Interview With Demergo Studios’ Todd Bluhm

Finals week is bad enough as it is — now imagine you’re creating an iOS game on top of it! That’s just how things roll at Demergo Studios. We got in touch with Todd Bluhm to learn about their debut title, Function.Repair.

Tell us a little about Demergo Studios and how you guys started out. Function.Repair appears to be your first iOS project, but did the core team have experience on other platforms before this?

Demergo Studios started out with just three guys: Dan Alexander, Zak Richards and myself. All of us had dabbled with making games before, but we decided that if we joined together we could make bigger and better games. I should say that the three of us met at college in the computer labs about three years ago. Having no artist, we set out to find one. Eventually we found Omni, an amazing up-and-coming artist in the art department who wanted to do video game art and was really good at it. We brought him on board and eventually expanded the team to 15 people including artists, designers, programmers, audio designers, a composer, and a story writer.

We had a big team but it was unfortunately a hobby for most of the members. After a year we thinned ourselves down to about 12 people and moved the development of our first project into Zak and Dan’s apartment. Another year passed and we had put a lot of work into the project but kept running into problems and limitations with the Xbox360 Indie Arcade. We started developing from scratch for iOS, and six months later we were back to where we had left off on the Xbox project, but by that time we had spent over a year and a half on a project that was growing beyond what we could handle. We made the tough decision to cut the team down to just the most dedicated people and start a new game. In January of this year, Demergo Studios was really born. While we had existed already, we went through so many changes that who Demergo is now is not who we were before.

The core team is made up of Dan, Zak, Omni, and I, and we have all stuck around for every project throughout the last three years. Our experiences prior to this game are our past attempt for the Xbox360 and games we have made on our own for fun, none of which have been released.

So what’s Function.Repair all about, and what kinds of missions can players expect?

Function.Repair is a side-scrolling platformer centered around a little robot called Fixbot, whose primary objective is to keep the ship he is currently on in a functioning state. Due to some malfunction, he has not been activated in some time and the ship has progressed into significant disrepair. Eventually you, as Fixbot, become reactivated and set out to repair the ship. Along the way you will meet some friendly and not-so-friendly humans and aliens as you discover what the ship is and why you are repairing it. Most, if not all, of the missions consist of repairing various parts of the ship, such as the engine room, shield generator room, etc. You will also run into boss fights that present some unique gameplay challenges. We have many different environmental hazards and game play elements like moving platforms and giant crunchers. One of the things we are excited to have is four player co-op for the story mode.

That is a really cool premise. Did it shape up pretty much immediately during your first brainstorming sessions after re-founding Demergo, or was the team kicking around several different gameplay ideas for a while?

As I mentioned previously, Demergo Studios came about because of a previous project, but Demergo as it is now really came about last January and this was our first game idea. We had a number of other ideas, but the team decided to run with this one. Function.Repair started out as a simple idea of “gravity.” We wanted to make a game that used gravity, and eventually gravity turned into magnetism and that is how our unique movement style came about too. The entire story and everything about it spawned out of just the one idea of “gravity.”

What kind of movement system do you have in the game? The screenshots look completely uncluttered by virtual buttons, which a lot of players are sure to appreciate!

Magnetizing and demagnetizing from different surfaces is how you move about the ship. You launch yourself from one surface to another, but you have to be careful not to do blind launches because you may end up launching yourself into space! It is a movement system that you really have to try before you can appreciate the simplicity and the intuitiveness of it. With our target platform being iOS devices, we wanted a UI that was simple and complimented the touch interface. We also wanted to avoid putting buttons or other UI elements on the screen. You move Fixbot by dragging your finger, and you shoot and interact with objects in the environment by tapping.

Did the team’s programmers know cocos2d was the way to go immediately, or did you try any other engines/frameworks early on? How has it worked out in hindsight, and what would you say has been the toughest gameplay feature or process to get working?

Our team had worked with cocos2d in our previous project for iOS, so it was a natural choice for Function.Repair. For the next project we are going to do away with cocos2d and use OpenGL instead because we are at the point where we need the extra flexibility and management that OpenGL offers. We have heavily modified cocos2d to fit our needs, so we are going to set off and create our own engine using the knowledge that we have gained from our use of cocos2d. Dan says the toughest feature is graphics performance and Joel says it’s the movement system, but Ian doesn’t think anything is tough because he’s that good.

And who’s composing the original soundtrack for Function.Repair?

Proxima Centauri is composing the music for the game. He is also one of the programmers on our team. Here’s a link to some of his music demos for the project on SoundCloud.

Will Function.Repair launch with multiplayer from day one, or is that a feature you’ll implement later? What does a multiplayer match look like in Function.Repair for that matter?

Yes, Function.Repair will launch from day one with cooperative play. There is not a separate multiplayer versus mode in the game. The game is made to be played with one to four players, with the number of enemies depending on the number of players. Also, each player’s stats will be stored during the game, including kills and completion times.

Big thanks to Todd for taking the time out to chat with us about Function.Repair. This is shaping up to be a really interesting title, so be sure to keep an eye on the Demergo website, Facebook page and Twitter feed for the latest news.