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Cleaning Up With Smudged Cat Games -- The Adventures Of Shuggy, Gateways, And Being Indie

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Posted July 18, 2012 - By Rob Manuel



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Cleaning Up With Smudged Cat Games -- The Adventures Of Shuggy, Gateways, And Being Indie

You might not know Smudged Cat Games, but you’ll be hearing more about them soon enough. This very small development team is better known for their highly imaginative yet challenging games such as The Adventures of Shuggy and the new Gateways. Rising from the depths of XBLIG, they’ve made a name for themselves and a place on the Steam market page.

Pick up Shuggy and you begin to get an idea of what this small team is capable of doing. One room, one screen, and over a hundred of ideas later; Shuggy pushes the limits of creativity by creating room after room of fresh challenges that use mostly the same simple platforming mechanics. Each stage brings a refreshing blend of old-school mechanics as well as a twist that often has you thinking before you leap.

With this new title, Gateways, Smudged Cat Games goes after two different properties – Portal and Metroid. In this 2D puzzle platformer, you must make your way through your lab to collect parts to upgrade your portal opening device. New abilities make traversing through the enemy territory easier and allow you to access additional areas along the way. While borrowing from some well-known titles, Gateways feels completely unique with new challenges behind every corner.

I was lucky enough to catch up to David Johnson, the man behind Smudged Cat Games, to talk about developing Shuggy, how he tackled the expansive world of Gateways, and what it means to work indie.

What were some of your inspirations behind developing Shuggy?

I’ve always been a big fan of platform games, I remember spending my childhood playing Mario and Sonic games, and I still love platformers to this day. I think any platform game inevitably takes some inspiration from Mario; it’s the granddaddy of platform games. The controls for Shuggy are certainly based on some of the earlier Mario games. I also used to play a lot of Bomb Jack in an arcade as a child and loved those controls. The floating jump levels in Shuggy are based on Bomb Jack.

When I actually came up with the idea for Shuggy the intention was to make a Warioware-like game based around different platforming mechanics. I knew I’d have to make the levels last a little bit longer than they do in Warioware, but the initial inspiration was having a completely different mechanic in each stage that only took a few seconds to play. Once I’d implemented some of the mechanics, I realized the levels were taking longer to play than I’d initially imagined and that the mechanics were cool enough to warrant a few levels each so it drifted further from that initial idea.

How did you come up with so many one-room puzzles for The Adventures of Shuggy?

It’s difficult to say where ideas for puzzles come from really. They all stem from the invention of each mechanic and a bit of imaginative thinking I guess.

I really like logic puzzles and spend a good amount of time with traditional pencil and paper puzzle books. I think doing a lot of those gives you an appreciation for what makes a puzzle satisfying to engage with and eventually complete. I like that feeling of understanding what you have to do initially and making some progress, but then encountering a problem that you can’t see how to overcome. It makes it very satisfying when you work through all the possibilities and eventually discover the solution.

What did you learn from Shuggy that you incorporate into Gateways?

Gateways obviously shares a bit in common with Shuggy what with being able to change size, shift gravity, and travel in time to encounter your past echoes. The whole engine for the game is completely different though, with Shuggy being based around small individual levels and Gateways being set in one single large level. It did help having implemented similar features in Shuggy, so I knew what gotchas to look out for.

How did you come up with the optional help system?

I knew some of the puzzles (especially the later ones) were going to get quite tricky and I didn’t want people to get completely stuck so I decided there would have to be a way to skip puzzles somehow. I had implemented some levels in Shuggy where you would co-operate with NPC friends that walk around by replaying a series of pre-recorded key presses. I thought that system worked really well so I decided that you would actually be able to buy solutions to puzzles and see them played out in front of you so that you could see how a puzzle could be solved rather than simply skipping over it. It also lends more weight to the power orbs that you collect around the map where some games just have things you can collect that don’t really give you anything.

The way that there are multiple routes through the map and puzzles that you have to return to means that not everything you encounter at first is solvable, you have to think about whether or not you can solve the puzzle using what power ups you currently have. I decided a nice feature would be to spend a small number of the power orbs at a puzzle’s help point to find out immediately if you can solve the puzzle or not.

What have been some of the benefits and problems of working as a small development team?

The development team for Gateways is very small. My friend Bennet at Fat Cat Comics does the graphics. Sub-contractors have done the music and sound effects. I’m solely responsible for the development of the game and get to make all the major decisions without having to really consult with anyone.

I like being able to decide how the game should take shape, but it can be hard working pretty much in complete isolation and not being able to bounce ideas of someone. It means if I go off on the wrong track then there’s no one there to tell me I’m being an idiot!

What advice to have for others starting out in the gaming community?

I’d stress the importance of trying to market your game as early as you possibly can. I was guilty of not pushing The Adventures of Shuggy as much as I should have and I think it’s quite a common problem. As game developers, we love creating games and crafting virtual worlds with the belief that if it’s good enough then people will somehow find out about it, and we’ll end up with loads of players, but it’s just not like that.

I’ve heard people saying that they don’t want to reveal their game until later because they’re worried about someone stealing their great new idea. It’s just a complete non-issue because the only way someone will steal an idea is if it’s proven to have been popular and already sold thousands and thousands of copies. Your idea is worth nothing until you’ve proven it’s popular!

What's next for Smudged Cat Games?

I’m not working on any new games at the moment; I’m focusing on Shuggy and Gateways for now. I’m still updating Gateways and the next update will have a few significant changes such as the addition of warp points on the map to prevent too much backtracking. I’d like to release a new set of levels for Shuggy that I’ve been working on and might even make a level editor for the game. After that, who knows...

Cleaning Up With Smudged Cat Games -- The Adventures Of Shuggy, Gateways, And Being Indie
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