Hello and welcome to SBOCLIGHT ON… our regular feature where we dive into the nitty gritty of gaming’s most indie of offerings. Here, we will shine a SBOClight (get it?) on one game/studio, offering a never before seen look at its fun parts. Sometimes, there will be interviews, sometimes development stories and videos, who knows maybe even a giveaway or two. What we do know is that this will be THE place to read up on some of the industry’s newest and most interesting titles, let’s get started.
Recently we were fortunate enough to grab some time with award winning indie dev Noah Ritz, or AttaboyGames as he’s also known, discussing his world of gentlemanly gas fires and owl/lion wizard concoctions. Inspired by the great, ravenous, pink platformer Kirby, Whimp the Bold allows players to run, jump and possess a plethora of quirky foes, gaining new powers, movements and ways of winding through levels. We talk influences, new creatures and eventually address the haunting, blue-eyed gaze of the brown ‘stached Italian elephant in the room.
Where did the idea for Whimp the Bold come from? What exactly is Whimp?
Whimp the Bold began with its core gameplay concept of controlling enemies. I’ve always loved Kirby games, and wanted to make a game with my own take on having lots of different movesets and characters. Having the player control the enemy opens up lots of new avenues for movement mechanics and interaction. Whimp is a member of a fairly unknown species that can possess other creatures’ bodies. They live fairly isolated from most of the world, which is probably for the best because this ability can be a little off-putting. Whimp’s actual body is kind of rubbery, with lots of squish and bounce!
Your characters have such personality and their mechanics look really dynamic and fun to play, did you design them during development or are they ideas you’ve had for a while?
Thank you! Every enemy has been designed during development, but they don’t all start the same. Every enemy obviously serves a purpose, whether it’s aesthetic or gameplay-driven. I wanted an enemy that illuminated dark spaces, for example, so I designed a bat that sends out a sonar pulse with every attack. Sometimes the enemy design comes first and mechanics naturally fall into place. Norm and Reece, two halves of one transforming enemy, started just as the idea of switching between a happy mask and a sad one. From there contrasting movesets made sense — Norm has close powerful hits while Reece can set up quicker long-range strikes. Every enemy started with an impulse like this, whether the idea was “explosion enemy,” “introductory enemy,” or just “cube enemy.”
How many playable enemies are you hoping to include? Is there anything in the pipeline you can share with us?
The number is constantly changing, but 24 seems like a good number to shoot for in terms of robust playable enemies. There might be more contextual enemies to control, like the key enemy that exclusively opens doors, but I’d love to have 20+ fully usable enemies. There are currently 7 such enemies implemented and playable, with a few more fully planned out but not yet in the game, and lots of others that are just ideas, sketches, or movesets. Eventually Whimp will befriend one of every enemy-type, bringing them along on his journey and allowing him to possess them between levels. Some can only be unlocked after side-levels or challenges, while some, like Chuck the BuckaChucka, will be recruited as part of the story.
One enemy that I haven’t shared anything about yet is Sprolic, who you’ll encounter early in the forest. Sprolics roll and waddle around, but only deal damage through physical contact. Flapping the leaf on their head generates a gust that can blow you backwards, which can get you into trouble in crowded areas. The other new enemy I’d love to share is the Caskade, a barrel-like enemy that can attack and move using the water it stores in its body. Darryl, the Caskade who will join Whimp as a friend, is the close friend and cousin of Chuck the BuckaChucka.
What other games have you developed?
Whimp is my first major game project. I’ve done a jam game and a couple of prototypes over Whimp’s development, but I started devving with Whimp. There’s lots of good advice out there that says not to jump into game development with your passion project, but a lot of my growth and learning has been driven by my love for Whimp. Of course this means that I’ve had to redo most of the code and sprites at least once, especially as I became more confident in my pixel art style, but I don’t regret any of my time it took me to improve.
What would you say are your biggest influences as a gamedev? What games inspire you? We can definitely see a big Kirby influence!
I’m definitely not shy about Kirby being my biggest influence, but I’m always flattered when people point it out. Specifically, Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland was my favourite game growing up, so I’ve taken a lot of cues from it, and not just about stealing enemy abilities. I modeled my running physics, for example, after what I found in NiD. Level design is an area where I’m still finding my groove, but I look to the Donkey Kong Country games, especially Tropical Freeze, as the pinnacle of cohesive level design. Honestly there are lots of titles that I don’t actively think about that I’m sure are guiding my preferences and intuitions. Games like Super Meat Boy, Shovel Knight, Super Mario World and even 3D titles like Jak & Daxter have probably shaped my preferences for gameplay. I also look to Wonderful 101, my favourite WiiU game, when I’m looking for how to create a set-piece moment. One of my favourite story tropes is a giant diverse team assembling around a central member to defeat a common threat (think Wonderful 100, literally, the Green Lanterns and all the other Lantern Corps, Team Dai-Gurren from Gurren Lagann, etc). It’s no coincidence that a big part of Whimp the Bold’s story involves befriending enemies and travelling with them as allies.
Are there any games you’re looking forward to this year?
My most anticipated game this year is Kirby: Star Allies (surprising, I know). I mostly game on my Switch and PC now, so I’m really looking forward to indie titles like Celeste, Fe and Iconoclasts. The Nintendo Labo robot kit is also getting me all kinds of excited, so I’m eagerly awaiting more information about that. I also plan on catching up on some of the games I missed last year, like Wolfenstein 2, Hollow Knight and Team D13’s Monolith.
Great minds think alike, Mario Odyssey swung a curveball with its possession mechanic last year, has this affected development or your approach in any way?
I freaked out a little when I first saw the capture mechanic revealed, and there were times playing it that I had to take a second look at my own plan. My first boss, for example, was going to be a classic “floating head and hands” boss and Odyssey’s first boss handled pretty similarly to what I had planned. But controlling enemies in 3D is different from controlling enemies in 2D, so I’m not too worried about people feeling it’s a tired mechanic. Ultimately the fun comes from what enemies you can control, not just that you can control them. And I’ve loved my time with Odyssey, both as a player and as a developer trying to study game design. I’ve tried my best pick up on some of the things that Odyssey does to make capturing as smooth as possible and I’m experimenting with them myself. Right now, for example, I’m playing around with giving Whimp an attack that locks onto an enemy for possession, giving players the option to possess more easily if they choose to take an extra step. Little things too, like what happens to enemies after you possess them, have made me consider if my solutions are the best ones. Sometimes I’m happy with what I have and lots of times Nintendo knows best. And of course, I’m still trying to figure out how to get a live recorded big band theme song for Whimp…
Where would you like to see Whimp go in the future? Would you like to see Whimp on consoles?
I’m always on the lookout for game conventions that are accessible and cheap to present Whimp at. Last June I went to TooManyGames where I was honored to win the Screenwave Media Award and had a great time meeting other devs and exploring the convention scene from the other side of the table. The feedback from players also tangibly improved Whimp, so I’m itching to get back onto a show floor. As for release platforms, Whimp will initially target PC and other desktop platforms. Porting the game would take time and money, but if possible I would absolutely love to see Whimp on consoles and reach the largest audience I can. The idea of a crowdfunding campaign has always been in the back of my mind, but I would prioritize that money to contracting additional artists and designers, which would significantly speed development along. If the circumstances are right though it would be a dream to see Whimp the Bold on the home menu of a console.
Roughly when do you feel Whimp will be completed?
The toughest question here! The biggest hurdle to Whimp’s release is that I’m also a full-time student, which means that development, while constant, ebbs and flows at times. I graduate in May 2019, so a hopeful release estimate would be late 2019. But planning and creating a game is never that easy, so I would keep that timeline as the absolute earliest possible date.
Where can we keep track of your work?
The best places are my Twitter @AttaBoyGames and tumblr http://attaboydev.tumblr.com . I also have a Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/AttaBoyDev/ that gets updated a little less frequently, but will still have major updates. Finally, my itch.io page https://attaboy.itch.io/whimp-the-bold will always hold the latest demo build. I’m working on a new one right now, so expect an update there hopefully within the month!
Whilst we may have to wait to play a finished Whimp the Bold, the latest build is currently available to play above on itch.io with new and future builds coming soon. In the meantime, watch the gameplay trailer below to sample some adorable body-snatching and follow AttaboyGames for updates!