RTX – An Interview with The Behemoth’s Ian Moreno
The Behemoth is gearing up for SDCC this weekend and now is as good of a chance as any to put up our talk with Ian Moreno, a publisher for the company. Ian and his compadres came to RTX to represent The Behemoth’s newest game for the first time since it had gone up on Xbox Live, and it was interesting to get some post release commentary about the game.
Read on as we discuss Battleblock Theater, vindication and Pink Knights.
You had multiple people on staff working on this game for what feels like a long time. Why did you show BattleBlock Theater so early?
Ian Moreno: We’ve always used trade shows from the beginning as our play test arena so we could watch people play and get feedback and go back and make changes. We did this with Castle Crashers and Alien Hominid with early versions of the game. The other part of that is we get really excited. So when we have a working prototype, we just want to get it out there and start seeing people play it.
So with Battleblock, that’s what happened. We started showing it in 2009, and all the base mechanics were there, there were only a few things we added afterwards. So it really looked like a complete game mechanic wise, but we still had a lot of content to create.
It took 4 years to make the final build of BattleBlock Theater. In that time, was there any fear you were losing part of your fan base? In gaming 4 or 5 years is a generation.
IM: There was a lot of ground swell in the beginning and people were really excited as this followed Castle Crashers, and then there was a little lull in the middle somewhere where people were writing about it less. We kept bringing it back year after year to the shows, and people who had played it the previous year were like “I don’t know what you are doing, but it keeps getting better.” So that was kind of, what’s the word I’m thinking? Vindication?
Vindication feels right. Perhaps validation?
IM: Validation, thank you. I didn’t say that, Chris said that.
But yeah, it was that kind of validation that we were doing the right thing and evolving the game every year. There was definitely some weirdness in the middle, but once we released and had the feedback…you know, this is our first show since releasing and it didn’t even dawn on me until we were here. So it is awesome that we now get to talk to people that have played it and get their feedback and see how happy they are.
Now this is an art heavy game, and art is a time consuming thing. How much of this was in the delay?
IM: We didn’t see it as a delay, we saw it as it was ready when it was ready. There are over 400 levels in the game so we had to create all of those and tune all of those. Also, when we decided to do cinematics, we had a first base prototype with Will Stamper our narrator, and all animation in game and we changed to full motion video. So that took some time with working that out because we had to finish the audio first and this was our first time doing voice overs. Getting the voice over right and then getting the image to the picture took some time.
Also it should be pointed out that there was only one programmer on the title. One programmer coded this game from the ground up.
I have to say that is impressive with 400 levels…
IM: …and network and UGC and the level editor.
Now The Behemoth is a company that isn’t known just as a game maker, but as also a toy maker. You didn’t go to Kickstarter for a new game, you went for a statue. How rewarding has merchandising been, since it is the fan base that buys these products?
IM: Its great. I mean the Knight figurines have always been a hit at shows. We always sell out with what we bring. They are very reasonably priced we feel.
We’re not trying to get in to the merch business. We have a lot of merch, but we don’t hike it up. People have told us “this stuff is reasonable.” I mean 20 bucks is 20 bucks, but we get a lot of feedback that our prices are reasonable and I think that is because we just want people to have a piece of the game in physical form since we make downloadable titles. We spend a lot of time getting all the figures just right and it takes a while to create a new figurine when we go through all the different prototypes.
We spend a lot of time and I like to think there is a lot of love put in to each piece of merchandise we create. I think that translates to perception and how the public recieves it.
What’s next for The Behemoth after this?
IM: I wish I could say. All I can officially say is we’re prototyping and prototyping. It’ll be codenamed “Game 4.” I don’t know what platform it will be on.
Any chance for a Dad n’ Me sequel? (I had to ask)
IM: That’d be cool. I don’t know. Dad n’ Me inspired Castle Crashers. Dad n’ Me is a great duo. You never know, it would be great to visit those characters again.
Castle Crashers has been out for a month now, how has the reception been?
IM: Positive. The reviews have been very good, we’ve been surprised. It hasn’t all been glowing but it has been rated…and I can’t remember but we had a stat for what our rating was on marketplace…it is our best reviewed game of all our releases. So we do have that going for us.
If you’ll remember, Castle Crashers kinda got panned for the network stuff when it first released. While it is a popular game, that doesn’t matter with reviewers.
Do you now feel validated that the network stuff has held up?
IM: Absolutely. It’s good because sometimes I worried that when we made this game, it was something very new. You just don’t know, sometimes I feel like you get reviewed against expectation instead of face value. So far everyone has been positive.
Co-op is a big part of this and dicking over other players is a big part of this. How did that all come about and how did it not become just a straight platformer?
IM: You have to give credit to Dan Paladin of just dialing in the griefing aspect of the game. You can also look at Castle Crashers when you completed a level and you would have to fight to kiss the princess. Its like taking that moment and expanding it in to the entirety of an entire game. So there are little references in the DNA of the game.
We refer to it as “co-optional” and we’d like to think we have a sense of humor at The Behemoth and so it kind of plays in to that. What better for laughs than for you the player to create this scenario and people got it. We said it was co-optional and people got it.
How do you feel about the future of the consoles? The PS4 and Xbox One are real, how do you feel about those consoles?
IM: I don’t know. We have a positive relationship with Microsoft. With Sony, obviously there is all those great announcements with how indie friendly it is and I think that’s awesome. That’s great. The big variable is how the marketplace shakes out. We’re just kinda waiting to see and that’s not necessarily what we’re going to be basing our decisions on, but we’re going to do what makes sense for us. We don’t have a platform announcement for our next game.
In terms of the hardware, with what we make its just…we make 2D side scrolling games. There was an interview during the PS4 reveal where an indie was like, “we make 2D games, so this doesn’t really affect us. This just means we’ll have more gratuitous particle systems.” I was like “That’s great! Us too! I’m gonna steal that!”
With more memory we can do more, but visually the stuff is going to stay very similar.
What is your favorite Castle Crasher? I’m a Pink Knight myself…
When it was announced the first 10,000 sales went to Breast Cancer, I was on board fully.
IM: Yeah all our DLC goes to charity.
Bravo sir. Again though, what is your favorite Castle Crasher?
IM: I’d like to say Hatty, but really I already have a connection because the first time I beat the game, I had the Red Knight. Regardless of who I like with time, I will always have that connection.