Below is an email interview I conducted with Zachary Johnson. Please follow him and his company at the information below, and be sure to check out his game Joggernauts. Available now!
- Can you tell us a little bit of your background as a developer? When did you start? What was your first language? What is your current language of a choice?
- For those who don’t know what Joggernauts is, can you provide a description of the game and its unique qualities?
Joggernauts is a side scrolling game (like Mario) where one to four players – alien athletes that can’t stop running – must use a shared teleportation ability to solve color coded puzzles. It’s available for PC/Mac and Nintendo Switch. I’ve been told it ruins friendships. Just kidding. Maybe.
- Where did the idea for Joggernauts come from?
Joggernauts has a very specific origin! I was playing the game BIT.Trip Runner with my friend Jesse. It’s a single player rhythm game, and we were taking turns trying to beat the levels. Joggernauts was the answer to the question of, “How could we both play this game together, multiplayer?” The idea for Joggernauts was that a team of players could run together in a line. The teleportation, switch-to-front, ability that players must use in Joggernauts was a way to make sure that nobody got bored running in the back.
From there, the idea for Joggernauts became about making a game that anybody could play with friends. It can be hard to have fun playing some multiplayer games with friends because of different player ability or experience levels. If you always lose, and your friend always wins, that can get old. We wanted to solve some of those problems with Joggernauts and make a truly cooperative party game.
- When you set out to build the game, did you imagine the finished product to be a fun side project, or did you always know that you wanted to release a fully realized and highly polished game?
I did think it was an idea that could turn into a commercial product, but I think every new game idea needs to be proven out. There’s plenty of game ideas I’ve abandoned. Joggernauts started as a very rough demo with free placeholder art. I play tested it with folks from the Twin Cities game development community. I had never, ever had a response to any of my previous games like I did from demoing Joggernauts. Ultimately, it was the overwhelming positively response from people who actually try Joggernauts that kept me going through the finish line.
- How many people worked on the game? What parts did each person work on?
Joggernauts was developed by the three owners of Space Mace. I was the programmer. Tommy Sunders (@supertommy64) was the artist. Robert Frost III (@heyfrostiiie) did sound and music. Tommy and I co-designed the game. In the last months of the project, we had help from some local contractors. Krista McCullough (@knm_xyz) helped with code and art production. Martin Grider (@livingtech) helped with code. Jason Pfitzer (@JasonPfitzer) helped with animation and art production. We also partnered with publisher Graffiti Games, their producer at the time Dave Proctor (@blankdave), and the QA team at Plastic Fern Studios.
- What technologies were used to build the game? IE, IDE’s, languages, design tools, etc.
- How long from start to finish, did it take to complete the game? Was everyone working on it part time or full time?
We were a team of three very part-time people for the first three-ish years of design and development. At the end of that period we had secured our platforms and a publishing partner, and the three of us went full-time for the last 9 months of development. It was over four years from start to finish.
- What tools did you use to manage your tasks and stay up to date with what everyone was working on?
We primarily used Slack for communication and Google Drive Docs and Sheets for documentation, design, and task management. We used DropBox for asset sharing. We tried Trello but bounced off of it. We used Monday.com to greatly help us with our first full production schedule.
- One thing I’ve always found true for video games is prototyping is often the most important design tool, because it’s very hard to determine if something will be fun until you play it. Do you agree? How often do you prototype out game mechanics?
I always prototype and playtest my game ideas! I really like to see how other people engage with a prototype. I even started a regular public playtesting event during the development of Joggernauts so we could do it more often. Tommy actually joined the project because he liked the demo so much. We hadn’t worked together before Joggernauts. We asked Robert to join us because of the great work he had done on a different game prototype that Tommy had worked on. So prototyping and play testing isn’t just a way to design a better game, but it is also a way to build a team.
- How much development time did it take to get to the simplest, playable version of your original concept? When you played that version for the first time, was the fun level what you were hoping for?
It took about a month to build a prototype I was willing to show to somebody else. I was very pleased with the response, as you have probably already read!
- Throughout the project what were the hardest technical problems that you ended up solving? Were there any that you didn’t solve and in what way was the game impacted by that?
Joggernauts is not a technically complex game, however it’s design is very complex. There’s a tremendous amount of small tweaks and big evolutions that the game underwent from years of intensive public playtesting and solicitation of feedback from peers. Even then, I don’t think we totally cracked the difficulty curve.
- How was the development process different when preparing to launch on Steam vs Switch?
We’d been building for console from the beginning, so the Unity port to Switch was painless. Steam was maybe more difficult because we had to support graphics settings and keyboards. It’s way easier to patch and release updates on Steam. Also, Nintendo did their own QA process on our game, so we had to allow enough time before our release date to pass that.
- Do you feel there is a higher level of prestige within the developer/gamer community from releasing on the Switch because it is a Nintendo console?
I think any console release comes with a degree of prestige. It was also certainly a dream of all of us to make a game for Nintendo. I got a Nintendo Seal of Quality tattoo after our launch!
- How much time as a developer do you need to devote to maintaining the game now that it is live and published? Do distributor changes require that you update things periodically?
Our game was still a full-time job for at least a few months after launch. There are bug fixes, patches from player feedback, and ports to other languages and platforms. After that though, it’s totally up to you whether more content updates make sense for your game. There aren’t any update requirements from game platforms, with the exception of maybe Apple OS X where code signing recently became a bigger issue.
- Where can everyone find more information about you, your game and your company?