gibbage until about a week ago, but I didn't like the name and decided to change that. Then my wife went out down a pub, she told me I had to get away from the computer, and I said 'OK, so long as we can spend 30% of the time we're in the pub discussing names for this new game.' We hadn't done that at all for the entire time we'd been in the pub, we just had a couple of beers, then I went to the loo and said 'when I come back I want 20 ideas for a name written on a napkin.' And when I came back one of the things she'd written was Gun Monkeys.
Just because of the way the characters move - it's a game about wall-jumping and double-jumping, scuttling around the arena shooting each other - monkeys just kind of made sense. It just stuck, it was perfect. So I gave them tails and changed their faces, and it all just fell into space.
RPS: So you could theoretically change your mind again and make it Gun Kittens? You just need to change the colour of the tails.
Dan Marshall: Yeah, if it doesn't sell very well, I'll rebrand it as kittens.
RPS: You should put out a load of versions with every animal species you can think of. Just flood Steam.
Dan Marshall: I could put out three different games. Gun Monkeys where it's all about jumping off walls and things, Gun Kittens where it's all about just sitting still on the floor, and see which one sells best.
RPS: I'm not terribly familiar with Gibbage, but how does this differ from what you did there?
Dan Marshall: Well, the core mechanic is the same. Each player has a power core thing that is constantly running out of juice, so you have to run around the arena collecting power cubes in order to return them to your base. That puts your power level up and your opponent's power level down, and you can buy weapon upgrades and that sort of thing. Gibbage always felt to me like a little, 2D Unreal Tournament 2003 - with all the little modes - and Bomberman kind of mashed up. The core game is basically the same, collect 3 power cubes, try to return them to your base, put your opponent's score down to 0 in order to win the game.
It's different in two core ways. Firstly it's online, so you can compete against people on the other side of the world if you want to. Secondly, it's all procedurally generated, it's making all the levels automatically. It sort of picks random themes, whether it's raining, daytime or night-time or whatever. So when you challenge someone to a game you never really know what you're getting. It could be on an alien planet at dawn, or it could be in Hell or it could be a snowy night-time one. How it plays kind of changes, because you can't get away with laying bombs as much as you can in the snow levels because they show up more...
The procedurally generated stuff works well for it. Every time you click on the challenge button, you never really know what you're going to get.
RPS: Is that really true? We won't be seeing the same 12 levels over and over again?
Dan Marshall: Yeah, to a degree. It's literally never the same twice, there is an infinite combination of levels, but they are of an ilk, obviously.
RPS: Can you have a snowy day in Hell?
Dan Marshall: No, I took that out because it just looked weird. It looks like a bug. It can't rain in hell either, and it can't snow on the moon because the gravity's different.
RPS: That's a shame. But there's always DLC, eh?
Dan Marhsall: Yeah, if people complain about it it's like one line of code I need to change.
RPS: "It can now rain in hell" is great patch note stuff, like something out of Boiling Point. Is the game purely online, or is there hotseat, even AI?
Dan Marshall: There is an offline mode, you can play locally if you want, if you have two gamepads, or you can do split keyboard stuff. That's kind of not the focus though - the focus is building up your team online and getting better and better, challenging better and better people.
RPS: Which do you think will be the bigger game for you, this or The Swindle?
Dan Marshall: This feels like it deserves to do well, it's a fun little game that's nice and polished. This is actually the fourth time I've made Gibbage. It started as a click and play game when I was a teenager - no-one ever played the first two versions. Then I did the third version, which was serialised in PC Zone and released kind of before indie games were... It was all still coverdiscs then. So this is the fourth time and I've done it, it's really a personal thing for me, this game. I've spent so many years playing Gibbage and enjoying it, I'm excited to let other people share in that and experience the heartbreak and joy which comes from winning and losing these really fraught little matches.
I suspect Swindle will probably be the bigger game because it's more involved, it's this big behemoth of a singleplayer game, but Gun Monkeys should do well.
RPS: Are you doing any persistence, leaderboards that sort of thing?
Dan Marshall: It depends how all the login stuff works. Hopefully it'll go on Steam and that sort of thing ,but at the moment your score persists and that sort of identifies how good you are at the game. Every time you win a level the amount of power you've got contributes to your earnings, and the more earnings you've got you can unlock different perks. So you can tweak your team exactly how you want. That's kind of all up in the air at the moment, but the idea is you're building a power company...
RPS: A power company? Like EDF or Southern Water? This is about warring utility firms?
Dan Marshall: Yeah, you're basically running a corrupt version of nPower. Instead of getting electricity from legitimate means you're sending monkeys into the future to collect it for you.
And the better you do, the more sway you'll have. You won't want to challenge someone with a really high score because you know they're going to whup you.
RPS: You've got time travel, monkeys and guns. Are you ready for people mentioning Timesplitters?
Dan Marshall: Oh shit, I've never played tha.! I'd better go and Google it now. Well, if you loved Timesplitters, you'll definitely, definitely love Gun Monkeys! It's not really the same kind of thing.
RPS: Thanks for your time.
"Gun Monkeys will go into beta shortly – anyone interested in taking part should follow @danthat on Twitter for details." The release version will be out on PC, Mac and Linux this Summer.