Guinea Pig Bridge Interview

June 11, 2020 at 3:58am
By Jason Stettner

Interview with Erica Holcomb (CEO) & Cameron Bolinger (Engineer) at Explorasaurus Studios

A staple I do in all interviews in order to start things off is to ask that you elaborate a bit about your game (s) that people might not know?

: Guinea Pig Bridge! was definitely a departure from our normal development. Before that, we had been almost exclusively focused on more realistic, science-heavy games either for other companies but also a few of our own IPs.

Our first games were the Mars base-building RTS PeriAreion (available on Steam) and the exo-planet simulator Pet Rock 2 (for iOS). We also had the amazing opportunity to develop some apps for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, which as massive space nerds, was the highlight of our careers so far.

This is obviously, a very specific sort of game. Where did the inspiration for it come from?

: In 2017 we collaborated with Ethan Nicolle, creator of the Axe Cop webcomic, on an embedded web game called “Birds of Prey”, which was a blast to make, and had very catchy music by Parry Gripp. Afterwards, Parry contacted us about possibly making a 2-button clicker game about a cat flushing a toilet.

With that pitch, how could we refuse? We ended up watching lots of his songs on Youtube, discussing the merits of various cute animal-based games, and putting together a design document with a range of ideas.

He liked the little rough sketches we did for the Guinea Pig Bridge game idea, based on his song “Guinea Pig Bridge at the Nagasaki Bio Park”. The style and idea seemed to fit the one design criteria he had, which was “make it cute”. Cat Flushing a Toilet and Boogie Boogie Hedgehog were close runners-up. However, at the time there was a shameful lack of guinea-pig-centric games on mobile app stores, so we decided to exploit that (very specific) niche.
Erica Holcomb (CEO) & Cameron Bolinger (Engineer) Wise Guinea Pig Bridge Interview
With this being puzzle based, could you tell us a bit about the structuring and setup that went on to create engaging puzzles?

: Our workflow consisted of two parts: aesthetic design then gameplay structuring. Firstly, our art and design lead, Erica, would create a picture of what a level should look like. Sometimes that would include mechanics such as “three catapults climbing upward” but oftentimes centered around a pattern or picture of the level as seen from above. From there, she would lay out the levels in Unity with basic land, tree, and water blocks.

In the second pass our programmer, Cameron, tweaked the levels to fit certain puzzle mechanics while trying to preserve the style. The mechanics we used were broken up into categories based on difficulty. Examples of these categories included block rotation, block combinations, and block placement order. Some really hard mechanics, such as keeping a guinea pig in an infinite bounce loop, were reserved for the final levels of the campaigns.

Finally, we tested. And tested. And tested some more.

In the puzzle based levels there are many objects you get to use. Were there any inspirations for the objects that were chosen? Do you have a favorite object to see in action?

: We went through lots of iterations of blocks. Initially the game only had non-physics based tubes, ramps, and bridges. When we realized how fun it was to create a zany contraption of balloons, catapults, fans, and waterpipes, we ditched the basic blocks for physics ones.

Much of the design for the blocks was driven backwards from what we needed the blocks to do. We knew we needed blocks that went up, down, left, right, one-space, two-spaces, etc. and just made sure we covered all types of movement. For added complexity, we changed the design of the blocks to work together in synergistic ways: for example, catapult + balloon takes pigs way further than either block alone. This gave us a good diverse toolkit without being overwhelming.

In terms of our favorite object, it has to be the cannon block in the Islands DLC. Shooting the pig from the cannon had a very nice feel to it, and when combined with the ricochet mechanic, created some of the funniest moments in the game. Boats are a close second.
Guinea Pig Bridge guide
The game has been receiving updates for quite awhile, could you tell us a bit about the recent ones and how this has expanded the experience?

: A lot of our updates have focused on just giving players more gameplay experience. With a puzzle game like GPB, there’s not much replayability once you figure out the solutions for each level. As we brought in new players through marketing, reviews, and increased exposure, we wanted to make sure there was plenty of new levels coming out for the older players too to keep them engaged and interested, like our seasonal DLC (Winter Woods, Haunted Hollow).

One recent update focused on expanding the reward system since we kinda locked ourselves in with the one unique reward per level rule. It just means that going forward for each new level we add, we have to make sure the rewards that players can earn keep up. Rewards are the easiest thing to add and being ahead of that curve just means we can add new levels and themed content down the line.

Another fun update for us was adding in a Sandbox Mode, which randomly generates endless puzzles for anyone who’s finished with or stuck in the main game. That was something we wanted to do from the very beginning, but only managed to get working last year (we’re self-taught and continually trying to improve!)

The game includes a number of unique Guinea Pigs, including some celebrity ones. How were the various options chosen, and how did those celebrity deals come to be?

: Well the first pig was Pig_01, aka The Radishborn. He’s a real-life guinea pig that Cameron, our programmer, adopted about a year before we made GPB. The original guineas were based on real life pig patterns and breeds, with a few crazy options thrown in based on what we thought we could pull off with our art style and the same base model.

Sadly, we can’t take all the credit for the idea of reaching out to celebrity pigs: after release, we were contacted by the game review site, who have two guinea pig mascots. They were the ones to suggest adding their pigs, Grunio and Dida, to GPB. From there we realized the potential and reached out to popular pigs (or rather, their humans) on Instagram, offering to put them in the game. All of the people we messaged were friendly, excited and willing to supply us with plenty of adorable reference photos! And they helped us get the word out to other guinea lovers.

For a more fun question, there are a number of costumes present. Which one is your personal favorite of the bunch?

: “Can’t-see-me pig” is one of our all-time favorites. It was just a really unique idea that came out of a costume contest we ran with Parry. In over a hundred submissions from kids, the simplicity and silliness of a pig with a box on its head made us laugh. We also have to mention the Sushi costume because, from a developer standpoint, it was particularly fun to model, animate, and paint.
Guinea Pig Bridge game
For those looking at checking out Guinea Pig Bridge, what aspect of the experience do you feel most makes the game stand out?

: Come for the cuteness, stay for the high-intensity brain workout! We didn’t mean to make it so challenging, but somehow we did. But one of the best things we’ve seen with this game is that kids and adults, sometimes whole families, work together to figure out how to solve a level. It requires a lot of trial and error, lots of experimentation, and it’s been fun for us to watch that “aha!” moment when players suddenly figure out a solution.

The music is delightful in this, could you tell us a bit about the inspiration and integration of the audio within the game?

: The music was created by (as well as inspired by) Parry Gripp, who spent about a year of development helping us out by making looping, instrumental versions of his guinea-pig-related songs (Guinea Pig Bridge, Cavy Corner, Guinea Pig Olympics… watch them on his YouTube channel. You won’t be disappointed!).

He also made several versions of the fantastic “Guinea Pig Victory” song that plays when you win the game. We had trouble deciding which to include, because all of them were great. It was so much fun working with Parry! We’ve never met And somehow, despite hearing it repeated for almost three years any time we tested the game, the game music STILL hasn’t gotten old. We honestly don’t know how he does it.

Any chance we see Guinea Pig Bridge being ported to other platforms? It would be great to see it on consoles.

: It’s definitely something we have talked about. The most logical port would be the Nintendo Switch. We think the cuteness and style would be a great fit. Logistically though, we are unsure of how well a console port would be received and whether Nintendo would accept a mobile game for consideration.

We would also like to expand the feature set if we bring it to consoles, which might be a big ask when you also consider that we have yet to do a console release. That being said, we’re designing our next game with consoles in mind, if all goes well...
Guinea Pig game
Are there any plans to work on new games, anything perhaps of the Guinea Pig variety in the future?

: Yes, new games are on the way! While we have been a bit focused on the changeover from our old studio, TBA Games, to our new name, Explorasaurus Studios, we have started up a brand new IP this April that is currently in the prototyping, design, and writing phase. We are REALLY excited to work on the new game, especially since we have expanded our core two-person team and have a new, extremely talented artist.

While we don’t want to say much about the game yet, we’re aiming for something of PC or console scope, with a narrative focus. It may have some puzzles, but we promise they won’t be as hard as the ones in GPB! Although we’re targeting a slightly older audience this time, we try to make our games accessible to a wide range of players, so we hope that some fans of GPB will be interested.

Lastly I would like to leave a spot for you to say something or go over anything I might have missed during the interview?

: GPB was the first time we had so many people play our games, and we have had such a positive experience engaging with our players! We basically made it for fun, and for free, just to see how it would do. Our experience with this has made us want to incorporate that focus on the game community into everything we do. To that end, we’ve just started a new dev blog, and we welcome anyone to get in touch with us via email or our website form if they have comments, questions, or ideas!

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Gamerheadquarters Reviewer Jason Stettner