We’re excited to kick off the re-launch of our interview series by talking to Ryan Shah, the project lead at Kitatus Studios, a london-based Independent developer. Kitatus Studios currently consists of a team of three: Ryan, Scarlett Juzzle (Art Director), and Scott Heyworth (Musician). They work using the extremely powerful Unity engine. Here, we talk to them about their current project: the N64-platformers-inspired Distro Horizons Vs. Galaximo’s Army!
What got you into game development, and how was Kitatus Studios formed?
Growing up, playing video-games with my brothers is probably my strongest memory. In particular Metal Gear Solid. It was the first video-game I had ever seen which was so story-intense that it could’ve easily been a movie. It was that style of being able to tell a story that really drew me in. I used to always write little stories of the imaginary people in my mind going on crazy adventures and the thought of making something visual that other people could experience also really made me want to make games. And here we are.
All of those days of playing video-games with my two brothers still motivates me today. Just the thought of three brothers, much like my brothers and I growing up, sitting there experiencing a game that originated in my brain always pushes me along when I’m stuck looking at walls and walls of code day on end.
When I was 12, I began messing about with creating terrible games in Macromedia Flash. My games always sucked but I thought if I kept at it one day I’d be able to create something to be proud of. But they remained lacking a lot of features as I didn’t fare much as a coder. That was until I went to college to do a course in “IT Practitioners.”
Even though the course had nothing to do with games, I had a lecturer who taught us C# code. I’m not going to lie (you could ask him too and he’d probably say the same), I was rather unmotivated in his classes, as I foolishly thought that he was only teaching us code that could be used for making software applications. Then one day he gives us a task to do and the goal is “To create an application for SHADOW MOSES cafe.” That’s when I finally put two and two together. It was as if everything finally fell together and I realised what he was teaching could be used for making video-games as well. And that’s the “short” version on how Kitatus Studios came to be!
Where did the name Kitatus Studios come from? How did you go about choosing it as the name of your studio?
The original title was called Impulse Entertainment, which I really dug but nobody else working with me really liked the name. I was adamant to have Impulse in the name somewhere and that’s when I started being a bit clever with things. I hit google and checked the Latin translation of Impulse, which some website claimed was “Citatus.” Later, I found this out to be incorrect (Citatus actually means Rapid & Cheerful apparently), but the name had already stuck by then. Even though it sounded cool, it didn’t sound “Kool” enough. So taking a leaf out of Mortal Kombat’s book, we did what every hip 90′s kid apparently did and slapped a K on the front. Ta-Da! And thus… Kitatus Studios got its name.
When you guys aren’t developing indie games, what do you get up to?
Sleeping, mainly. I like sleep a lot. I can’t vouch the others but I really dig sleep. Sleep is awesome. When I’m not sleeping, I’m usually catching up with movies and TV I’ve missed in my life, like the truly mind-blowing Twin Peaks or the freakin’ awesome Ghost Adventures.
Could you tell us a little about Distro Horizons? What inspired you to make this game?
Distro Horizons is heavily inspired by N64 platformers and, in particular, the Rare titles (Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Banjo Kazooie, and Donkey Kong 64). Collectathon games seemed to have phased out over the years; even games which claim to be collectathons don’t really capture the magic that Rare nailed down in the N64 days. So we decided to attempt to create the best possible tribute we can to the genre (which seems to have evolved into more of a combat and action orientated genre), and Distro Horizons formed from these ideas. Being able to give veteran gamers and new gamers a window into what gaming used to be really hits to the core of why I originally wanted to create games in the first place: for those siblings sitting at home, wanting to get lost in distant lands, to play games and have a fun time.
What is your main vision of the game? Why will gamers fall in love with Distro Horizons over any other game in its genre?
The main vision of Distro Horizons is to create a game that feels like the Rare platformers of old. Where it’s not all about getting the highest killstreak or the biggest combo. Where the journey is more fun than the prize. When people say “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” I believe that truer words couldn’t be said about gaming as a whole these days.
With big AAA* publishers, it seems to be all about making an experience that HAS to be online, HAS to be supported with DLC, and HAS to keep the players entertained for a least five minutes. Back in the old gaming days, we didn’t have Internet to download DLC, we didn’t have the money to constantly fork out £40 for the latest games, and the only multiplayer we had was sitting next to someone at punching distance if they were better than you.
I seem to find that because of this, older games tried harder to last longer and draw you in more based on story and gameplay, not because they wanted to make as much money from people as possible, but because they were created by people who loved games and wanted to create experiences that others would remember for the rest of their lives, not something they’d forget as soon as the turn the games console off.
Of course, I could be completely wrong with my theories; everyone is entitled to their own opinion but that’s just the way gaming as a whole feels to me. And I want to show people that you don’t have to spend £50 a year to keep up with the latest Call of Duty, that there are games out there that in fact don’t exist to make a quick buck for developers, games that focus on the player’s enjoyment and not their wallet. There are a few games out there now that do this, and they are getting more and more frequent in nature, and we want to try our best to help overthrow this current game mentality where as long as you’re making money, the game was a success, because games aren’t like that. They never have been. Just because publishers think this way, it doesn’t mean it’s the truth. To me, the thing that decides if a game is successful or not is if a gamer goes to bed at night and says “damn, XX game is a great game,” or they think about the game in a positive way after playing. THAT to me is a good game, not a game that sells £50,000 in DLC just to get past a paywall. We could make £5 from Distro Horizons or £500,000,000; I don’t care. What I care about is if the players have a memorable experience and get lost in the world of Distro Horizons.
How did you go about designing and producing the game? Can you tell our readers a little more about your process and working methods?
Once we had the idea of what we wanted to make (an N64-style platformer), everything kinda fell into place. I jotted down the ideas of the different areas we wanted and the bosses that felt right, and the worlds populated themselves around it. The hardest decision was which game engine to use. Thankfully today there’s so much choice for a variety of budgets that it simply came down to the choice of “what do we feel most comfortable with?”
We made a mock-up of a snow level and once we got the feel we wanted, everything fell into place and we added onto this mock-up again and again until we thought “damn, if I were a kid again I’d love this!” Then we moved on to adding the other areas and things we’d jotted down into Unity and that’s where we currently are!
The one thing I have to say though: Google Drive is my SAVIOUR. Being able to keep everything I come up with (be it a thought I have just before bed or sitting on the toilet) is such a valuable asset to have in your battle to create a video-game.
How are you guys finding the indie developer life so far? The biggest discussion we always have with indie developers is how hard it can be from a financial point of view. What is your solution?
It’s awesome. The only people you have to answer to are the people who play the games and not somebody that just cares that their investment will turn a profit. Finance-wise it isn’t the easiest thing, but things like IndieGoGo and Desura have really helped us bring Distro Horizons to life. Working full-time on the budget isn’t ideal and it IS a challenge, but it’s part of the experience. If it were easy, then I’m pretty sure most of the developers at big AAA* studios would splinter off and create their own dream projects. We’re not at that stage yet, but who knows in a few years time. My passion has always been video-games, so being able to do something I love is worth struggling to live on a budget for.
Have you got any other projects in the pipeline you can tell us about – either in production or at the ideas stage?
We’ve got plenty of things planned for the many years ahead. In fact, we have five games we want to produce in the future. Varying in genre and gameplay, we hope we will one day become a developer who prides themselves in being able to adapt to many different genres. The current future projects (we’re talking quite a bit in the future, but in the future none-the-less) are: Ethan Conrad and FunWorldZero.
Ethan Conrad is an open-world project focused on player decisions that help mould the story of the life of Ethan (Spoiler: You will always mess up his life). We wanted to mix-up Fable, Grand Theft Auto, and Telltale’s Walking Dead game into a blender and create an experience in which players are lost in someone else’s life and makes them think “Hey, my life isn’t that bad after all.”
FunWorldZero is a open-world MMO project that I came up with while losing many hours of my life playing Gmod Tower on Garry’s Mod (Shout out to Jordan for getting me hooked!). The basis of the project is giving the player total freedom to become anybody they want in a world where they aren’t bound by their real-life alter-egos. Where they can be who they’ve always dreamed of being, all while exploring a world far different to their own. Blending the ideas behind Second Life with the MMO staples of instances, raids, and world exploring, we hope we have something that people can enjoy, but we’ll have to see how the project blossoms.
If time and money was no object, what kind of game would you see yourselves producing?
If money was no object, we’d have already started production on Ethan Conrad and FunWorldZero by now, but alas, one project at a time!
Thank you very much for your time! We’d like to wish you the best of luck, and we hope to see your studio release some great games in the near future! Keep us informed :)
Thank-you for the interview, it’s great to be able to connect with other people and share why Distro Horizons is special to us. I hope people can understand why the project exists and I hope they are as excited for it as we are! It’s been a total pleasure! If you wanted to stay informed about all this Kitatus Studios, we have a Facebook, Twitter, and Blog which I’m sure the lovely people of Manapool will post at the end of the article for us! ONE FINAL THING: If you guys’n gals have enjoyed the interview, stay tuned for a chance to become a part (Literally) of Distro Horizons ;)
Want to be a part of Distro Horizons?
If you’re interested in Distro Horizons, we’ve got some exciting news. We’ll be organising a giveaway in conjunction with Kitatus Studios within the next few days. We’ll give away a number of copies of the game, as well as something much more interesting: a chance for you to work with Kitatus Studios and come up with an idea of an NPC which will feature in the game.
Editorial Note: Distro Horizons has been accepted on Steam Greenlight. Go support these guys and vote!