Computer and video-games developed by small teams are becoming more and more popular. They’re a source of innovation and concept instead of high system requirements. One developer, Tim Jenkins, has begun development of the game Grapple Force Rena, a colourful free-to-play side scrolling adventure game. He provides the concept, code, and design on his own (music by Jared Moloney). But the unique attribute is that rather than pay-to-play model, the levels are released free to play on-line every fortnight. We’ve contacted Tim for an exclusive interview to get some insight into the game.
This Week in Geek: So while the gameplay tends to give people a Bionic Commando vibe, the big influences are clearly a healthy mix of Megaman and Sonic. Are there any other creative influences that helped inspire the game?
Tim Jenkins: I took a huge amount of inspiration from games made by Treasure, the N64 game Mischief Makers being the most obvious influence. While the exact mechanics and physics of the grappling and swinging are something I more or less came up with on my own, I do take note of how other games with similar mechanics use them, like Klonoa.
Oddly enough, Bionic Commando wasn’t an influence at all. I don’t even really like Bionic Commando, to be honest.
TWiG: Do you have any formal training or background experience in game development?
Tim Jenkins: Not at all. I learned absolutely all of the skills involved in making Grapple Force Rena as a tween trying to make Sonic fan games, and everything after that has just been practice. I tried to take game development courses in college, but the program was more or less gutted while I was in the middle of it. I did learn CSS and WordPress, which I needed to make the website, and some training in graphic design helped, but otherwise I more or less taught myself with the resources available at Sonic Fan Games HQ in the early 2000’s.
TWiG: You call it a Serial Video-game with free to play levels introduced every other week. Has this format ever been attempted before? Are you going to pioneer a trend with this?
Tim Jenkins: I didn’t do a lot of research to see if anyone’s tried anything in this format before I did, but as far as I know, nobody’s created distributed a game quite this way before. I do hope it’s a success, not just for my own sake, but so that more people will be able to develop longer narrative games without the burden of needing to have the entire game complete before they can share it.
TWiG: You funded the development of the game using a Kickstarter which achieved it’s goal. From your perspective, what do you attribute the success to?
Tim Jenkins: I definitely think that the unique distribution format of the game was its biggest selling point, in terms of getting people to talk about it and spread the word. Having the first two courses of the game already up and free to play helped, too – especially since, as a browser game, backers didn’t even need to download it before giving it a try.
It was also thanks to a few very generous people that the goal was met – a few close friends and relatives back the game very generously, and one extremely generous backer, David James Turton, gave about a third of the total amount raised single-handedly.
TWiG: How long do you intend to keep up regular updates of GF.Rena?
Tim Jenkins: The game isn’t going to run indefinitely, and has a set number of courses planned out. It’s going to have 30 courses in six sets of five, with the last course of each set being a boss battle. I plan on updating every other week until the game’s finished, barring potential breaks in the update schedule to develop particularly content-heavy courses (like the first course of a new area, which requires lots of new graphics & music). Updates might also become less frequent if the game fails to sustain itself financially, meaning I’d have to get a day job to support myself and balance that with game development. If all goes well, though, the game will update until it finishes in late 2015.
TWiG: Aside from more levels, characters, do you have any other plans for Rena in the near or far future? Which studios are you in talks with for the theatrical adaptation.
Tim Jenkins: My ideas for Grapple Force Rena and its characters are pretty self-contained to this one project. I don’t have any plans or even any ideas for a sequel. I do plan to put together a more polished version of the complete game once it’s done, but aside from that, I’m likely going to move on to some completely different project once Grapple Force Rena is over.
As for an adaptation, I don’t think Grapple Force Rena would work as anything but a game. That isn’t going to keep a movie adaptation from happening anyway, though, once the IP is wrested away from me by greedy, conniving publishers.
TWiG: Exactly how many times do I have to hit the airship in course 1-4?
Tim Jenkins: I recently went back and made Course 1-4 a lot easier. It used to have to take 50 points of damage to go down – Hollow Soldiers did 2 damage, the spikeballs from the big enemies did 3, and explosions from Cool Bomb did 5, so how many times you had to hit it varied. I’ve since lowered that number from 50 to 35.
TWiG: Alright, any secrets in the game you can leak to us for us to search for?
Tim Jenkins: There’s an invisible NPC in Course 1-1 that you can talk to. It’s in an out-of-the-way area you can only get to by grappling.
TWiG: What’s the best way for players to provide you with feedback on the gameplay?
Tim Jenkins: Honestly, the best way is to tweet at me. I’m @BattleJenkins on Twitter. For longer messages, though, e-mails to Tim@battlestudio.com work as well.
TWiG: Okay, it seems you have a stable development model and a fun game, so anything else you would like to say to This Week In Geek’s readers about Grapple Force Rena or life in general?
Tim Jenkins: Thank you! I would like to say that I hope everyone enjoys my game! If you want to help out, tell your friends to give it a try as well! The development model for the game is pretty experimental, but I’m really hoping that it paves the way for more people to make games of this kind that wouldn’t have been able to make longer games before. If it takes off, I know I won’t be the person who does the most interesting things with the format, but I really hope that Grapple Force Rena can be a solid enough first of its kind. Thank you very much for your time, and don’t hesitate to give me your feedback!
Michael Ryan, November 29, 2014
Me: over the last eight years, roughly how many times have I messaged you at like 4am to call you fatty
Tim Jenkins: Like about once every few days so easily hundreds