Interview with Total Monkery developer, Richard Weeks, working on MagNets
1. What is MagNets for those that don’t know?
Richard: Magnets is a fairly fast paced arcade collect-em-up. The player has to destroy robots that are on a rampage, but with no weapons. The only thing he has of use is his “MagNet”. This net can be placed over the bots and causes them damage. When the bots are destroyed, they leave behind scrap which can then be recycled to make useful objects that allow you to move through the game.
2. What gaming systems will MagNets be available on?
Richard: We have just released on Steam, but just for Windows. Mac and Linux will be available in the next few weeks. We are now working on bringing it to the Xbox One. We got developer approval back in October, but were too busy to start it until now. After Xbox, we will target WiiU, PS4, PS Vita and 3DS. We would also release on Xbox 360 and PS3 if there was a market for it (which we think there is). We may release it on mobile at some point as well.
3. Have you been pleased by the general response to MagNets?
Richard: Yes. We’ve shown it at a few shows and generally people liked it. We’ve got a few mega fans, which is really nice. We are trying to make indie games that are a little bit different, so sometimes you have to find the right market for it. But so far we’ve found people like the style and what we’re trying to do.
4. Were there any other games that inspired you to make MagNets?
Richard: Well. MagNets is sort of the spiritual successor to a game I worked on in the 90s called Rat Attack. I really liked the key game mechanic in it and realised that no-one has really gone back to it. So we decided to play with just that mechanic and come up with a new game based around it. We worked with the original concept artist on Rat Attack (Phil Corbett) and we have the blessing of the company boss who released it (Harry Holmwood). I would say some of the art style in Portal was something we looked at. After we started making MagNets we did get people saying it was a bit like Ape Escape and I’d have to agree. Maybe that was in the back of our minds as well.
5. What motivated you to design games?
Richard: By trade I’m actually a programmer, but when you have a small indie company you tend to take on a lot more roles. Although the MagNets concept was come up with by Phil Corbett and myself, the actual game design was made by all of us. We do what we like to call “design by argument”. We all have different ideas about how to do things, but we tend to bring around each other to the way things should be done. I had my first experience of designing games when I worked at Psygnosis in the 90s. Back then it was unusual to allow programmers to do it, but we were allowed as we’d done a good job on some previous games. I really enjoy designing games, but I would absolutely say I’m not a proper designer. I’ve met (and know) a lot of amazing designers and their skills are way beyond when I can do. I try and stay in the boundaries of what I know I can do. I think everyone on the team is the same about that as well.
6. How long has MagNets been in production for, and is it your only project at this time?
Richard: We did a month of pre-production followed by 12 Months of full production. We initially entered it into a game competition a year before production and so did a few weeks of demo work on it then. At the moment we’re also working on an action puzzle game which is being developed for windows mobile (and then iOS, Android and console/PC). It’s just past pre-production and we should have stuff to show soon. We have a few other games at various stages of development as well. The plan is to start our next game around July. We are also about to start on some interesting client work, but we can’t say much about that yet.
7. Have there been any points in development where you’ve faced difficulty trying to add something into the game?
Richard: Hmmmm. Tricky one. We’ve had a few things that have caused problems. But I can’t think of anything that really stumped us. What we tried to do was design a game that we knew we could do. So we purposely didn’t put in any features or systems that would cause us problems. We had a few unknowns (this is our first full Unity game) but we sorted them out pretty soon after we started. We had some dead-ends when it came to production. The final game is probably the 3rd or 4th iteration on how to build levels / gameplay. Also for me this was just another game, but for the other team members this was their first game. Because of this we were all learning as we made it really. It was interesting as I also lecture at the local University on C# and Unity. I was pretty much doing this as I was learning how to make MagNets.
8. Do you have an aim on when you want to release MagNets?
Richard: It has already been released on Windows (Steam, Desura, Greenman Gaming, Indie Game Stand and Itch.io). We are hoping to have Xbox One finished in March for an April (or possibly late March) release.
9. Approximately how many people are working on MagNets?
Richard: Four full time and one part time. Two programmers and two artists. The part time roll is Andrea who handles production and business. We actually started with one artist, but another joined after 4 months of development.
10. In comparison to the PC version of MagNets, has the Xbox One version been easier or harder to develop?
Richard: Ha. Not sure yet as we’re not really started. I’ve done my homework though and know what sorts of problems we will face. The way we have structured our systems is to make porting easier and cause less problems over our different games. I’ve also got some good advice off other Windows 8 and Xbox devs about what we need to look at. We’re really looking forward to getting the game onto console and especially Xbox. We made the game from the start with the view it was a console title, so to get on our first console is going to be quite special. I’ve also worked on many titles either for Microsoft or for their machines and I like how they do things. We chose Xbox as our lead console for this very reason. But due to the state of Unity for Xbox, we do expect it would be harder if you were just developing for one of the other. Its best to develop for PC in my view and then on console next. There are just less problems on PC as it’s a very mature platform.
11. I believe you formerly worked at LucasArts in their game development studio – what projects were you working on there?
Richard: I was brought in to sort out the Xbox (original) version of Gladius (which was a turn based RPG). I still consider it one of the best games I’ve ever worked on. It so deserved more exposure and more people knowing about it. It’s always on lists of “best games you never played”. I then did a stint on Republic Commando for Xbox. They were using the Unreal engine but it just wasn’t optimised well for the console, so I came in and optimised everything to get the frame rates up. I also did a lot of work with the internal R&D department where I co-created the internal xbox engine which was also being used to power the new Full Throttle game we were making (and then canned).
Thanks for dedicating some of your time to answer my questions! 🙂
Richard: No problem, happy to!
You can download MagNets on Steam currently. Make sure you go get it!