Q&A With Blake Speers

Once again scouting Kickstarter for new and exciting-looking video game projects on the indie scene, I came across a wonderful-looking 2D side-scrolling platformer called Mira’s Brush developed by Canadian developer Blake Speer. The premise of which is that the game’s titular character Mira is tasked with restoring color to the world of Chromaland. The game boasts a number of very unusual and potentially ground-breaking gameplay features such as changing an enemy’s color and stealing their shape in order to gain new abilities; similar to Kirby when he swallows enemies. The developer has also outlined plans on his Kickstarter page to include alternative routes throughout levels, secrets to uncover, varying degrees of difficulty for both seasoned and entry-level gamers and an array of what could turn out to be some very intriguing boss fights.

I got in touch with Blake to see if he would answer a few questions I had about the game and this is what he had to say about Mira’s Brush:

What were the influences behind your game?

Short answer: Jumpman (C64), Kirby’s Adventure (GB), Epic Mickey, Mario Odyssey/Galaxy 2

Longer Answer:
I was one of the first generations of kids to grow up beside home video game systems. Back in 1982, when I was a toddler, this guy Randy Glover had the idea to make a “clone” of Donkey Kong but got carried away playing with the physics and game mechanics. The result was “Jumpman” a game with more unique mechanics from level to level than I’ve seen in a game since until maybe Mario Galaxy. Basically, every level had a new kind idea, including one where you shoot clones, an all-black level that appears as you clear through it, and one where you throw javelins at dragons that look kind of like somebody crushed the Pink Panther in a pixelated trash-compactor. I was obsessed with that game as a kid, and when I turned 16, a friend and I made my first big game, Flags of Doom, kind of an awkward Windows 3.1 clone of Jumpman, but with all new levels.

Flags of Doom came out back in the days of trading bootleg floppies, and if you search hard on the Internet you can find a tiny number of people that played it and liked it. It ended up on a couple of those free software CDs that come with magazines in Eastern Europe.

Until Mario Galaxy came out, I didn’t see another game with that kind of premise. Mario games have always been inventive, but something felt really fresh about the compendium of Galaxy 1 and 2. When I decided it was time to make a game that people might actually intentionally play, I went through my big book of ideas (I have a lot of ideas, most of which are totally unworkable) and found a concept for color stealing that was a bit like a Kirby game. I decided to take the same experimental approach I’d seen in Jumpman, Flags of Doom and Mario Galaxy, and jam it with the power stealing gameplay of Kirby games and the color mechanics of stuff like Epic Mickey and De Blob. 

Around that time I got into Mario Odyssey and I loved the open-ended sense of exploration, with so many options for beginner and more advanced players. That’s when I decided on a very open-ended option-heavy exploration style, where you can basically pop into any level and beat it OR just farm secrets for that completion line. Beating the whole game should be “easy” but finding some of the secrets will mean taking the harder path.

 

What has the developmental process been like? 

I’m a dad with a regular job in an office. I like my job, it’s interesting enough. I also have two kids, one in Kindergarten (Nursery in the UK) and one in Grade 3 (Year 2 in the UK). The development has been spotty, learning the Construct 2 engine (easier than pure coding, of course), playing with the edges of what is possible.

I’ve basically been working every morning until I have to leave and every night once the kids are asleep until I’m essentially asleep at the screen. It’s tough, but I love the challenge of it.

 

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

Based on my current level of progress and how much is still on my checklist, I should have a final version in late October and be ready for launch mid-December. I’ll have some demos to testers along the way.

 

How instrumental has the opengameart community been in terms of the game’s conceptual design? 

Fundamental. All my basic tilesets come from there originally. I’ve since done a bunch of edits for different terrain and to make them stand out a bit, but without those sets and a few key enemy sprites, I’d still just have a prototype. I am learning to push-pixels and slowly getting better but I still turn to the opengameart community often for inspiration or templates.

Part of my goal with this Kickstarter is to enlist more help to make the art stand-out a bit more, make it more unique to this game, and then give some of that art back to the community in the form of original tilesets.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

I absolutely love when an idea finally works. This isn’t one of those “mob and jump” platformers with a lot of repetition. Almost every level I’m learning something new about scripting, about game physics, and every level I bang my head against the screen until it finally works.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

The hardest part for me is all the fiddly bits, UI and physics. I love designing levels, but a lot of the coding and art is beyond my own abilities, which means a lot of research, practice, and reaching out for help.

 

Have you had much experience with art, and if so, did those experiences have an impact on the development of the game? 

I’m not a visual artist by any stretch of the imagination. Even my scribbles are outside the lines. I did take art-history in high school and my wife used to work in art galleries. She took me through the various galleries of Europe in our 20s (we were working and living in England at the time) and showed the history behind some of our favorite pieces.

Each world of Mira’s brush is “inspired” by art movements, but I wouldn’t say most gamers will notice, it’s not in-your-face, more just the theme of each world. For example, the first world is inspired by local indigenous art and local artists of renown like Emily Carr (who also acts as the jumping-off point for a boss in the game). The second world is a mash-up of “primitivism,” cave-art, and the neon aesthetic of the ’80s and ’90s, but again, you’d hardly notice while playing. It’s just a way of breaking up the worlds in a way that’s different from the “ice world,” “fire world,” “desert world,” “clouds.”

 

How well has the game been received so far? 

I would say all the response has been super positive, but we have a very small number of people that have seen it at all yet. The few that follow closely are exuberant, so hopefully, I can meet their expectations.

 

Was there a particular genre of music that I influenced the game’s soundtrack? 

The game was composed entirely with Beepbox, a web-based tool for writing 8-bit (and now 16-bit) choons, and I tried to keep it poppy and fun. The music is really classic “game-music” in style. I’m still learning, and only the best stuff I can make ends up in the game. All my stuff is heavily inspired by the great Chiptune artists from the midlands to the north half of England and from Ireland, people like Rob Hubbard, Marin Galway, Tim and Geoff Follin, Ben Daglish, David Whittaker, etc. I’m not at their level, but they inspired me to learn and try.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to? 

Right now the game is for PC only. If I make my stretch-goals, I’d love a Switch port, and maybe a PS4/5 store item as well. Nothing is off the table if I get the funding for it. For now, Steam.

 

What has been your favorite area of the game to have designed so far out of so many vibrant and colorful environments?

Hard to say. The urban/modern art world (Tagspire City) is just gorgeous, thanks to the help of a dude called GfxKid, but the best looking levels are in Trois Kingdoms, a world-spanning Egyptian, Greek and Medieval art history with rich purple castles and dark, orange temples. Also, I’m just starting the design of Abstraxis, the abstract world, and the gameplay in that world is going to be nuts.  

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this

Listen. As of this year, I just turned 40. I have kids, a regular job and other hobbies, but I didn’t want to wait until I’m retired to start getting these games out of my head. Start now, and set yourself a weekly schedule so you get stuff DONE. My own family gets prizes (dinner out, or maybe doughnuts) when I hit a major milestone, and I don’t want to let them down. It pushes me to keep going.

Also, if you’re younger, don’t be afraid to take a regular boring job. I like my boring job, and it fires me up to get creative in the off-hours. Plus, it pays the bills which is how I’m able to focus on getting funds to improve the game rather than make rent. Every dollar of the Kickstarter will go directly toward development, which really makes the whole project more stable and achievable. I work slower than if I quit my job, but the game at least is safe, nobody’s going to come and repossess my computer.

 

Where about on the Internet can people find you? 

Mira’s brush does have a YouTube channel, and I do frequent Reddit, but the best place to follow progress is on Twitter, @MirasBrush – that’s where I’m most active, sharing everybody’s awesome projects and uploading new chiptunes daily.

 

Do you have anything else to add?

No, I really enjoyed this opportunity and hope people check out the game. My Kickstarter isn’t charity, I don’t want a cent for me, it’s all about making the best game I can so people want not just to play it, but complete it.

Thank you!

-Blake

 

 

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Blake for agreeing to speak about his game and to let you know that the Kickstarter project is live now and you can back it via this link to help bring this awesome-looking project to life:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mirasbrush/miras-brush-the-cute-colour-based-platform-game

I hope you guys had as much fun reading about Mira’s Brush as I did talking with Blake and discovering this potentially wonderful game and I wish Blake the best of luck with the campaign.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

18 − 12 =