During Pax Prime 2013, we got to sit and chat once again with Aaron Jungjohann, Lead Level Designer on BattleBlock Theater. We reminisced about Behemoth’s past. Celebrated Behemoth’s Ten Year Anniversary. And even speculated about Behemoth’s future. But we didn’t stop there, we were particularly interested in the company’s views towards the next-gen console restrictions and pending releases. Even though this interview was conducted back in early September, it’s safe to say that event with the releases right around the corner, it’s still pretty foggy on which console might win the proverbial war. Nonetheless, it’s still enlightening to hear what a small indie company, like Behemoth, thinks about the overall landscape of the emerging console market.
Let’s revisit our Pax Prime 2013 interview with Aaron Jungjohann of Behemoth.
Aaron Jungjohann, Lead Level Designer on BattleBlock Theater and various other things. In his words, “We all kind do a bunch of different things so all around trying to be helpful guy.”
Q. Let’s start off with BattleBlock, your latest release. Are there any plans to release it on PSN or Steam like you did for Castle Crashers?
A. No official plans but just like for Castle Crashers we’re always trying to get it out in as many platforms as possible. Steam worked out pretty well for us. It’s just a matter of pulling people of the next game so that we can port it over to other platforms. So, there’s always this sacrifice because of how small we are but that also allows us to be flexible. We have to weigh out what’s worth it which is more of the point, right?
Q. So there is a new title you’re secretly working on?
A. Well, yea. It’s a whole lot less secret now than it was a couple days ago. We’ve finally decided to say: Hey, Game Four (quote-unquote) is in the works. We actually do have Xbox One Dev Kits and we’re working towards and looking at other hardware. There’s so much not known about what the marketplace is going to look like that we can’t really say decisively which platform we’ll support but we do know that with our history with Microsoft, we’re definitely going down that route. I think we’ve been able to confirm that. It’s just, you know, other platforms that we are not too sure about yet.
Q. That leads right into my next question which is: What has your experience been with potentially developing for these next gen consoles?
A. Um, well…(Laughter) We’ve been prototyping up until very recently. Again, there’s a lot that very foggy since we haven’t had a lot of time to actually incorporate any particular features.
The thing that I’m really looking forward to — BattleBlock Theater has been a bit of a word of mouth kind of thing. And that’s been true for a lot of titles like Castle Crashers. I love the fact that you live stream your gameplay. That’s fantastic. One of our favorite things to do when BattleBlock Theater came out was watching the little “Let’s Plays” on YouTube. That’s just so much fun to watch people, especially because our games are multiplayer, and seeing them play with each other and mess with each other especially in BattleBlock Theater. It’s like the cornerstone of that experience. You can see a screenshot and Dan Paladin’s art is wonderful but to see it in motion and seeing people actively getting into the spirit of the game itself is huge. I hope that having everyone able to do that, just makes that experience more available to have.
Q. So, would you guys ever release a PSN title? Or are you strictly Xbox for now?
A. Well, that’s the thing. We’re looking into a variety of different platforms. We’re definitely not saying that there’s no chance for anything yet. There’s so many options now. It’s sort of bewildering. I mean, yes, the PS4 will have the same live streaming feature so it really just depends on what the market looks like. How many times are they going to ask you “Are you sure you want to buy this? Are you sure? Do you really want to buy this?” Like that kind of thing where they have to make sure there’s not too many barriers between the user and actually making the purchase.
Q. On that note, how do you feel about Microsoft disallowing existing XBLA content from being playable on the Xbox One?
A. And that’s one of those things that’s sort of up in the air. We’ve heard many conflicting things, right? Like I’ve heard something about Minecraft where perhaps, maybe, your purchase will carry over but that’s the thing that somebody was saying, so it makes you wonder. We can’t really say yet because we don’t really know what the actual policy is going to be. We’ve invested so much money into it and that’s another reason why Steam is an attractive place to be. People have this idea where once I buy it, I’m gonna have it on my hard drive. That is one of those things about the downloadable market that hasn’t gone on long enough to really get a sense of what happens when these things go under. We don’t know what’s going to be the final outcome of all of these digital expenditures. I think Microsoft and Valve are obviously successful enough and professional enough that we don’t really have anything to worry about but there are all this little nuances that it’s not really an easy thing. I mean, Nintendo keeps on doing it and they keep on reinventing their marketplace so the purchases are made on my Wii are not on my Wii U. The games I played on my Wii, I can’t play on my 3DS. There’s all these restrictions and who knows if those are going to stay restrictions. These things could all be liquidated and changed over the years.
Q. I think we’re just used to getting our content everywhere. You can get it on your phone and your TV or Computer.
A. Accessibly is pretty huge. But all it takes is for one person to do it right and set a trend for everybody else to get into it.
Q. Let’s change gears! Congratulations on your Ten Year Anniversary!
A. YAY! Thank you! Our jamboree!
I mean you guys got a chance to see the booth. We have six additional arcade cabinets (Which we LOVE!). It’s like we have a little brother booth now on the side. It’s pretty cool. Alien Hommid is on the floor now. IT’s the first show where all the games we’ve ever made is on display including like the little minigames from Alien Hommid that became OS style. Or iOS titles like Super Soviet Missle Mastar and PDA Games are available to be played now on the floor. It’s the very first time you can do like a 360 and see somebody playing everyone of our games at the same time. And that’s REALLY awesome.
Q. So what were your most memorable moments throughout those ten years?
A. Well, I, honestly, can’t say for more than three or four years. So, for me, it had to be, honestly, and this seems trite because of where we are but honestly, the first time I came to Pax and I saw people playing BattleBlock Theater. Because that was obviously close to my heart because I got to do some design work. Seeing people playing something I had made was incredible and this is the first show since release. Normally, my time would be spent sort of trying to explain the bizarre combination of genres that BattleBlock Theater is and now I get to see kids and go “Aw man, it’s BattleBlock Theater! That game is awesome! Love that game!” And I’m like “Yes!”.
Q. We were just discussing that the other day and then we saw the costumes while walking around.
A. Yea! People are going and naming characters. Doing it by name. We saw the people dressed up as characters other than Hatty. Everybody’s seen the trailers with Hatty and he was a really popular costume but we saw people dressed up as some of the other prisoners or little boxes around their waist and they’re riding the horse around, you know. It’s very cool.
Q. So, what kind of tips do you have for aspiring developers that want to follow trend and stay in the industry for as long as guys have? Like, being indie and lasting ten years is quite a feat.
A. Yes… Yea, well we definitely were at the right place at the right time. That was great. I gotta think that some of that has to do with the fact that we stayed the size we are. Normally, a small company is like Double Fine and they’re 200 people. The fact that we are 20 people strong and we get to continuously do what we’re passionate about like that’s our big signature aside from the art style, it’s the fact that we always go after a different genre and that’s because we don’t necessarily want to do another four or five years of a beat ’em up. We want to be able to do something else that might tickle our fancy and we have other ideas than just that particular genre. All of us are passionate about what we’re working on because we’re not making yet another sequel or something and it always been rewarding each time.
People were asking during BattleBlock Theater if there was going to be another Castle Crashers constantly and now that BattleBlock Theater is out, it was extremely gratifying to hear people ask if there’s going to be another BattleBlock Theater. So, obviously if we made Alien Hommid 2 we never would have made Castle Crashers. I have to think that that is a huge part of why we’ve made games that people can actually connect to.
Q. What do you think the next ten years has in store for Behemoth?
A. Well, just in the last two years we’ve almost doubled in size. The booth is a half bigger than it was last year. Hopefully, we can keep the balance but if we can branch out. We’ve already started working with other designers and helping them get their titles and sort of mentoring. We have the “Golden Egg Program”. So, a couple of years ago “Closure” was a game that had huge buzz here at Pax and we actually talked with them and helped them get their game released. There’s such amazing indie market out there now with so many developers making wonderful games that just need a little help organizing their vision and just getting it out the door and we’ve been able to do that.
Another thing we’ve recently opened up what we’re calling a “Research Centaur”. It helps titles just get released on iOS or various other platforms. We do testing and usability for them so we have a new lab open for that. We helped Bastion get out on iPad and it’s fantastic. We’re here and spend a lot of time networking with other developers and trying to see what we can offer each other. Hopefully, we can kind of, without getting too big, sort of get involved with other developers. Help other people what we’ve done. Everybody wins when there’s that much more wonderfully unique experiences out there and the more people get to play it and have this amazing idea that is actually delivered on it.
Q. And finally, because we were unable to attend your big Anniversary party, we’re curious about what kind of cake you had?
A. It was…I’m trying to remember the filling but I got mostly frosting (Laughs) to be honest. Well, I was trying to socialize and chat with people and I didn’t get first dibs in line so I mostly got frosting. But wasn’t bad. I’ll tell ya it was like a vanilla, there was also a cherry. It was good.
Thanks again for giving us the opportunity to sit and chat with you, Aaron! (As well as kicking our butts in BattleBlock!)