Old School Gamer Magazine chats with Richard Atlas, Co-Founder, Game Designer, who discusses the PS4 indie game Ultimate Chicken Horse. Detailing the creative process behind the game and it’s couch-co-op gameplay, Atlas lets us know how his nifty game brings back awesome memories of the past.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How was this game born?
Richard Altas: The game started as a game jam, which the team did to see if we could work well together. We figured, before starting a company, we should try to put ourselves in the highest stress situation possible and see if we come out alive. We did! And thus Ultimate Chicken Horse was born.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What was development like?
Altas: Interesting, challenging, stressful, and fun. We had some issues because of the fact that the game was started as a game jam; this caused issues with the code later on in the project that could have been helped had we known to what extent the game would expand (online multiplayer, challenge mode, etc.) when we started developing it. But overall it’s been a fun and educational ride.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What makes this game special?
Altas: I think the game is special because it’s a design where you set the challenge yourself, and where you can only mess with your friends by also making it harder on yourself. The flow of the game makes it such that the “game” really seems to take place between friends on the couch rather than in the screen. I find that brings people together and that’s pretty inspiring for us.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What games influenced this one the most?
Altas: I can’t really say any specific game has been a big influence. We started working on the game before Mario Maker was announced, even though a lot of people have thought that we copied their mechanics. Nintendo still wants us on the Switch, so obviously they weren’t worried that we copied their mechanics either! But apart from that, some design decisions have been justified by arguments like “How does it work in Rocket League?” but those are usually smaller things like user interface changes.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What inspired the art?
Altas: The inspiration for the art was mainly come to by deciding on a constraint. We heavily used the “lasso fill” tool in TVPaint, which is a tool that only allows for coloring with solid shapes and no outlines. It makes the character design process all about the shape, and makes it look almost like cut paper. The design question when working on new characters always came back to the questions: Is it cute? Does it fit the gameplay? Is it funny?
Old School Gamer Magazine: As an indie studio, what do you think you guys do differently than the big studios?
Altas: I think we have a strong focus on work-life balance, which has allowed us to stay positive and happy throughout the dev process. This has also allowed us to avoid crunch when reaching big milestones (with the exception of the first Steam launch, wherein we crunched too much and it was awful). Honestly I think the biggest difference is that balance, along with the fact that because we’re a small team, there’s a lot less room for bureaucracy and politics, and that’s a refreshing thought.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s your favorite memory as a gamer?
Altas: Personally I remember playing match after match of NHL94 with my brother on SNES growing up. I also remember playing intense matches of the Pokemon Stadium mini-games with a few friends on N64, which got heated. I got too good at the Clefairy game so they would make me play while looking at the screen upside down. In later years (like, the last 5 years?) I’ve played some pretty competitive Mariokart, also on N64, with my high school friends.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How does this game disrupt the video game landscape?
Altas: I wouldn’t say it disrupts the video game landscape, but I also wouldn’t say that it has to. We’re providing a unique experience through the design of the game which promotes interaction between real people in real life. This is something that has been done before in other multiplayer games, but I don’t think that takes anything away from what we’ve been able to provide to gamers interested in the genre.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Who will enjoy this game the most?
Altas: I’ve actually been pretty impressed with the age range of players who seem to enjoy the game. From teenagers, to 30 year old gamers who grew up on the original Nintendo, to 45-year-olds playing with their kids, a lot of different people have enjoyed the game. I’m pretty keen to see how console works out as I believe there are a lot of younger people who the game will appeal to who don’t play on PC.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How do you want this game to be remembered?
Altas: I’d like the game to be known as one of the better multiplayer games of the time (whether that time is a couple of years or 10 years). We’ve heard some personal stories from some users about how the game has helped them overcome challenges in their lives, and we feel that if that works for even one person, we’ll be satisfied.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What are your goals for the game?
Altas: We’d just like to keep pushing! The game is doing well, and I think console launch will help it to continue to do well. Our community is fantastic, and I like the fact that we’re able to bring people together like that; the more we can do that, the happier we’ll be. Financially, if it can make enough money for us to work on more games, that’s something we’d be proud of and happy with as well.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s next?
Altas: Not sure yet! Console launch on PS4, XboxOne and Switch is imminent, and then we’ll likely keep updating the game while working on a new project.
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the author of the upcoming book, “The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Video Game Developers,” from McFarland And Company. Featuring interviews with the creators of 36 popular video games–including Deus Ex, NHLPA 93, Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, Wasteland and NBA Jam–the book gives a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of some of the most influential and iconic (and sometimes forgotten) games of all time. Recounting endless hours of painstaking development, the challenges of working with mega publishers and the uncertainties of public reception, the interviewees reveal the creative processes that produced some of gaming’s classic titles.