Interview With Kumobius

Let’s start out by getting to know a little about the Kumobius team. What is each member’s specialty, and might our readers already know you by other games you’ve worked on prior to forming Kumobius?

James, our in-house artist, has worked as an illustrator and artist for about 10 years now. His art is very much inspired by videogames he played when he was young. People often point out how his art is so detailed, lots of little characters populating it. Really, they’re a bit like sprites, filling out a game world.

Ivan has worked in the game industry for quite a few years, working on some AAA titles for companies like EA previously. His best-known work would be Need for Speed for iPhone and iPad. Frankly, he’s just a total pro at C++.

Tom’s been tinkering with game design since he was a teenager; it’s what got him interested in programming and made him pursue it as a career. He and James are brothers, and they would make lots of game designs and ideas, experimenting with modding tools and basic game creator kits. Then we met Ivan through a mutual friend and together we made the team.

When the three of you decided to begin a new iOS project, how long did it take to realize you could make a cool game about a Mexican jumping bean? Were you prototyping any other ideas at the time, or was this direction pretty obvious from the start?

We were all fans of platformers and we wanted to create something that was accessible. The original idea formed a long time ago when there were very few platformers that controlled well. Normally because they just went with the simplest on-screen controls you could muster.

So we thought long and hard about the problem. We originally looked at games like Canabalt, running games where you tapped to jump. Clearly it was accessible; the player had less to worry about with such a system, and timing jumps to get to new platforms was the challenge. But we didn’t like how much exploration was lost in that setup. So we decided to turn the idea on its head: a game where you constantly jumped and only controlled the character’s horizontal movement. Using the touch screen rather than the gyroscope allowed for very precise platforming. We refined that, tweaking jump speeds, acceleration values, and maximum velocities while studying the Mario movement and collision detection systems. Finally we ended up with Bean’s movement.

Only after we had decided on the control scheme did we create the character. James came up with it one night before heading to bed. What’s a possible protagonist who constantly jumps: a jumping bean. When he heard it, Tom burst out, “Oh that’s good… wow, that’s perfect, actually.”

It takes all of a few seconds in one of Bean’s levels to see the inspiration you’ve drawn from 8-and-16-bit classics. What are some of your favorite games from that period, and how have they influenced your own design approach?

Some of the big games from that era were important inspirations for us. The Mario and Sonic games were fantastic. Notice the art styles in Bean’s Quest; worlds like the Sky Ruins, with its checkered blocks, remind people a lot of Sonic.

Sonic was always so fast-paced though. The gameplay of Bean’s Quest is more akin to the original Super Mario Bros. or the SNES-era Mario games. There are lots of enemies to combat and features unique to each world to interact with.

Other, more obscure influences include Psycho Fox, a delightfully colourful platformer for the Sega Master System where the player could transform into four different creatures. The style of the creatures in Psycho Fox was a big influence on Bean’s world and its fauna. The game doesn’t aim to be explicitly Mexican — we wanted it to be reminiscent of an unusual Master System game.

Yikes, it’s hard to complete Bean’s levels under par! Have any players managed the feat of completing all the released worlds within the suggested number of jumps? How did the team determine what the par number should be for each level?

James loves hearing that. “Haha, yes, that particular achievement is the most brutal challenge of the entire game.”  We have seen a few fanatical players rise up on the Game Center leaderboards and post on Touch Arcade’s forums. They managed to bring their jump counts down to the bare minimum, which awards them an ultimate ‘Golden Shoe’ for each stage.

First, a level would be roughly designed with an idea of what the obstacles, jumps and enemies would entail.  After plenty of playtesting, we would discover secret jumps you can make if your speed and acceleration are timed precisely.  Then we would notice jumps that might be possible if a block was 16 pixels to the right, for example.  We would apply little tweaks and changes along the way, essentially optimising the stage for an incredibly challenging achievement.

The Jump Par was very brutal up until this latest update. We have changed its system to allow for both the extra level of difficulty – the Golden Shoe – and added leniency to the Jump Pars across all the stages. So people can still compete for the Golden Shoe or on the Game Center leaderboards — but for everyone else it’s much more accessible to achieve.