I don't normally review mobile games as they are not what I typically play, or what I'm very familiar with. But if a game or developer strikes me, I'll happily give it a shot. In the case of Pheugo, both are true.
Pheugo’s developer, Chris, at Mushdev Studios, has developed a game that is as unique as it is hard for me to slap a traditional genre type to it. Pheugo is fast-paced, mesmerizing, and extremely addicting. I found myself just picking up the game to kill 10 or 15 minutes and before I knew it I lost an hour. You can choose from 11 different characters to run, jump, and destroy your way through 15 unlockable levels, freeing your captive friends along the way. Pheugo also has some fun and interesting mechanics that I think are really creative and make for a unique and fun experience.
Chris reached out to me and we talked about a review article, but I thought it might be more interesting to gain a little insight into the creative process and peek behind the curtain of a small indie developer trying to make a new game. So, as a break from the traditional review platform, I asked Chris some questions and he was kind enough to share his experience, thoroughly and thoughtfully.
Pheugo, from the beginning, struck me as something different. It was hard to place my finger on where exactly the feeling of nostalgia came from, and what was so addicting about the game. So I asked Chris what he attempted to achieve with Pheugo.
Russell: What was your intention with Pheugo?
Chris: I noticed a lot of games now are merely for profit and winning the player over with their cute little presents, rewards, and pay to play scenarios. Pheugo is the first of six 3D arcade games that I have planned which will put the emphasis back on gameplay for gameplay sake. They will not care about pumping the player for money or pandering to their emotional impulse buying but will require skill and determination to master, and above all be fun and interesting to play. When I was a kid growing up in the 80's the video games did not have the best graphics but the gameplay was amazing whilst developing the players hand-eye coordination and quick decision-making abilities. Games that seem simple were often tricky to master but once you did there was an overwhelming sense of achievement.
This shows. Pheugo relies heavily on a sense of speed and precision. To free your captured comrades you have to run, leap, and dodge incoming attacks and enemies, while jumping and double jumping into electric pylons that bring down the cages binding your friends, as well as arming you with an energy orb you hurl at spaceships. If you succeed, you free your ally and arm yourself; if you fail, and misjudge your distance, you smash into the electric cage, taking damage and missing an opportunity to free your buddy and pick up your weapon. There will be other opportunities, however, as the level continues in a loop until all the spaceships are destroyed, but losing the opportunity to earn points taking a hit to your hp is something you want to avoid.
The game definitely screams retro arcade. The enemy spaceships are reminiscent of Space Invaders or Galaga, and the sounds and point systems are something straight out of the golden age of gaming. I was curious what Chris’ influences were for this eclectic mix of speed running/retro platformer(?).
Russell: What games influenced the development of Pheugo, if any?
Chris: When I was a young, the Atari 2600 had some amazing games like Asteroids, River Raid, and Pitfall, also we would go to the video game arcade and spend hours mesmerized by the gameplay and sounds. I find even now that many of those games and sounds are still stimulating to me, and bring back nostalgic good feelings. When I have time I love playing Starcraft 2 and my absolute favorite game of all time is Transport Tycoon Deluxe. Pheugo was influenced by games like Galaga, Space Invaders, Tetris, Galaxians, and Super Mario.
Pheugo’s atmosphere echoes arcade and Atari games throughout. Set in a galactic, extradimensional environment, large alien spaceships float just on the horizon shooting tractor beams and destructive rays while you rack up points by blasting through enemies and leaping over Tetris like obstructions. In some instances, you can pick up blocks or even points themselves to hurl at the fleet of alien ships. Yes, I literally mean that. You can pick up blocky, colored numbers you earn and throw them. It's really quite satisfying.
Pheugo’s aesthetic is something to behold. Its eclectic, busy, but somehow not overwhelming. You see your hp, your special ability power bar, points, allies you’ve freed, and a screen full of enemies, explosions, terrain, spaceships and more. Never, though, did I feel like I couldn't discern what was happening.
Russell: What was the inspiration for the art style?
Chris: Unfortunately, whilst I can program quite well, I have absolutely no artistic style whatsoever, and indeed haven't progressed passed drawing stick figures. I love the idea of randomness and chaos so I coded Pheugo to randomly generate the coloring for many of the objects and effects. Luckily on my last project GEOSONIC, I had the good fortune to collaborate with Clayton Tapp from Orbsoundwerx who is an extremely creative multi-faceted artist. Clayton did all of the character skins and gave them all bio's. Clayton also put me on to Colleen Wilson at Adversary Games who produced the amazing comic style artwork. Many of the other assets I purchased from the Unity3D asset store or other online asset stores but the crazy psycho robots that chase you were made by Benoit from Heroic Forge Studio and most of the level platforms were produced by Alessio De Luca who is a full-time university student and freelance 3D artist.
The music in Pheugo compliments the game outstandingly. The ambient electronic soundtrack fits seamlessly with the chaotic sci-fi retro feel of Pheugo and helps keep you moving through the colorful, fast-paced environment.
Russell: Who did the music?
Chris: Pheugo’s soundtrack is absolutely trippin’ thanks to the mix master maestro DJ Emlynwakg. Check out EmlynMusic’s FREE music for TV, Radio, Video Games, YouTube, Movies, Commercials, Vlog at SoundCloud (Find links to the music at the bottom of the article).
To shift a little, I wanted to talk a little bit about Chris as a developer. To gain some insight into the decisions made by indie devs when working on new, or revisiting old projects. The biggest and most general question I have is ‘why mobile?’ I’m primarily a pc player and rarely play mobile games. But with the rise in popularity of mobile games for casual and hardcore gamers, how do you choose which platform to first launch your game?
Russell: Why did you decide to make a mobile game instead of any other platform?
Chris:This was mainly for the technological challenge it provided. Pheugo will eventually be a PC/Console game. I read an article about how Google had their programmers program their version N android on older devices so that when the operating system was installed on newer devices it ran like a dream. Unity3D offered me the opportunity to compile it to many different platforms so I thought I would take Pheugo has far as I could on the mobile platforms and then eventually branch over to the PC and Consoles. This has been wonderful as it has forced me to hone down the code to work as fast and as cheap (CPU wise) as is possible. Pheugo became more like a computer programming experiment for me especially once I discovered Unity3D's amazing profiler. What amazed me was that as I kept squeezing and optimizing the code I would then have room to add another feature or game element and somehow Unity3D just kept taking it and delivering the visions I was constantly dreaming up. I have this crazy technique that probably only indie game devs can get away with whereby I backup my code after each day or programming session and then I would playtest on an android and/or iPad device that night. If the feature I had implement slowed down the game or hindered the game in any way I would roll back to my last back up and try to implement in a more efficient way. Using this technique I was able to keep Pheugo in a constantly playable state and make decisions about which way the gameplay would go. Sometimes I would roll back a whole weekend or days worth of development (which can be demoralizing and feel like an awful waste of time) but it often resulted in an extremely efficient way of implementing the feature I was after. Often whilst playing I would see something I was not happy about or that I thought could be done better and that would become my next area to focus on. Sometimes bugs became features (like the infinity double jump when the player has activated their special attack which came about when I was optimizing the jump code and accidentally left one line remarked out). Also, there was another bug whereby sometimes the mother ships would explode when spawning (which led to me giving them protective shields).
Naturally, I wanted to know more.
Russell: What got you into developing games?
Chris: When I was about 9 years old I was in the newsagent with my mum who was buying a newspaper and I noticed a BASIC programming magazine. I was flipping through the pages whilst I was waiting and on one of the code listings, I noticed a line that said LIVES = 3. It suddenly occurred to me that I could change that line to read LIVES = 99 which to me was simply awesome and totally mind-blowing. This actually led to a lifelong vocation and passion for computer programming.
Being far from a programmer myself, I take for granted the discipline and attention to detail it requires to make the games I so selfishly consume.
Russell: What was most difficult for you when creating this game?
Chris: Originally learning Unity3D took me a few months to become familiar with it, but once you get the hang of it there is really nothing that you can dream up that can not be solved in Unity. Actually finding the time to work on Pheugo whilst having a full-time day job proved to be very taxing on mind and body but I found that when I was inspired by some new feature or idea I wanted to implement that I was able to get a second wind and would often forego sleep or other hobbies or interests in order to put in quality production time.
It was awesome getting the chance to talk a little bit about Pheugo with Chris. He's a super down to earth indie developer who, with a lot of work, produced a really entertaining and unique game which is FREE on Android, and iOS, right now.
Russell: Do you have any plans for the future, either with Pheugo, or game development in general?
Chris: My next big push is to finish the PC/Console version of Pheugo and then after that to do the second of the six-game series of 3D arcade games. I am quite excited about the next game which will be loosely based on Asteroids type of game but with a fun mechanic that I have been playing with that, I am unable to discuss at this stage. Pheugo has really helped me develop my game making skills and I have learned a lot of tricks and techniques for making novel gameplay which hopefully may bring about an entirely new genre of game someday soon.
I’m excited to check out Pheugo for PC when it comes out (maybe I'll be a little better at it), as well as the other games in his upcoming series. Unfortunately for us, they remain a mystery for now, but for upcoming further updates from Chris and Mushdev studios, follow the developer on twitter or check his website mushdevstudio.com.