Interview with John Butler of Moose Knuckle Games
It’s a tough world out there, but when you’re passionate about something, why not pursue that dream? I got the chance to talk with John Butler founder of Moose Knuckle Games about his upcoming title Yin Yang Bang Bang which will be available to play during the Boston Festival of Indie Games this weekend!
Oz: As Grumpy Monkey was all hand drawn art, and Yin Yang Bang Bang has that same feel, do you think this will be your go-to niche for whatever comes next?
JB: Grumpy Monkey was drawn in a oil painting aesthetic with a water color mechanic as water balloons splashed water on the world. Yin Yang BANG BANG is created in a brushed ink aesthetic. They are similar, but different. I do not want to get tied down to one style. But I have been going for a more fine art direction for two reasons; First, I personally really enjoy the look. Second, I noticed a lull in the gaming community for this type of hand drawn/painted work. Most of the games, in the mobile market at least, are vector art or pixel art. I have respect for both and enjoy working in those “mediums” but I needed a way to stand out. I don’t want to talk much about my next project, cause the spot light is on Yin Yang. But all I will say is; My next game is going to show my true breath of artist skill.
Oz: It was mentioned that you prefer working alone to get full creative control in your work. Would you ever consider even a small dev team in the future?
JB: I don’t want to set the impression that I am this reclusive artist that sits in the corner, naked, huffing paints, and doesn’t want anyone around when they are working ! Although that sounds fun, I started being solo not by choice. I actually wanted to make a game with two college buddies. The three of us got together and did the brainstorm for what would later become Grumpy Monkey! Shortly after the initial brainstorm the momentum slowed to nothing. A few months later I took it upon my self to really do this thing! I am really happy it ended up working that way. Don’t get me wrong, I love those guys, and they continue to support me to this day. But I have a very strong love for learning, some would call it an obsession. The fact that now I got to learn everything was spectacular. Learn to code, FUN. Learn how to compose a song, AWESOMENESS. Don’t know how to animate art, now I will, SWEETNESS. Another bonus to working alone is you get a lot of respect form other devs! I started to realize that most “Solo” devs were not really solo, in the sense that they did everything themselves. They almost always contracted out the sound effect, and music work. Most contracted out the art too. So the fact that I was doing it all got me connected to a lot more people then I believe would of if I contracted out work. Working solo also allows me to have a deeply connected relationship with my work. I know every single part inside an out. I know why and when I added a violin chord, and every paint stroke. Also the stories I have from chasing birds with a sound recorder or asking a stranger to walk with her heels as I creepily follow her with my mic. It is a deeply satisfying experience to create every aspect of a project like a video game. But it has its drawbacks for sure. It take SOOOoooooo much time to finish a game. And because of that it can constrain a project to a smaller size. But I will get into that in the next question. So in the future I could see myself wanting to have a small team. Not only for the ability to get more work done in less time. But for collaboration as well. I love bouncing ideas off others and feeding off others creative energy. As Nacho would say, “It’s fantastic!” Plus, as much as I enjoy talking to myself, it would be nice to have other people to talk to. But I think I will assemble a team when I want a change of pace. But right now this whole thing is so gosh darn exciting that I don’t see that happening anytime soon!
TL;DR Maybe, but not anytime soon.
Oz: How do you feel about crowd sourcing versus just working on it and releasing it?
JB: For me, crowd sourcing will be instrumental to my business model. I have not done any yet. But I will be doing it for my next game, because I want it to have a bigger scope. For me, I can not work on a game for long periods of time because my school loans and all my other bills don’t seem to want to wait until I release a game. So crowd sourcing will basically buy me time. That and also some better equipment. All I have to create all my art is a eleven year old Wacom Graphire 3. Even more importantly, it lets me know there is an audience. It would suck to almost go homeless on a long project to only release it and no one wants it!
Oz: You taught yourself how to create a video game from just looking things up online, what advice or resources would you suggest to people trying to do the same?
JB: I would, without a doubt, recommend GameMaker. Hands down it was the best thing I found. I started out teaching myself Java and it was interesting but, oh so slow. After a week I got the computer to do simple math and say my name… I don’t know how everyone else thinks but this was really slow and quite daunting to be honest. I already set an enormous task of, publishing a game from literally no knowledge of game making. Then this Java business was going at a snails pace. So I searched the web trying to find a better, more efficient way. After all, Java can do SO much more then just make games. Why don’t I try to find something that is made just for making games, streamline the process a bit more. I found a few, and tried a couple. But I ended up on GameMaker(GM), and I don’t regret it for one moment. The thing I love so much about it is it allows beginners to start making games with out writing a line of code. But unlike a lot of other code-less, or drag and drop (D&D), game creators it allows the user to use code to do more complex operations. That right there is what makes it so special. Lets face it, most games made with only the D&D approach, suck. So if you pick a program that is only D&D you are limited, and once you get more experience and need to code, then you have to learn a whole new program. But in GM you start with D&D and slowly add in code as you need it, and before you know it, every single thing you do is just code. Oh and you know how Java took me a week to do 1+1=2. In a week of GM I had 2 fully functioning games I made following pretty good tutorials! That immediacy of progress was what kept me going. I swear I don’t get paid by GM, it has just been that good for me! Also their forums are an immensely powerful tool for getting you unstuck on a problem. Another huge thing is love it! It sounds simple but if you are doing it for money or some other external reason, it probably will not work. Grumpy Monkey has made me $38.17. But I didn’t do it for money so I look at it as a huge success. Also it was more of a learning exercise so I didn’t put any ads and it was free. I just wanted to make a game not get rich. Sure money is needed to do it full time but it should just be a bonus. you should do it for the joy of doing it.
TL;DR Download GameMaker, and use their forums, and don’t do it for money.
Oz: In April 2014 you quit your job to focus on making Yin Yang Bang Bang, how challenging was the crossover from a full-time job to full-time game developer?
JB: It was actually far harder then I anticipated. When I was making Grumpy Monkey I was doing steady 100 hour work weeks. 40 at my 9-5 and 60 on the game. That was really hard. I never hung out with friends and my fiancé barely got to see me! It sucked, but it was exciting at the same time. I knew it was temporary so I just kept my head down and worked my ass off. When I quit, I found it hard to work with the same vigor as before. I couldn’t figure out why and it bothered me. But after a month or two I got in my rhythm. But I do lose it from time to time. Sometimes I just want to go camping! Also the monetary part has been really hard. My fiancé and I are big minimalists. We don’t really buy things except for food. But we are running out of money. We just had to sell our car and buy a beater with a heater to afford me more time. Hopefully Yin Yang BANG BANG with give me at least enough money to complete a successful crowd sourcing project for my next game. If not I will get a part time job. I will still make games, but it will slow me down for sure! Time will tell!
Oz: The original/early version of Yin Yang Bang Bang were described as a shooter, will we ever get to see Yin Yang Bang Bang in its shooter form?
JB: It depends on its success. If enough people ask for it, then yeah. But if I did, it would only be for PC and maybe consoles. The way Yin Yang BANG BANG is right now, is perfect for the mobile environment. It does not work on other platforms and I like that. I feel that the game play is optimized for a touch screen environment. The shooter mechanic was started when it was to be a cross platform game. But once I came up with the two handed concept, I fell in love with it. So much that I trashed about two months of development, when I had only put about three months in total! It is a big part of what makes the game quite different from anything else out there. If I do end up doing the shooter, I would have to come up with something else unique.