The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Wyv and Keep

Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We believe they deserve a wider audience with the Joystiq Indie Pitch: This week, the happy crew from Jolly Corpse describes the joy of retro co-op on modern machines with Wyv and Keep.

The Joystiq Indie Pitch Wyv and Keep

What's your game called and what's it about?

Jesse: Wyv and Keep is a 2D platform-puzzler starring two rookie treasure hunters. It's packed with team-based puzzles where you must use both characters to unlock and reach a door to the next level. You can play solo, switching between the two, or cooperatively, locally on one computer, or online.

It's also full of adventure, twitch-action and comedy. You'll be dodging poison darts, snakes and spear-throwing pygmies, leaping over spike traps and pits of lava, and using TNT to blast through crumbling walls and floors. All the while you'll be entertained by the looney antics and witty banter of adventure-loving Wyv and cunning Keep!

David: It's about getting really frustrated with the person playing with you – or, if you are that person, it's about repeatedly making ever-so-slight mis-steps to wind up your partner.

What's the coolest aspect of Wyv and Keep?

Beau: People have compared Wyv and Keep to things like The Lost Vikings, Spelunky and Sokoban, and while it certainly shares things with each of these games, the real differences are clear in the multiplayer environment. All the symbiosis and forethought are out the window, and it's more of an exercise in communication and teamwork. Players have to work together to win, and this requires planning and execution that are unique challenges a single player puzzle game doesn't have. And even the best planning can go wrong when one player decides to start throwing the other into pits of snakes.

David: I'm most fond of the interaction between the two characters, both dialogue and in-game. The two-character co-op puzzle dynamic is not very common, and I enjoy the banter between the two – I imagine similar conversations will happen on the other side of the screen as well.

Jesse: We've gotten no greater joy than watching two friends play together, screaming at each other about where to push a box or at each other's throats when one bites the bucket, until they finally find the solution, all is forgiven, and there are hugs for everyone.

How did being in the Indie Royale bundle help your sales or visibility?

Jesse: Indie Royale was an amazing experience for us and we're grateful to the whole team. It helped our sales for months after and pushed us into the public eye. Particularly we got many emails from couples who were enjoying playing the game together after the bundle was finished, and we loved hearing this. But Wyv and Keep is still a tiny dot in the massive landscape gaming has grown into and we're hoping it finds its real audience on Steam and Xbox when it's officially released in the coming weeks.

What inspired you to make Wyv and Keep?

David: A lack of any sort of proper career guidance in my teenage years.

Jesse: Beau and I always had a blast playing games together while in high school and college, and Wyv and Keep's original local control scheme directly spawned from something we used to do in Team Fortress Classic, where one of us would man the keyboard and control movement, and the other would use the mouse and control weapons and firing direction. This was fairly silly, but we always had tons of fun (and were fairly deadly!).

Beau: But co-op gaming in general was an inspiration. In addition to TFC, Jesse and I burned countless hours into games like Twisted Metal 2 and even Red Faction, where we would heavily adapt the rules of combative conduct to make things interesting. We knew that we wanted to create something that two people could play together in-person and have a great and unique experience doing so.

"We've gotten no greater joy than watching two friends play together, screaming at each other about where to push a box or at each other's throats when one bites the bucket, until they finally find the solution, all is forgiven, and there are hugs for everyone."

- Jesse Bull, Jolly Corpse

How long did Wyv and Keep take to create?

Jesse: It's actually been something like ten years in the making. It hasn't been in development for that entire time of course, but Beau and I thought up the idea and started work on the first version of the game back in college using Multimedia Fusion. It was an even more retro-throwback then, with a strict grid movement, little to no animation and even ripped Atari sound effects.

Beau: The original version also took place in a castle, but we ran into programming difficulties and it ended up being shelved. Several years later, in 2009, Wyv and Keep was started fresh with a modern feel. We brought David on board, did away with the grid-based restraints, and gave it a 16-bit graphic tuneup. We also eventually did away with the castle and moved the game's setting to the jungles of Amazonia. All in all it's been about a three-year development process since we restarted.

Jesse: And of course we all still have full-time jobs.

David: Making WNK has been long and exhausting, and it's very satisfying to be reaching the end of it, because we've all been wnking for almost three years now.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?

Jesse: At this point we'd be harder-pressed to think of a reason to work for an established company, really. None of us are interested in having bosses or answering to higher-ups anymore. Beau and I are 30 years old and have done that for many years. Plus, I don't think any of us are interested in working on tiny aspects of a AAA title or being part of a huge team. As things progress, we might go slightly bigger – we could definitely use a second and third programmer – but it's great being a small team because each person is indispensable and has a huge say in how the game should be designed. And everyone who wants to make games, whether artist, coder, mapper, what have you, everyone wants to be a game designer. Now we each get to be.

David: Working for an established company would do terrible things to my debilitating Starcraft addiction. I'm not even that good as it is.

The Joystiq Indie Pitch Wyv and Keep

Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?

Jesse: With some notable exceptions, the quality of big, mainstream games seems to be falling these days. We've always been huge fans of what smaller, independent game devs come up with, and at this point I think they're completely trouncing the big guys. There are people doing amazing things in experimental gameplay and art, and also some awesome retro stuff that reminds us of the glory days of SNES and PSX. It's our dream to contribute to that, and make our mark in the game world.

Beau: There has been a lot of emphasis on creating indie games as art, and while those games are very good, we're a lot more interested in bringing back the glory days of small gaming firms. Not too long ago, all of gaming shared a lot in common with today's indie scene. Developers were taking a lot of risks and working in small teams, both of which we can relate to strongly. In a lot of ways, now is a perfect time to live out the experiences of our childhood heroes.

Sell Wyv and Keep in one sentence:

Co-op gaming back at its brain-melting best!

What's next?

Beau: Next projects are very much still on the back burner. Wyv and Keep is close to completion and we don't want to rob it of any of our attention. In the final stretch, it's essential that all the parts come together how we envisioned them. Especially while we're fleshing out the online mode, which is finally starting to work nicely. We consider the online gameplay to be one of the most important features of the game, so we don't want to shorthand it.

Jesse: But, that being said... We are dabbling with a couple smaller projects before we likely go on to another larger game. First up is a twitch platformer you should be seeing on XBLIG soon, and other platforms soon after.

Wyv and Keep is available as a preview on Desura or its main website for the discounted price of $8, which includes a full copy of the game at launch, the soundtrack and complete level editor, among other goodies. As the Jolly Corpse boys say, it's heading to Steam and Xbox Live soon.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.