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Squad Chat: Pineapple Smash Crew Interview

Talk's Never Been So Much Fun

Pineapple Smash Crew was our favourite of the excellent games on show at the Eurogamer Expo Indie Arcade. It’s a top-down, squad-based arcade style shoot ‘em up with retro appeal in abundance. To find out more about the design process, influences and what we can expect from the release, we spoke to designer Rich Edwards. With inspirations ranging from all things Team 17 to Space Hulk, alongside a dash of oft-forgotten Sega oddity Gain Ground, Pineapple Smash Crew is a heap of good things on top of a stack of more good things. As well as covering the game, we chatted about the indie scene, funding and what comes next.

RPS: Hi Rich! Tell us a little about yourself.

Edwards: Hi RPS, thanks for speaking to me about Pineapple Smash Crew! My name is Rich Edwards and I'm a game designer with a background in 3d art. I knew ever since about the age of 10 I wanted to make games; I can remember the moment pretty clearly, I was in a department store and the Megadrive had just come out. A massive wall of TVs were showing Sonic 1 playing and I was mesmerized. From then on I've been obsessed with games and eventually with making them!

I went on to study 3d art at the University of Abertay in Dundee to make art for games, and was hired by a smallish local studio in Newcastle. I worked there for 5 years but unfortunately the recession hit them hard and they went under. I had been experimenting with rapid game prototyping in my spare time using an engine called Quest3d, and when I suddenly found myself out of a job I took it as my chance to see if I could make something fun by myself.

RPS: We walked away from the game muttering Cannon Fodder and Alien Breed in an excited tone. Are you happy to sit with those influences? And what other things, game or otherwise, influenced the game?

Edwards: Oh absolutely I have a ton of influences and I make no attempt to hide them! I want people to know what I'm a fan of, because hopefully if we have similar tastes they'll enjoy what I make. The Megadrive made a huge impact on me, in fact that's the only console I've ever owned, aside from handhelds. I am a massive fan of Bitmap Brothers and Team 17 titles, so you're likely to find elements of Cannon Fodder, Alien Breed, Chaos Engine, and even Speedball 2 and Worms in the game. Additional inspiration comes from games like Warriors of the Eternal Sun and Gain Ground. The exploration and random present drops in Toejam & Earl were an influence as well. On the PC, I loved the original Alien Swarm UT mod and the recent remake, and last but not least one of my own prototypes called Brainsplode!, which is available on my site to download for free. Warhammer fans may also spot a little Space Hulk vibe in there too.

As an aside, if anyone used to play Xenon 2 they might appreciate (or loathe!) a prototype I made called Electroblam! which features a dubstep remake I did of Xenon 2's Megablast theme tune (also available on the site).

RPS: How many people worked on the game?

Edwards: I did everything except for the fantastic chiptune soundtrack which is taken from Syphus' album Pro.tect (check him out on bandcamp!).

RPS: How long has Pineapple Smash Crew been in development and how has it been funded?

Edwards: My first break after losing my job was getting onto a fellowship scheme called Digital City, designed to foster small local business startups. They gave me a little money and business coaching so I could start up and I used the money to build some game prototypes. When the fellowship ended I had the idea I wanted to make Pineapple Smash Crew, but only a very basic prototype. I started prototyping the game in mid-February, so if you include that I've spent about seven months on the game so far, with about six of those self-funded from my own dwindling savings.

RPS: Do you have any idea how it will be released, in terms of cost, demo, platforms?

Edwards: First and foremost the game will be available on PC. There are no solid plans for other formats yet but it's something I want to look at. I can't really say what price the game will be yet, I'll need to discuss it with whoever I sell the game through (I have my heart set on Steam, if I can make that happen). The game has another two or so months of development time left, as there's some more polish to add, and I had some fantastic ideas and feedback from indie fans at the Eurogamer Expo. After that I'll be trying to get it into gamer's hands as fast as I can! I do plan to make a demo too so you can try before you buy and see how it runs on your PC (I've had reports it runs well on lowish spec machines).

RPS: In the official description at the Indie Arcade, there was an emphasis on the lack of narrative. This is a game about jumping in and blowing the hell out of aliens. Is that a design philosophy you'll stick to at/after release or can we expect a campaign of some sort?

Edwards: I don't think the game will see a full on 'Story Mode' but I won't rule out adding a little more flavour to the narrative such as visual clues as to what's gone wrong on these deserted ships, and maybe the odd crew log about the arrival of the ever present aliens, zombies and haywire robots running amok!

RPS: My soldiers died a lot. But if they had survived over several missions, how would they improve?

Edwards: The soldiers level up as they survive more missions, and gain a bit more armour at each level…but they're still fairly vulnerable! I don't want them becoming invincible.

RPS: Any plans for a multiplayer component? I was thinking cooperative rather than murdermatch but would not necessarily object to either.

Edwards: I don't have current plans to do multiplayer, mainly because I'm still learning and I don't have confidence I could do it justice at the moment. If I added it in the future I would need to be sure that it was a great experience for the player, smooth and bug-free.

RPS: We talked a little about the possibility of adding controller support although the tightness of the mouse and keyboard control scheme is one of my favourite things about the game at present. Did you get a lot of people asking for controller support?

Edwards: Not a lot, but it was mentioned a few times. It's something I made a note about at the expo so I hope to look into it, just so people can play the way they're most comfortable with. I don't think it'd be a big stretch to get a pad working in the game

RPS: Any different environments to be added?

Edwards: It's always going to be set on the spaceships, but there are varying graphical styles to ships manufactured by different corporations and I do intend to produce more types for the game. I also want to add a few more bits and bobs to give levels a little more of a unique feel...

RPS: Did you get to try out any other games at the Indie Arcade and did any stand out?

Edwards: Oh yeah, I tried most of them when things got quieter. David Hayward the organiser of the Arcade did a fantastic job of choosing something for everyone. The game most indie fans and developers will have heard of was At a Distance from Terry Cavanagh. It's hard to talk about without spoiling it, so I'll just say playing it was an initially confusing but ultimately very rewarding experience. Fotonica was brilliantly simple and addictive, I loved it. I also enjoyed These Robotic Hearts of Mine, a thoughtful narrative puzzle game with a really well-judged difficulty curve. I thought one of the most innovative titles was Reflow for the iPad 2 and iPhone. You control the flow of particles into cups by using the camera's image. You can use your own body which results in some hilarious poses or you can point the camera at an object if it's the right shape to solve the puzzle. Very cool.

RPS: Is there a vibrant indie community up in Newcastle and do you mix with over developers online very much?

Edwards: There are a few small companies I'm aware of, and probably tons more I don't know yet. One of the great things about the expo was meeting the other indie devs and it's inspired me to find out more about my local scene to make sure I'm not missing out on connections. Online, I keep in touch with my art roots on a 3d art forum called Polycount, and on the design side on Tigsource. I've made loads of great developer friends through both these sites.

RPS: Finally, apart from the release of Pinapple Smash Crew, what can we expect from you in the future?

Edwards: I have a few ideas for what's next, in addition to supporting Pineapple Smash Crew after release. I competed in Ludum Dare 21 and made a game called Stratus which generated a bit of interest around its lack of explicit narrative and implied story elements in the environment. It's a bit out of my comfort zone but I found it really fascinating and I'd love to explore the idea further in the future!

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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