Mona Lisa

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Developer Interview with Italic Pig’s Kevin Beimers

Mona Lisa

Kevin thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions on your favourite subject: ‘You’. I guess the first thing I want to ask you is Italic Pig. Where did the name come from?

I should ask you the same question, Orange Bison.

I hate to say it, but a lot more thought went into it than it probably deserved. I’ve always liked the idea of describing something as “italic” that’s not a font, with the logo being that not-a-font knocked off to the right. I went through Italic Tractor, Italic Squid, Italic Aubergine, but settled on the Pig in the end. And hey… the was available!

The [Adjective] [Non-sequitur] company name is actually pretty common nowadays. At the last conference I attended I found myself in a conversation with Irregular Octopus, Mercenary Squirrel and Belligerent Fish. So I’m not the weirdest by far, which makes me a little sad inside.

Andrew – My response would be pretty similar. At least we are in good company. I mean Irregular Octopus just sounds amazing!

You are the Director. Tell me a bit about your past. How did you end up in this role? Was it always your life’s dream to work in games development?

In a roundabout way, all the things I did before this made the games industry a perfect fit for my experience… I wouldn’t say working in games was an active goal, but when I found myself here I was like “yeah, this is where I’m supposed to be.”

So that’s programming, writing, design, animation, management, and a thirst for adventure.

I went into Programming at university, back in the days when the internet was new and the only things you could do with computer were Pascal and solve the Y2K crisis. I ran one of the first website development studios in small-town Canada, then left home to make it big in NYC when I ran out of clients to make websites for. I was in NYC for the dot-com boom and the introduction of Flash (ahem, Macromedia, not Adobe). When I left New York, I travelled for two years through America and Australia, blogging daily before blog was really even a word (it was an “online travel journal” then). I finally found myself in Belfast, working as Art Director for a kids’ cartoon series.

So that’s programming, writing, design, animation, management, and a thirst for adventure. That’s a toxic cocktail.

Did you have another childhood dream for when you ‘grew up’.

I wanted to be a sandwich.

So Italic Pig is located in Crawfordsburn, Northern Ireland. Tell me more about the studio and your location.

Italic Pig is “loosely based” in Northern Ireland, and Crawfordsburn happens to be my house. Italic Pig is a virtual studio – we do everything with Skype, Slack and Dropbox, pretty much. Every so often we find ourselves together in one location, like the back room of a café, but even then we’ve still usually got one on a tablet.

How big is the team and what are their roles?

The team is seven people at the moment. Some are full time, some are casual, some are as-needed. We’ve got two coders, two artists, a level designer, a project manager and myself. On the periphery I’ve got access to some amazing concept artists, voice over artists, sound designers, etc, but the magnificent seven above are in the thick of it right now.

What was the first game Italic Pig released and how has the studio evolved since then?

The first game by Italic Pig was a quantum-physics-themed action adventure game entitled Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark. Aside from having the most awesome name of any game ever made ever, it was published by the illustrious Team17 (Worms), released on Steam, Xbox One and PS4, and nominated for a heap of awards including Best Game Script by the Writers’ Guilds of Great Britain and Ireland.

schrodinger's cat

When Italic Pig formed, it was funded to make Lost Quark, so the company was thought of as a temporary project – get in, make something, get out. However, with the completion of Lost Quark, and the subsequent successful award of a Creative Europe grant, I’m now funded to make my next masterpiece, entitled Mona Lisa, and plans for more.

So, how has it evolved? I’m now thinking of Italic Pig as a Games Company, rather than a game. I’m attempting to establish a reputation as a company that makes sarcastically-epic, character-driven, well-written, high-concept adventures. Basically, if game companies were singers, I’d want to be known as the Meatloaf.

Tell us more about your new development, Mona Lisa.

In ten words or less: It’s an art heist game set in the Italian Renaissance. That usually elicits a few “ooh, neat” reactions, but it’s so much better when I’ve got more than ten words to work with…

Think Lara Croft meets Inspector Gadget.

If there was any mystery surrounding the identity of Mona Lisa, this game takes it on full bore. Mona, as it turns out, is the 16th century’s greatest art thief. She works with the gadgets and guidance of Leonardo to break into renaissance strongholds, palaces, citadels and churches in an attempt to heist masterpieces from the greatest artists of the era.mona lisa

But that’s not where her mystery ends. You see, when Leonardo talks about Mona Lisa as his greatest creation, he’s not talking about the painting… he’s talking about the girl.

Mona Lisa is a Renaissance robot. All of Leo’s skills as an artist, anatomist, sculptor, painter and inventor have culminated in the creation of Mona. Far from a misshapen bundle of cogs, ropes and flywheels, she’s a sleek and graceful marvel of springpunk engineering. Think Lara Croft meets Inspector Gadget.

mona lisa

The gameplay is made up of two mechanics – stealth platforming, and speed forgery. Mona breaks in, finds the painting she wants to steal, but before she runs off with it, Mona (and by “Mona” I mean “the player”) must paint a 90-second forgery of the masterpiece, just good enough to fool the guards for a clean escape. The better the forgery, the longer they’re fooled.

And that’s STILL not even the beginning of the story. That’s just the premise. It starts off awesome and just gets awesomer, if I may say so myself.

What game engine or engines do you use for your games and why those?

For Lost Quark and Mona Lisa I’ve used Unity. It’s a brilliant tool, especially for cross platform release, and it keeps getting more brilliant.

What game from your childhood gives you the fondest memories and why?

For puzzles, I loved Lemmings. The beauty of Lemmings was that they gave you a level, and a sack of tools, and the onus of everything else was on the player… they wouldn’t have put a level into the game if it was impossible, so if they did it, so could you, and if you couldn’t, it was YOUR FAULT. Call me a curmudgeon, but it bothers me how accessible Hint Systems and Free Gifts are with most games today. Stuck? Aw, that’s okay, just shake your phone and get 5 free rainbows! Don’t hurt your brain! I like hurting my brain, but apparently that’s just me.

For story, it’s Day Of The Tentacle. The LucasArts gang made some amazing stuff with very little processing power, and DOTT was their crowning achievement. I love anything to do with Time, and they did it well and packed it with wit.

If you could give one piece of advice to students seeking employment in game design & development, what would it be?

The best advice I can give a student is MAKE A DAMN GAME. Yourself. No matter how shit it is. Then make another one. Then keep making more until you either get rich yourself, or you get a job.

Do your course work, but next time you’ve got a few moments of free time, watch a Unity tutorial or a GDC vault archive instead of a cat video.

It’s very obvious when a portfolio comes through that contains nothing but assigned student work. If the only things you have to show for yourself are the models the teacher told you to make, or the assignments you squeezed in around binge drinking and squeaked through Uni with a 70%, there will be a lot of people in line who will get there in front of you.

Students: If you haven’t been told this explicitly, let me be the one: You do not need permission to learn new skills. I’ve heard people say “I’d like to make a game but I’m not old enough” or “I’d like to make a game but we haven’t gotten that far in my course yet.” That’s all bullshit. What you’re really saying is that you like games enough to play them or dabble in them. If you wanted to, there is enough open source code, trial version software and YouTube tutorials to blow your teacher’s knowledge of gaming out of the water.

Do your course work, but next time you’ve got a few moments of free time, watch a Unity tutorial or a GDC vault archive instead of a cat video.

Also, keep a look out for Game Jams – these are weekend game blitz events (make a game, start to finish, in 24 hours). It’ll give you a chance to work with teams and enthusiasts, and you may find yourself some solid contacts by the end of it. At the very least you’ll have a non-school portfolio piece, and shown to employers you’d give up a weekend because you love games so much.

Finally: if you’re applying by email, do not start you email with “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To whom it may concern”. That just screams apathy – you couldn’t even be bothered to find out who you’re writing to, you just got a list of companies and carpet-bombed them. Find out my name, find out what games I’ve made, mention them in the email, and be enthusiastic about the prospect of working here. Apathetic cover letters rarely precede enthusiastic employees.

I couldn’t agree more with the advice Kevin gives for those wishing to approach game studios. I hope those reading take note and those brave enough to reach out to Kevin directly.

Mona Lisa is an interesting new take on a platformer. “Think Lara Croft meets Inspector Gadget”, says it all really and a combination that was so obvious it’s a wonder as to why this has not been done before! Looking forward to further updates in the months ahead.

Founder and Editor in Chief of I created Orange Bison to help promote indie games and small game studios. I feel they don't get the coverage they deserve. When I am not playing games I enjoy trying new things. Anyone up for parachuting from a hot air balloon?

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