Videogames are often at their best when you can just tell that the developers had fun making it. There's a special quality that shines through -- one that can sometimes be tough to place, but somehow makes itself passively apparent. When games are developed by people that truly love creating with one another, well, it just seems like everything turns out better.
Guacamelee! was undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable titles of 2013. The comedic action platformer had an odd, quirky brilliance permeate the entire experience. When DrinkBox Studios went into the lab to make Guacamelee! and Super Turbo Championship Edition, everyone had a good time doing so -- usually light-heartedly at the expense of their co-workers.
In a recent conversation with Chris McQuinn, a designer at DrinkBox, he went into detail about how Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition is largely a product of the studio attempting to troll one another all throughout the development process. Some of the gags made the final cut; others got the axe. But, it's the culmination of these antics (seen or unseen in the final game) that add up to the overall mood that really makes Guacamelee STCE what it is.
Being fans of other studios' games, many of DrinkBox's trolls are allusions to beloved titles in hopes that someone on the team would notice. For instance, when Juan gets killed by Calaca at the very beginning, developer Alex Smithers inserted the sound of Ryu dying just to see if anyone would recognize it. Co-founder Chris Harvey did, but the sound clip was wisely removed.
Toeing the line between whether they thought a reference would end up as lawsuit material or not seems to have played a large part in which bits stayed and which ones got cut. At one point in Guacamelee!, Juan wanders across a dead Journey character face-down in the snow. Co-founder Graham Smith wanted to include this less as a troll, and more as a tip of the cap to thatgamecompany -- a team that Drinkbox greatly admires. It helped that he (correctly) thought they'd be fine with it and not look to sue.
Another intimation that was kept was a glyph in the church with Fez-like symbols on it. Anyone dedicated enough to decode it will find DrinkBox imploring them to snack healthily. The hidden message? "Drink your Ovaltine." As McQuinn put it "The original troll of the Ovaltine commercial is hilarious. We also all love Fez and think Phil Fish is always down for a little ribbing."
One referential troll that didn't make it was the inclusion of He-Man's "I HAVE THE POWER!" sound bite that would play every time a new skill or power was acquired. It originally served as a way for production assistant Matthew Johns and Smithers to continually annoy the other developers. It worked. In fact, it worked so well that it was decided that it'd be too repetitive and irritating to players, so it was taken out for the good of the game.
Certainly the most influential of these gags turned into a core tenet of Guacamelee! Before an early playtest, one of the developers was hooking up attack animations for Juan. He slyly included the animations for the chickens to Juan's set. Then, as he showed off the attacks around town, he transformed Juan into a chicken. McQuinn says that everyone "lost their minds" it was so good. It was immediately and unanimously decided that it needed to be included in the game.
The wisecracks weren't limited to gameplay scenarios, however. McQuinn actually created an alternate ending to try to get a rise out of his fellow employees. In it, Juan is married to Presidente's Daughter, who has now become a nagging and disgruntled wife. She commands Juan to stay away from other ladies, and to tell their daughter (who's aptly named Presidente's Daughter's Daughter) to wash up for dinner. This ending didn't make it into the final product, but DrinkBox has now made it available for viewing for the first time ever.
Sometimes, these tricks were done out of necessity. Well, sort of. DrinkBox included a Baby Calaca character who's simply a miniature of the antagonist. Because it's a small studio, it would've been unnecessarily burdensome and time-consuming to create new animations for a figure such as this. So, it just shrank Calaca and used all the same animations, which worked because they're vector based and can be easily scaled.
In talking with McQuinn, one name appeared to come up more often than others. Art director Steph Goulet seemed to be on the receiving end of this clowning the most. The best way to troll an art director? Put really terrible placeholder art in at every opportunity. They also added a ton of cat puns after the Javier Jaguar fight as an homage to Goulet, who came up with all the puns that are on the game's billboards. Goulet wasn't the only art-type to get the troll treatment. Concept artist and animator Augusto Quijano found several Spanish curse words inserted throughout the game that the team would add after using Google to (probably poorly) translate from English.
As lengthy as the list is, that's just what McQuinn came up with off the top of his head. There was surely more, and there will most certainly be a whole new set as a result of DrinkBox developing its next game. Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition releases this week on PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, and Xbox 360; if you find yourself playing it and having a lot of fun while doing so, know that it's probably because DrinkBox had a lot of fun making it.