Review and interview by PressPlayOnTape
The plot to Aqua Kitty goes as follows… Due to a sudden shortage of milk, cats around the world are forced to seek out new sources to get their fix. You and your team of milk mining kittens have overcome a fear of water to drill down under the ocean seabed and begin extracting vast reserves of what seems to be naturally forming full-fat milk.
This is, of course, complete nonsense which, in turn is EXACTLY how it should be, because as gamers of old will well know, one of the first rules of classic gaming is to ensure that your game has a ridiculous plot line.
Aqua Kitty is a modern spin on the classic side-scrolling shooter, and of the many positive comments that can be levelled at this game – the biggest is that this game proudly wears it’s retro credentials on it’s sleeve. From the moment you watch the trailer and see a familiar blue-disk loading image (the Amiga 500’s insert disk image instantly springs to mind) – you know you’re in for a treat.
Taking it’s cue from the Williams arcade classic Defender and with a passing nod to Irem’s seminal R-Type, Aqua Kitty casts you in the role of a submarine piloting kitten tasked with destroying underwater foes while your scuba-wearing cat brethren patrol underwater milk mining stations. (I did warn you that the plot was crazy) You must destroy wave after wave of aquatic enemies and protect your sea-kitties from being whisked away. Your sub is equipped with primary and secondary weapons, the secondary being the more powerful but restricted to short blasts before it needs to recharge. The action, is frantic, addictive and, as the game progresses, increasingly hardcore. What starts off as a pretty sedate set of opening levels pretty quickly ramps up into an all-out assault that will have you wrangling your controller to ward off the multitude of onscreen enemies. Your kitty will die during this game. A lot. But the game mechanics for Aqua Kitty are rock solid and each time your feline hero dies you will know that it was your own stupid fault. And that will only harden your resolve to get back in your kitten craft and go protect those milk mines!
Graphically and sonically Aqua Kitty is authentically 16-bit. While some modern retro remakes coyly attempt to disguise their heritage with shiny new HD graphics and sound, Aqua Kitty charges head first in the opposite direction. The pixel artwork is superb and the Amiga and C64 style chip-tunes suit the game perfectly. This gamewants to be old school – and it achieves this ambition with aplomb.
We decided to find out a bit more about the development of Aqua Kitty and so we spoke to Dugan – the graphic artist at Tikipod about creating the game…
Hi Dugan – thanks for speaking to us today and congratulations on creating such a great game.
Firstly tell us, what was the inspiration behind Aqua Kitty?
Old arcade games like R-type, In the Hunt, Gunhed, Rainbow islands and NewZealand Story. All the games I used to like playing (or wanted to play) as a kid really 🙂 The game design for Kitty ended up with the basic core from Defender as it evolved, but we added a lot more to it such as branching level routes / powerups / secondary fire and so on.
How long did the game take to develop?
Just over two years I think, it was a slow development as we were doing in our spare time and without a clear initial game design. So a lot of time went on experiments that were eventually discarded. If we had been making it full-time, it would have been finished far faster.
Tell us a little about how TikiPod came into existence.
TikiPod as a company began sometime after I had decided to leave my games job at the time. I spent some time learning to use gamemaker and working on my own game ideas. Then a few months later I was contacted by an old friend Dave Parsons (http://www.confused-pelican.com/) who needed an artist to work on his game Gravity Crash which he was developing with JawLtd for Sony. I helped at the end stage of the pitching period with art mockups, and then when the game was greenlit I setup Tikipod Ltd to in part supply artwork for the game to Jaw, but also in the longterm to work on `inhouse` game development.
The origin of the name itself is a bit nerdy, it came about in the late 1990s when I wanted to buy a web domain name. It is an amalgamation of Tiki Kiwi from the NewZealand Story (by Taito) and the Pod in R-type that drops weapons – hence Tikipod!
Aqua Kitty looks authentically 16-bit. Was there a specific computer or console who’s look you were trying to emulate and if so did you confine yourself to that systems limitations? (For example the number of sprites and colours on screen at once, levels of parallax scrolling or channels of audio etc)
Arcade, Amiga and PC Engine games were all a big influence, mainly because I played them more than other systems. We did not tie ourselves to any precise hardware limits though – we wanted to be able to give a retro feel but with modern elements. So the game runs at 1280×720, has large additive style explosions and effects etc.
What software do you use to create the pixel art?
With games like Hotline Miami, Retro City Rampage and now Aqua Kitty gaining critical acclaim, there appears to be a trend of modern games being designed to look, sound and play like old school games – what was the attraction of creating your game in this style?
A mixture of things affected the style. A large part was nostalgia, to make a game that reminded us of the 16bit era but could do things those machines couldn’t back then.
Sony have recently been talking about how they are embracing Indie Developers and encouraging them to create unique titles for their platforms. How easy was the process of getting Aqua Kitty on to PlayStation Vita?
Yes Sony have been fantastic to deal with. In 2012 when they put the word out that they were looking for projects for their new PSMobile platform we approached them and proposed ideas that could be done ready for launch. We had Aqua Kitty nearly complete, which we could port over from XNA. A friend had also been working on a port of a game called Rock Boshers from Gamemaker, which he thought would be portable to PSM too – so we ended up with an agreement to go with those two titles. There was quite a bit of code work involved in the porting, the SDK wasn’t finalised at the time and lots of things had to be optimised for PSM to run at a good speed. Sony have since released several updates to the PSM SDK and made it much smoother to develop for.
Do you own any classic systems?
Yes, for one thing I have far too many PC Engine systems and really need to sell a few – but they are such great little consoles. I have my old Amiga 1200 still, a Snes, an Atari 2600, a Nintendo Game and Watch (Donky Kong Jr) and probably a few other things tucked away I have forgotten about.
What is your all time favourite classic game?
That would have to be R-Type. Or maybe Rainbow Islands. Or NewZealand Story…
What’s next in the pipeline for TikiPod?
Currently I am helping on a Dungeon shooter game by Dave Parsons, which should be released early next year. Its a bit like Robotron meets Bubble Bobble with a bit of Ghosts and Goblins thrown in too. We also have other prototypes that are being worked on, where we can try out ideas before moving them into full production.
Aqua Kitty isn’t a subtle tip of the hat back to old school gaming – it’s a full on love song to 16-bit gaming and the by-gone era of the side-scrolling shoot-em up. It’s simple, it’s addictive and it’s fun.
Aqua Kitty is out now and available on Xbox, PlayStation Vita and PC.
Dugan – Art
Gabor – Code