Finalist | Best Student Game
Jesse Chand and Zach Vega-Perkins are two of the creators of Chambara.
Each year at GDC, MFA students from the NYU Game Center interview the Independent Games Festival nominees, asking them three questions about their development process. In addition to this interview, you can read all the insightful interviews from 2016 here. These conversations, and much more, will happen when the Game Center returns to GDC in 2017. Learn more about the Game Center at GDC 2017.
Ben Poland: I am here with Jesse Chen and Zack Vega-Perkins who are two undergrads from USC Games that worked on Chambara. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, I really appreciate it. What was the original spark that grew into Chambara?
Zach: Chambara is an interesting story. I only got on the team a year ago, the game actually started development the summer of 2014. It was developed at a program called Dare to be Digital in Dunde Scotland, which is an eight-week game jam. So four or five USC students got together and went to this game jam and created Chambara in eight weeks, and it ended up going on to get nominated for a BAFTA audience choice award. After it won that it caught a huge amount of momentum and now we are developing it as a senior capstone project and are hoping to release it on consoles this year.
Jesse: Right, and the game itself is inspired by an episode an old cartoon called Samurai Jack. In the show there is a black color character and a white colored character and they are fighting in a black and white colored scene doing stealth moves. And we took that same concept from the show and turned it into a videogame.
Ben: Cool, I think you can definitely see that influence when playing the game. Love the style. During most lengthy development processes developers can enter what some may call the “Valley of Despair” Did you experience this, and if so how did you push through?
Zach: I would say that the closest we got to that was probably last semester when we started trying to implement networking for the game. So what we did was try to create a totally new project and do everything right and make it clean. However, what we found out about three months in was that it was not working out. We would not be able to release an actual game that would be up to the level of polish that we were looking for if we started over. So we threw out networking, and started focusing on making the best split screen local experience we could. Which ended up being the right decision, we were able to push a lot more content into the game and really bring it to the level that we wanted.
Jesse: It was definitely one of the harder lessons that we learned, but I am so glad we went through it. I guess we learned that it is better to do one thing really right. So Chambara now is only local but I think that there is a certain magic in having it be local, like the idea of being able to screen cheat, we made that a mechanic as well. One of the struggles we had earlier on was networking vs. no networking but we got through it.
Ben: Interesting, I feel like if you are going to do local splitscreen you just have to embrace screen cheating as a mechanic. It seems like it is a design space that developers are beginning to embrace more. How does Chambara differ from the original vision you had for the project?
Nick: Like I mentioned before it was a game jam game so the scope was originally very small. They made it thinking that it would only be for the game jam. They started with a team of five and not the team is about twenty all told. So it has grown in scope that way, but the original team has been really great about bringing everyone in and making them feel ownership over the game. Now that we are going to be releasing it commercially it is important that everyone feels that ownership and is able to give the best that they can.
Jesse: I want to say that Chambara today is at its core is very similar to Chambara from a year ago. Which I think is actually a really good thing. We stuck to one idea and focused on trying to do that right. It is very easy as game developers to have feature creep. We stayed true to the one thing that made Chambara magic and I am really glad that the team rallied behind that.
Ben: Thanks for your time Jesse and Nick. It has been great talking to you. Chambara looks great and I wish you guys the best of luck moving forward.
Ben Poland is a second year Game Design MFA student who loves game nights, learning new things, deep conversation, and discovering new music. “At the end of the day my desire is to create things of value.”