[INTERVIEW] Okhlos / Coffee Powered Machine – English version

Version française ici

Okhlos is a very particular game in many ways. New concept, new gameplay, but it’s full of fun to lead this angry mob. The responsibles for this great little game are from Argentina and they’re only two people. It’s already intriguing but on top of that, they’re also very friendly and they agreed to do this little interview. So I drew my most chaotic questions and they returned to me with very clever answers.

– First of all, Roque and Sebastian, could you tell us a little about yourselves ? What led you to create video games ?

[Roque] I do the visuals, and Sebastian handles the programming. Between the two of us, we handle the game design.

As an Argentine, I didnt knew I could do video games as a living, because the industry was always very small. I started doing comics until the first freelance jobs about video games started to show. After that, I learned a little code, and I started working on a studio doing Facebook games. That’s when I met Sebastian. Eventually, doing Facebook games was not what we wanted to do with our lives and we decided to leave the company to have more creative freedom.

– Coffee Powered Machine is a two person company ?

Yes, is mostly the two of us. The sound and music for Okhlos was done by Gordon McGladdery (of Rogue Legacy’s fame), but in the day to day activities, is just the two of us.

A lot of people helped the production at some stage, mostly Devolver and friends.

– You guys are from Argentina, here in Europe we don’t know many game studios from your country (or from whole South America to be fair…). A friend of mine did an interview of Red Katana before the release of Fallen A2P Protocol ; I tried to look for other studios from Argentina and mostly found mobile games devs. What can you tell us about video games development in your country ? And about video games in general in Argentina ?

Well, in Argentina there is not a ton of people doing games. When we started the company, our first game was a mobile game, because in 2011 was very tempting to go to that market. Now, we see that as a mistake, but we couldn’t knew that back then. Red Katana is probably one of the big studios here, and they’ve been making games for a while now. You have the remake of Masters of Orion, which is being developed by NGD, another Argentine Studio. The really big ones, they don’t make games, they only offer services (like Globant). Here we also have Daniel Benmergui, which is without a doubt the most well known indie round here, and the creator of IGF winner Storyteller, and now working on Ernesto.

I think for most of the studios the temptation to do mobile stuff is just too big. You know you can do a crazy amount of money potentially, but is a really tough market, and I don’t think is a smart move for a small studio right now.

 I assume that after Okhlos, Ernesto, and a few more games that are on our pipeline, Argentina will have more transcendency on the games market. Here, for the most part, games are perceived as child’s play. We first need to change that in order for more people to enter the game industry.

« I don’t step on toes, Little John, I step on greeks »

– Let’s talk about Okhlos now ! It’s an unusual kind of game, you didn’t just took an already successful gameplay, you tried to create a new one. How the idea came up ?

Actually, the idea from the game came from a Simpsons episode. Bart at Night, where Bart would start working on a burlesque house and Marge gathered an angry mob to destroy the place. And they announce themselves as an angry mob.

At some point in the first brainstorming we did, that phrase came out and we kept the idea. Our only guideline while doing the brainstorming was to do something with lots of characters and pixel art, not more than that.

Trying to create a new gameplay was without a doubt the harder thing to do in Okhlos. We spent two years iterating on the game mechanics. As you say, we aimed at having some original mechanic, and figuring which elements are fun are what we should remove was really time consuming. A lot of playtesting, discussions, and in some times, making really hard choices and following our gut (which of course takes us to more ramifications of those decisions and is impossible to know if we did the right thing or not).

– The game is full of fun and humoristic details, which one of you is the funny one ?

That’s hard to answer! I think both of us are the funny one, but in different ways. Both of us enjoy humor very much, and we usually share the same humor referents. Is not like I like Monty Python and Seba fart jokes. We have a very similar sense of humor. I’m more vocal and loud, and Seba has a more academic approach to humor, where his jokes are usually smarter than mines.

But we really wanted to have the both of us doing jokes for Okhlos.

An average afternoon in Aqualand.

– Why do you think the Gods in ancient Greece were such a bunch of trolls ?

Well, we read a lot for Okhlos. Asimov, Graves and Wikipedia were our main sources of information. But we don’t consider ourselves authorities on the subject.

Being that said, I can make an assumption. Gods were treated as forces of nature, and nature is by nature capricious. If there is a flood, or a volcano explodes, now we know the reasons, but back then it was just random for them.

Also, two more points. First, we tend to project ourselves in our deities. The gods in ancient Greece are a bunch of trolls because people most likely were. More than so in pre helenic times, which was every man for himself. And besides that, Greece was located in a very hot trade zone, so there was a lot of migration and cultural exchanges going on, and usually culture forms from culture, so is very likely that what we know now as greek gods were chimeras from multiple religions or proto religions. (boring!)

– What’s your history with Greece ? It’s far away from your country, from your culture, why make a game about them ?

When we talk about world history, Greece is an obligatory subject to learn from. We both love history, so we had the idea of the mob, but we needed a setting, and we had a phrase back then, we would say “we have to do whatever we want to”, like a very anarchic development process, so we stick with a setting that: has a ton of characters (and that is very useful for Okhlos) and also we know a little bit and we like it enough to learn more about it.

– You didn’t launch a crowdfunding campaign to finance Okhlos, it’s almost a surprise these days, a lot of studios tries to set up a Kickstarter campaign, why not you ?

Well, when we started Okhlos, we had a very limited amount of money, so we started working for third parties doing cheap (and not very good) mobile games for a living. We spent three months doing them, and we were able to secure some money to continue development. We didn’t went to Kickstarter because by that time (after the freelance work), Kickstarter gained what for us was a negative vibe. For a time it was this thing that Kickstarter only worked for huge names or very small projects that nobody cared about, and the ones without huge names that successfully funded themselves, were not meeting expectations, so we thought that the public was seeing Kickstarter with bad eyes. Also, press wasnt covering so much crowdfunding campaigns those days.

We were able to secure some funding from members of the Indie Fund, while not being an official Indie Fund project, and that let us keep working on Okhlos.

Ok everyone, say « CHEESE » !

– How Devolver became a part of the adventure ? Did you contacted them or did they contacted you first ?

We were participating in BIG Festival 2015 (Brazil Independent Games Festival), and our game won the category Best Gameplay. One of the jurors was from Devolver Digital.

After we won, we got invited at a karaoke post event, and then we officially met Andrew from Devolver.

We started talking about the possibility of publishing with them via e-mails, but we were in this set of mind were we wanted to publish the game for ourselves, to learn as much as possible from that experience, but the more time we put into the game (we spent 4 years developing Okhlos), the more we thought of the possibility that if the game flopped, it would be something that will not allow us to keep doing games. Also, by that time there was the whole thing of Indiepocalypse, so we got a little scare and we decided that it was better to have people who knew about publishing way better than we did.

We turned down publisher offers before, but Devolver has this huge brand image and reception, that people automatically thinks that a Devolver game must have something good, because they don’t publish garbage.

They also offered a lot of things that we never thought about, like QA and localization. I don’t know how we would handle QA if it wasn’t for them.

– The music is amazing from an already known composer, A Shell in the Pit (Rogue Legacy for example). Same question here : is it you who asked him ? Or is Devolver involvement to be thanked for the OST ?

We reached for Gordon years ago. Much before Devolver. Gordon had started working in a few projects already, but we snatch him for Okhlos at the best time possible, now he is super busy most of the time, doing amazing stuff like Fantastic Contraption for the Vive, or Universe Sandbox.

We got in touch with him because I really liked the music from Rogue Legacy. I sent an email, and I told him that we had no money, but we could arrange some form of revenue share and after he saw the game, he was in!

– When did you started to work on Okhlos ?

There is no official date, but we think we started working on October 2012. The first image (see below) I have from Okhlos is dated from November 2012.

Well, that escalated quickly.

– Okhlos have some elements of rogue-like by unlocking heroes at the end of each run, are you fans of this video game genre ?

Yes, but it wasn’t always like this. We worked very hard in the core mechanics of the mob (attacking, defending, moving the mob), but we didn’t had a Main Loop, or a proper action phase. So we did stuff like trying to fit the game in a beat em up kind of way, or another time we tried to do some stealth gameplay proof of concept. The first prototype had a procedural stage, and after some trials, we ended up returning to procedural generation and roguelike elements.

At some early point in development, we fell in love of the idea that the mob should be always changing, and that every time you play the mob should feel different. The roguelike formula seemed to work well assuring this replayability.

We are huge Spelunky fans as well !

– In each session the player will face different situations, enemies and rewards. How would you describe the replayability of Okhlos ?

Well, as I mentioned before, the replayability factor is given mostly because of the heroes. Each hero changes the mob a lot, and also there are very interesting combinations, like a hero that grabs lots of items at once and another hero that gives more chances for items to drop. Or another hero that heals units every time you land a critical hit, and another that increases critical chance. So I think the most interesting factor of replayability is seeing how will turn out the mob to be.

There are few other elements, like random bosses or subbosses at some stages, or special events like landing in the land of Giants and all the enemies are 2x in size and attack. We still want to add more diversity to the runs, and in that regard, for me at least, FTL was a big inspiration.

– Is Okhlos will be available on mobile devices ? On console ?

On mobile devices I don’t think so. I’m just too attached two the twin stick layout, and is not something very easy to reproduce on a mobile device.

For consoles, it might be more likely, but we still have to finish a lot of things for the PC version before. Also, is too early to tell, but if is not a big hit on PC, we will probably want to focus our efforts on new things rather than porting it. It also depends a lot on what Devolver has to say in that issue.

I think I saw this Jacketos once… but where…

– What was the biggest issue you had to work on ? Your biggest fear about what the players would not like in the game ?

Well, the biggest issue was to find the fun element in the flocking behaviour (the mob) We had to iterate a lot in that regard. Do a lot of playtesting and seeing what was working and what not. That was probably the thing that took us the most time.

Another thing much smaller in comparison was that after we received the results from the first Hardware Testing, we found out that the game was very expensive CPU wise, and we were really close to launch, so we had to optimize all the physics systems a lot. It wasn’t noticeable when you had 30 units, but when you started having 80/100 units on your mob, the frames dropped quite noticeable. That was hard mostly for the delicate timeframe we had, been so close to launch.

Probably our biggest fear was the difficulty balance. We did a ton of playtesting weeks before launch, but you never know if the game is too easy or too hard until you release it to the masses. Seeing a lot of people streaming the game gave us the clue that we didn’t do it too bad in that regard.

– A couple of days after the release date, the reviews are pretty good so far. How do you feel about that ? Is it too soon to talk about the amount of sales ?

Thanks! Yeah, the reviews were mostly positive, and it seems that a lot of people is very passionate about Okhlos (in a good way!). So far the reception was actually better than we expected, and we are thrilled about that.

Sales wise, is very early to say. Devolver advised us to wait for a week after launch before jumping to conclusions. And they are really optimistic about the game and it’s performance.

We’ve been developing the game for so long,  that our expectations are huge, so is hard to say if we are flopping or the game is doing quite well.

– The translation in french is perfect, that’s really a rare thing, usually the french translation of video games is poor if not ridiculous. I guess it’s all thanks to Devolver but was it something important for you ? Did you asked for this part to be well handled ?

When we started Okhlos, the main languages we could support were English and Spanish, because they are the only languages we know enough to do a proper translation.

The rest of the languages came as you said via Devolver. They offered us localization from day one, and that adds a lot to the game. They work with professionals, so dealing with them was a charm.

The French localization was done by a Studio called Loc & Load, we never spoke with them, we dealt with Sophie Cristobal, which was the localization manager assigned by Devolver which handle most of the languages.

We were very meticulous with the translators, but there were a few of them that took their work very, VERY professionally. We had one translator that corrected a date we put in our encyclopedia regarding a character’s bio, and stuff like that. While not all, most of the translators took our job very seriously, and it was an amazing experience for us, and they helped doing the game better besides the translation.

The japanese translation for me was the most interesting to do, mostly because we had to do bitmap fonts, and we had to set up weird stuff, like selecting all the used glyphs in the game from a font, and then extracting the unused ones, because Japanese fonts are huge.

Localizing the game was a very cool process.

Thanks guys for your time, this was very interesting to read ! I wish you the best for Okhlos and keep up the good work !

For those who wants to know more about video games in Argentina, there’s an article by Polygon and the website JuegosArgentinos.org (from the twitter page of Coffee Powered Machine).

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