Cakelust is a problem. It has been known to cause some people to solve progressively deadlier puzzles and spoil an evil robots murderous plans. For Justin Baldwin, Creative Director at Sleep Ninja Games, cakelust leads Cartoon Network to publish a cute, new puzzle game called Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake.
How would you describe Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake?
At heart, Monsters is an environmental puzzle game that follows a boy named Niko and his monster friends. Gameplay is akin to old school dungeon style puzzle games. Sort of like Adventures of Lolo, or the temple areas in Zelda. However, the twist on that is to split control between up to four different characters at a time. Each with their own unique abilities that can affect the environment. There is also a layer of nostalgic adventure genre frosting in there, such as villager quests, secret items, treasures to find, optional paths, and even costumes for Niko, some of which can give him special abilities.
From what sources did you draw inspiration during development?
We were inspired by a lot of things, especially that feeling of being vulnerable and growing up. The game is kind of a remembrance of childhood, so we drew a lot from what influenced us as kids. My artistic approach was try and combine a clean, popart-like illustrative style with the feel of a early 90's SNES game. Aesthetically the game ranges from things like Kid Robot and Toki Doki toys, to games like Earthbound, Zelda, Pokemon, and Yoshi's Island. But that's just naming a few. We also drew from shows like Adventure Time, and Invader Zim. These shows can be utterly silly and random, but still have complex and interesting plot points and character development.
What sort of difficulties have you faced during development?
Time. Time was against us throughout the project. This is our first game as a company, and most of us currently work full time jobs to pay our bills. We have been spending nights and weekends, and practically every free second working, which takes its toll. Getting through those seventeen hour days, while still trying to remain in a creative and excited mindset was definitely a mountain to climb. However, we are all passionate about the project, and put everything we had in us into it.
We also didn't realize how hard it would be to make a puzzle game. Because Monsters has multiple characters, it was challenging to track all the variable outcomes with level design.
Another thing that challenging was sorting out control on mobile devices. We must have gone through 10 or more iterations of control for touch screens. Originally we planned on a "smart swipe" type control, similar to games like Oceanhorn or Mage Gauntlet. Where you can use basically what is an invisible joystick, but it moves with your finger placement, so you don't have the annoyance of having to make sure your thumb or finger is always in the right place. However while play testing we still ran into a lot of people not fully understanding that type of control. While it felt fine to people that understood it, we wanted the game to be more approachable so we went through a lot of different refinements and ideas before settling on our drawing control.
Were there any specific "Aha!" moments that set the game in a new direction?
Originally the idea for the game was completely different, it was more of a tower defense game. I had gone through a good amount of design and artwork, when I had this idea of what the game is now. The idea was to cross-combine the multiple characters like in the Lego games, and Lost Vikings, with Zelda style puzzles. I liked the idea of being able to isolate each character into specific areas and using them together to reach your goal. So I did new mock ups and planned out mechanic concepts and shared them with the team. We basically stated over from there, haha.
I'd also say we had a lot of fun Aha moments when it comes to story as well. Alex and I put a lot of energy into creating backstories for pretty much every character in the game. We really wanted it to feel like the characters had a past. We wanted to let game players, if invested enough, be able to dig for that stuff and even speculate as to an aspect of a characters past.
What aspects of the game did you want to implement but had to leave out?
Naturally, some ideas always get cut. You run out of time, or things just end up being more complicated than you intended them to be. We would have liked to include more monsters; however, it started to become a little too complex. A lot of the monsters also have strong personalities, so writing for more would have been too time consuming. We had to dial it back. We also had the idea of having upgrades for the monsters, but with a puzzle game, the characters' limitations are what make the game challenging and rewarding.
Tell us what the back of the box for Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake would say.
Adventure… EXCLAMATION POINT!
On the distant island of Gogapoe, a place populated by both humans and monsters. What starts out as a mission to get back Niko's birthday cake becomes a quest for the fate of Gogapoe itself. But, ya know, cake is still super important, too!
Oodles of friendly monsters will join Niko's quest and use their kooky powers to help him explore the island, solve puzzles, demolish obstacles, and just generally humiliate enemies. Hordes of evil monsters will cause mayhem and generally be jerkfaces, but that's nothing you can't fix with headbutts, frost breath, stink clouds and rainbow barf.
Save the day and fulfill your monstrous cakelust all at once in MONSTERS ATE MY BIRTHDAY CAKE!
Find Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake on iOS, Google Play and Amazon June 26, and on Steam July 1.