Old School Gamer Magazine chats with Kite’s James Treneman (Solo Developer & Founder, Lab Cat Games), who details the game’s origin and outlines its goals. A unique dual-stick shooter experience, it’s definitely inspired by games of the past.
After the revolution, humanity’s combined efforts to meld cold robotics with nature have paid off. Earth has revitalized itself – and now the global utopia once thought impossible has become a reality. This biomechanical paradise has emerged thanks in no small part to a steady disarmament campaign.
Yet even in times of absolute peace, shadowy secrets lurk. Several weapon research facilities remain operational; hidden from the public eye, they’re kept alive as an ‘insurance policy’ against unforeseen threats. Within these clandestine halls, scientists work tirelessly to design powerful combat systems never before imagined by humankind. When a security breach threatens one of these secret facilities (Arch City), you’ll take control of the most advanced hardware ever developed – a Human-Operated Remote Droid prototype, or H.O.R.D. chassis.
As Mags – a well-equipped H.O.R.D. pilot – your mission is to preserve the blanket of peace surrounding the world. To do so, you’ll engage in the gunplay-ballet known as ‘kiting’ – dashing away from mobs of rebellious bots while blasting through lush, destructible environments.
Mastering the fast-paced combat style means the difference between being a survivor … and becoming scrap! With a variety of swarming enemies such as Charge Bots, Slice Bots, Bouncing Betties, Crab Bots, Hyper Turrets and Prox Mines in your way, surviving won’t be easy.
Utilize 100+ craftable weapons and items to enhance your battle Droid. Bring your combat capabilities to the next level by learning skills from a vast 76-point skill tree. Power up a slew of upgrades and special abilities – providing all the tools necessary to kite enemies into oblivion!
Old School Gamer Magazine: How was this game born?
James Treneman: Kite was born from an intense need to create that had been stifled for years. The first step was to finally take the plunge – and bet on myself for once! – by starting my own studio, Lab Cat Games, in 2014.
Many years ago – while brainstorming a different project – I realized that the most intense moments in many of my favorite games were those that put me right on the edge of getting away … or catching up to something. I wanted gameplay that could reproduce that. I knew that the term “kiting” (a sort of perpetual tactical retreat) was a good way to describe those moments; what if I tapped the “feels” we all get from playing retro games but delivered them in a modern package? Would I be able to deliver top-notch pixel art, a three-quarter view, and tons of depth … all by myself?
Since I could prototype the combat quickly, I had people checking the game out within two weeks – which was super-encouraging and helped me fully commit to the project. However, it would soon be clear that game development is 99% polish.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What makes it special?
Treneman: The protagonist, gameplay depth, and the music.
There’s no avoiding it: My composer, Liam Hanley, is a genius – and Kite’s soundtrack represents a heroic effort on his part. We produced an entire album of original synthwave and EDM for the game – and it absolutely kicks ass. It’s also the only part of the entire project that I didn’t solo, and Liam turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.
Looking back and drawing inspiration from vintage games isn’t without its drawbacks. Namely, stories of the era typically revolved around a very exclusive set of individuals. Unsurprisingly, games are a reflection of their creators – and when most of the people making games are middle-aged balding dudes such as myself, your average protagonist doesn’t exactly shatter the mold. Kite’s main character, Mags, is in many ways identical to her retro cousins – bold, physically strong and headstrong … but with one exception: She’s a woman.
People need to see and normalize female leads.They also need to encounter “different” body types and break down the constraints imposed on acceptable human forms – whether male or female. Mags is unapologetically strong and powerful – and the antithesis of the vapid waif that women have been encouraged to be since the ‘80s. We’re drowning in “everyman” storylines – and although women are getting more prominent roles, it’s barely a dent in the sea of bald-headed-badasses. There was really no other option for my protagonist gender-wise. If I felt qualified to authentically portray a trans minority, I would have been even more progressive with Mags. As it is, I’ve had every reaction you can imagine regarding her gender, body type – and of course hair – but you have to expose people or we’re just going to keep blindly consuming Joe-Bob type media.
Another aspect of retro-gaming inspiration that has to be addressed is quality of life. I’m talking about convenience and progression. Kite absolutely had to employ modern sensibilities when it came to these elements. After walking in circles playing Breath of Fire for three hours last night – only to discover that I needed to switch my lead party member in order to walk past trees (I caved and looked it up!) – I’m well-aware that not everything was peaches and cream back in the day. So Kite has an incredible amount of depth and explanation compared to your average twin-stick. There’s a huge 76-point skill-tree, 100+ craftable items, and a multitude of combat abilities. No matter how long (or short) your play session, Kite is different every time – and you always move forward somehow. Ranking, crafting, multiple currencies and a Hardcore mode leave room to sink a lot of hours into mastering the game.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What games from the past have influenced it?
Treneman: This is going to be a bulk list in order of influence. (Surely, I’m forgetting some):
1. Zombies Ate My Neighbors
2. World of Warcraft
3. Robotron 2084
4. Soldiers of Fortune/Chaos Engine
6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
5. Super Smash TV
6. Shadowrun (Genesis & SNES)
7. Secret of Mana
10. League of Legends
11. Knights of the Round
12. Alien Breed
Old School Gamer Magazine: What did you learn during the development process?
Treneman: I learned the most about myself: what my strengths and weaknesses are as a developer; the need for collaboration; and the incredible importance of feedback and support. When you devote your life and savings to a solo project for four years, you learn a lot more than you could possibly remember – or explain to others. However, no game is made in a vacuum: Kite wouldn’t have been possible without unrelenting support from friends and family. If you’re a developer constantly shipping titles without that kind of backup, you’re a hero.
I spent time watching all the indie dev videos, reading everything I could get my hands on (I had to learn those lessons like everyone else) – but if I could offer one tasty nugget: Your game’s reading level is too damn high and mine certainly was as well! Every age group is going to be curious about your game. Do your best to leave it open to the youngest reader possible while retaining your vision. What you have on offer will push players to read above their level, sure – but keep it as simple and concise as possible.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Any fun stories?
Treneman: Showing the game off at conventions has been the most fun. Seeing young minds playing my game is just the most incredible experience. I’ve had players who’ve never even touched a keyboard latch on to Kite and drag their parents back for another round. Having people seek me out from the year before was pretty mind-blowing, too – and hearing how my story has inspired them or someone they know is the real reward. The support that parents especially give me for having a non-sexualized female protagonist is overwhelming in face-to-face interactions.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Bottom line: Why must someone play Kite?
Treneman: Everyone must play Kite because it’s a game with real substance that anyone can play. It’s an interactive retro-future fable with a moral and everything! The type of skills Kite asks you to master are universal strategies that translate to nearly every genre. I love my fellow gamers – and I’ve tried to give a little something to everyone. Whether you are a min-maxer, completionist, noob, speed-runner – or story-driven or end-game nerd – I’ve got you covered! I want to include more people in gaming culture because I think it’s one of humankind’s most compelling endeavors. When you strip away all the horrific necessities of daily life, our legacy of Art and Science are to me the most enduring. Games are like a spicy fusion of both, and that’s what I like to cook.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s next?
Treneman: My next project is going to be a much smaller animal, and I’m not afraid to make something that might play well on a phone. I think after all that players are given to work with in Kite, I want to distill my next project’s gameplay down to just a couple of buttons. I’m looking at a few different genres like endless runners and auto-shooters, but nothing is solid yet. I’m working on a new pixel aesthetic as a standard, too; I’ve learned a lot since pixeling some of Kite’s sprites! More immediately, though, I plan to begin working at one of the local game shops here in Eugene. If you want to see more games from me, buy Kite!
Old School Gamer Magazine: Anything else you’d like to add?
Treneman: Seek out your local game group and bring your ideas to the table. Whether it’s vintage gaming, game development, collectors, whatever – there’s a ton of awesome people out there and good times to be had! Grabbing pints with my fellow creators and gamers is always enriching – and if you engage the community, you’ll probably find a bunch of people that want to help you do your thing.
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.