Every once in a while, you play a game that is so fun and so out there that you just have to know the story behind the making of it. The latest game to give me this sense of curiosity was Glass Knuckle Games’ Thief Town.
Thief Town is a local multiplayer party game that will have you backstabbing and sabotaging your friends at every turn, and you can read my review for the game right here. I was lucky enough to have a sit down with the Director/Master of Art and Animation for Glass Knuckle Games, Owen Watson, as well as Co-Founder and Developer Brett Davis. I was able to ask my questions about Thief Town, as well as other projects that Glass Knuckle Games has in the works.
JD Schmidt: Brett, has Glass Knuckle had any major console releases before Thief Town?
Brett Davis: No, this is our first one.
JD: How does that feel?
BD: It was very exciting. Console makers have recently become a lot easier to make developer accounts with and get dev kits set up and go through the publishing process with. So surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad. It was a lot more difficult than publishing on Steam, but it was very exciting and it made the game feel kind of real, finally seeing it on the PSN Store when it launched.
JD: So is that kind of like the dream for a developer, to have a major console release?
BD: I think for a lot of people it is. I never thought that I would have one for a long time. Yeah, it was very awesome to launch there.
JD: Can you walk me through how Thief Town came to be? Was it inspired by anything, and what are the steps that you took for it to become the game that it is?
BD: It started off as a school project a long time ago that was based on a game called Spy Party, which is a conceptual game where one player plays as a sniper trying to find a spy in the middle of a crowded, fancy party. Another player performs these strange, spy-like actions in the middle of a crowded room full of NPCs. The spy wants to try and blend in and try to hid something in a book, or do other small spy actions. Basically, the idea was to take that and make it more minimalist and all local multiplayer. So I figured, “What if all the players are both spies and snipers?”
So, in Thief Town, everyone is trying to both blend in and stab each other, and I found that it made for a pretty interesting and unique experience. The game actually started as an online-only kind of thing, but I realized pretty quickly that with the amount of feedback that you get from the game, it’s a lot more fun when everyone is in the same room. So eventually I switched it to be more local-multiplayer focused, and then brought Owen in on it.
Owen Watson: Originally, when Brett was doing this for his class, a mutual friend made these art assets for him real quick so he could finish the project. And then when Brett wanted to make it something bigger, he came to me and said, “Owen, you master of art and animation, please, I beg you, let’s make this a real game.” And I said I’d think about it, and that’s how the art came to be.
BD: For a while, the art for Thief Town was just assets from another game that I made called Dumble, which was originally called Dumbledore 64, but I had to change the name. It’s just a silly game where you’re a wizard and it’s like an arcade-style, dual-stick shooter. I just took a bunch of sprites from that and made Thief Town out of that for a while. Eventually I was like “I kind of need to put real art in this.”
JD: Why did you go with the old west theme?
BD: I’m not entirely sure where that came from. *laughs* When I stole all the art from my other game and made Thief Town out of that, I put everyone in a desert because it was easy to see them on a brighter background and that was the only bright background that game had. Then, when I started getting assets for Thief Town, everyone was like, “Oh yeah, this is supposed to be a game in the desert and everyone is wild west cowboys.” So yeah, people just kind of interpreted that aesthetic as ‘wild west’.
OW: The funny thing is, the best feedback that we’ve gotten is that there are no thieves, and there is no town.
BD: *laughs* Yeah it’s true, there’s no stealing and there’s no town. But as far as the theme goes, it was kind of just a random theme that people just stuck with, and I was a big fan of it, so I was like, “Yeah man, wild west — let’s do it.” I feel like there aren’t a lot of indie wild west titles out there.
OW: Well now there are. We started the trend.
JD: I love that the game is strictly local multiplayer. There’s no single player and there is no online multiplayer. I feel like there’s a kind of energy that comes from the local aspect, but can you see yourself updating the game to allow for online multiplayer?
BD: We are just going to stick with local. There is LAN play for the PC version, which is just a side effect of it originally being online only. I don’t see much value in extending online play [to the PS4] without totally tweaking the game. There needs to be some sort of communication and feedback about which player is which and stuff like that.
OW: The game is already confusing, and adding an online element just makes it more confusing, and it’s not really fun.
BD: I mean, right now it’s very confusing in a fun way, but if you’re online and you’re not talking to the people you’re playing with at the time, it’s just kind of like “oh, I don’t know what just happened.”
JD: Yeah it can get pretty confusing, and if I don’t find my character in the first two or three seconds, I just figure that the match is over for me.
BD: I’ve played it so many times that I immediately know who I am, but I feel that [not finding your character] is pretty common. There are a lot of people who just stab right from the get-go, so if you don’t find yourself immediately, you probably just ran into a knife and then you see yourself die.
JD: Brett, when you play, because you’ve played it so much, do you feel like you have a sixth sense in regards to knowing right where you are on the screen?
BD: I’d say there’s a bit of that, but I think more what I can tell is where the other players are. Because I made the game, so I know exactly how the AI functions, so if someone varies even slightly from that pattern, nine times out of ten it’s a person, and then I just stab them.
OW: In contrast, I don’t where anybody is and I’m terrible at the game.
JD: Owen, are you one of the guys who runs around stabbing, or the kind of guy that just plays dead in the corner?
OW: I have a strategy that works for me. I go and try to stab someone, and then I go back into a crowd and move around, and then usually I’m in the clear. And it’s cool because it even works if there’s just one NPC left. You can still kind of fake someone out by moving around whoever is left on the screen.
JD: I love all the small details in the game, like stabbing the piano player to turn off the music, how the PS4 controller light bar shows you your character’s colour, and how the controller laughs at you at the end of each match.
BD: One of the key things, when I was making the PS4 version, was that we had to use the controllers for everything that they support.
JD: Owen, with the western theme, did you base your art off of anything else or was it something you created from scratch?
OW: I relied a lot on the Dumble assets that were already there, but at the same time, I also wanted to make [the game] my own, and I think I achieved that pretty well. I’m most proud of the score screen with the wanted posters. After I made that, I felt that it was my own as well as the original. I had never done pixel art before this, so I had to learn along the way. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to pixel art, but it was a learning experience for sure.
JD: What else does Glass Knuckle Games have in the works?
BD: Our other developer, Dave, is working on a game called Defragmented, which is like a cyberpunk, top-down shooter, kind of like Hotline Miami but with more RPG mechanics. I think that’ll be out early next year, but there’s no definite date yet. And then we are working on another project that’s not really at the point where we can announce anything yet. But it will be a totally different art style, and it’ll be more single player focused. It’s still all hush-hush right now, because we’re still just getting a pitch demo together.
JD: Anything you want to say to the players of Thief Town?
BD: Basically, just thank you for playing. I’m really glad that people like the game and that we made something that is enjoyed. I’m really proud of where the game went that that we got it on the PlayStation 4.
OW: Yeah it’s weird, I’ve had to play it for hours on end at shows and demos, so I can’t see anything good about the game anymore. So it’s really exciting to see that people actually enjoy it because all the joy is gone for me.
JD; Initially, I described Thief Town as “The most fun you can have for under $10.” Thank you for meeting up with me and answering my burning questions about Thief Town.