Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to tell us the story behind The Game Bakers yet again, since you’ve done an outstanding job explaining the studio’s history and creative philosophy on your site, and in several interviews, already. What I would like to start out with is the transformation of Sunshine Lab into The Game Bakers. Are there any interesting stories behind that name change, and did it reflect any shift in the studio’s artistic goals?
We started with “Sunshine Lab” as a name because we wanted something fresh and creative. We were happy with the name but another company had trademarked “Sunshine” for software products, and so we had to change the company name. At that time we already had SQUIDS in production and we came up with “The Game Bakers” because it fit really well with our game design philosophy. We make games like we make food, with love and creativity, and we like to picture the gamer taking our games hot, just out of the oven, like a delicious cookie.
It was really interesting to discover just how spread out The Game Bakers are – headquartered in France, but with developers operating in Japan, Texas, China and Quebec too. What are your best practices for keeping all the team members up to date and on task? And have you noticed any major advantages to working this way, compared to a centralized office where everybody is physically present?
Our virtual offices have a lot of advantages, but it also requires a very good organization. We have weekly meetings on Skype with all the team at once, but as the Creative Director I chat with all the members of the team every day. Actually talking to people, and not only texting, is key to good communication. We also use a lot of online communication tools like Dropbox, Vimeo, and ticketing systems like Assembla.
One of the great advantages of this organization is that we were able to work with great talents who we couldn’t afford to gather in one place, or they just wouldn’t have wanted to move their families suddenly. In the future, if everything goes well for The Game Bakers, I’d like to keep this organization but also have a centralized office with a very small core team.
It only takes a few minutes with Squids to realize that The Game Bakers have recruited serious talent not only in programming, but in art and sound design as well. How did you go about recruiting talent for the project – mainly working through personal connections and job ads, or did you also hunt through online art portfolios and make first contact with strangers whose work impressed you?
The good thing about having worked for Ubisoft for almost ten years is that Audrey and I have a big network of video game developers. The team was made only through our personal network or from recommendations by this network. We did a few tests for different artists but when Jerome Reneaume (our Art Director) gave back his test for character design, our choice was made.
Having a wide and reliable network is for sure one of the most important things in The Game Bakers’ life so far.
What was it like representing a small indie studio at Gamescom and PAX, compared to your previous experience representing titles for a big name like Ubisoft in that kind of trade show environment? Did you get the impression that visitors and journalists were just as interested in mobile titles as they were in console titles?
When you go to big trade shows like E3 or Gamescom with a major company like Ubisoft, you are an employee. You have a few demos to do during the day, but you mainly care about the parties at night and having fun with buddies who moved to other companies that you can meet during the event. When you’re here representing your game and your studio, for an indie title on mobile platforms, it’s a whole different story. Everything matters, from getting the journalists to find time for you, to the little “small talk” with another developer in the line for a hot dog. You care much for everything, as the smallest encounter can change your life. And getting the journalists to find time for your game is pretty hard, when you’ve got Battlefield 3 in the room next to you, but those who came to see us seemed very pleased.
One of the things that most impresses us about Squids is its strong narrative feel – the gorgeous art stills, full body portraits, and dialogues the player sees between levels. This kind of treatment isn’t always the first thing on the minds of indie developers who are working with shoestring budgets, so why did you feel it was important to take the risk and make such a grand investment in this aspect of Squids’ presentation?
As a developer, you often focus mainly on features — game mechanics and stuff that make the product a “video game.” But I always felt that the entry point for most people is: “What story are you going to tell me? What adventure will I be part of?” More than the story, I’d say the characters matter the most. “Who am I going to meet? Who am I going to be?”
As a small startup indie studio, it was very hard to have a story, strong characters, and great gameplay mechanics, but that was also the root concept behind The Game Bakers: to make AAA games on mobile platforms that deliver an experience that’s more than an arcade title with a scoring game loop. The future will tell us if it was worth it, but as the developer I feel proud of the result!