Exclusive Interview: Fat Chicken Sr. Creative Director Randy Greenback

With a name like Fat Chicken, you’d expect a fun and funny game about portly poultry. But while you’ll find that, and more, in this “reverse tower defense game” — which is now available iOS devices, Macs, PCs, and Linux — in talking to Relevant Games’ Randy Greenback, the game’s senior creative director, it seems there’s a deeper message to this game…and no, it’s not about why you shouldn’t fat shame farm animals.

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For starters, what is Fat Chicken and how do you play it?

Fat Chicken is actually a reverse tower defense game that takes place on a factory farm. The gameplay challenges the players to produce enough meat to hit your meat quota for the level, as waves of animals pile out of their pens and head down the path to your slaughterhouse. The player has to strategically place different towers that fatten-up your animals, pumping them full of antibiotics, injecting them with growth hormones, and various other substances to get as much meat on them as possible before they enter the slaughterhouse. It’s dark, weird and fun.

What other games do you think Fat Chicken is similar to, and what do you think makes it different?

I’m personally a huge tower defense fan, and a lot of my career was spent working on such strategy and tactical games as Command & Conquer and Ghost Recon. Some of my tower defense vices have been Pixel Junk Monsters and more recently Kingdom RushSome of the basic structure of the campaign in Fat Chicken is similar in nature to Kingdom Rush, and while Pixel Junk Monsters’ action-oriented take on the genre and that play style didn’t mesh as well with our goals for Fat Chicken, it’s such a well balanced game that I compared its level of difficulty, gameplay challenges, and replayability against what we were doing with Fat Chicken to gut check ourselves.

But while we definitely drew inspiration from those titles when designing initially, all of us at Relevant and Mighty Rabbit [who co-developed the game with Relevant] wanted to inject our own unique take on the genre. What makes Fat Chicken different in lots of ways is the theme, which flips the notion of killing creeps on its head. Instead, they’re animals you have to keep alive and care for. We also added some new game mechanics into the mix, like speeding up the creeps — you’d never want to do that in most tower defense games — and allowing players to bounce their towers from one location to another.

And at what point in the development cycle did you realize it was fun to say “Fat Chicken”?

About a month in…. We were calling the game Force Feed and then started batting about the Fat Chicken moniker. Immediately everyone agreed that it was indeed fun to just say, and over time, the name stuck. Fatty Fat Chicken, Hooray!

I’m guessing, then, that the name didn’t have any bearing on which you made the game about chickens instead of cows or pigs.

We’re not opposed to pigs or cows, not at all. In fact, cows were the first to be implemented when we were prototyping early on, but hearing the moo’s coming out of my computer ended up being amazingly annoying in the office. It turns out chicken’s clucking is a bit more bearable to hear over and over again for some weird reason. I just started preferring to build levels that had more chickens in them, and then that just ended up sticking. Now the first animal that is introduced in the game is the chicken, and chickens are the mainstay animal across the game, but we definitely don’t stop there. Cows and pigs have more meat on them, you get less of them in the game, but they have the ability to fatten up even more dramatically.

Is there anything in the game itself that only works because it’s a chicken and not a cow or a pig? Because normally a chicken can move much faster than a cow or pig, but not if she’s all fat and stuff.

I wouldn’t say that there is anything that doesn’t work with chickens as our go to animals in most levels, but a fat chicken is truly a sight to see. For a while we toyed with the idea that chickens could be trampled by larger animals, but having too many kinds of animals on a single path, or even having intersecting paths, ended up being just one thing too many to have to juggle as a player. Who knows, down the road we may add other animals to the game, and they’ll have different gameplay stats and meat values. Turkey’s have been talked about, perhaps the menagerie of farm animals will continue to grow?

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Were you ever worried that people might accuse you of fat shaming the chicken?

Ha! Now that is funny to consider…. Though I think we would have caught more flack if we had went with Fat Pig or Fat Cow.

People have been offended by the game, but mainly it’s those that don’t understand that the game is satirical and is meant to get people thinking about where the meat we buy and eat actually comes from, and what the process is for it getting to the store. But we weren’t super worried initially. We figured that the game was being built with light-hearted and quirky art direction, so we could dodge a lot of the overly offensive elements.

Unfortunately, we were wrong. The game addresses the issues surrounding factory farming — unethical treatment of animals, overuse of growth hormones and antibiotics, unsanitary conditions, rampant infected run-off of manure, etc… — in a humorous way. We let the player play as the person who runs the factory farms because we think that sometimes it’s far more interesting be “bad,” and it’s all blown-out in a Looney Tunes style. But some people still think it’s horrendous. People have commented that we’re horrible people, that we are promoting animal abuse, and even that we’re communist vegetarians with an agenda. It’s kind of crazy, but we really just wanted to make a really fun strategy game with a twist, make it unique, and highlight some serious issues. We think we’ve done that with Fat Chicken, but we’ve also learned you can’t please everyone.

In the game, when you get a chicken to the slaughterhouse, you earn MurderBux. When working on the game, how many times did you have to tell your art director that the logo for Murderbux shouldn’t look like the logo for Swedish death metal band?

We did struggle with how we represented MurderBux in the game. Adrian Schmettau, our lead gameplay programmer, coined the term and hooked it up in the HUD of our early builds. It just stuck, and eventually David Brossoie, the lead artist, had to create an icon for it. We ultimately just went with a dead pig with a mouth full of stuffed corn, X’ed out eyes and all, because it could have gone way darker…or far more metal.

Fat Chicken is currently available for iOS devices, Macs, PCs, and Linux. Besides utilizing the touchscreens on the iOS devices, are there any other major differences between those versions and the ones on computer?

I think mainly it’s the controls and basic interactions. There are some minor balancing tweaks between the platforms as well, but they are so slight that most people will never notice.

Are there any plans to bring it to any other systems, like Android or maybe consoles? Would it even work on a console?

We’ve talked about bringing it to Android devices, and the game is already well suited for some consoles, such as the PlayStation Vita and Wii U. We’re proud of the game and want it to get in as many hands as possible.

In terms of payment, Fat Chicken isn’t free. Why did you decide to make people pay for it, instead of having it be a free-to-play game with ads or microtransactions?

Being that we’re a cross-platform game, we definitely didn’t want to go the F2P route. We built the game to be a premium experience, a complete game that you can enjoy from start to finish. It’s got twenty-six missions, tons of upgrades for your farm, and it takes about eight to ten hours to complete from start to finish. There is a ton of value there, and we really just didn’t want to undermine what we built with a freemium model. We’ve toyed with ideas for DLC, and are exploring possibilities for new add-on campaigns, and going in that direction just feels like a better fit for the game we all created. We’re excited to expand the game and would love to get some guidance from fans of the game on where we should take it next.

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Finally, if someone really likes Fat Chicken, which of your other games would you recommend they play next and why?

Players that enjoy the touchscreen interactions in Fat Chicken, and want to try another game from us should definitely consider downloading our first game, Scrap Squad. It features frenetic gameplay, fun cartoony graphics, crazy animations, and — like Fat Chicken — you can be the “bad guy.”

 

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