Road to the IGF: Guacamelee!

DrinkBox, the team behind the open-world action platform game Guacamelee!, speaks to us about where the game from, its inspirations, and what went into its unique, IGF-nominated art style.
As part of our Road to the IGF series, Gamasutra is speaking to each of the finalists in the 2013 Independent Games Festival to find out the story behind the games. Today we speak to DrinkBox studios, the team behind action platformer Guacamelee!, which is nominated for the Excellence in Visual Art award this year.

What is your team's game development background, if any?

Graham Smith, Producer: DrinkBox has been around for almost 5 years now and has slowly grown up to 14 people working on multiple projects. Guacamelee! is our third internal game as a studio. The previous two games were Tales from Space: About a Blob on PS3 (PSN), and Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack on PS Vita and Steam. We have also contributed to a number of other games being developed by other studios. Putting team members on to external projects has helped us to self-fund our own internal projects.

What game development tools are you using?

GS: We primarily use our own internally developed editor and engine for our games. The editor gives the ability to rig characters and audio, create levels, and test the levels on the fly. In addition to this, we use Adobe Flash for Animations, 3DS Max and Photoshop to create visuals for the game environments, FMOD for Audio, and Box2D for Physics.

Where did the concept come from?

Teddy Lee, Gameplay Design Lead: The initial characters concepts, basic storyline, and title for the game were made by our resident Mexican Augusto Quijano. The mechanics, atmosphere, and all that jazz was a collaborative process, and everyone has had a strong impact on the end product.

How long have you been working on the game?

GS: The high level breakdown is something like: -4 months for preliminary prototyping (pre-production and combat prototype) -4 additional months to build a Vertical Slice (submitted to publishers and to the IGF) -18 months full production

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any standouts?

TL: Only Hotline Miami and FTL. Both good games. I probably liked Hotline Miami more, as FTL had a bit too much RNG [random number generator -Ed.] for my taste. Although I played on normal, which everyone apparently tells me is a mistake.

How do you define an "indie" game developer?

GS: For me, the term "indie" refers to a person or team working on self-funded projects where the driving force is to make something new, interesting, and innovative rather than primarily as a way to make money.

Tell us about Guacamelee's art direction, where did it come from?

Stephane Goulet, Art Director: Guacamelee is part Mexican folk art, part 16 bit video game. Everything in the game is inspired by the art and culture of Mexico, but with a stylized approach reminiscent of blocky, tiled game art from classic platformers like Metroid and Mario. This meant all of the environments, assets, and characters had to have a simplified, angular and boxy look while at the same time retaining plenty of visual interest with a folk artsy, hand painted vibe.

Guacamelee's protagonist has some pretty sweet action poses. Are they inspired by anything in particular?

SG:Guacamelee's main hero, Juan, is directly inspired from Mexico's vibrant menagerie of luchador wrestlers. Along with the flamboyant, over-the-top masks and costumes, come some equally over-the-top moves. We wanted to really play up the visual excitement of Mexican wrestling (and Mexican art in general) by making Juan's style as exaggerated and as bold as possible!

I was struck by the game's unique color palette, something a lot of games don't really experiment with. Is this something you deliberately tried to make stand out?

SG: The goal here was to have a harmonious balance between the bright, multicolored palettes of Mexican art, and a more "mature" and unified feel that would help steer the game away from being dismissed as "just a kid's game" (something our bright and colorful Blob learned all too painfully in our 1st game). It took a lot of iterations to strike the right tension, but we eventually found that it was possible to incorporate the graphic patterns and bold designs of Mexico, yet still work within a limited and stylized color palette. The trick was to have lots of color variation within a limited color palette. For example if you look closely at a seemingly mono-chromatic asset in the game, you'll notice lots of painted colors inside it.

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