Sword & Sworcery EP by Capy Games, Superbrothers and Jim Guthrie

Interview with
Kris Piotrowski
of Capy Games

Kris Piotrowski of Capy Games
Kris Piotrowski from the latest issue of Aviator & Beard Monthly (Photo by Mark Rabo)

You may not be aware of this, but Toronto has a very active game development scene. Sure, Montreal or Vancouver might spring to mind when you think of Canadian game studios, but don’t let our reputation fool you: Hogtown is on the rise. Thanks to strong government support and an energized community, Toronto is now poised to become the new hub for Canadian game development.

This series of interviews is intended to help you get to know the people who are making the Toronto video game scene what it is today. In this first part, Jonathan talks with Kris Piotrowski, co-founder and Creative Director of Toronto studio Capy Games. A Toronto studio that has come into its own over the past few years, with titles like Critter Crunch and Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes receiving critical acclaim.

Jonathan: Can you tell us about the founding of the Capy Games? And about the meaning of the name?

Kris: Capy was founded in 2003. It was started by a whole bunch of folks who met up on the Toronto IGDA forum. At that time, there’s wasn’t a heck of a lot of options for aspiring game makers, so a man named Bill started a thread called Toronto Game Initiative, What Do you bring to the table? It ended up being one of the longest threads in IGDA history (at the time), filled with hilarious amounts of nerd-rage and drama.  Eventually the TGI evolved into Capybara, and then years after Capybara metamorphasized into the beautiful butterfly that is Capy. The name means… Capybara Games. We changed it to Capy because that’s what we all called ourselves internally, and Capybara is hard to hear when you’re yelling at someone at a GDC party.

Jonathan: You were mentioned on a Game Developer magazine list of 20 companies to watch for in the coming year. How does it feel to be on a list like that?

Kris: Fucking awesome, man. Like, so fucking awesome. Actually, it’s humbling, shocking and kind of terrifying.

Capy founders Nathan Vella and Kris Piotrowski
Here is a photo of Kris whipping fellow Capy founder Nathan Vella with a switch. (Photo by Mark Rabo)

Jonathan: The list mentions that Capy supports a model of “creativity and sustainability.” What do they mean by that?

Kris: Our approach for the past seven years has been to work on original IP while also doing contract work to help pay the bills. We kind of lucked out with Clash of Heroes because it was a hybrid of our original puzzle-strategy concept with branded contract work. We also tend to work on at least two projects at once, so that helps us spread out the risk. It’s not really a genius idea, but we have always tried to have at least one project funded by a publisher and one project funded by the studio. It sounds like a simple plan, but that’s actually pretty damn hard to do. Going forward, just like everyone, we would love to work towards a Capy that is all original IP. It’s nice to have indie studios that have managed to prove that this kind of goal is attainable, like thatgamecompany, The Behemoth, and Q Games.

Jonathan: Critter Crunch won Best Downloadable Game and Best Handheld game at the Canadian Video Game Awards – where the lists of nominees was both large and full of quality titles. How does that feel? Is the fact that Critter Crunch is getting most of the attention a help or hindrance to your other games?

Kris: Winning those two awards was a tremendous honour. Plus, have you seen those awards? They are twice the size of my face and sharp enough to murder with. We’re very happy that Critter Crunch is getting a lot of attention, since it’s our main original game right now. It definitely isn’t a hindrance to our other games. If anything, it just brings more positive attention to our studio in general. We love that people love it.

Jonathan: Can you tell us a bit about Sword & Sworcery, to someone who hasn’t seen much of it yet?

Kris: Sure! Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is what you would get if you mixed 3 parts classic adventure game with 1 part Rock and Roll, 1 part pagan rituals and 1 part psychedelic drugs. It’s a beautiful, dreamy little place inside your iPhone.

Jonathan: How did you get together with Superbrothers for the project?

Kris: Nathan and I randomly met Mr. Craig D. Adams at a party at 1UP headquarters during GDC. We were GDC-style drunk and Nathan yelled “WE HAVE TO MAKE A GAME TOGETHER!!” at his face for about half an hour while we waited for Matthew Kumar to finish his infamous “I don’t want to talk about boners, I want to talk about feelings” 1UP podcast. Craig said “Ok.”

Sword & Sworcery EP
Sword & Sworcery EP (click to enlarge)

Jonathan: It’s called an EP, and features music from Jim Guthrie. What prompted the musical focus of the game?

Kris: Before Sword & Sworcery, Craig and Jim collaborated on a couple of projects, including an incredible video called The Children of The Clone. When we started talking to Craig about collaborating, he suggested Jim and, of course, since we were long-time Jim Guthrie fans already, we jumped on the idea. The “EP” refers to two things: The first is game length and the second is the importance of the audio experience. We always aimed to create a shorter, but highly polished and deep game experience that is infused, inspired and enforced by Jim’s amazing music.

Jonathan: What can you tell us about Heartbeat. It looks like it pays homage to old pixel-art gaming like some of your other titles.

Kris: Right now I can’t say too much about the game since it’s still in progress and we have been focusing almost all of our energy on finishing Clash of Heroes HD and Sword & Sworcery. The art style is inspired by dot matrix displays, rather than pixel art specifically. Our goal with that game is to create a very slick, fast-paced music-based arcade-y experience build specifically for motion controllers. We’ll be revealing more about it just a bit after our current batch is done-done.

Jonathan: You are giving a presentation at Gamercamp this weekend, what can we expect?

Kris: Jim, Craig and I will be showing some gameplay from Sword & Sworcery, and talking a bit about the project’s genesis. We’re mostly focusing on the use of music in the game. It should be pretty cool, so YOU should come (talking to the reader of this interview). Also, Gamercamp is an amazing thing in general and I really hope a lot of people make it out. Jamie Woo and Mark Rabo have organized an amazing event line-up this year. Plus Anamanaguchi is going to rock our brainssss!

Kris Piotrowski and Jon Mak
Here is photo of Kris watching Jon Mak (Everyday Shooter) eat a popsicle. (Photo by Mark Rabo)

Jonathan: How do you view the current game development scene in Toronto? Does the community influence the way that Capy makes games in any way?

Kris: The indie community in Toronto is, quite frankly, really amazing. They are, without question, a huge huge huge influence on Capy. I can say this with 100% honesty: Capy would not be the studio it is today (or trying to be) without the inspiration we got from folks like Metanet, Queasy Games, RSBLSB, Superbrothers, Hand Eye, etc. etc. etc. Four years ago, we were a totally different studio and our friends really helped us do a major course correction. It seems like the scene is getting bigger and better every year, which is amazing.

Jonathan: Did you grow up here as well, and if not where are your roots?

Kris: As for me, my roots are quite boring: I was born in Poland, moved to Toronto when I was 5, then moved to Mississauga (ugggh), then moved back to Toronto (yay!) for university and have lived in Toronto ever since.  I met Nathan Vella and Anthony Chan while studying at Ryerson, Image Arts and we went on a spiritual quest (road trip) to GDC after graduation: Make Games or DIE kind of thing. Luckily we only almost died three times on the trip, but never actually fully died.

Jonathan: Where do you see your career in the next five to ten years, whether it’s with Capy games or not?

Kris: I pray to the Game Gods that I’ll still be rocking it at Capy with all the Capy-folk. Capy is my baby and I have no plans to be a deadbeat dad and abandon it, ever. Nay, I want to nourish it into a successful, self-actualizing and good-looking adult. And then I’m going to sell it to Zynga! ZoinksS$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!!

Jonathan: What games have you been playing recently – both from small/independent, and more mainstream, perspectives?

Kris: Right now I’m playing, ahem, Super Meat Boy, Fallout: New Vegas, Red Dead Undead Nightmare, Petri Purho’s Maze of Space, which is amazing. I’m a huge roguelike fan (thanks in part to Raigan Burns), so Maze of Space is my latest fix. Before that, I was playing the living shit out of Cladun and give that game a million thumbs up. I’m also playing a lot of Awesome Solitaire on the toilet.

Jonathan: What’s on your Dork Shelf?

Kris: Necromunda figurines, Warhammer 40k figurines, a Vectrix, Twilight Zone action figures, TNG phaser + tricorder replicas, Star Trek The Next Generation complete episode guide, THE ENTIRE VIZBIG SERIES OF DRAGONBALL Z, and, of course, a disgusting amount of video games. At one point, I was the Necromunda Champion at the Games Workshop in Square One, Mississauga…. sooo… yeah. On my desk at Capy, I am surrounded by a small army of action figures (including my prized possession: Gold Lightan) and guns.