What goes into making a game? How do you decide if your concept will work, and once you’ve got it off the ground, where it’s going? There are so many considerations for developers who want to bring their great idea to the hands of eager gamers, but the road is long and full of potential pitfalls. It takes a team with passion, humor and tenacity to overcome these obstacles and bring players something challenging, but not too challenging and most of all, fun. These are the questions local developers Big Sir Games asked themselves when they set out on their journey with Cosmo’s Quickstop, a frantic, silly space gas station game that’s full of laughs, stress,silliness and fun, challenging gameplay.
We first ran into Big Sir Games, which consists of Ian Beckman, Erin Beckman (yes, they’re married) and Bryan Kaelin early in their development process, at the Logan Playtest Party back in 2017. They won hearts and minds there and took home the grand prize–a booth at C2E2 for 2018–as well. We stopped by them then and have been cheering the team on as they travelled to PAXes and beyond showing off the crazy, hectic fun of one poor guy in space trying to make a living keeping the Quickstop running. We know we’re not the only ones who love this silly, surprisingly challenging game so we wanted to get in touch with Big Sir and see how things are progressing. For this interview we spoke with Ian Beckman, the Director and Programmer at the studio. It was a great conversation that covered everything from Cosmo’s Quickstop’s origin story to the difficulties of difficulties and more and we hope you’ll enjoy this interview as much as we enjoyed chatting with Ian.
Third Coast Review: We’re really excited to talk to you again. We’ve been excited for Cosmo’s Quickstop ever since we first ran into you guys at the Logan Playtest Party in 2017. Was that 2017?
Ian Beckman: Yeah, I think it was. We started working on the game in late 2016 and then 2017 was the first time we had it playable, and then every six months from there, we’ve been like “Yeah, we’ll release the game in six months!”
So, where I wanted to start was actually just the beginning. What’s Cosmo’s Quickstop’s origin story?
So it kind of came about when we were doing a different game–a really large, Mario 64 style 3D platformer, but every surface was paintable and every paint color gave you different bonuses and stuff. We’d been working on that for just under a year and we realized there’s no way we we’re gonna make that go.
So, we were kind of looking for another idea and we pulled this idea from a game jam we’d done. That game jam was a global game jam and the theme was “Ritual!” with an exclamation mark. And so this game was about those rituals but also, it was a call center for hell, so it was rituals like demonic rituals, but it was the same kind of pace in its original form that it is now.
We made that for the game jam in the course of 3 days and kind of put it aside, but then when we were scanning for ideas we were like “That was really fun.”
It was based a lot on games that we liked like Cook, Serve, Delicious! and Overcooked and stuff like that, so we pulled that kind of gameplay concept. Then we were like “well, we don’t want any religious tones to it or anything, so let’s just put it in space because we can do whatever we want in space, and we can get as goofy as we want to.” So yeah, that all happened like 2016–the end of 2016, and the first commit was October 27th. I remember because that’s my birthday.
Then, it’s just kind of gone from there. We just keep expanding. We showed at the Playtest Party and stuff like that, and we were really happy with that build and now we’re in a position to do a full campaign mode, so that’s what we’ve been spending the last 2 plus years on trying to perfect. We’re getting close but it’s still not quite ready.
What were some of your influences when making Cosmo’s Quickstop?
Overcooked is a big one, but the biggest one for us is Cook, Serve, Delicious! which is a game by Vertigo Games. We pulled a lot of how you interact with the computer or your controller from that game–dancing around, your controller doing weird things, interacting with it in different ways and then we pulled Overcooked style, like the 3D space, which we thought was really important and then the actual third person view that over the shoulder camera we pulled from a lot of 3D platformers, nothing super specific. Then visually, we’re heavily influenced by things like Futurama, Rick and Morty, and Ratchet and Clank.
That makes sense. You guys really lean into the humor, and that’s one of my favorite parts of Cosmo’s. Even the way the characters move is funny and it’s just fun to watch without even playing.
Thanks! When we made Big Sir we were very dedicated to the concept of providing high quality 3D art and animation in indie games. It’s something you’re starting to see more of these days but when we started the company you really weren’t seeing, and it is inspired a lot by the fact that Erin and I were working on some more realistic projects the past couple years for other people. We were really sick of working with motion capture and doing like, realistic human block cycles and stuff and we were like “Let’s do something crazy.”
Why did you want to create this particular type of game—just the influence of the games like that that you liked to play with Erin?
I mean that’s a big part. There’s a couple core tenets for Big Sir: We only make games that everybody on the team wants to play, and we have to make games that promote 3D art and 3D animation, and, there has to be a focus on kind of cartoony silly stuff. We want to make people laugh. So those concepts were going into our game deliberation process,our pitch process, and honestly narrowed the field a lot.
A big factor on Cosmo’s Quickstop is that we were coming off that failed project of that 3D physics platformer thing. One of the reasons we cancelled that was that as a programmer, I was just getting in way over my head because I learned how to program doing this. I went to school for animation, and I was an animator in the games industry for years before starting this company. So we were like, well, this concept of Cosmo’s, we’re getting rid of physics problems, we’re getting rid of this whole system where you have to paint stuff. At some point it was just like “Okay, let’s find a type of game that the programming isn’t like, blowin’us away, cutting edge stuff.”
I think that is important. It doesn’t have to be complicated, you just have to add humor and great animation. I like your core tenets a lot.
You gotta play to your strengths, you know. There’s so many talented people making so many amazing games, you can’t compete with them if you’re not functioning at your best too.
Yeah I agree. It’s a really good thing to be able to self edit.
What’s your favorite thing about Cosmo’s Quickstop?
I think it’s the art and the humor. I think the game is just so silly and fun. You know, I love the character designs and I love the fact that we got rid of–we went away from just standard humans and really pushed–ok this one’s a shark or a scuba suit or your main character has a Muppet mouth–things like that where we were really just pushing our artistic freedom in ways that are both fun but also gives us more freedom down the road of how we want them to engage with the game and stuff like that.
Cosmo’s is a lot of silly fun. We’ve even taken to yelling “COMBOOO!” like he does in the game in real life!
That “COMBOOO!” [voiceline] is great. That’s actually just me yelling “Combo!” with some weird voice modifier on it and it’s the only thing left over from our original audio pass. Originally all of the audio in the game was just Erin and I doing weird mouth sounds and stuff like that, but we decided it wasn’t of a high enough professional quality so we hired some audio people, who are doing an amazing job, but I couldn’t get rid of that “Comboooo!”
We always talked about if every 100th combo it said something else like “GUMBOOO!” or “TROMBOOOONE” or something.
That would be great.
You can put so much into a game. The people who want it will find it and the people who don’t won’t even notice it’s there, so you can put stuff everywhere.
You guys have come such a long way since the Playtest Party. Is this what you envisioned and where you thought you’d be back in 2017? What was it like then vs. now?
Taking a look back, I feel like at every stage we’ve been showing the game we really feel–especially visually, like “Oh, it looks great now!” and stuff like that and six months later we’ll do visual improvements to textures or we’ll get some new art in there and we’re just like “Oh my God this looks so good” and we’ll go back to the old footage and go “That’s horrible!”
With the gameplay stuff we always had a vision for having a campaign mode with a story, so I think we’re in a spot where we were hoping to be two or three years ago, so I think we kind of predicted that and the fact that we’re actually close to having it done feels really good for that. You never the exact details. We didn’t know there’d be drive-thru weddings in the game or things like that, until we’re sitting at the whiteboard being like “Ok, what’s the most ridiculous amenity we can offer?”
That is ridiculous but also amazing. In regards to the Playtest Party, how important is an event like that for you in the process of development?
It’s super important. For two reasons really. First, motivational issues–where you see people play the game, you see people smile and laughand that feels amazing. It always feels really really good.
But to counter that, you also see the player’s frustrations and you know, things that aren’t working. That’s been a big part of our development. And getting the game as accessible to people as it can be. It’s been a long–there’s a lot to learn, and there’s a lot of little things in this game.
It’s a game where we ask a lot more from somebody than often they’re used to, and they’re not used to playing this style of game. So how we tutorialize and how we teach– what works and what doesn’t work. That kind of stuff only comes from repeated playtestings of tutorials and so any one of these events–and we’ve gotten to a lot now, like, you know, several PAXes, the playtest parties, lots of little things all over the place–to really get to a place where we’re like, “ok we’re comfortable” — with where the tutorial is, where the demo is, that we can kind of release it out and let people start playing it without us looking over it.
Those events are so valuable, especially the local things. PAXes are good for garnering interest and stuff like that but the local stuff where you know, you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars for a booth and hotel rooms and travel and stuff and where you can really get just kind of a group of people who are excited to play games and put your game in front of them and see how they react to it, that’s –that feedback is incredibly valuable.
That’s a lot of what we heard from Can’t Get Enough Games when we sat down with them to catch up. It’s an ego boost to see people play your game and get something out of it but it’s also invaluable to learn what you’re stuck on.
Yeah. Because you don’t know. You don’t know until you know what other people are having issues with, and someone can only play your game for the first time once. We’re kind of out of a lot of our friends who have played the game and we’re always looking for new people to be like, “Ok you’ve never played it, so come down and play it” especially for the campaign where it takes hours to get through everything so you know, you’ve gotta find those new players.
I’m excited for the campaign and I think you have a good point about a game like that because things like Overcooked–sometimes it’s one of those games where you have to let go of your perfectionism for a second. I used to say I worked foodservice too long to enjoy games like Overcooked, but it’s not really true. I did enjoy it but it does get to you sometimes.
Definitely–it can be a stressful and intense thing. It’s a fine line between stressful fun and stressful frustration. You sacrifice a lot of tears from your playtesters until you get the feeling right.
I think so but I think even just watching gameplay and playing myself, part of what helps is the silliness. If you know going in that it’s gonna be ridiculous and it’s gonna be frantic and you’re gonna be running around like a chicken with their head cut off that helps you get over the stress.
The difficulty stuff is an interesting thing that we’ve been messing with a lot lately, you know, how to make the game approachable for different skill levels and stuff like that. There’s a good chance that we’re gonna end up with variable difficulties. I think that’s fine.
We want people to be able to engage the game how they want–what’s comfortable for them. And there is a lot of funny stuff and humor, and we don’t want to see that stuff locked away because the game is too hard. At the same time, for people that do want the challenge we want to provide that. because I know Erin and I with Overcooked–you have to get 3 stars to move on, like there is no 2 stars or 1 star, and like, that’s how we like to engage, but other people are like “1 star is good enough for me” and we want to make sure the game is still fun for that. You’re still getting thrilled feelings and you’re not feeling too overwhelmed.
Yeah–if you share this with a significant other and they don’t play games very often you want to have them feel like they can do it.
Yeah, so the demo has the score attack cooperative stuff but the campaign will also be fully playable cooperatively, with just 2 people. We’re still kind of fine tuning the specifics of that but it will be fun and playable with 2 people for sure.
At the Playtest Party we didn’t have multiplayer. The Playtest Party was the first time that I started thinking about the implications of multiplayer, and we knew the game would be fun with two players but multiplayer is a lot of work, you know, and it’s a lot of unknowns for us. especially because this is my first game that I’m a programmer. So we didn’t know what exactly the specific complications of it would be but we had–we started putting in multiplayer right after the Playtest Party and we had the demo with multiplayer at PAX East 2018.
That’s about six months later, I think we had multiplayer in the demo and it was still pretty rough around the edges–we had a lot of bugs in it and stuff, but yeah, it took us about six months to get the base of multiplayer and I’m really happy to get it. I really want to get the multiplayer in campaign working. We have to balance a lot of stuff in the single player first to get a good base for it before we start tweaking things for multiplayer. The difficulty is tough and the balancing stuff was different so we wanted to make sure we have all the pacing beats and stuff done first.
But whenever we get to that point where we’re in a good spot I’m really excited to start testing multiplayer. Erin and I play games like this together all the time and we haven’t been able to play the campaign together yet so I feel like even though we’ve been working on this game for 3½ years now, being able to play the campaign together will be, one of our dreams that we’ve had for a long time.
How close are you to that dream? What’s the status of Cosmo’s Quickstop currently?
It’s a tough question. Where we’re at is we have a great demo. It’s free to download and play, and we’re really confident in that. We have a lot of the content of the game done. There’s 19 different amenities, there’s 25 upgrades, there’s all these boss fights…we’re really spending time in the campaign making sure it’s right. It’s really hard for us to be like “It’s gonna take 2 months to make the campaign” , We don’t know how long it’s gonna take for us to get this done because it’s a lot of trying stuff, twiddling, tweaking, etc.
Pacing stuff, tweaking how we’re kind of letting you access the content in the game, how we deal with difficulty, how we give stressful situations to a player and stress relievers to a player– to get the player to be happy and having fun for like, ten hours.The demo is super fun and you can have a lot of fun there, but you know, you play it for half an hour or an hour you’re in a pretty good spot-you don’t need more Cosmo’s.
Your brain’s melted and you’re stressed out a little bit. We need to figure out how to make that campaign where you are still getting those really intense moments but we’re not overloading you. We’re really hoping for this year for sure but we’re not gonna release it until it’s good and we’re happy with it. It’d be great if it was this year. It’s one of those things that’s once we decide, once we find that the campaign is right and the pacing is right and the difficulty is right we can get the game out fairly quickly.
We can’t wait for that right moment!
Thanks so much to Ian Beckman of Big Sir Games for sitting down with us and talking. As we have been, we’ll continue to follow the progress of Cosmo’s Quickstop and look forward to the full release.
You can download the free demo for Cosmo’s Quickstop and starting stacking up COMBOOOs by clicking here.
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