Simon Cubasch, AKA firepunchd, AKA Cubaschi, came to the attention of our local multiplayer night with Ridiculous Glitching, a brain-melting nightmare version of Flappy Bird. This was quickly followed up with The Glorious Dogfight Revolution, and our newest obsession: ChickenJump. After this hat-trick of simple, silly and fun games we decided to have a chat with Simon, hoping to find what makes this German glitch wizard tick!
GoPlayThat: You’re best known for the results of your game jams. What is it about developing in such a short time-frame that appeals to you?
Simon Cubasch: I missed the beginnings of the indie scene being knee deep in online brand entertainment with my company. Although I started to make games when I got my vic20 in ‘84 and we created a lot of advergames at work I always felt the need to keep creating after hours. Sadly I never managed to finish any prototypes and so never released any private projects except for some job/personal crossovers. Some years ago I discovered the A MAZE Festival in Berlin, found out about #screenshotsaturday and connected with the Berlin Mini Jam crowd. Doing these 8 hour only games was a blessing because the deadline forced me to focus on finishing the job. Even though most people formed teams I was usually solo. Not having to discuss every nuance with other people (or a client) was such a nice change from the professional routine.
When the Flappy Jam on itch.io happened in early 2014 I could use Unity3D well enough to participate. The result was Ridiculous Glitching. The game received some nice reviews and since it was my first personal release, my brain must have registered this as the only reasonable modus operandi for me to release a game.
There are some more aspects to it:
- The short time frame prevents perfectionism.
- In a jam there’s less room for doubt.
- The result will be rough – embrace it.
- My code is shit but that’s fine in a jam (my code is always like that).
- Jams make you focus on the essentials, and crunch mode can be an interesting state of mind.
- Failing is allowed.
- Reimagining or mashing up known mechanics is okay or even recommended due to time restriction.
- Local multiplayer is perfect for a jam: There are people to play your game and who want to do A.I. anyway.
GPT: Which three developers of past and present would you choose to accompany you in an all-star game jam team and why?
SC: I would probably be incredibly intimidated and not be able to talk if I had the chance to jam with one of these people… but what the hell:
Rami or J.W. from Vlambeer - Although J.W. has pummeled me big time on Gang Beasts at Amaze 2014 I would love to get the chance to work with one of these two in a jam. I enjoy playing Vlambeer’s games for the immediate fun they bring me and I am fascinated with how their (weapons!) systems force you to improvise and improve with every game. They also seem to be nice guys.
Freelives - One of my all time favourite games is Broforce from Freelives. I love the chaos, the pixels, the explosions, the 80s & 90s, the random characters and more. It’s a game that makes you laugh about the mayhem it throws you into. Is there such a thing as environmental humour? These guys must be fun to work with.
David Crane (Pitfall & LCP) or Garry Kitchen (Keystone Kapers) – most of the golden era Atari 2600 devs would be interesting to jam with.
It’s so hard to only pick 3 and so I must namedrop some equally awesome others like the Kerbal guys, Teknopants, Boneloaf, Cactus, Messhof and many many more.
I didn't pick other game dev icons I had in mind at first like Sid Meier or Warren Spector because I couldn't envision them in a game jam situation, especially considering the scope of their games, but maybe I am wrong and they would be perfect at quickly evaluating the fun of systems.
GPT: You spoke last year of your young son Anton who has developed and even presented at jams of his own. Do you feel that there is a “right” or “wrong” age to get children into gaming?
SC: This is a really touchy subject. On one side it’s awesome that my son(s) and I share a love for gaming and to some extent a love for making games. On the other it’s nearly impossible to find a good balance because the pull of games is so strong and the opportunities to play are so omnipresent. Smartphone in pocket. Computer on desk. Tablet on couch. PS3 on shelf. Vita lost under the couch. Loads of retro consoles somewhere. I would have gone insane if I had had to deal with all these temptations as a kid.
Most arguments I have with my 11 year old son are about media usage time because I always catch him watching Let's Plays on his phone although he has depleted his screen time. But who am I to blame him? He usually catches me at my desk working on a game.
His younger brother has – unwillingly by us – been introduced to screens and pixels at a much earlier age just by being in the same house with his playing brother. Even the 2 year old girl sometimes secretly snatches the tablet to be totally mesmerized by only the feedback the homescreen provides.
Kids just love video games and it is hard to find the right balance. So if you introduce them early your fight will last longer and they will beat your scores sooner.
A really nice side effect though is that I get to know what’s hot with the kids at different ages. Might be a good thing after all.
GPT: Sharing the pains and pleasures of games development online while raising a family seems like such a great idea. We bet there are many dev parents who could do with a shoulder to cry on or a high five when needed. How is the #devParent movement going?
SC: I tried to initiate the #devParents thing after my burnout. I had to take a longer break from work and realised my focus had somewhat shifted. Having recovered to some degree I felt the urge to talk about games on a much more personal level – expecting that there must be loads of like-minded people somewhere on the web. I believed that just having a campaign-y hashtag would be self-sufficient and bring in content I could syndicate on the blog. But although many, many people retweeted the article on Gamasutra pretty much no one tagged their #devParents content for me to find and share. I do hope to find some more devs in this same situation to give it another spin in the days to come.
GPT: With your parental responsibilities and working at gosub, we imagine a lot of your remaining energy goes into your games. Do you have any time to actually play games, and if so, which have been stealing your time recently?
SC: With all the nice indie game related stuff in Berlin such as the A MAZE. festival, the Join local multiplayer summit, the monthly Berlin Mini Game Jam and much more, there are many people who love making and of course playing games. Local multiplayer especially has prospered lately and so we have been doing our own (GAR) LoMu nights for quite some time with people from the Berlin game scene.
Gang Beasts, Samurai Gunn, Hidden In Plain Sight, TowerFall, Super Space ____, No Brakes Valet and my personal favourite Broforce are among the usual suspects when playing with loads of controllers.
Sometimes my son Anton asks me to play some with him. We usually end up playing Minecraft, Spelunky, Rogue Legacy, Binding of Isaac: Rebirth or Earth Defense Force 2025 (yeah). One of the best coop moments we had was with the second installment of Octodad. Hilarious.
Playing alone has become rare (I should participate in your #4iF to reduce my catalog of must-plays), because I usually feel the urge to work on my games instead, with the exception of the daily run of Nuclear Throne. I won’t tell anyone my ranking though.
By the way, while I’m writing these lines my Steam client is downloading Hotline Miami 2.
GPT: Are we going to see a full father-son game dev tag team emerge in the future?
SC: Maybe – if we can agree on who’s gonna be in charge of the game design decisions. I tend to be be pretty insistent when I have acquired a vision for a game. My son has the same trait. But we manage and I assisted him making a game for the PewDiePie jam on Game Jolt. Even with the younger kids there are ways to do non-digital game dev related things. For example, make pixel art potato stamps to design level layouts or lay out cut scenes. And they sure do like it!
GPT: All your games so far have been free. Are you ever tempted to release a full retail version of one of the titles, or are you committed to the freebies?
SC: This is a GoPlayThat exclusive: I’m working on more features for the mobile version of ChickenJump which will be the first “commercial” release from Firepunchd. So in 2015 I am committing myself to (at least) trying to earn some money with my games.
Ridiculous Glitching will be the second release also originating from a game jam and like ChickenJump with a focus on local multiplayer. At the moment I’m trying to figure out a non-exploitative way to generate revenue from a mobile game. We’ll see. Both games will also be available for PC/Mac.
I’ve also been working on an action puzzler codenamed Blockocalypse which will be a less anarchic, more 'classic' video game. It has been my pet project for some time and has a bigger scope than my much smaller jam games. I would love to team up with another developer for this one. I hope I can truly call myself a game dev after the release of the puzzler.
GPT: Where does the inspiration for your (rather odd) games come from? Do you go into the jams with a half-formed idea or do you just let the creativity flow?
SC: It is a mix of both usually. Sometimes it is some tech I would like to try, a style or a mashup of old school arcade mechanics I really like and would like to give a new context to. Of course the theme often shapes the direction of a game. Jams have been an important venting mechanism countering the confinement of my job doing brand communication – a perfect way to celebrate oddness.
Most of my games have been made during the 8h Berlin Mini Game Jam. For this jam, 3 themes are selected by voting and can be used or even combined but don't need to be considered if you feel you cannot relate to them.
For Glorious Dogfight Revolution, I wanted to use the dogfight gameplay and the style from the arcade classic combat while adding another mechanic which countered the direct gunfighting of the planes. This second action quickly became the pamphlet dropping which fitted the revolution theme and helped create a dilemma for the players.
The first game made during my parental leave originated from wanting to test some Unity pathfinding tech and the urge to address the difficulties of self-determination and parenting. The resulting game was fun to present and made people laugh but is – due to its simulative nature – too close to reality to be fun for the player. It was called My Finest Hour.
For the Global Game Jam 2014 Lorenzo Pilia (BerlinGameScene.com & Join local multiplayer summit) and I teamed up to make a game in 48 hours. Our game What If became more of a meta commentary on the process, the pleasures and the pain involved in coming up with meaningful new game ideas.
ChickenJump was my quickest game – the basic jam version was made in 6 hours – because I didn't want to start a new game, procrastinated, changed my mind and then hurried to come up with something for 8 players with the least difficult mechanic. Interestingly this is the game that has inspired 70+ Let’s Plays on YouTube, more than anything else I have made to date.
GPT: Local multiplayer seems to be alive and well in Germany, with A Maze Festival and Localmultiplayer.com leading the charge. Are there any German games we should be on the lookout for?
SC: There aren’t that many german local multiplayer games of which I am aware at the moment. But there are some games I am looking forward to playing so I just put these in a list:
- Curious Expedition
- Swap Quest
- Card Crawl
- Path to the Sky
- Sea of Solitude
- Future Unfolding
And there is also a brand new video of games from Germany/Austria/Switzerland from 2014
GPT: Earl is addicted to Cool Cubes, a game you worked on for Lipton Ice Tea. What are your thoughts on interactive media being used to increase brand awareness?
SC: As much as I liked working on the game and was happy with the product there is a fundamental problem with game-brand workflow. They usually expect you to know the result of the creative and playful process of creating a fun game in advance and have a hard time adapting to more agile development. Luckily it worked out nicely with the Lipton game as the positive feedback from the players and the number of installs seem to back up. I am not sure though if this will work with every brand or game.
Predicting a game’s success and effect on brand perception also seems much harder than relying on the brute force number of eyeballs which can be reached by a well placed TV spot. If a brand game takes off though it does give its brand a greater service than oldschool media thinking.
GPT: Do you ever spare a thought for the poor QAs who one day might have to test your games? How do you test a game that is horrendously glitchy by nature?
SC: Actually no thoughts spared. Bug or feature? Emergence!
GPT: Which game would you most like to remake in your signature style?
SC: It took me a while to even get an idea of what my signature style could be and if I had one.
What I would consider a bracket for connecting the jam games is that I realised I liked those games which seem to be aware they are video games and play with that. Hopefully that’s where the oddball factor comes in to create fun for the players.
I truly enjoyed making Ridiculous Glitching and was pretty surprised that some people enjoyed the humour and also the gameplay. I could very easily imagine continuing to do arcade genre mashups with a modern masocore glitchy twist. So one of the next experiments in the Glitching line could be a broken mix of Galaga, Timepilot and let’s say Q-bert and Pooyan?
GPT: With unlimited resources (time, money etc.) what game would you like to make?
SC: Speaking from experience with loose deadlines and badly planned projects having “no limits” scares me. Also because expectations – especially your own expectations – can be a tough to manage. To have some constraints can sometimes actually be nice.
But with some budget I would like to flesh out another local multiplayer 8h jam prototype called Tow Inc., a game about some dead bored space towing jocks. Think John Carpenter’s Dark Star but with a transportation/construction twist.
After GGJ15 I have become very attached to the alien species from Hatchlings, the prototype our team has created during the 48 hours available. We would love to continue working on the game which seems to be very fun judging from the reactions of the players and our own joy we had while jamming – even though there is no goal or winning condition in the game yet. Therefore at the moment it could still turn into a sports game or a playable alien documentary. For this one some money could help grow the (alien) eggs until they hatch.