When your studio is called SleepNinja Games, your publisher is Cartoon Network Games, and your new game is called Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake, you better have a sense of humor about yourself. Thankfully, that seems to be the case with Justin Baldwin, who identifies himself as the Arty-fart McGoo / Animation Dood / Overall Design Person’r on Cake, and his cohort Alex Atkins, Cake’s self-identified “Head Writerererer/Designer.”
Let’s start at the beginning: What is Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake and how do you play it?
Alex: Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake is an environmental puzzle-solver in which you play as a boy named Niko. Niko wakes up on his birthday to find that his cake was stolen by some nefarious monsters called Boogins. Pretty ticked about it, Niko leaves his village to track down the evildoers. Along the way, he encounters many good monsters, and discovers that the Boogins are stealing their food, too. You must control Niko and up to three other monsters at a time, utilizing their unique abilities to solve puzzles, avoid traps, and outsmart or kill Boogins, all with the goal of getting back Niko’s absconded cake. During your journey across the island you can complete optional level challenges for rewards, help monsters with their indigestion, and unlock costumes that either give Niko a special ability or just look cool…often both.
Justin: Yeah, what he said.
What other games do you think Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake is similar to, and were they an influence? Because a lot of people have brought up the early Legend Of Zelda games, and from what I’ve seen of Cake, it’s a fair comparison.
Justin: Really, the comparison to Zelda is more based around the temple areas, where it’s mostly based around puzzle solving. We’ve also gotten comparisons to Lost Vikings, mostly because of having multiple characters with unique abilities, and having to use those to beat each level.
The thing is, while we have a few little nods to Zelda in the game for fun — Zelda was definitely an influence for us, having played those games a lot growing up — Lost Vikings is something I actually never thought about until someone mentioned it. It might have been in my head subconsciously.
So what sets Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake apart from those other games?
Justin: Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake doesn’t really have a combat focus like Zelda does. There is more of a puzzle solving focus in our game. There are some combat type things you can do with a few of the characters, but a lot of dealing with enemies is more about using them and the environment to get rid of them, and less about a direct combat approach. While you can draw some comparisons to Zelda, we weren’t trying to make a Zelda clone; there are some similarities but it’s a completely different game.
Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake has an interesting art style. What were some of the things that inspired it, and why did you go with this kind of art as opposed to something different?
Justin: I wanted to do something that was a remembrance of my childhood. I drew a lot from what influenced me as a kid. My approach was to combine a Japanese pop art illustrative feel with a SNES vibe. Aesthetically, the game combines things like Kid Robot and Toki Doki toys, with such games as Earthbound, Zelda, Pokémon, and Yoshi’s Island. I wanted to do something that was bright and clean-looking, and also had a sense of nostalgia to it. We didn’t really want to do something art-wise that’s already been done a lot. We wanted it to feel nostalgic but we intentionally stayed away from pixel art. Not that we don’t love pixel art; deep down I want to have Paul Robertson and Gary J Lucken’s babies.
Uh…okay. As you said, in the game, a kid wakes up on a birthday to find that monsters have taken his birthday cake, so he tries to get it back. But if monsters took my birthday cake, I’d just go get another one. It’s not like cakes are super expensive. And would you really want a cake that’s been dragged into the woods by some monsters? Monsters aren’t known for being hygienic. What is it about the kid that makes him so stubborn to the point where he’s willing to risk life and limb for a baked good?
Justin: I’m glad someone asked this finally. For one, that’s kind of what makes the premise and name sound ridiculous. Which is kind of what we’re going for. There are few jokes here and there in the game that poke fun at that.
However, there is a reason why Niko wants this specific cake back. I don’t want to spoil anything, but you’ll learn more about why by searching for notes, talking to other characters, and letting the story unfold.
Your company is called SleepNinja Games. Why isn’t the game called Ninjas Ate My Birthday Cake or Ninjas Took My Pillow? Don’t ninjas like cake? Or pillows?
Alex: I guess for the same reason the Valve titles aren’t called Valve-Life or Valve Fortress 2. Though now I’m curious as to what those would be like.
Helping you out on Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake is composer Rich Vreeland who, under the name Disasterpeace, previously did the music for such games as Shoot Many Robots, FEZ, and Bit.Trip Runner 2. Was there one soundtrack of his that made you think he’d be right for this game?
Justin: I originally was thinking of approaching him because of the impact the FEZ soundtrack had on me. I also really like his music for Waker and FAMAZE. He is just able to make the music line up so well with what you see visually that I had to ask him to do it. He really got what we were going for without me really having to give much direction.
Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake is coming out for both iOS and Android devices, as well as PCs, Macs, and Linux. Are there any differences between the tablet and smartphone versions and the ones on computers?
Alex: Mobile has a great draw feature that allows you to draw movement paths and even switch to other characters while they act out their movement. The desktop version has full controller support, is multi-platform between Windows, OSX, and Linux, has Steam trading card integration, and a few other features, in addition to just having a higher visual fidelity.
What about consoles?
Justin: It’s coming out for Sega 32X with Power Glove support. Just don’t ask how it works. Also, no it’s not.
Alex: While we don’t have any concrete plans to release on a console as of yet, it is something we would potentially be interested in pursuing.
Finally, if the game does well, are you thinking that the sequel will be Monsters Ate My Wedding Cake? Ministers Ate My Birthday Cake? Sleepy Ninjas Ate My Pillow Because They Thought It Was A Birthday Cake But That’s Just The Pillowcase That My Mom Bought Me When I Went To College?
Justin: Monsters My Used All My Toilet Paper? Monsters Took Out My Trash And Didn’t Put A New Bag In It?
Alex: We’ve been tossing around the ideas Monsters Ate My Hummus Plate, Monsters Went To The Bathroom On My Kashmir Sweater Vest, and a special tax-time release called Monsters Ate My Tax Form 1040EZ.