Interview with Isai Oviedo (Level Designer at Skyjoy Interactive)

Isai Oviedo is a level designer on one of the most interesting upcoming mobile games - Super Kid Cannon. Isai shares his thoughts on his work, the process of game development in general and gives a few tips to an aspiring indie game developer.

Isai Oviedo Level Designer at Skyjoy Interactive

Skyjoy Interactive was started by Abdulhady Taher and Alex/Miguel Portilla in 2012 in Miami, FL. Both of the Portilla brothers have 20 years of experience in games development in studios like EA for games like Madden, Lord of the Rings, and James Bond. They're tackling the mobile market because its where the majority of the gaming base has migrated to.
Isai says about his role of a Level Designer in the company: "It's a department that the average player doesn't think about, but it goes without saying that level design is incredibly important! A game can have great graphics, great music, and great coding, but if its not fun...who's going to play it? My job is basically to make the game fun. But it takes time, because we've been in development for almost a year and a half now, but we're pretty confident with the game's quality so we're pretty close to release."

What is your favorite game platform to play and name some of your favorite video games? How have they influenced you?

I'm an old school Nintendo gamer, for sure. NES and SNES are my favorite systems. My favorite game of all time is Super Mario Bros 3. I've played nearly every Mario, Zelda, Kirby, Metroid game since then.

At what point did you become interested in game development?

I've always done level design for fun. I used to love messing with a Super Mario World level editor called Lunar Magic. I've made levels in Little Big Planet, Minecraft adventure maps, and pretty much any game with a built-in level editor. 2 years ago I got the offer here in my home town, Miami. I don't have prior professional training in this field, but I did take several years of Graphic Design and Fine Arts courses, which definitely helped me get my foot in the door.

Where did the concept for Super Kid Cannon come from?

The founders wanted to create a game reminiscent of their childhood classics, Mario and Donkey Kong, but they also wanted to create a new style of gameplay, so we slowly developed it from the idea of shooting out of a cannon.

How did you come up with the idea of a Vertical Launcher?

The game in its first stages was a completely different idea called Bedtime Monsters, where you used a similar launching mechanic. The concept was scrapped, but they kept the shooting mechanic from the very beginning.

At what point did you decide to make it a free-to-play game?

Right from the get go, we saw how free-to-play games overcame one of the biggest obstacles for gamers: Getting the game into their hands. We knew that if people took the chance to play the game, they'd be hooked.

How would you describe the development process?

First, Management decides on a new enemy, mechanic, level. Second, its simultaneously split between an engineer and an artist. Third, when the coding and art are done, the level designer implements it to the level. Fourth, the bug testers check to see if theres any code/visual/design problems with it. Fifth, if there are problems (there always are), it goes back to the engineer or artist of designer. It goes back and forth between the testers and the others until it gets the final okay from management.
Phew, its just as exhausting to go through as it is to describe. Hehehe.

Skyjoy Interactive team

Have you experienced any unique challenges in the development process?

Plenty! For me as a designer, the biggest challenge has to be designing for a game without an establish genre to borrow directly from. You have to find the right balance of risk, reward, exploration, puzzle-solving, and face-paced action. You want every level to feel new and different. When you have 30 levels that are each longer than the last, it takes a lot of trial and error to come up with new gameplay constantly. Thankfully, when I'm stumped, the lead designer, Javier, and I bounce back ideas with each other.

Best and worst aspects of developing games - what are they and why?

The best aspect is the creative freedom. Theres a big collaborative team effort, and we're always bouncing ideas off of each other with a lot of talented artists, engineers, and designers.
The worst aspect, if you can call it bad, is just that it takes a lot of hard work. There's fun to be had throughout, but if you want to meet deadlines and get the game out there, you have to give 110%. Before this I never knew just how much work goes into making a game!

What is the best reward about creating games?

The best reward is watching other people play the levels I designed! Creating the levels is super fun, and you always hope people will appreciate the crazy obstacles you set up, but to see people actually playing and enjoying it for the first time is my favorite part.

What advice would you give to upcoming indie game developers?

Make sure you have a solid plan before you start. Preproduction is when you sit with your creative team and plan every detail. But besides that, allow the plan to organically change as the process goes on. Things that look good on paper don't always work well in the game.
Oh, and beware of Feature Creep! Feature Creep is when a game, in pursuit of being better and having more content, endlessly adds things to delay it. Make sure you know when to call your game finished!
And lastly, just play-test the game a lot with different groups of people: young, old, casual, hardcore. See what people enjoy and what they don't. In the end, you're making it for their enjoyment, that's what counts.

What are your plans for the future?

We're planning on releasing more content for Super Kid Cannon once its launched, and that'll require new levels to design!

What are your favorite current games on the market?

Although I enjoy the occasional mobile game, I'm a console/PC gamer through and through. I love Super Mario 3D World on Wii U, Zelda: Link Between Worlds on 3DS, Battlefield 4 on PC, and I'm eagerly awaiting Dark Souls 2 on PS3.

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