Get ready to play with your emotions on Mush, coming to Windows Phone July 4th!
What exactly is Mush all about? Mush is our fuzzy character who changes shape as you control his mood and lead him through various locations! For example, shaking the phone can cause Mush to get angry, which in turn changes how he moves through the environments. Tilting your phone left or right will cause him to move in that direction and drawing sad or happy faces on the screen makes his mood change accordingly. Likewise, drawing a happy face will make our hero journey upwards and drawing a sad face will make him fall back down to the ground. Cool right?!
Here at PlayXBLA, we were lucky enough to snag an interview with Kate Killick, the Lead Artist on Mush! Click Read More to find out more about what Kate has to say about mobile development, Mush, and her advice for getting into the games industry! There’s also a gallery of RAD screenshots and the official launch trailer!
PlayXBLA: It’s very nice to meet you Kate! Can you describe what it was like going from University and being a part of building this small team that is now Angry Mango, to going to Dare to Be Digital and XNA Champs, being nominated for a BAFTA, to finally launching your product now 2 years after forming? Seems like an incredible journey. As the Lead Artist on Mush, how excited are you for this title launching?
Kate: It has been a real journey! When we first got together to discuss entering Dare to be Digital, I certainly never thought I would be here two years down the line, announcing a Microsoft release! When you’re in the middle of it, you sort of just take each thing as it comes, so it’s only when you look back and see how far you’ve come that it really hits home. I think launch day will definitely be full of those moments where I stop and think, how did I get here?
There have been times that it seemed so close, and times that it seemed impossibly far away, so to finally have a set date feels incredible. Of course, after two years of working on a game, it’s also pretty nerve-wracking to be putting it through the ultimate test and finding out what the audience thinks! After all, when it comes down to it that is the only test that really matters. We’ve always had a great response when we’ve taken the game to events though, so hopefully that we will get a similar reaction and the Windows Phone users will love it too.
PlayXBLA: What separates this title from other platformers on mobile devices or for that matter any platform?
Kate: I think the game is unique in quite a few ways. Firstly, being able to change the character’s emotions to help you progress through the game is a pretty unique mechanic - I haven’t really seen a similar mechanic in any other game. The younger audience especially seem to find drawing a smile to make Mush happy very satisfying! Another thing that players always comment on is how they enjoy the game’s relaxed feel. It doesn’t hassle you or demand super fast reflexes like a lot of games, and you can’t die, so it really offers something a bit different – a change of pace.
PlayXBLA: The unique combination of in depth and casual feel that Mush has is really awesome. When designing Mush did you have a specific audience you were aiming for or was it more an artistic appeal approach?
Kate: I think our aims for the game have evolved and changed quite a lot over the development process. When we started at Dare to be Digital, we only had ten weeks to build a prototype, which doesn’t give you a lot of time for concept development and planning, especially when you’ve never built a game before! I think we developed the initial look and feel mostly out of the desire to make something that was both intuitive and very distinctive, and the rest kind of grew from there. In terms of the audience, we wanted the game to appeal to everyone and be as accessible as possible.
PlayXBLA: How did the team take the concept of emotions serving as the primary function in the game from concept to actual gameplay?
Kate: Once we’d settled on the idea of using emotions as a mechanic, we knew that the most important aim was to give each emotion a unique inputmethod and a new ability that the player could use to progress. We had the happy, sad and angry mechanics from very early on, and we went through a lot of iterations for other emotions – some much less successful than others! We were using Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions as reference for a while, which includes things like grief, vigilance and admiration. I think at one point we came up with the idea of shouting at Mush to make him shrink in terror! Over time though, we realised that there was a clear distinction between those core three mechanics that felt natural and intuitive, and those that felt like we were trying too hard to shoehorn mechanics and theme together. That’s probably the number one lesson we learned at Dare to be Digital: when working on mobile, simple is best.
Coming up with the fourth emotion was probably the hardest. It came after Dare to be Digital, so we’d already spent a lot of time on levels for the first three. They seemed to work together so neatly, each with a clearly distinct colour scheme and a straightforward correlation between the input and the outcome – but we knew we needed one more to really round off the game and add more challenge. I think it was our programmer Ahmed who had the brainwave of turning the phone upside down, and when the group ran with the idea of it becoming the confusion mechanic, it was clear that it was a perfect fit.
PlayXBLA: The art and music have a very distinctive style as well as the Mush characters. It has a flat, but beautiful vibrant feel to it. Can you describe how you landed on that style and if you had any inspiration to pull from?
Kate: The main inspiration for the art style was contemporary illustrators, like Bob Staake and Christopher Lee. There are a lot of awesome digital illustrators around at the moment, and we hadn’t seen much in mobile gaming that really pushed vector art in the same way. We were very set on developing a unique style from early on, so the first thing we did when we got to the competition was spend a week making concept art. Neither Henry nor I had much experience with vector illustration, so we had to do a lot of self-teaching. A lot of people compare the style to other vector games, but I think it’s quite distinct – it uses soft gradients and a lot of papery textures. But maybe I’m just too close to it to see the likeness!
PlayXBLA: How do you feel about mobile game development? Do you feel like what you’re creating is available to a broader audience?
Kate: I have to confess that I wasn’t much of a mobile gamer before we started Mush. In fact, I had never even owned a smartphone! I had gone into my degree wanting to do what I think 99% of first year games students want to do – create some epic fantasy game with massive worlds and awesome characters and a gripping narrative. I expect a lot of people get into games because they are inspired by something they played when they were younger. In reality, what I’ve learned is that the games you most enjoy playing probably aren’t the games you most enjoy making. For me, I have found something immensely satisfying in working on mobile games, not just for being able to reach a huge audience but also in the simplicity. Actually, stripping out complexities like detailed narratives and characters takes you right back to focussing on what is (to me) the most important part of games design: innovative, engaging mechanics.
Although you get to work with a lot of cool technology – particularly touch and tilt inputs – you are limited by the graphic capabilities of mobile devices, and I think it’s those limitations that really drive creativity. That’s why there’s so many interesting things coming out of the mobile industry right now – you can’t hide generic gameplay behind fancy CG when you’re working on mobile.
PlayXBLA: Any words of wisdom for women looking to get in the video game industry? Have you exp. Any challenges during the course of you career that you didn’t expect?
Kate: I’d say the same thing to anyone looking to get into games development: get stuck in. There are so many great tools and resources available online that I think anyone with an interesting idea could build a prototype. It really is the best way to learn how to make games. Getting involved in the industry is very important as well, and a lot of fun! Go to game jams, go to indie dev meet-ups, showcases, conferences – anything you can. I’ve spoken to a lot of people, especially students, who don’t go because they don’t see themselves as professionals. I definitely felt like a bit of a fraud at the first events we went to! But I found that when I did talk to other developers, they were more than happy to share their experiences and give advice, and talking about your own work is the best way to build confidence.
I think being a woman in the industry can be frustrating. You do find yourself outnumbered sometimes, feeling like you stand out, particularly if you go to big commercial expos that are so clearly targeted at men. My advice would be not to be afraid of coming across as too vocal or opinionated. I recently read a study that found that women, but not men, are perceived negatively for speaking up in the workplace. It may be a bit generalised, but it’s true that it sometimes feels easier to just smile and nod, particularly if you’re new to the industry. I think it’s important to speak up and challenge things, though – otherwise they don’t change.
PlayXBLA: When can we expect to have Mush in our hands?
Kate: I am thrilled to be able to say that Mush will be hitting the Marketplace on 4th July!
Huge thanks to both Kate and the Angry Mango team!! Check out the screenshot gallery and trailer below!