Developer Interview: Krin
He’s dead. He’s green. He’s got abs you could wash your tattered post-apocalyptic gear on. For nearly a decade, Krin Juangbhanich’s Sonny has been one of Armor Games’ most instantly recogniseable zombie icons as the titular hero in Sonny and Sonny 2, a popular pair of turn-based Flash RPGs. With over ten million plays on Sonny since its release in 2007, and a whopping twenty four million plays on its sequel Sonny 2 since 2009, its clear that the series is packing some serious fan firepower. With Sonny due out later this year with an initial launch on iPhone and iPad, we snuck into Krin’s secret lair to talk to him about what it’s been like working on the series, and what’s in store for fans next.
The Sonny series is arguably one of the most popular titles on Armor Games. What’s it like to be responsible for that?
Krin: I’m really happy and feel lucky to be ‘responsible’ for something that a lot of people can enjoy. It gives me a lot of energy and motivation. Seeing people talk about ColdHydro builds, or share a strategy to beat the Baron, is really fun for me! At the same time, it is also a bit scary and nerve-racking too, especially when I’m working on a sequel. I feel in some ways I can never live up to everyone’s expectations. Now, I even have the players’ feedback and criticisms of the original games to help guide my work. It should be easy to impress everyone then, right? They basically already told me what to do.
But I think there’s more to it than that. I think people also want something else. Something unexpected, something they didn’t know to ask for. Essentially, I think the pressure of working on sequels comes from the hunt for this ‘thing.’
Working on a game more or less by yourself for most of your early development must have been a challenge. What is your process like when you start to work on a new game?
Krin: When I first started making games, I did work by myself for most of the development. But as time went on, more and more people started to get involved. I didn’t like it at first, that I had to put my trust in other people to execute my ideas. But now I realize, these people are far more capable and talented than I am, and I feel extremely lucky to have the chance to be working with and learning from them.
As for the process of starting work on a game, the first step is to get an empty notebook. You need a blank slate! I try to identify what it is I’m trying to do with the game. What kind of gameplay I want to express. At this stage I’m writing down all the things I enjoy from games I play, and all the things I’ve read about. I never try to design too closely to an already existing game. You’ll never match the original! Once I have some notes, I gradually begin to make playable prototypes to see how it all feels. Overall, I think this is the most exciting part of development!
Sonny 3 is probably one of the most requested and anticipated games in Armor Games history, even after seven years since Sonny 2. What sorts of things can fans look forward to in Sonny, and are there any big changes?
Krin: For me, the Sonny games have always been about the combat system. That was my primary focus for this game too. It’s not about exploring, or grinding up your level repetitively. It’s all about picking the right items, the right skills, the right teammates, and then making the right decisions in a fight to progress.
I’ve tried to keep it feeling similar to the original games, but I actually redesigned everything from scratch. Got rid of archaic elements that didn’t give me much value. Simplified other features, and added some new mechanics completely. I also wanted to use all the new things I’ve learnt, and push the gameplay to be worthy of a 2016 RPG. I don’t want to reveal too much about the gameplay and mechanics at this point. All I can say is that at the start, the game will feel very similar. But a few new elements will begin to unlock a couple of zones in, which will change the nature of the combat (and boss fights especially) quite significantly.
Unlike other games in the series, Sonny is at least initially going to be on mobile devices only. Were there any significant challenges or benefits in developing the game for touch screens instead of browsers?
Krin: Yes! The screen is so small, and I can no longer rely on a hover mouse to reveal information. There two things actually had a massive impact on how I thought about the game. I had to show information a lot more efficiently. I had to be more economical with both space and time.
This had cascading impact on EVERYTHING in the game! For example, I could no longer use paragraphs of text to explain a complicated skill, so I had to design a skill anyone could understand in 23 lines. But in order to maintain a good depth of gameplay, I had to make the combat mechanics a lot more intuitive and creative to compensate.
Now that Sonny is finally being finished off, what’s next for you? Do you have anything specific planned, or is there anything you might want to work on next?
Krin: I don’t have anything specific planned, but that’s not to say I’m short on ideas! I’m a huge fan of simulation and strategy games which I haven’t done in a while, so that might be the next thing. Also, I feel really excited about VR technology and would love to develop something for that platform as well.
Keep your eyes open for Sonny when it smashes onto iPhones and iPads later this year. Watch the Armor Games official Twitter and Facebook accounts for updates, and let us know what other platforms you think Sonny should potentially come to.
Writer: Dora Breckinridge / Dora has been writing about games for the better part of a decade, and playing them for even longer, using the glow of the monitor to keep her warm in the frozen wilds of her native Canada.