Interviews PS Vita 2

Severed, the Vita, and How Touch-Based Games Can Be Relevant in 2015: An Interview with DrinkBox Studios


If you’re at all familiar with the indie development scene, then chances are you’ve heard of DrinkBox Studios. Hailing from the snowy tundra that is Toronto, DrinkBox have been responsible for a collection of critically acclaimed isometric titles of recent years. Birthed from the remnants of Pseudo Interactive, DrinkBox were conceived under a 2006 coalition between former employees Chris Harvey, Ryan MacLean and Graham Smith. The first kick came in 2010 with the adorable Tales from Space: About a Blob. It was here that DrinkBox first set their now well-worn precedent for striking colour palettes and slick animations. A 2012 sequel, Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, allowed the studio to hone their talent for quirk, humour and inventive game design.

About a Blob
Where it all began.

Just one year later, the team hit back with their newest project: the gloriously named Guacamelee! Bigger, bolder and more memorable than what had come before, Guacamelee! is still DrinkBox’s finest release to date. A gleefully cartoonish take on Mexican culture and Luchadores wrestlers, the game is satisfying as hell and a rollicking adventure to boot. Guacamelee! was metroidvania done exceedingly well: simple controls made for satisfyingly tight gameplay that was difficult to put down; animations boasted a meticulous attention to detail that remains largely unmatched to this day.

The excellent Guacamelee!

The most exciting thing about DrinkBox is that their games have escalated in quality with every outing. With 2015 comes an all-new chapter. That game’s name is Severed: a first-person, touch orientated dungeon crawler with light RPG elements. I’ll admit, when I first heard this unlikely string of descriptors, I was a little disappointed. This was DrinkBox – a house dedicated to creating extraordinary platforming experiences – what do you mean there won’t be a jump button? But then I thought about it.

DrinkBox will be the first to admit that touch games have a bad name. If your first thought is Fruit Ninja, stop. DrinkBox have always stood for much more than simple gimmicks. Their pedigree is such that I can say with certainty that Severed will be of a calibre we don’t often see. Choosing to dedicate nigh on two years to developing a Vita exclusive touch game in 2015 is, at the very least, testament to the fact that DrinkBox are doing what they have always done. No one asked for a Luchadores-inspired open world platformer in 2013, but everyone made damn sure to thank DrinkBox for it whilst they sat proudly atop the number one PSN sales spot for consecutive months.

DrinkBox Team Photo
The full line up – looking just as mentally unstable as you’d expect.

I wanted to get to the bottom of DrinkBox’s latest offering. In truth: I wanted everyone to be as excited for Severed as I am. With that, I sat down with designer Chris McQuinn to better understand why Severed belongs in this year’s gaming calendar. In the process, we chatted about everything from design obstacles, to tone and – most importantly – why the hell they’re called DrinkBox.

Harry Bowers: So Chris, what made DrinkBox – a seasoned and proven creator of semi-traditional platform/action games – want to create a touch-reliant game?

Chris McQuinn: There’s a few reasons, one being that we enjoy trying to make games that are a little different. This isn’t to say we still don’t love developing puzzle platformers, and 2D combat games, but, as a studio we feel it is important for us to try new ideas. Another reason is that Severed came out of our first internal game jam and we thought it was a cool concept so decided to run with it.

Severed Screen
Severed looks set to be DrinkBox’s most beautiful production yet.

HB: Touch screen elements in Guacamelee! and the Tales from Space series were pretty minimal. How has the team found adjusting to developing this significantly different style of gameplay? Have many unexpected obstacles presented themselves?

CM: There is a learning curve when moving from a classic controller to a touch screen. Overall I feel the transition has been pretty smooth – although there have been a few extra hurdles. For example, there is a difference in difficulty when playing Severed with a mouse [the game was initially developed on PC] versus the touch screen on the Vita. At the moment the game is much harder using a mouse – so we have to be careful not to make it easier on the PC, only to find out it is way easier on the Vita.

HB: Why do you think it is that touch titles have found themselves with a negative reputation over the years? Do you think this is unfounded?

CM: In my view the negative reputation has come about, not because a game inherently uses touch, but rather because there are a huge mound of low quality phone games that just happen to have touch as the main input mechanic. Fantastic games using touch do exist, such as Monument Valley, Sword & Sorcery to name just a few, but unfortunately there are a lot of bad games that also use touch.

HB: What makes Severed different?

CM: Severed is among the group of excellent touch games – and a key component to doing this is to make a quality game.

HB: And what do you feel it is that makes a “quality” touch game? Is it about depth, polish, or something else?

CM: A quality touch game, in essence, to me, is really, just a quality game. Whether it is on a touch screen, or on Steam/PC, or console, I think the qualities that make a good game will have some, if not all of the components you mentioned. Usually at the core of a good game lies good game mechanics that are fun, so, if you can manage that you’re on your way to success.

HB: DrinkBox is a team known not just for producing quality games, but quirk, comedy and doing things a little differently. What makes Severed a DrinkBox game?

CM: All of our games have had a different tone from each other, although it is true that Mutant Blobs Attack and Guacamelee! had many similarities. Severed is a much bigger departure from our previous content, tonally speaking. Severed is a much darker game with a more serious atmosphere, so you’ll be seeing that side of us. Although, with that said, we do hope to provide the same quality of gameplay experience that people have come to expect from DrinkBox Studios.

HB: How do these darker tones bleed into Severed’s gameplay? Did you find it difficult at first to convey this more serious style considering you’ve undertaken a new, front-facing perspective?

CM: I feel the darker tones bleed more into the art style and story than the gameplay, although it’s tough to give examples without giving too much away. Since we are a jokey studio, we have had to catch ourselves from inserting too many goofy jokes.

HB: What’s the one thing about Severed that you’re most excited for the world to experience?

CM: Personally speaking, I’m most excited about releasing a game that explores touch based combat mechanics that is (hopefully) compelling. I’m also pretty excited be developing a game for the Vita; a console that we all love at the studio and has a community that have been great supporters of us.

Chris McQuinn
Chris McQuinn: The man behind the text.

HB: Finally, out of sheer curiosity, how did you arrive at the name DrinkBox Studios?

CM: Well, originally we had called ourselves “No a Number” (NaN), but realised that name was horrible. So we all got together to have a big brainstorming session and shouted out the dumbest possible company names, and DrinkBox just stuck.

You can grab the original Guacamelee! for Vita, or the complete Super Champion Turbo Edition on PS4 for a pittance right now in the PSN Summer sale.

We extend our thanks to Chris and the whole team at DrinkBox for their unfathomable participation. The studio is crunching hard right now to get Severed out this year. You can lend them your support over @DrinkBoxStudios, while you can find Chris directly via @kulz.

Alternatively, if you’d like to find out more about the game, you can mosey on over to their website for some fancy new scrolling technology.

Excited for Severed? Not sold on the whole touch thing yet? Or are you just curious where Tales from Space 3 is at? Then come discuss with us in the comments below! Or, if you fancy shouting at us directly, head to @PowerUpGamingUK for fun and frolics.

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  • Harry Bowers

    It was really interesting chatting to Chris. It’s pretty obvious that DrinkBox is a studio with a lot of artistic integrity, something sadly quite rare today. Scott had a chance to mess around with Severed up close and personal this Gamescom, he came back with nothing but good things to say. More hyped than ever.

  • bonzee

    “a community that have been great supporters of us”

    yet the complete edition of guacamelee was released on everything but Vita, and I’m guessing it will be the same with severed.