Momonga Pinball Adventures Interview With Derk de Geus
As soon as we'd finished playing Paladin Studios' Momonga Pinball Adventures, we knew we had to find out more about the origins and development of the game. We scored it highly in our review, lamenting only the fact that this eccentric and loveable pinball adventure hybrid game was over all too soon.
So how exactly did the developers come to work on this curious adventure? Paladin's Derk de Geus has all the answers.
First of all Derk, can you tell us a bit about your development background?
I studied media design and animation in Rotterdam, and taught myself programming in the meantime. When I was studying animation, I did some freelance programming on the side, together with Dylan Nagel. When the projects got bigger and bigger, we figured it would be awesome to start a development studio. Right before the end of the second year, I quit art school and started Paladin with him. That was July 1st 2005 - almost 8 years ago.
We've seen a lot of genre-hybrid games over the last 12 months, but a pinball adventure game's new to us! How did the idea for Momonga come about?
Momonga is our first big title. Before that, we made a living with work-for-hire projects. Secretly, we cherished the dream of building our own games. In 2005 that wasn't as easy as it is now: Publishers and platform holders were the gatekeepers, and as a developer you were at the bottom of the food chain. Still, we built prototypes for just about any genre you could think of. We did things like a multiplayer arena game, a paper folding game, and other stuff. We never finished anything, let alone published it.
At a certain point we worked on the models for a game of a friend of ours. It's called AudioSurf, and became a huge hit on Steam. That was the point when we said, OK, something is changing - if he can do it by himself, there is obviously an opportunity for indies. It still took us years of tinkering before we said, we're going to do it right this time. So we sat down and created a "pipeline" for our game concepts instead of just jumping straight to development. We started with 100 ideas and voted for the coolest concepts. We then had a list of 10 game designs and did some market analysis. Then we had a top 3 of games that were awesome and viable. We built prototypes for these games and invited testers over to play them. One of the prototypes was an idea from Yorick, our lead developer. He came up with an "infinite pinball" game, where you would need to get as far as possible. Sort of Doodle Jump meets pinball. This prototype was very well received by the testers and we decided to go for it.
I recently wrote a detailed blog post about this - you can read all about it here.
One of the loading screens mentions it can take up to a month to design a level. How long has the game been in development for and what challenges have you faced?
The first "pinball forever" prototype was built in January 2011. That's two years ago - but it's important to realize that we worked on Momonga as a side project, in our spare time and with our spare cash. I guess that was the biggest challenge - to balance the work-for-hire (paying the rent) with development of Momonga (following the dream). There have been months when we didn't even touch the game. Each delay was painful, but we had to survive to finish it, and nobody would gain anything from another bankrupt studio. We stuck with it, and after two years it's now done!
Another major challenge is the level design. We built hundreds of different level-parts, and threw 80% away. Pinball is a special breed of game, and I have tremendous respect for the designers of real pinball cabinets. It takes an incredible amount of experience and design decisions to make it work. Every wall angle, every bouncer position, even the resting angle of the flippers - it has to be carefully balanced so the game plays well. The bigger levels (Guaka and Kuton) actually took us several months to build. And we also threw away two completely finished levels, simply because they were not really good. The level design makes or breaks a game, and I think you have to avoid the "filler" levels you see in many games. Along the way we learned so much, and I can't wait to put that knowledge to work in Episode 2!
We loved the game but found that some of our favorite characters and mechanics were over very quickly - was the game scaled back at all from its original plans?
The initial idea was to build an infinite pinball game - Doodle Jump meets pinball. When we started, we realized we didn't know anything about what makes a pinball level work. And it would be much, much easier to start with hand-made levels instead of a level generator. How hard could it be, right? Turns out it was much, much harder than we thought. We had to make some critical decisions, and our main guideline was: is this going to be awesome or not? One of the decisions was to not compromise on the quality of gameplay. We scaled down the number of levels, but raised the bar for the level design, the visuals, and the storyline. I look at it this way, when people complain they want more of a game, it's better than people playing half-way through and just dropping it because it isn't fun.
Can we expect new content for the game? If so, will that take the form of bonus, post-story stages, or new gameplay types like Panda's Dream?
Yes, we fully intend to release new content. We are currently working on a hot-fix for some of the annoyances users have reported. Most notably, we will better support older devices like the iPhone 3GS, iPad 1, and iPod touch 4th gen. The restart function will be faster and we fixed some minor bugs. Next up is a new infinite bonus level, but what kind of level it will be, you will have to find out for yourself!
And of course there is a major update on our wish list for Episode 2, where we continue the story! The success of Episode 1 will determine if we can build it. So please spread the word, it keeps the updates coming!
Can we expect to see the game launch for other platforms such as Android? What was the motivation for releasing on the App Store?
Yes, Android is in the pipeline, and we have some exciting platforms coming up as well. Our plan is to get Momonga on as many different devices as possible. The App Store is a great start, because it gives you an honest view of the potential for a game. If reviews are good on iOS, they will probably be good on other platforms as well. Apple users are incredibly picky on quality, and that gives us many insights.
What's next for the studio - can we expect a new Momonga game in the future, or a spin-off game involving the same characters?
I would love to work on more Momonga titles - be they pinball or other genres. We have an amazing world design for Momonga, and plenty of game concepts lying around, begging to be built. But we will focus on new content and platforms for Momonga Pinball first. If you're interested in what we're up to, you can follow the creative process at our dev blog.