Interview with Niemi Bros Entertainment

Our media managers got to interview Niemi Bros about their Beat’em up game Chipmonk! That’s right, you are a tiny chipmonk hero fighting their way through squirrels, mice and rats. The gluttonous gray squirrel has stolen all the land’s food stores, threatening the forest’s inhabitants from starvation!

Can you tell us about your game “Chipmonk!” for those who may be new to the game?

Chipmonk! is a retro inspired beat-em up starring chipmunk warriors “Grey, Cheeks, & Red” who battle their way through the 4 seasons, with the ultimate goal of recovering the stolen food stores from the gluttonous gray squirrel.

Like many classic beat ’em ups, players choose between 3 characters, with varying strengths & weaknesses, beating up everyone who appears on screen before advancing to the right. The game features 2 player local coop, 3-playable characters, an assortment of villains, a variety of moves, and a nostalgic pixel-aesthetic.

What is the idea behind chipmonks being the Heroes in the game?

Playing Battletoads and other Rare games in our past (Banjo-Kazooie/DK64/etc.) featuring anthropomorphic characters, probably influenced us in deciding to go with animal characters. Chipmunks are probably our favorite rodent. Many times during summer, we witnessed chipmunks gathering seed from our bird feeders. We’ve found it quite entertaining to watch these cute little furry forest creatures stuff their cheeks, leap for bird feeders, and attack each other. We found the contrast of their cuteness and the fierce fighting found in beat ’em ups to be humorous as well. Once deciding on chipmunks, we intentionally misspelled the word with an “O” to reference monks, such as the Shaolin monk warriors.

As a side note: if you’re curious, we had gray squirrels in our roof during development, which made it easy for us to decide the villain of the game. If you’ve ever had squirrels in your roof, you know why!

Can you tell us a little more about the unique abilities of each chipmonk?

Each character has varying attack power, speed, health, weight, and a unique special. For example, Cheeks has the highest weight, attack power, and health, but the lowest speed and special power. With the highest weight, Cheeks can hurl enemies the farthest and cannot be thrown as far as the other playable characters. Red is basically the opposite of Cheeks, and Grey is the most balanced of the three.

Much like Golden Axe, we based each character’s special on an elemental affinity (Water, Earth, Fire) with tiers of strength based on how many special fungi collected. Each elemental affinity and strength tier have a unique critter/creature that’s summoned. For example, Cheeks is considered Earth, and has only one tier, summoning the Dung Beetle!

The game is inspired by old Beat’em up titles. What part did they play during the development?

We were revisiting some old beat ’em ups, including Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, and Battletoads, when we decided we wanted to try to make one ourselves. We frequently revisited Golden Axe and Streets of Rage during development for inspiration and to compare/contrast our gameplay with them. We have a special fondness for Golden Axe since it’s the first beat ’em up we ever played.

How long did the development process take?

With our team of 2 people, overall it was roughly 2 years from concept to releasing on Steam. We worked on it for about a year for the initial release (on itch.io) and released the game onto Steam a year later. We added some new features in the Steam release which complimented the game, including records & achievements. Actual development time is hard to say since we were also working on another project off and on at the same time.

The game comes with a variety of gamemodes for both Singleplayer and Local Co-Op. Are you planning to release more gamemodes in the future? Do you consider Online-Co-Op as well?

Yes, we are planning to add some more game modes or adventures, which may or may not be in the works already. 🙂 Online coop is something we probably won’t get to, or at least not anytime soon… With new features like Steam’s Remote Play Together it doesn’t seem as high of a priority for us right now.

The difficulty gets harder as you progress through the game. How did you balance the game difficulty? 

Lots of playtesting, Going through, playing each stage repeatedly and tweaking things here and there, swapping some battles/waves/enemies/etc. in/out as we went along. As mentioned earlier, we would go back and play some of the classic beat ’em ups and analyze their progression as well. We actually ended up changing some battles from the initial release, v1.0, to the Steam release, v1.1.

Did you encounter any challenges during development? What did you enjoy the most when creating your game?

There were a number of challenges and elusive bugs we encountered. Programming was a challenge since our skill sets were more art inclined at the time. We developed a number of game-breaking bugs which usually ended up being caused by a small oversight such as unintentionally trying to get the square root of zero or making a property that referenced itself causing an infinite loop. Tracking down bugs took a fair bit of time, but proved a good learning experience. This was also our first game made using Unity’s 2D tools so there was a bit of a learning curve. Animating the characters in a similar style of old beat ’em ups, drawing each frame of animation, was a first for us, and proved challenging even though it was a rewarding process.

Balancing difficulty in the game was also a challenge, as mentioned earlier, even though we enjoyed doing it. It’s hard to say what we enjoyed most, as there were a lot of enjoyable parts, such as designing the stages, battles, enemies, characters, etc., but one thing that we probably enjoyed most was seeing people have fun while trying out our game, even when it was in its early stages.

Do you have any projects you may want to work on in the future?

We have lots of ideas! We definitely want to explore the beat ’em up genre more. We actually have another one in the works. We’ll certainly reveal more details once it’s farther along.

We are also working on a long-term project The Arcane Relics, a medieval-fantasy RPG featuring split-screen multiplayer, where we periodically release demos to the public. In fact, we just released v0.2 at the beginning of this year. For more information visit: https://thearcanerelics.wordpress.com

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