Andrew Brophy is an Australian game creator who has been working on small experimental games for a number of years but recently he committed to his biggest project yet. It’s called Knuckle Sandwich and it has been turning some heads, most likely due to its visual similarities to Earthbound, but also due to the playfulness of the world that Brophy has so far shown off.
Siliconera caught up with Brophy to find out more about Knuckle Sandwich as he’s working on it as details are quite scarce. You can find some info on its website and subscribe to the game’s newsletter but outside of that all we have to go on are the bizarre and wonderful images in the game’s devlog. That is, until now, as Brophy goes into what Knuckle Sandwich is all about below, surprising us by revealing it to be a personal game full of humor, surrealism, and unique turn-based battle mechanics.
Would it be right to compare Knuckle Sandwich to Earthbound? It shares a similar look and the setting and story doesn’t seem to be too light years away.
Andrew Brophy, designer: I think it’d be ridiculous for me to say that Earthbound doesn’t influence my work. Knuckle Sandwich does takes a lot of cues from that series, but I do think it’s mostly aesthetics. The story’s theme in Knuckle Sandwich is very different – it’s about trying to maintain balance between a regular everyday job and everything else that’s going on around you. I suppose it’s also about the Bystander Effect, in a way.
In that case, where did you get the ideas from when coming up with the story and characters in Knuckle Sandwich?
The story is actually based on my life! I had a string of not-so-great hospitality jobs in my late teens and it actually really inspired me to tell a story about it. On the surface, the plot is about a young man who moves out of home and gets a job at a run down diner. His boss it pretty terrible, so he does whatever is takes to keep him happy (and more importantly, keep his job). I feel this would be a relatable experience to most people, even if they’ve never worked in the food industry. While the character’s aren’t directly based on specific people (except the main character, of course), a lot of their behavior is inspired by things I’ve experienced. I’ve met a heap of ridiculous people in my life.
How open is the game world, then? Do you drive players to do anything in particular or just let them wander as they wish? As the main character has a job is there are a routine that needs to be stuck to, perhaps? In other words, how much freedom are you giving players to explore?
The game is separated into chapters with each one representing a day of the week. This means that every chapter starts with you getting up, going to work, and running through the same routine until it hits the evening. Once you’re free from work, the whole city is yours to explore! Maybe someone new checked in at the hotel and you can talk to them and find out their backstory and their motives? Maybe something happened at your local corner store while you were at work and you want to check it out?
I’ve been working hard to make a city that feels alive, even when you’re not there to experience it. At your job, it feels like the only thing you’re working towards is finishing for the night. When you leave, it’s as if everything has changed around you because you were stuck in a bubble. At that point, it’s up to the player to decide how much they want to see until they go to sleep and end the day.
Where does combat come into this? Who or what do you battle? And could you explain the battle mechanics – is there anything special or unique in there?
So, there’s another layer to the plot that goes a bit deeper than working a crumby job. Around the time the protagonist is employed, people from the neighbourhood start to mysteriously disappear. On top of that, members of a cult keep showing up to look for a person known as ‘The Number One’. So naturally, you have deal with all these fanatics who won’t leave you (or anyone else) alone until they achieve their goal – sometimes it gets messy!
In terms of the unique battle mechanics, I’m experimenting with a relationship system that alters character’s abilities and stat growth depending on how they feel about other members of the party. You change members all throughout the game, with the only permanent character on the roster being the protagonist, so it shakes things up every so often.
There are also combined battle skills between certain characters that are only available when certain relationship requirements are made – both positive and negative.
You’ve mentioned that a big aspect of Knuckle Sandwich is the humor. Why is it such a big part of the game? And what type of humor are you aiming to deliver?
For me, I think it’s the best way to project as much of my personality as possible into the game. If I’m being honest, I’d like to think I’m a funny person, and I think you can really get to know a lot about a game designer through the worlds they create, so it only feels natural. The game is very silly because I feel it reflects how I feel about me – I don’t take myself too seriously.
I feel as if it’s difficult for many videogames to be funny for people who don’t play them that often. I take this into account when I write for this game as I want to have a story with a dialogue that’s accessible to everyone who plays it and all types of audiences. For example, if it was a horror game, heaps of people would be too scared to finish it! That would suck because the ending is really good.
What feel are you trying to achieve with the game’s visuals and music? It seems that at least some of the game is intended to be surreal – how is this achieved aesthetically?
So, for visuals, I’ve been going for a style reminiscent of older games (like those from the Super Nintendo), but then adding even more colour and animation. I’ve aimed for this to feel like a lighthearted adventure game on the surface so that players get an even more powerful sense of melancholy as they progresses through the story. Like I said before, this game is very me, so I can’t make something that is 100% serious. Knuckle Sandwich is a fairly serious story dressed up as a silly RPG – but it’s still a good game that doesn’t mock the audience for playing it.
There are sections in Knuckle Sandwich where the protagonist is asleep and you play out small and surreal scenarios in his dreams. I’m a big fan of both David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, and I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the psychology of their films and how often confusing the spatial awareness of their sets are. For a videogame, it’s relatively easy to make an area that gets people lost and plays with their mind – making that an enjoyable or interesting experience is the hard part. It’s another challenge I’ve set up for myself with this project, and so far it’s working out.
You’ve worked on a number of games before but this one seems like it might be your biggest yet. Is that true? And why did you decide to work on a game like this now?
This is by far the biggest thing I’ve ever worked on! I’m usually very scatter-brained when it comes to making games… I’ll have several projects going at once and I’ll often spend a short amount of time on them before I wrap them up or decide they’re not worth finishing.
Knuckle Sandwich was different though. I had the idea years ago and I quickly made a flash prototype – I had originally planned on making it fairly small and seeking sponsorship for it. At the time, I had moved out of home and was working full time, so I didn’t have much time to dedicate to games at all. Even while everything was changing for me, this project stayed with me. It still felt like I was sitting on a really good idea (and one that was very personal to me).
The exact moment when I decided to pursue working on it and turning it into a fully fledged game was when I showed it at a games festival over here in Melbourne. People responded to it way better than I could have imagined and that’s when it was still a rough prototype! I knew at that point I was making something I would be very proud of, and it really clicked with people.
How are along into Knuckle Sandwich’s development are you? And what platforms are you hoping to bring it to?
This is a hard question to answer accurately. As the game is separated into chapters, I know how many there will be and how many I have finished. I also know how the game ends… But, because of the open nature of the game, there are many tangents in the design that I am working on that I feel I haven’t fully explored. I’m taking more of a gardener’s approach to making this game – I’ve planted the seeds, so I know what kind of tree I’ll have at the end, but I’m pruning anything that grows too far out of its confines so that it can truly flourish.
With that being said, from the current pace I am keeping at, 2016 feels very likely. I’m just not ready to commit to a date just yet.