Note: This interview with Red Little House Studios was originally published on NotEnoughShaders.com on May 26th, 2013. The interview was conducted and written by indietalk.
Hello RLHS, could you introduce “Fleish & Cherry in Crazy Hotel”, its genre and pitch?
Hello, it’s a hybrid between an action adventure game such as Zelda and a graphic adventure title like Monkey Island, themed in the sunset of the black and white animation era in 1933. It takes place in a cartoon universe where Fleish the Fox, the star in vogue, ends up being captured by his jealous recurrent enemy in their shorts, Mr. Mintz, and it will fall to his girlfriend Cherry to rescue him.
Who is the team behind this project?
We are an indie studio gathering people from different backgrounds (artists, programmers, architecture…), who wanted to become a study group, just like in the TV series Community [laughs], to learn more about animation, design, video editing, etc… Once we met each other, we found that we could unite all the knowledge we have gained and apply it to make videogames.
How did you come up with the idea of this graphical style, a black and white cartoon? What are your inspirations?
In one of our meetings, we were brainstorming some ideas for our project. Borja [editor’s note: a freelance artist at 5th Cell who worked on the famous Scribblenauts] was watching a Chaplin movies marathon on TV, and he started to draw in his sketchbook the concept of a Donkey Kong type of game where a black and white cartoony fox had to save his cat girlfriend from an evil guy. The funny thing is while the design of Cherry and Fleish evolved a lot, when he drew Mr. Mintz, he thought about mixing Chaplin with The Hulk, and this design has lasted. The whole team loved the overall concept and thought we could expand it. That’s basically how it came to fruition.
And the choice of the isometric viewing angle?
We wanted to expand Borja’s initial idea, but thought that making a black & white cartoon 2D game à la Donkey Kong or any other platformer was the easy route. We wished to go beyond. People in the team have fond memories of titles like Little Big Adventure or a famous Spanish game called “La Abadía del Crimen” (“The Abbey of Crime”, a 3D isometric adventure based on the book “The Name of the Rose”), so that was one of the reasons we chose the isometric view. Besides these visual aspects, we gave more depth to our project by adding an adventure layer so we could tell an interesting story showcasing our the characters.
You describe your game as a tribute to the old cartoons, and your trailer is obviously tied to this era. What pleases you in them, what are they evoking in you?
We love that they tried to create fun in its purest form, the slapstick humor without any physical limits. Like Oswald elongating himself to make a slingshot, Mickey using animals as instruments, or Daffy being shot in the face because Bugs Bunny is a prick [laughs]. Breaking the Fourth Wall, defying real world physics, some “cruel” jokes here and there… Most cartoons nowadays have lost that kind of element and have been “humanized”, and we want to bring some of it back, but in the form of a game.
We can see in some screenshots the references to this universe, like in the names of your characters, Fleish (reminiscent of the illustrious Max Fleisher, the man behind Popeye, Betty Boop or Superman cartoons), or Walter Fritz (referring to Walt Disney and Fritz Freleng, the Warner Bros legend)
Actually, the sum of the names Fleish and Cherry is a tribute to Fleischer [laughs]. But yeah, we have plagued the game with homage to the history of animation, from characters to things like some of the hotel’s rooms. For example, our gentleman’s club is a reference to Winsor McCay, one of the pioneers of animation. Some will be more obvious than others, but we don’t want to spoil too much and prefer that the players will find those themselves in our adventure.
It is pretty rare to see the game’s hero be a woman who must save her beloved, in a reversal of the damsel in distress myth.
Exactly, since the first days of the game inception we thought of entrusting her with the leading role, give a twist to the trope. Minnie is most known for being Mickey’s girlfriend, so we wanted to do something different for Cherry, and at the end made her the main character. Not only that, we also wish to give her a great and enjoyable personality so people love to stand in her shoes.
And how about the dialogue and the tone of your story?
For our dialogue system where you will be able to select answers, we were inspired by famous graphic adventures titles such as Monkey Island, Day of The Tentacle or Grim Fandago, as well as the presentation of these sequences seen in Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright. We want to tell a really entertaining story that anyone can live, a bit like the humor witnessed in cartoons such as the old Simpsons or Pixar movies. Kids will enjoy this adventure but adults will also discover hidden jokes that will make them smile. The advantage of the adventure genre instead of a pure platformer is that we can delve more easily into the main and secondary characters through texts and dialogue, to not only make our game fun, but also interesting. We will learn more about them, their opinion on their condition of being cartoons and how they live in Toonville. When the player controls Cherry, we want him to feel like being another personage in this world. And without entering in spoiler territory, let’s say that the simple story has “more than meets the eye” [laughs]
From a technical standpoint, what kind of engine, middleware, animation software and tools in general are you using?
We are employing the Unity engine, mainly because it makes it easier to target multiple platforms at once. Moreover, as its interface is very visual, the less technical members of the team are still able to tinker some aspects of the game, and its content manager allows the programmers to focus on what makes our title different. The main issue we have encountered with Unity is that it is a 3D engine and as Crazy Hotel is a 2D game, some work is needed to get a 2D isometric projection.
For animation, we haven’t been using the right tools until now. Our visit to the latest iDEAME [Editor’s note: a Spanish event for indie developers organized by Nintendo and a local university] allowed us to talk with people from the sector, and they recommended us to use Toon Boom, which will speed up the process.
Who composed the music and what is its style?
The OST is being made by Hankins Studio. Alex Hankins and Carlos Vera Tamarit are both amazing and it’s a pleasure to work with them. They have been in love with the idea of creating a music anchored in that era and the samples we have already heard are awesome. It will be a mix of ragtime, jazz and big band, with a good selection of tracks so it doesn’t get stale. They are not only composing the music, but also the sound design, from Cherry’s steps to even having Mickey Mousing (a technique usually seen on old 30s and 40s cartoons that syncs the music with the actions on screen) in cutscenes.
On which platforms do you plan on releasing the game?
Initially we have in mind to release it on PC, Linux and Mac, but we are open to port it to other platforms in the future, like for example the Wii U.
You have decided to finance your project via Indiegogo and therefore employ crowdfunding methods. Can you explain this choice? Have you not found a traditional publisher? We are overwhelmed with indie games asking for backers, do you think yours will be original enough to hold its own?
Working as an indie is completely different, it gives you a high level of freedom for our artistic vision that a publisher could limit. Then, there are issues like to whom belongs the characters and game copyrights. Crowdfunding not only brings money to the table, it’s also a great way to generate some buzz around the project, provoke the interest of people who can support it through Indiegogo and vote for it on Steam Greenlight, etc… We also prefer receiving the feedback of numerous enthusiasts than from a publisher. The gamers want their money placed in a good investment, and there’s no doubt that we will try to give them the best product we can deliver. Finally, we trust that our idea is really original and catchy at first glance to make people attracted by it, or at least that’s what we hope [laughs]
How will your development unfold if you reach your fundraising goals (29 000€), what’s the estimated release date and when can we expect a playable demo?
If everything goes right, we could have a playable demo in 4 months and the estimated release date is September 2014. In the event that we exceed our aim, we will stick to the original game design and story because except some details, those are already thought-out, but we could expand Fleish & Cherry in Crazy Hotel through different ways, like having more music or even voices for the characters.
How do you envision your relationship with the backers, what are you waiting from them in terms of creative support and feedback?
Our project is single player and story-driven, so the feedback we need will be different than for titles such as Minecraft or RTS as we don’t have to balance elements like multiplayer or numerous units. However, the opinion of our backers will be important for the gameplay, the level design, etc. to make Fleish & Cherry in Crazy Hotel the most fun possible, so it will be taken into consideration when they will be able to try out the betas we will release throughout development.
Regarding rewards, we have the feeling that for some projects, the perks were hastily arranged in order to quickly take advantage of the crowdfunding opportunity. What can players anticipate from yours?
We are trying to be really coherent with our rewards and make them look like merchandising imported from the past, objects such as the pin-backs, the character stickers and signed postcards. We also have gifts like a beautiful 12 cm (4.7 inches) resin figurine of Fleish and Cherry, two different t-shirts, the game’s music and art, etc… The highest pledges are even more interesting because backers will have the chance to bring something into the game, like becoming the director of their own idea for a Fleish the Fox cartoon short poster or being an animated resident inside the hotel.
How is the daily work as an indie developer? For example, do you have an office? How do you keep the motivation when you are in a small structure, willingly unknown for the past year because of preparation, without the corporate framework of an established publisher?
We have transformed an apartment into a studio and are working there at least 8 hours each day and giving it all to make the most of this game. We are a group of great friends so remaining motivated between us is rather easy. One funny anecdote is that we have replaced the “best worker of the day” award by its reverse prize, a troll face cutout that we grant to the person who made the most jokes or funny things. Surprisingly, the regular winner is our writer Paula [laughs].
Tell us more about the developer ecosystem in Spain. Have you received support from your country?
Right now there is a great amount of small studios recently founded that are trying to develop games in Spain, and that’s an amazing thing because our nation needs it. There is really interesting stuff coming from some of them. However, it is not easy or cheap to create a new company here, quite the contrary, with the high fees and not enough support, and that’s why so many young people are leaving for other countries.
You recently introduced your concept at the iDEAME event. How was your experience and your project’s reception?
We presented our game to some indie devs like Austin Ivansmith from Wayforward and Mikael Haveri from Frozenbyte, and people from Nintendo that were there, and they have very kindly heard us. The reception was highly positive, we even got useful advice for the future. It was a great experience and it raised our morale a lot.
How do you see your studio in the middle and long run?
We want to dedicate ourselves full time to this passion and intent to make more games in the future. For “Fleish & Cherry in Crazy Hotel”, we don’t have plans to recruit more people, but we don’t know if it will still be the case for later games.
Any last words for our readers?
We hope that you are as interested in our project as we are excited developing it. Remember you can support us in Indiegogo and vote for us on Steam Greenlight. Thank you!