Gun Monkeys is a 2D multiplayer shooter by Size Five Games, notable because it's not the game Size Five Games were thought to be working on two days ago. That still in-development game is The Swindle (interview here), a project whose ever vastening complexity demanded that its lead developer Dan Marshall take a short break to work on something else. That something else is Gun Monkeys, a 2D multiplayer shooter that's just sent me around in a big grammatical circle with its dizzyingly neon backdrops and bouncy, kerblammy gunplay. I spoke to Dan about development fatigue, the upcoming Gun Monkeys beta and how to procedurally generate a penis.
PCGamesN: Dan! Why did you stop work on The Swindle to make Gun_Monkeys? Did you get stuck on a hard bit of code?
Dan Marshall: All code is hard code, Steve. It's all numbers and letters and thinking.
No, it's just... The Swindle's a really long and complicated beast. It's finally coming together really nicely, but there's a lot of if, and I was feeling kind of bogged down. One way or another I'd been working on it day-in-day-out for a couple of years, and I just had this urge to release something. Something smaller and simpler and less huge.
I was aware that we'd written loads of cool tech for The Swindle - all the character movement stuff, or the day/ night cycle, all this great stuff that could very easily be applied to something else. So I gave myself a weekend, and had the bare bones of Gun Monkeys up and running. If felt silly not to finish it, really.
PCGN: How similar is it to Gibbage? Is it any easier?
DM: I don't know about easier, it's a low-health minefield filled with explosions and some other guy trying to put bullet in your face, but it's definitely more user-friendly. Gibbage was kind of badly coded, and designed over two years in this weird little bubble with two guys playing it against each other until it was finished. So Gibbage just got faster and faster and honed towards our playstyle, which meant special moves were bastard hard to pull off, that sort of thing.
I've grown up a lot, and have a better idea of what I'm doing now. Gun Monkeys is slower-paced but better for it. It's more forgiving with stuff like walljumping and doublejumping, and I've had tonnes of feedback from various different people about what is and isn't fun.
It's nice and tight, now, but when I open it up into Beta, hopefully I'll get more feedback about everything from speed to how much damage homing missiles do, and it can all be tweaked to perfection.
PCGN: I guess running the beta and working with useful feedback is a skill in itself, right? Do you consider this a dry run for how you'll manage The Swindle's launch?
DM: I have no idea how to run a Beta. Hopefully it's just loads of people playing the game, reporting bugs, and voting on features X,Y and Z so I can get an idea what to change. It's not really a dry run for anything; Gun Monkeys arguably needs more testing than The Swindle because it's competitive multiplayer and needs that little bit of tweaking to make sure everything's fair and fun.
One day I'm looking forward to knowing what I'm doing and not having to just wing my job day-to-day.
PCGN: Is this your first time working with procedurally generated content? What sort of variables is it playing with, and has it puked out any weird or unworkable levels? Is it possible the platforms might arrange themselves into a rude shape and startle a child?
DM: I've never done Procedurally-Generated stuff before. I had some lovely emails with Tom Betts who is a PG genius (working on Sir, Your Are Being Hunted if I remember correctly), and he suggested some clever ways of doing it so it'd be workable.
Instead of building arenas on a object-by-object basis, instead the game slots together a load of pre-defined 'pieces', all of which are then individually randomised. So, there are dozens of potential 'top left corner' pieces, each of which might have ladders, and with platforms that can be rotated, destroyed or shuffled around. It keeps everything manageable, but keeps the 'infinite combinations of levels' thing.
With this system, it's technically it's impossible for the levels to make anything too weird, or to make anything rude but of course there's always room for a snigger if it generates a lovely long ladder with two explosive crates nesting at the bottom.
PCGN: How long will you work on Gun Monkeys before you return, rejuvenated, to The Swindle? I suppose this is exactly the sort of break from development you couldn't have had if you'd taken the Kickstarter route.
DM: Exactly! So many people asked me why I hadn't Kickstarted The Swindle, and this is just a stunning reason - I wouldn't have been able to enjoy this lovely little sidequest if I had, can you imagine the rage from the backers?
Hopefully Gun Monkeys will be launched in June-ish. It'll need supporting and updating depending on how many people are playing it, and people will be requesting new features, I'd like to add stuff post launch, but once all that's done I'll get right back to work on The Swindle. I'm really looking forward to it now, so this has all worked swimmingly.
PCGN: How's it being sold? Are you publishing straight to Steam, given your past dealings with Valve?
DM: I'm not 100% sure yet, that's still being worked out.
PCGN: Sure. Finally, is the underscore in GUN_MONKEYS satirical? I think it's the most satirical underscore I've ever seen, and I've seen loads.
DM: Oh God, I've got no idea where that underscore came from. Just prior to writing all the announcement gumph I'd been making the menu screens which are all kind of faux-code and full of // [?] ; sort of stuff, and in that everything's kind of underscored. So I just wound up doing it, because it looked kind of cool and stuck out.
There is no official Style Guide for Gun-mOnkeys, you can write it how you like.
PCGN: Oh okay, I thought you were poking fun at WATCH_DOGS, a game that isn't even about dogs.
DM: No, I'd never dare anger Ubisoft.
The Gun Monkeys beta will launch shortly, ahead of its June-ish release. Details of how to get involved will show up on Dan's tweeter (@danthat). Here's a link to the Size Five Games website, just in case you were looking for one.