Exclusive Interview: Gunpowder Co-Creators Richard Sun & Nick Bruty

As we all know from the movies, gunpowder is a volatile and unstable explosive. So, of course, it makes perfect sense that someone made Gunpowder (iOS) a physics-based puzzle game in which you use the stuff to blow things up, what could possibly go wrong? Though in talking to the game’s co-creators — Rogue Rocket Games’ co-founders Richard Sun and Nicky Bruty — it’s clear these guys thought more about making their game fun than the safety of the people in it.

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What kind of game is Gunpowder, how do you play it?

Rich: Gunpowder is a rollicking, one-of-a-kind physics-based puzzle game set in a Loony Toons style wild west.

The game’s story is told through comic strip styled panels, and begins when the dastardly Boss Grimshaw swindles innocent townspeople of their gold to fund his railroad. A lone hero named Incendio emerges during this time. Inspired by the tale of Robin Hood, Incendio sets out to reclaim the gold and dispense justice. Players help Incendio liberate the town’s stolen gold by blasting Grimshaw’s safes and piggy banks sky-high through a series of carefully choreographed chained explosions.

You use your finger to draw lines of gunpowder from place to place, connecting sources of fire to explosive kegs to blow up Grimshaw’s safes. But what happens when you don’t have enough powder to reach the safe or you have to cross a river or canyon? You have to use whatever is available in the environment to keep your flame alive and moving. By blasting wagons down hills, lighting canons, setting swinging chandeliers on fire…the list goes on.

Nick: In some levels, you can lay out all your powder and sit back and watch the show. In others, you have to interact with Gatling guns, mine carts, and train turntables while your flame burns. We’ve sprinkled Easter Eggs all around the game, so you might want to pay attention to that innocent looking cactus or windmill. We also have unlockable achievements and the ability to compete against friends via Apple’s Game Center.

This was the kind of game that almost designed itself. It was so much fun to make that everyone on the team wanted to create levels for it. We would have competitions for who could come up with the weirdest stuff. People came up with some crazy ideas that didn’t always fit within the flow of the main game, but they were so much fun we decided to include them in a bonus chapter called The Lost Worlds.

What other games do you think it’s similar to, and what makes Gunpowder different?

Rich: Gunpowder draws some inspiration from such physics puzzlers as Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, and Where’s My Water? It shares a similar setup of levels to beat, optional “stars” to achieve, and chapters of levels to complete, each with their own unique challenges.

Where Gunpowder is different is, of course, the primary play mechanic. What made each of those aforementioned games great is that they offered players a novel and fun game mechanic they hadn’t seen before in order to solve puzzles, all while wrapped in a fun and attractive aesthetic that made the experience even more charming. And Gunpowder aims to do the same.

Where did the original idea for Gunpowder come from?

Rich: When we first started Rogue Rocket Games in 2011, we spent some time thinking about what kind of games would be most engaging on a mobile device. We knew, instinctively, that the best mobile games are those that can be played with just one finger but still had a ton of depth.

At that time, Nick came up with this neat idea that involved laying down lines of gunpowder with your finger and solving puzzles by igniting them with fire. Drawing branches of trails would make the lines burn outwards in different directions, just like you’d see in cartoons, and then there would be a gratifying explosion of powder kegs, complete with ridiculous chain reactions.

You said that the game was inspired by the tale of Robin Hood. In what ways, and was it inspired by a specific version of Robin Hood or just the general Robin Hood story?

Rich: We felt that the most popular understanding of the character — a rogue who stole from the rich who unjustly took whatever they pleased from the poor and giving it back to the needy — was a great thematic anchor for why you were spending your time blowing up safes in the old west. It’s an immediately recognizable theme. The main character, Incendio, is shown discovering the tale of Robin Hood at the very beginning and decides he will be the Robin Hood of the Wild West to take back what the nasty Boss Grimshaw has unfairly taken from the poor townsfolk.

Speaking of which, the hero’s name is Incendio? Seriously? Was Flamio taken? What about making the hero a woman named Powderina?

Rich: Ha! It’s impossible to properly characterize the grueling saga that was naming the main character and the game itself. If you think the name is silly — it’s Spanish for fire — you would fall over hearing some of the suggested titles for the game itself. Serious contenders included Blasterado, Boom Town Bandit, and High Noon Kaboom! And those were the good ones.

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In deciding how things would work, what old West movies, TV shows, books, comics, or other games did you look to for inspiration, and why them? Besides the old Looney Tunes cartoons, like you said.

Nick: The Magnificent Seven was a strong influence on the game, to the point that the theme music from the movie was once in the game in place of the current menu music. Luckily, when it came time to replace it, we found a very complimentary piece that fit perfectly thematically. The Magnificent Seven was my dad’s favorite movie when he was growing up, and it left a strong personal influence on me that made it an obvious inspirational source.

Beyond that, we took a lot of popular elements of westerns in general to inspire us with game mechanics and the contents of the levels themselves. Things like windmills, railroad scenarios, mine carts, Gatling guns, etc. Things that when you see them immediately remind you of your favorite Western.

Were there any that you guys decided not to look at, like maybe the movie Wild Wild West, which has a steampunk feel, or Deadwood, which was kind of gritty?

Nick: I wouldn’t say we actively made a list of things to avoid. We had a pretty clear direction to make it a cartoon style rendition of a more classic, friendly, and fun version of a Wild West theme. You never see anybody get hurt or killed, and there’s nothing too fantastical presented. Other than the animal-based characters of course.

What about when it came to how the gunpowder would react in the game, and how it would look? Did you guy buy a bunch of gunpowder to test it out? Also, if you did, did everyone in your office get questioned by the FBI, or just the guy who bought it?

Rich: Oh man, I wish we had bought some gunpowder and lit it up. That would have been fun.

I vaguely remember falling back to the ol’ standby of looking for YouTube videos. But in the end, the game isn’t of course about realism, but instead paying off on what one expects to happen when you light gunpowder trails on fire. The most important thing was to nail how natural it feels and rewarding it is to make gunpowder trail branches, and then watching them all ignite simultaneously where the trails cross each other. The second part was to make sure it would burn in a way that made the gameplay fun.

How about the explosions? Did you direct the art guys to make them realistic, or did you go for more of an over-the-top/Michael Bay kind of thing?

Nick: It’s always tough making FX look good from a top down view. I put most of the cartoon style into smoke and clouds, as they visually lasted the longest. Then I had to make sure you could see the edge of the expanding fireball very clearly as this would ignite any Gunpowder it would come into contact with. I had to slow the explosion down quite a lot so it was trackable by the player yet fast enough to make the chain reactions feel natural. It took a lot of iteration to get it just right.

Now, besides playing it solo, you can also play Gunpowder against your friends. How does that work, and how many people can you compete against?

Rich: Competing with your friends is through getting the highest score and/or best time on any given level. If you sign in with GameCenter, your GameCenter friends’ scores will appear at the end of each level. Minimizing the amount of gunpowder you use to beat the level, and blowing up as much stuff as you can will get you the highest score. And of course, blowing up the safe in the least amount of time will make you the quickest.

From here, anything more is left as a fun exercise for your group of friends. Maybe you can make a slap bet.

Gunpowder is currently available for iOS devices. Any plans to bring it to Android, Windows, or Amazon devices?

Rich: We’re currently formulating our plans. We will be watching how the game does in its iPad form for a while before making any final decisions on platforms and such distribution channels as Amazon App Store or Steam, but we’re considering it. Right now, it seems pretty unlikely that we will bring it to Google Play, as our information suggests that premium titles don’t fare well there, and supporting all those different devices is challenging. However, we’re always open to being convinced otherwise.

What about consoles or computers?

Rich: Computers are a possibility, but consoles are very unlikely. The game is designed for touch and drag, so it just wouldn’t be fun to play with a thumbstick or d-pad.

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Finally, given that Gunpowder isn’t your first game, if someone really enjoyed it, which of your other games would you suggest they try next and why that one?

Rich: It depends on what your favorite parts of the game are.

If you enjoy the mobile casual presentation, check out Jackpot Gems (iOS, Android, Amazon, Windows devices), a neat combo of Match-3 gems and slot machines.

If you like the challenging play and action elements, check out Dead On Delivery (iOS, Android, Amazon), a game about delivering pizzas during a zombie apocalypse.

Or if you like a premium game experience, and are interested in a bigger, more classic game experience, check out our upcoming game First Wonder, which we will be launching a Kickstarter for when we have the campaign ready.

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