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GEEKED: FIST PUNCH

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From deep in the bowels of the independent game developing community come two heroes, Jake Lewandowski and Matthew Kain.

This deadly duo of game programmers recently fist-punched their way through the grueling “Next Game Boss” competition. You can find the whole series on YouTube, or you can skip directly to Jake and Matt’s gruesome victory as their sidescroller “Washington’s Wig” takes the finish:

These two code-slinging death machines are known as “Team 2bit” of 2bit Games, and they were kind enough to sit down and offer us some golden rings of wisdom about game design and the future of “Fist Punch,” their mano-a-mano haymaker title.

So, you’ve survived “The Next Game Boss,” the game developer equivalent of Thunderdome. What’s next for you guys?

JAKE: Right now our main project is our pixel art beat ‘em up Fist Puncher. It’s been in development for about 18 months, and we’re trying to capitalize on the momentum from winning the Next Game Boss to drive it through to completion.  The whole reason we went on the show was to draw attention to Fist Puncher, so now we’re really focused on finishing it.  Right now it’s slated for a release on PC and Xbox Live Indie Games, but we’d also love to find a publisher and get it out to a wider audience.

“We do have a slight detour over the next month, which is to polish up the Next Game Boss winning game Washington’s Wig for release.”

We’re just adding a few more touches to get it where we want it and make it run on multiple platforms, and then it’s out the door and back to Fist Puncher.

Can we find you at the Penny Arcade Expo this week? If so, what’s your agenda there?

MATT: I will be attending PAX this week.  At present, I have a pretty loose schedule, but I’m planning to spend some time with Kickstarter.  Kickstarter will be taking over Room 103 of the Boston Convention Center and turning it into the official Kickstarter Arcade where they will be talking about and showing off Kickstarter projects.  They were receptive to squeezing in some time and space for us so we can show off Fist Puncher and talk to people about our current Kickstarter campaign.

“Otherwise, I’m really looking forward to just playing games and meeting people.”

Your Kickstarter campaign is underway! Can you tell us a little about that? What can contributors to the fund expect in return?

JAKE: We’re doing a Kickstarter to fund the completion of Fist Puncher.  So far all the time we’ve put into the game have been unpaid, so we had to work day jobs to pay the bills.  We’re trying to raise $10,000 so Matt can quit his job and focus all his time on making sure the game gets finished by the end of the summer.  It will also allow us to take advantage of the space we have at IGN’s Indie Open House in San Francisco. Matt will be able to move to the city and set up an office there while I hold down the fort in Santa Cruz. We’re rewarding people who donate with copies of Fist Puncher and Washington’s Wig.

“At higher tiers you can also appear in the game as a pixel art version of yourself, whether as a bystander, a boss or a fully playable version of yourself, complete with your own set of moves and special attacks.”

You can even hire us to make a game for you, based on on your idea, but in our style. You can check it out here for all the exciting details.

What’s the scene like in the indie games sphere right now? Is the competition fierce, or is there a sense of camaraderie among indie game developers?

“The indie scene is an extremely cooperative community.”

MATT: So far we’ve seen far more sharing and collaborating than feuding and competing.  We’re relatively new to the scene (we’ve been somewhat isolated living in Santa Cruz, California), but we’ve been impressed at how welcoming everyone that we’ve met has been.  We recently joined IGN’s Indie Open House (one of the prizes for winning the Next Game Boss) along with Wolfire Games, Misfits Attic, Interabang, Cryptic Sea, and Primer Labs and everyone immediately treated us like a couple of old friends.  In fact, we even got a bunch of indie developers to help promote our Kickstarter campaign with a short Youtube video.

“Hard to complain about people going out of their way to promote your fundraising campaign.”

The characters in Fist Punch are unique and full of personality. How will their unusual backgrounds be represented in the game--any special attacks or cool moves to share?

JAKE:We definitely try to embody each character with some unique moves that bring out their personality. We have O’Grady, a violent ex-cop who has a penchant for tasering perps and the occasional curb-stomping. Steroid Jackson is our tank character, so he’s got an assortment of lifting and wrestling type moves.  One of my personal favorites is Hella Fistgerald, a derby girl whose just as likely to lay someone out with an uppercut as she is to plant a kiss on them and convince them to switch sides and help her out.

One character we didn’t expect to play such a large role is the Beekeeper.  He was initially added to the game after I had a real life run-in with a bee infestation in my house and had to call an apiary to remove them.  As soon as we put him in the game players seemed to fall in love with the idea of being able to throw bees at your enemies and eventually control a vast swarm that does most of the fighting for you.

“You don’t see enough street fights that involve bees now that colony collapse has become such a problem.”

If you guys pull off your fundraising goal, how will Fist Punch improve?

MATT: In its current state, Fist Puncher makes for a very fun, enjoyable experience, but there several areas that still need polish and improvement.  First, the boss battles need to be more memorable.  Currently the bosses are somewhat generic.

“We”ve already started working on some more interesting boss characters like Nurse Kung-Fu (Dr. Karate’s nemesis) and Joseph Kony (yup, that Kony),”

but with over 30 playable levels we still have a considerable amount of work to do to improve the bosses.  Second, we want to make the levels less “flat.”  We feel our levels are currently rich with visuals and unique locales, but they could be diversified by adding platforming elements, obstacles, traps or by designing them to require a tad more strategy.  Third, we want to add more unlockables and a reward system.  For example, we’re mapping out a set of digital trading cards similar to the character cards that can be found on our website.  Or another example is adding more hidden characters.  Dogsworth McFreedom from Washington’s Wig might make an appearance along with some characters from other indie games.

Does Washington ever get his wig back in Washington’s Wig, or is it like Ski Free, which condemns you to wander the ice forever?

JAKE: The different versions of Washington’s Wig will have some slight variation.  At some point there will be a browser release that’s pretty similar to what we had on the show, a running platformer divided up into stages that gradually increase in difficulty.  The full PC release that we’re giving away as the Kickstarter incentive will have more features than that, with some extra modes and depth.  In both versions there will be a way to return the wig and save the day though, we don’t want to leave America hanging.

Will Dr. Karate recant the Hippocratic Oath?

MATT: I’d say once you smash a street punk in the face with a shovel, throw a smart car at a group of thugs, or knock someone out with a Karate Kid crane kick, you’ve pretty much tossed the Hippocratic Oath out the window.  He might not be the guy you want to see when entering the operating room, but you sure as hell want him on your side in a cult headquarters battle, a prison riot, or a laundromat brawl -- all fun things you can be a part of in Fist Puncher!

You can find Matt and Jake on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Follow them or donate for more fist-punching action.

Kapow!

About PAUL SPEARS

Peddler of vernacular, seer of yammering. Emerson College student, columnist and feature writer. Goals: Nebulous. Motivation: High.
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