I had the wonderful pleasure to sit down and talk with Mecha Studio’s founder, Jorge Garcia, to talk about their new game Neon City Riders and how him and his team is pioneering a new way of video game development in Mexico. Here’s the interview I had with him. Enjoy!
WTN: How did Mecha Studios start up? How did you guys meet and what was the motivation to start this project?
Jorge: We are currently three guys: Hector Sanchez who works on the background and animation, Josue Hernandez, he’s in charge of sprite and animation too, and me, I’m director of coding and designing. We are from Veracruz, Mexico. It is a small city located east of the country. We all used to have office jobs. Then we realize we are not happy as long as our jobs are not related to video games. In December 2016, we decided to quit our jobs and start our dream studio to focus on what we really wanted to do since we were kids. Our main goal is to create fun and enjoyable games. I know Hector from a long time ago. We are gamer friends. I’ve known Josue for 5 years. I watch his pixel art in the internet and immediately fell in love with the idea and aesthetics.
WTN: So what is Neon City Riders and what was the inspiration behind it?
Jorge: The premise of Neon City Riders is that you play the role of Rick who is the protagonist of the game. He lives in Neon City that is a decaying futuristic Tokyo-like metropolis. One day, four individuals with superhuman powers arrive to the city and divide it into turfs. They start forcing people to belong with their gangs. The main objective of the game is to explore the whole city and its turfs in order to defeat the four gang bosses to unite Neon City again.
The gameplay is a mixture of action adventure like the 2D Zeldas with a little bit of Metroidvania. It’s a top down view adventure where you must explore the whole city in order to find new abilities or items that will unlock new areas. The combat system is a little bit trickier. Each enemy has its own attack pattern. You must study them in order to understand how to fight each one of them without suffering too much damage. We are also including some puzzles and riddles, so even when the dialogue is short, you must pay special attention to them.
WTN: Who is the main character behind the game, Rick, and how did you come up with his design?
Jorge: We wanted him to look like a lot of the influences and the aesthetics of the 80’s. We tried to put him in an outfit of a gang with the vest and the long hair. About the mask, we were inspired of the 80’s, but the main reason of the mask is in the animation. It’s easier for us to animate a mask than a face.
WTN: What kind of gameplay can people expect? There’s blend of level design and interesting enemy designs.
Jorge: In the downoadable demo from our kickstarter page, we tried to show that. In order to finish the demo, you need to get all four abilities. You need to explore the whole room. It’s pretty small compared to the final game, but we tried to project it [gameplay] right to show the people the Metroidvania stuff.
WTN: Do you want the level design to be well-balanced across all boss levels, or do you want to emphasize a strength in each boss?
Jorge: We try to create each one of the gang with their own identity. Each of them has a special super power. For example, we have the audiobots who has the abilities to control electricity and audio waves, so all the turf the audiobots are in have that ability. In each one of the turfs, you will find a special ability for yourself, so you must use it to finish the turf. It’s like the Zeldas when are you in a dungeon and find an item. You start using it a lot in order to understand it. We are also trying to keep it open. So for example, you find like the “hookshot”, you can use it in all four turfs.
About the concept of the gangs, we wanted each of them to have their own motivation. It’s not like they are the bad guys and you must beat them because they are bad. It’s not that black and white. So like the audiobots, which is the first gang, their motivation is to preserve and restore the art like the music. The gang boss is like a music hip, so he’s trying to get as many discs and music CDs he can since the city is decaying.
WTN: Where did this pixel arcade graphics come from?
Jorge: All three of us are big fans of Paul Robertson and his art style. We really love the Metal Slug series too and the aesthetics. When we started creating the sprites and the designs, Josue, who’s the main spriter, he always had that style. Kind of like a Chibi-style. It was natural to start that way. I think it looks fine because even when the theme is a little mature and more strong, using an aesthetic like… I don’t know, maybe we can say.. cute? We really like that contrast because even in the animations, we can create movements that are exaggerated.
WTN: How did cyberpunk become the main premise of the atmosphere surrounding this game?
Jorge: The three of us grew up in the 90’s playing Super Nintendo, arcade games, and watching 80’s action Sci fi movies, so we wanted to reflect that and our childhood. The aesthetic is highly influenced by cyberpunk classics like Ghost in the Shell. We love that prediction of the future back in the 80’s. Like the Asian culture with a lot of neon. We try to use that and especially in the central district of the game.
WTN: Is there any level up progression throughout the game? Or do you get most abilities from the start and you can go anywhere you want?
Jorge: We wanted you to feel like you are free in the city. There are four abilities like the same ones in the demo, but this time, they are not in the beginning. You need to explore all four turfs. You will find items as well to keep opening new paths and new areas. Even though each boss has its own dynamic, you finish the area and the boss with or without an ability but if you have it, it’s much easier. It just really depends on how you want to play it.
WTN: Do you plan on going to any upcoming events to showcase your game?
Jorge: Right now, we are focusing on finishing the game. We have been exploring new events in Mexico to showcase the demo and the progression. We are trying to get some help especially from Microsoft. We might be able to publish the game in Xbox One as well. We want to go this year to USA and maybe go to PAX or something like that. We want to start promoting game not only in Mexico.
WTN: How is the indie game development scene in Mexico? Are there more independent studios do you talk with as well?
Jorge: It’s pretty hard to find indie studios in video games especially here in Mexico. It’s really not that popular. People here really do not trust in the video game industry. They hardly know the indie scene. They just know the AAA games. We recently went to Guadalajara, which is a big city in Mexico. We met four studios. Pretty awesome guys. Those four studios are also working to make games of good quality. But other than that, we do not know anymore studios around the area.
We have this stigma in Mexico that we make bad indie games. I think it’s because we do not have the responsibility of publishing games of high quality. It’s easy to use an idea and put it into gameplay. A lot of people here in Mexico take an idea that’s not so polished and make the game and publish it mainly for mobile. It creates this normalization in people’s minds that these unpolished games are the average. We are trying to change that. We have a lot of talent. We have a lot of productivity. We have a lot of high quality development. We need to help and unite us. Right now in the kickstarter campaign, we are struggling a little bit in Mexico. We are trying to create a good quality game and our Mexican fellows do not see it that way. It’s kind of sad that 60-70% of our kickstarter support is from USA. It’s nice and we are really thankful for that but it’s sad at the same time because we expect our countrymen to help us. We are trying to show that and create that culture of helping not only in video games. Here in Heroica Veracruz, we have a lot of art. It is a center of art and design and sculpture. It would be awesome if people look it that way and start looking at kickstarter as a powerful tool to create these kind of projects.
WTN: What is the biggest struggle behind being an indie game developer?
Jorge: I guess the hardest part was to quit our jobs. We use to think we had economic stability and now that we quit our jobs, we might not but things are going good. We are trying to use all of our efforts to focus on the game and its development. Fortunately for me, my wife has a job so we are doing fine but it’s hard personally. I just quit two great-paying jobs to achieve this dream. I try to block out “what will happen?” and take it one step at a time.
WTN: Getting out of the hard-hitting questions. Tell us about your kickstarter campaign with this game. What kind of reward tiers do you have and what can kind of platforms can we expect when the project becomes successful?
Jorge: We are currently developing the game for PC, OSX, and Linux. If we achieve the goals we hope, we will be publishing it to PS4 and maybe Xbox One.
As for the reward tiers, we have a lot of levels and we try to keep it you know… cheap. We are asking for 150,000 pesos which is like 8,500 USD for the creation of our project. We understand that the cost of production for these kind of projects are normally doubled these numbers, but we want it to keep it at a minimum to ensure our funding. So we trust at the end of the production, we could see a true profit to keep our studio on and making games. The smallest rewards tiers have just the digital copy of the game and digital goodies. The middle tier has physical rewards which are t-shirts, buttons, stickers, patches, and we are thinking on adding some posters. The big rewards is like becoming an NPC in the game and help us design a boss or being the producer.
WTN: Last final pitch! Why should the people out there support Neon City Riders?
Jorge: We encourage everyone to play the demo first and fully envelope the idea of it. We can say a lot of good things about our game and how we are making it but at the end of the day, a gamer should buy something they like. We encourage people to watch the trailer which is like a cinematic graphic in 2d. I think people should play Neon City Riders because it’s a Mexican development. We would like the people to give us a second chance to prove that here in Mexico, we can develop the same quality games as in the USA or other countries.