BitSummit 10 Developer Q&A: ANTONBLAST brings fluid Wario-style platforming back into the spotlight
For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, Japan's longest-running independent game dev festival, BitSummit, reconvened this August in Kyoto. A special deputized deployment of VGG staff attended the weekend-long event and reported back with exclusive Q&As with developers in Japan's pioneering indie game dev scene. Check back in with us to explore an exciting batch of upcoming games in VGG's BitSummit 10 coverage.
Read on for an inside conversation with the developer of ANTONBLAST, a Wario Land-inspired platformer that seeks to elevate rather than emulate the style and gameplay of the classics.
ANTONBLAST is a character platformer personified by exaggerated graphics and a fast pace. The game takes clear inspiration from the Wario Land series of games, both in its rough style and its gameplay centered on quick movement and destruction. The motions are fairly fluid and filled with enough personality to make ANTONBLAST stand out in its well populated genre. Cartoon physics gags and an emphasis on motion keep the experience visually interesting even in the slower sections of the game. A noticeable feature to the game’s level design is the constant presence of both a background and a foreground that the player can move between. This allows for secrets or goals to be clearly visible to players, even when the path to the areas are not yet clear. It further allows for more dynamic levels by adding an extra layer to any puzzles or obstacles that the player has to traverse.
Tony Grayson, the director of the development team and studio head, was present at the game's BitSummit booth and graciously spoke with us about the game.
VGG: “I’m going to start it off with, please introduce yourself and tell us about your game.”
Grayson: "I’m Tony Grayson. I’m the studio head at Summitsphere and our game is ANTONBLAST. I’m the director, lead designer, composer, art director…”
VGG: “Wow, so everything!”
Grayson: “Not everything. We have an amazing team! We wear a lot of hats. Our game, ANTONBLAST, is about Dynamite Anton, a very red individual and destruction worker, a very real job. (He) is marching down to hell to fight Satan who has stolen his Spirit collection in a fit of jealous rage … Our Satan is not focused on being evil so much as just being the reddest thing in existence.”
VGG: “If someone who has never played games before were to see your game, how would you explain it to them?”
Grayson: “Well, I think the best way to describe it is to say it’s a game where you’re running and jumping ... Anton’s job is basically to smash, crash, and blast through many different worlds across the Burner Peninsula … We’ve got a few unique things, the main hook primarily is … Anton using his mighty hammer to break things down. We have destructible environments.
We have twelve different worlds … Most of these worlds are … (what) we call semi-fully destructible. You have established level layouts: You can’t go and break down every single wall, but a lot of it moves around, a lot of it is dynamic. The worlds are massive. My favorite mechanic is what we call 2.5D. Anton at certain points can actually jump into the background, so this means that the levels are twice as big.”
VGG: “So there’s a foreground level and a background level.”
Grayson: “Precisely. It’s a little bit like Mutant Mudds, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Rayman, and that sort of thing. Lastly, one of my other favorite mechanics, is something that we nicked from Mario Land 4 and Metroid ... At the end of each level is something that we call the Spirit Detonator. When you land on that, you go “Wait, shoot, that is not the end of the level.” A timer goes up and you have to run back to the beginning of the level before everything blasts. The cool thing about that is that the level layout does not remain the same — you usually take a different path than the one you came from.”
VGG: “So it keeps it a little fresh.”
Grayson: “Yes, and depending on what you destroyed or blasted the run back can change. It’s a very ‘pick-up-and-play’ game. It’s very easy to play, but there are several layers of complex mechanics … We have twelve levels, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but… (they’re) closer to Metroid biomes or Banjo Kazooie levels where they’re these big playgrounds. There’s lots to do, lots to explore, lots of treasures to collect … Anton doesn’t really collect treasure, he’s more of the gambling type, so there are chips … We didn’t want to go “full Nintendo,” so it’s very PG-13, Teen. Very Earthworm Jim, also.”
VGG: “What would be your favorite thing in your game?”
Grayson: “Well, there’s so much to it, I want to say that the whole presentation really carries it. I think that the animation team has done a really amazing job … We actually draw everything on paper first … We do it basically like a Disney animation. So everything is done at a high resolution first and then we shrink it down to pixel size and redo it there. That enables us to get extra fluid animation but with that retro GBA flavor … It’s very, very involved — we have a team of five artists. There’s clean up, there’s animation, there’s a really big pipeline, but we’re smooth as butter. We have two characters in this demo, and Anton took about a month. So we budgeted Annie, the other character, to take that much time, but because our pipeline had gotten so smooth and we were past that figuring-out stage it actually only took us ten days.”
VGG: “That is a huge difference!”
Grayson: “And that’s about 300 frames of animation. No crunch, also.”
VGG: “That’s awesome to hear. That just shows that there doesn’t need to be crunch.”
Grayson: “No, because you get to a certain point where you’re putting — I think I read you only have about four hours of productivity per day. So I don’t see the point in working ourselves to the bone like that. So we work regular hours, six hours per day, lunch…”
VGG: “Makes perfect sense to me … What would you say were the main inspirations for this game?”
Grayson: “It’s a really complicated question, because we take several different influences and smash them together … We’re definitely trying to evolve that Wario Land gameplay, but the key word there is ‘evolve.’ We didn’t want to just … do Wario Land 6. I love those games, I have an embarrassingly encyclopedic knowledge of them. I have a Virtual Boy that sits on my desk. Some people have a cross, I have a Virtual Boy … I love those games, but as a designer I have to think critically and see what flaws do I see with those. I always like the tactile gameplay of games like Metroid Dread and Crash 2, so for us it’s, 'How do we mesh those together?' Then we have the animation style of Earthworm Jim. Beyond that you also have life influences. A lot of where Anton goes, a lot of Boiler City, the main place he lives, is based on my home town of Miami. It’s really a thing that has a lot of everything. We didn’t want to draw from 'it’s Wario Land and that’s it.' It’s easy to think that when you see it at first.”
VGG: “But that’s very superficial.”
Grayson: “Right. We want to be (like how) Shovel Knight is to Mega Man, we want to be that to Wario Land. Like Mega Man, Shovel Knight takes that to … a whole new level.”
VGG: “That’s why you said ‘keyword: evolve.”
Grayson: “Precisely … we don’t believe in emulation, so to speak.”
VGG: “What can people do to help your game to ensure that it’s a success?”
Grayson: “Well, we just had a very successful Kickstarter back in June. Our goal was $75,000. We raised, I believe, $145,000.”
VGG: “Wow, congratulations!”
Grayson: “Thank you. So right now we are in the process of development. I would say the thing that helps us the most is to follow us on social media, wishlist the game on Steam — it’s going to Steam and the Switch — and just spread the word as much as possible. We’ve been very blessed to have a thriving community, so to have people keep joining and being a part of that is definitely the best. And fan art! We love fan art!”