Interview / The Behemoth’s Project Manager talks Castle Crashers

Fans of Xbox LIVE Arcade should be no strangers to The Behemoth’s work. Their first project, Alien Hominid, saw cult success on last gen systems as well as good sales as an XBL Arcade port. Hominid presented gamers with a fresh take on the 2D classic side scrolling formula, as well as a completely unique sense of humor.

The Behemoth’s next project, Castle Crashers, is already highly anticipated by gamers far and wide. The game was originally unveiled back in 2006 and since then has seen the public’s fascination rise, despite delays. As we reported a short time ago, The Behemoth launched a Castle Crashers devblog in order to shed some light on the title and tease us even more.

Project Manager Emil Ayoubkhan was kind enough to answer a few questions we had on the state of Castle Crashers as well as its lifecyle.

That VideoGame Blog’s Mike Wehner (TVGB): Your previous title, Alien Hominid HD for Xbox LIVE Arcade, has sold a substantial number of units since its release. Did this aid your decision to use LIVE Arcade once again for the distribution of Castle Crashers? Were there any other factors?

Emil Ayoubkhan (EA): The success of Alien Hominid HD on Xbox LIVE definitely made the decision easier, and working with Microsoft has been great. We really enjoy doing the development, and publishing of our games, and Microsoft has given us the opportunity to do that. We’re definitely not against any other console though, we just take things one at a time due to our small team size.

TVGB: You recently launched a development blog which gives gamers some insight on parts of the game that were previously unknown to the public. What kind of a reception has the blog been getting and what prompted you to create the blog in the first place?

EA: It’s been really great so far; we’ve been receiving a lot of positive comments and real great press. We’ve been fairly quiet with updates to everyone about Castle Crashers, so we figured this was a good way to keep the stream of information out to the public. It also gives us a chance to show everyone how our development process looks like, or at least a small part of it.

TVGB: Alien Hominid HD quickly gained popularity from gamers who are looking for original titles that don’t feel like anything they’ve played before. How do you ensure that Castle Crashers will retain that fresh feeling that many have come to love from Alien Hominid HD?

EA: Well our team is pretty much the same as it was from Alien Hominid HD. We’re still using Dan Paladin as our featured artist, and Tom Fulp is our gameplay programmer. When those two put their minds together, it’s almost assured that the result will be an awesome game experience.

TVGB: Castle Crashers was originally announced at Comic-Con 2006, has the title gone through any major, behind-the-scenes changes since then?

EA: Well the original characters were a lot larger in size, since then they have been scaled down, and we’ve all really enjoyed the smaller versions of the knights. I’m pretty sure there is video floating around somewhere of the original version of the knights, but once Dan decided to change them, it all seemed to come together.

TVGB: Some of the basic gameplay mechanics and design elements of Castle Crashers are reminiscent of Dad N’ Me, which was a flash game from Behemoth’s Tom Fulp and Dan Paladin. Did the experience with that title influence Crashers at all?

EA: I’m going to quote Dan Paladin for this one.

“Dad N’ Me came out and then we decided we were going to make a game with 4 adventurers. I started with a knight, and I was like, “oh badass”, and then made it 4 knights.”

I think that’s simple and to the point. As we get closer to release I will post some of the original concepts of the knights on our dev blog for everyone to check out.

TVGB: Many of the titles on Xbox LIVE Arcade are shooting for the “casual” gaming demographic more than ever. Castle Crashers seems to cater to gamers who are looking for a quick beat ‘em up romp as well as those who are looking to take the experience a bit further with the RPG elements that are presents, how did you reach such an inviting balance?

EA: We’re all huge fans of beat ‘em up games and as Castle Crashers evolved we realized that incorporating RPG elements into the game would be pretty sweet. We started using the term “Lite-RPG” elements, because we knew that although there were elements in the game that were geared to an RPG style of gameplay, it wasn’t the primary focus of the game, more of a supplement.

TVGB: After seeing the video clip of Dan Paladin working on the Castle Crashers world map, I think it’s safe to assume that the art takes up a good chunk of the development time with a title such as this, what other aspects of the game have taken the longest to perfect?

EA: I think at this point, just about everything is taking a long time to perfect for us. We’re constantly adding new features, and changing old ones. Just recently we had some great focus testing on our current build of the game, and we were able to watch as people played through most the game, and record their reactions. It was a great experience and it helps us determine what specific areas we can improve on.

TVGB: What are some of the things still being worked on?

EA: Well there is nothing really specific that we are focusing on, we’re just pretty much trying to finish the game at this point. Microsoft has a pretty thorough certification process, and we’re right in the middle of it.

TVGB: What were some of your biggest inspirations, gaming or otherwise, when creating Castle Crashers?

EA: River City Ransom, Double Dragon, text-based RPG games (the last one is specifically for me, rather than everyone else – yeah I admit it, I played MajorMud) I think most of the teams creative process comes from games we played while growing up. It’s interesting that almost everyone on the team has the same taste in those old school titles.

TVGB: Alien Hominid was a classic 2D side scroller, while Castle Crashers has moved into a semi 3D plane while still utilizing 2D graphics. What were some of the challenges in making the move from strictly 2D to a slightly more open design?

EA: As we go through the testing for the game, it becomes apparent that a large issue with working with more of the playable area in the game is that there are several sorting issues we always have to vigorously test for. With four playable characters on the screen, a handful of enemies, and explosions; It becomes a balance of how much stuff can you fit in one section without making it seem to crowded.

TVGB: Aside from that, what is the biggest difference between Castle Crashers and your previous title?

EA: There is a drastic difference from Alien Hominid to Castle Crashers. As mentioned before, we’re utilizing both the X and Z axis’ for CC. For the first time we’re incorporating 4 player multiplayer, adding RPG elements into the game, and more. Alien Hominid has 16 levels that were action packed, but fairly straightforward. With Castle Crashers we’ve added so much more depth and challenge.

TVGB: Were there any game elements that were left out of Alien Hominid HD that Castle Crashers gave you the opportunity to include?

EA: I think one of the biggest things is our 4 player multiplayer experience. In Alien Hominid we only had multiplayer support for one of our mini-games called PDA Games, the main game unfortunately didn’t have online support. With Castle Crashers we’re including multiplayer capabilities for just about every mode of the game.

TVGB: Castle Crashers does some things that are fairly revolutionary in the genre, such as relying on your fellow knights to aid you through the level, and then turning on them in end in order to gain the favor of the maiden. Are there any other gameplay surprises you can share with us?

EA: I don’t want to give away too much, but Tom and Dan have some great surprises lined up. We have an Arena mode setup that we’ve previewed before at the Penny-Arcade Expo, and it was very well received. We plan on adding to that for the final release.

TVGB: There were several nods to other games and pop culture references in Alien Hominid HD, can we expect to see the same type of humor in Castle Crashers?

EA: You can always expect to see that with any of our titles.

TVGB: It was announced that Castle Crashers will have 22 unlockable characters. Is there any chance our favorite yellow alien will appear somewhere on that list?

EA: My lips are sealed.

TVGB: A quote from Dan Paladin appears on your development blog where he states that games are more fun when the characters don’t have names. While I tend to agree, will gamers be able to customize their characters names in any way?

EA: We’re definitely not against having customization for characters, but for the Xbox LIVE Arcade specifically it made more sense to use the gamertag of the user. So although you won’t be able to name the characters in-game, you will be able to use your gamertag name instead.

TVGB: The obligatory question: Is there anything more you can tell us on a possible release date, other than Summer 2008?

EA: The elusive release date question. Well, at this point, no not really. We’re just lucky that we can finally give a more focused area of release instead of just saying it will be out before we are all dead.

TVGB: Now the most important question of all, what is the favorite lunch of The Behemoth staffers?

EA: Mexican Fiesta is a small hole in the wall taco shop about 10 feet from our office. I think as much as everyone wants to claim they hate the place, deep down inside they all love the greasy goodness. I wonder since we’re plugging them in this interview if they will give us free food now?

TVGB: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the many, many fans out there?

EA: Thanks for being patient with us while we finish this game. We’re all very excited to get Castle Crashers finally out to everyone, and we really look forward to the day where we can just jump online and start playing through the finished game with random people.

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We’d like to thank Emil for taking the time to answer our questions, and we look forward to the release of Castle Crashers. I’ve personally been looking forward to this game for a long time, so you can be sure that I’ll keep you up to date on any further developments with this title. I urge you to check out the Castle Crashers devblog and enjoy some of their videos, as they are a testiment to the dedication The Behemoth is putting into this game. But for now, I’m off to Mexican Fiesta…

[See also: Castle Crashers gallery]

About the author: Mike Wehner
Mike Wehner.
Follow my Twitter here:
http://twitter.com/Mike_TVGBcom

I'm 23 years old and I've been gaming since I was probably 7 or 8. My first experience with a console was my dad's Atari...  Read more...

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