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Interview: Alex Lau, CEO and Lead Programmer at Robotic Potato

Interview: Alex Lau, CEO and Lead Programmer at Robotic Potato

Mashing together classic space shooters with an absured sense of humor and an intergalatic war-torn setting, SpaceCats in Space! by Robotic Potato is founded on the battle of good versus evil that dates back at long as time itself: cats against dogs. Plunging players into the heart of the conflict, through a storyline that is both a gritty war epic and a hilarious romp through the ridiculous, the game’s demo is already available to check out and it’s new Kickstarter is already drawing a lot of attention.

The Metropolist spoke to Alex Lau, CEO and Lead Programmer at Robotic Potato about the new game, finding out what it’s all about, what we can look forward to, and what it’s like to launch a game up against competition like No Man’s Sky.

The Metropolist: Tell us about your game.

Alex Lau: SpaceCats in Space! Is an animated twin-stick shooter about felines flying starfighters. You play as Crown Princess Angelina Contessa III of the planet Meowfyre. Your task is to lead the space cat navy against a tyrannical canine enemy, known as the Grolich Empire. Bomber strikes, wingman assistance and RPG-like leveling are all tools at your disposal to defeat the enemy. In between flying and shooting, players will need to make political and leadership decisions in our games visual novel mode. Their choices could mean the difference between a hard fight and an easy one, victory or defeat.

TM: What inspired the game?

AL: SpaceCats in Space! finds its roots in ‘90s cartoons – possibly the best decade in Western animation – with a dash of Top Gun and modern comedy writing. Many members of our team grew up with tales of heroic animals battling evil every Saturday morning, and now that we’re a bit older we fell in love with the idea of marrying that style with a more up-to- date sense of humor and timing.

We’re big fans of innovation in animation and storytelling. We owe our sense of humor to shows like Archer and Bob’s Burgers, and we use modern bone and rigging animation methods used by shows like My Little Pony. From the other side of the pond, we were inspired by the melding of story and action found in Japanese doujin shooters. Games like eXceed, the Touhou series, and Astebreed showed that you can tell a great story and have great gameplay in shooters, and we wanted to bring that idea to a Western game.

SpaceCatsinSpace_thumb Interview: Alex Lau, CEO and Lead Programmer at Robotic Potato

TM: How much of an impact do the cat and dog characters have on the gameplay? How do they make it different from your typical space battle games?

AL: All the characters have a major impact on gameplay. Even though you might not be directly interacting with them during the action sequences, they all play a part in the story and can grant different boosts or negative effects based on your decisions in the visual novel mode. Their canine and feline natures come out in the way the act and how they are played. For example, it’s not uncommon for clashing enemies to bark or yowl at each other.

For those who are looking for a more slapstick take on the dog/cat relationship, we have a DLC in the works called “Cheezeburger Mode” where the cat ships will shoot fish, and the dog ships will be shaped liked bones.

TM: Did you worry at all about isolating people who prefer dogs to cats?

AL: Only slightly. We think our dog characters have enough appeal as villains that they take a liking to them anyway, similar to how people are fans of Vader and Boba Fett. Everyone loves a villain. Our space dogs get plenty of screentime.

TM: Why did you choose this particular format for the game?

AL: I’ve always enjoyed SHMUPS, and twinstick shooters. “Shooting things in space” is one of the most basic types of game out there, but it doesn’t nearly get as much love as say the 2d platformer genre. In my opinion that was because of the rise of ultra-difficult ‘bullet hell’ games, which drove fans out of the genre through mere self-selection. There are a lot of people who’d love to play a game like Ikaruga but are just turned off because the game is just based on punishing difficulty.

We also wanted to incorporate story more heavily into the genre. FPS, platformers, RPGs have all undergone a renaissance in cinematic storytelling in the past decade. I wanted to see if we could do that even on a small scale with SpaceCats in Space!

 TM: You pieced most of the team together through sites like Reddit. How did that go? How is it working out?

AL: Our team on reddit is amazing! The key players in my company, art director Rachel Lewis and lead artist Kim Van Deun, were both recruited from Reddit. I think reddit works well because people can see what you’re doing, they can look into your comments history and see what kind of person you are and what you believe in, if you’re open about it. And then you’re just working remotely. I’m sure you can Google “running a remote business” and hit a dozen articles if you want to look into that, it’s such a common thing these days.

It got to the point that our Rachel even decided to move from Sydney, Australlia to New York City! That was one crazy month- we were all busy helping her get an apartment, find work, learn the city, the whole thing. She’s been living here now for about 3 months.

Our voice actors Kai and Callyn are redditors too, hired off the sub r/voiceacting. We just posted a request for auditions there and picked the best ones. I was actually surprised they had pretty formidable resumes.

We’ve also gotten a lot of help from other contractors on reddit as well, from marketers to level designers and artists. You can see the full roster on our Kickstarter page!

TM: The demo is out now. How is that going?

AL: People love the demo. It’s got some bugs in it certainly, but our backers have been a really great asset in helping us locate and fix them. I think the demo clearly shows off what kind of gameplay people can expect- intense action, funny dialogue, good voice acting, and choices that affect the battlefield. It shows the depth of our content, maybe not so much the breadth. There’s a lot missing like the ability to select different ships, different wingmen, different bomber load outs.

TM: Why did you choose Kickstarter to fund the game?

AL: Simple. Name recognition. People know the name Kickstarter and it’s been well known for funding video games. That kind of name recognition is extra critical for an unknown game like ours and that helped get us some backers. Initially we wanted to go with a lesser known platform like Indiegogo, there’s less risk in that model and we could’ve adjusted our game up and down based on what we got. But our marketing advisors overwhelmingly recommended Kickstarter. They’re professionals with years of experience doing indie games and crowdfunding, so I trust them.

 TM: How are you finding your Kickstarter experience so far?

AL: Kickstarter itself has been great. The interface is good to use and our backers are knowledgeable, loyal and fun. I think we did our best. Everyone who actually puts eyeballs on the site seems to enjoy the game

But to be frank, our first week was really overshadowed by the release of No Man’s Sky. That really kicked our ass.

Jim Sterling gave us an amazing review on his Greenlight Goodstuff show and it accounts for the majority of our backers. But even in the video he mentioned what I feared- that he did it while taking a break from No Man’s Sky. I’ve looked at other similar indie games and they had way, way more press coverage in their first weeks, and based on the sales and press on No Man’s Sky we’re getting buried. EVERYONE, everyone is covering it, especially indie-game press outlets, despite the fact that it had a huge marketing budget and a spot on Colbert. We’re competing with this AAA juggernaut.

Now, everyone can tell you Jim Sterling isn’t the easiest guy to impress, but he gave us a genuinely glowing review. I thought that meant maybe some other outlets would think the same – and they have, those that have actually chosen to cover us. We got Slickster Magazine, and a couple of articles from, like, Africa. But the fact is that people are too busy playing this AAA indie game to give us the time of day.

The saddest thing is that we saw it coming, we prepared for it. Way back in February, I was like, guys, we can’t release in June. No Man’s Sky is coming out, that’s going to totally kill us. Let’s delay it a few months. And then we read in March/April that they DELAYED it to August, when we’d already primed everything for our release! It really ticked me off.

So yeah. I’m sure you can find negative press on No Man’s Sky, I have my own very personal business beef against it, hah.

TM: What’s your plan for once the campaign is over? What are your hopes for the game?

AL: By hook or by crook we’ll be attending Twitchcon 2016. I hope we make our goal, otherwise it’s going to be kind of a depressing conference, hah! In the future if we actually meet with Steam success we’ve heard requests for a Space Dogs in Space! sequel and maybe even an animated series. I’d love to do all of those things, but that’s definitely way, way down the road from us.

TM: Thanks Alex!

Spacecats in Space is shaping up to be a blast, and if you like the sound of shmupping it up with intergalactic furry friends you can pledge to the Kickstarter now!


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