Kickin’ It With Bryan Heemskerk – Drop
4cR: Hi Bryan! Thanks for joining us on Kickin’ It With. What can you tell us about yourself?
Hi, it’s good to be here. I am an artist and animator. For a long time art has been my thing; at first I tried to go to university for International Development but all I did during lectures was draw. Since I was a little kid I remember taking my manuals for Mega Man, Breath of Fire, Dragon Warrior, and Final Fantasy to school and staring at the art, then drawing my own designs while taking inspiration from them. I’ve wanted to create worlds like these for a very long time. I have worked as a concept artist on mobile games for the last 2 years – I got my start out of university at a studio in Toronto where I worked on the art and animation for Super Snack Time, Stick Wars 3, Stick Wars 2, and a few other games. My favourite part of working there was creating the art and the animations for the game trailers. It was where I was the least restrained by sprite size and RAM allocation. In general I was really good at copying and matching other artists styles within the studio, which made me very versatile. Drop is the second game that I have worked on in my own art style that reflects the way I love to draw and paint. My game industry experience is on mobile and social games, but I have always yearned to release to the consoles and PC platforms. I’m going to work as hard as I can to improve as an artist and solidify the art and animation for this game.
4cr: You have a Kickstarter campaign for Drop, a game you describe as “A love letter to Mega Man X, Super Metroid and a powerful adventure for my daughter”. What is Drop about?
This is a game about my daughter and is fueled by the love and fear every parent has. You want to do your best to raise them right and protect them, but ultimately 80% of factors that effect them are out of your control. In general it’s about amplified versions of real fears, things that technology has changed like the possibility that my daughter will have trouble getting a job because of her internet history. Drop is the story of a girl and her robot where technology has been used to manipulate humanity into a state of forced docility. Basically, every little piece of information anyone logs into any device is passed through a fleet of eight airships. Each airship funnels and experiments with a different type of intelligence for military purposes (think eight Megaman-like stages). Her parents built her a robot and tools so that she could either fight or escape the oppression. When she was a little girl her mother went missing, followed by her father a decade later. She has the choice of running away and never knowing the truth or trudging knee deep into danger. She stands up to the challenge. However, I like to keep her motives clouded: Is she actually interested in altruistically saving humanity? Is she fueled by love, or anger?
4cR: How much will the game change from what is being shown on the Kickstarter page once it is funded?
A big surprise for me was the response I got to the art in the game – people either seemed to love or hate it. As an artist, I was hoping for a more universal appeal and at first it was really hard for me to handle. I could have gone the pixel art route (obviously ridiculously popular right now) which I have done before. However, it wasn’t the atmosphere that I wanted for the game. I am going to do my best to create the atmosphere I want for the game while generating as much universal appeal as possible. The art will change dramatically when it goes into deep development – I am moving all of the animations into Spine which will increase the frame rate of the current animations from 10 to 60 frames per second. It will give me the opportunity to paint the parts over and over again until I get them perfect without having to reanimate anything. This will also allow me to animate without the constraints of a sprite box, liberating me to try more dynamic animations. I will do many iterations on costumes and concepts especially with Tay. The backgrounds and environments will all be redone so players will have no issues identifying what terrain they can walk on. The stages will go through many changes until they are appropriately challenging and fun. I honestly think it is going to be a matter of building and rebuilding until it’s perfect. Also power-ups and armor upgrades are going to be a big part of the game – I know players will love seeing the characters look more and more awesome as they become far more powerful.
4cr: The campaign has a reward for an art and process book. What will be included in it, and how many pages will it be?
As an artist, the art is my biggest investment into this game and I really want to show everything I can to people that pledged for the reward. Currently, I have dozens of sketches and concepts for the game and it’s a quarter or less built. I imagine I could easily have 30-40 pages in the art and process book. I want to also show sprite assets, enemy sketches, paintings, and concepts. It will include initial stage designs and the process of change going into the final build of the game. The art and process book will elaborate on specific thoughts on what, where, why, and how we came to a point of conclusion on various ideas in the game.
4cr: With Drop, are you aiming for a game that is 5-8 hours long, or is that something you haven’t thought about?
I have definitely thought about it, and honestly it will all come down to the players’ skill. I find that my average first play though of a Mega Man game is 3-6 hours, but upon honing my skills I could get it down to under an hour. My fastest playtime for Mega Man 2 was 40 minutes – I have many friends who have these games but have never beaten them. Often they would invite me over and I would speed run the game for them so they could see the ending. I want to make a similar kind of experience and expect the fastest playthroughs of DROP to be under an hour. However, I predict that the majority of players will take around 6-9 hours to complete it on their first attempt. I want players who struggle with it to make it 70-90% of the way through the game and talk about it with their friends so that a friend will come over and show them how to beat the most challenging parts. My desire is that any player that can beat it under an hour will feel really good about it, like they are mastering an immense challenge.
4cr: Drop has a main goal of $85,000 CAD, and that is enough to release it on PC and MAC, and you’ve recently mentioned that Drop is now part of the “Free the Games” initiative from Ouya. Are you also considering a release on Consoles?
I would absolutely love to release this on consoles, especially Nintendo and PlayStation platforms. My biggest dream is to release something on Nintendo platforms; honestly, if it made financial sense, the first platform I would target would be 3DS. The only issue with that is RAM and processing power. I didn’t want to compromise in regards to asset size, sprite size, and compression with this game so targeting 3DS would be a challenge. I am registered as a Wii U developer and will have access to the tools needed to build the game on it, provided I have the funding that would allow me to take the time to make this game. Even with base funding I would guarantee release on the Wii U E-shop, though it would trail release on PC and Ouya by 6 months.
Ouya was a bit of a surprise for me because I had only half completed the registration for it, and the next thing I knew Drop was featured on the Ouya website. Free the Games Fund is an amazing opportunity – the additional funding would help me release the game to the largest audience that I can as well as ensure I have the programming talent necessary to optimize for each platform.
4cr: Thanks once again for joining us. Would you like to add anything else before we end transmission?
Yeah I do, this is a project of passion for me. Action Platformers are my favorite genre of game – I have played each Mega Man, Castlevania and Metroid game between 30-70 times. Often when one of my friends say that they would be over in an hour I would challenge myself to beat a Mega Man or Metroid before they show up. I had been working on this project for months and the week before Kickstarter launched in Canada and my project could go live, Kenji Inafune released his Kickstarter for Mighty No 9. When I saw this my heart sank – I never intended to compete against titans like Kenji Inafune and WayForward with Shantae. It was just the type of game I really wanted to make. I have an immense respect for these individuals and their studios; I own and love virtually every Mega Man game and many titles by WayForward (a buddy and I played Contra 4 over and over again until we could finally beat it). Seeing DROP being compared to Shantae and Mighty No 9 in forums and people bashing my project was really hard for me. I definitely don’t have their skill and experience yet, but with every breath I strive to get there.
The response to this project made me question whether I really wanted to make this game at all. There have been times where I have doubted myself to the point where I almost wanted to quit drawing, and points where I wanted to work even harder to show them what I’m capable of. However, I will keep going. I want to thank my wife for her tireless support, and my friends for encouraging me and building me up. My sound designer (my great friend) and my composer for helping me try to achieve this dream. Thanks to those that have spread the word on this project and have taken abuse by random people on the forums and message boards – it was never my intent for fans of mine to face such attrition. However, with the minor abuse there has been overwhelming support: I needed and appreciate it. My intent with this game has always been to make a game 8500 people would think is cool enough to pledge 10 dollars to, I wanted a small audience to try and build the best game I could for and I appreciate those who have come along for the ride so far.
We wish Bryan all the best with Drop, and hope that his Kickstarter campaign for the game is a success!