An Interview with Onion Force Developer, Queen Bee Games

4 months after the birth of their first child, husband and wife team Steve and Kathleen Cassidy started – out of the blue – talking about creating their own video game. Steve had just finished up a contract working with Disney whilst Kathleen was still on maternity leave. If you’re anything like us, we also have these dreams, dreams long since abandoned because at the end of the day we’re just too damn lazy to see them through. Unlike us, Steve and Kathleen drove through their dream and are – if greenlit in time – less than a week away from releasing their first game, Onion Force on Steam followed by iOS and Android versions in the coming month.

Onion Force still needs to be accepted on Steam Greenlight, so if you like the game, please help Steve and Kathleen out by voting ‘Yes’ on the Onion Force Steam Greenlight page.

Onion Force is a hybrid Action Adventure/Tower Defense game in which you’re attempting to save the last king from impending doom. We got to play the demo and I can tell you – that impending doom comes all too often. It’s challenging but a ton of fun. Check out Dieonik’s Let’s Play to get a feel for the game:

We got to know Steve and Kathleen a little better and discussed the formation of Queen Bee Games and their turbulent journey in developing Onion Force.

First of all, we read that you’re both gamers and that at least one of you (Kathleen) grew up playing NES and pinball machines. So, what’s your favourite pinball machine from your childhood?

Steve The Who’s Tommy I’d say. I don’t know if I was a pinball wizard, or maybe the dip switches were set to easy, but I used to win a whole heck of a lot of free games on it.

Kathleen I would say a toss-up between one with a Circus theme and King Kong.

The Who’s Tommy pinball machine

And your favourite consoles or gaming platform?

Steve Tough one, I’d say NES I suppose, it really lined up with a key time in my life. It was so much more impressive than the 2600, and had a great library with such a broad range of games in pretty much every genre. It was strong everywhere.

Kathleen Super Nintendo, I remember having the most fun on this system. Second up would be PC.

And before we move on from the serious questions, do you both have an all-time-favourite game?

Steve I’d have to say the original Dragon Warrior for the NES. There is something so strong about the look and feel and just the general tone of that world that really resonated with me. Despite the age and small scope of the game, it’s one that I’m confident that I will play to completion every year or two for the rest of my life.

Kathleen I am far from a hardcore gamer, especially now with the amount of spare time that I have. I have had many favourites over the years, but right now at this time, I really want to play Hot Shots Golf.

Okay, let’s get down to the gritty stuff. How did Queen Bee get off the ground?

Kathleen After discussing the idea of creating our own games, I discovered a local program that would provide you a year of Unemployment Insurance to help you get your business up and running – if you proved to them that you had a viable business/product. So I did a ton of research and prepared our first ever business plan and we got approved. We have never looked back since…well maybe a couple times…

Being a husband and wife team must have come with its own challenges – how difficult is it to find the correct balance between working together and still maintaining your personal lives?

Kathleen There has definitely been a challenge separating the two worlds, especially running the business from inside of our home. We have two kids under 3 which makes it even more challenging. We have adjusted our lives to deal with everything in the most efficient way possible. Steve works nights, and I work whenever I have spare moments during the day, and in the evenings. The kids keep us in check, so our whole lives have not been taken over & consumed by the work. There is always something we could be working on.

Steve It’s definitely something that we need to work around. I ended up working nights, trying to get anything accomplished while kids are awake was proving to be next to impossible, so the change was absolutely necessary.

With just two of you forming Queen Bee Games, how do your balance the work load?

Steve We have specific roles, essentially I make the game, and Kathleen does everything else. Sometimes we poke our noses where they don’t belong, and that can lead to friction, but we try to keep the stepping on each other’s toes to a minimum.

Kathleen Steve is all game dev, art, animations- basically the game.

Me- everything else- from QA/testing to business stuff, ie: production, grant proposal writing, marketing, partnership relationships, and I just adore providing creative input wherever I can.

And in terms of starting up and running your own studio, what have been the biggest challenges that you’ve faced?

Steve Everything was a challenge. We were experiencing everything for the first time, and what we were expecting was rarely what occurred. It’s a steep learning curve, and a lot of trial and error is involved. It seemed like unexpected problems lied around every turn.

Kathleen Nailed it. The current major challenge has been our Greenlight campaign, and being worried about not being able to launch in time. We have only had around just over 1500 people view our greenlight page with around half saying yes, and half saying no. We need more views, and more votes as we are entirely gridlocked! Without any more votes who knows how long it will take to get greenlit.

Two days after we launched our campaign we were informed that we had to change the name of our game due to potential trademark issues. So we went for a week with our former name as a working title, and our marketing was put on immediate standstill. This I believe may have majorly affected the lack of eyeballs on our game. Now we are stuck with no visibility, unless we get new coverage, be it Let’s play videos or articles such as this. The greenlight system is really rough…there needs to be changes made, or awesome games will continue to get drowned out by the mass amounts of poor quality games sent through on a daily basis. There needs to be some curation done- or have a tier system of quality? Something.

Has there been other major difficulties that you’ve had whilst developing Onion Force?

Steve It’s not really like that, the biggest challenge was all the challenges. There was no challenge in particular that stands head and shoulders above the other challenges, it has been 2 steps forward, 1 step back then entire way. I guess you could say the biggest challenge was simply hanging in there, just riding out all the storms as they presented themselves.

Was there any point where you almost gave in?

Steve Early on in the process, we had seemed to pass this imaginary threshold. It was a subconscious point of no return. There were many times where I wished I could quit, but it simply was no longer an option at that point.

Was there big inspiration to create video games from somewhere in particular?

Steve I think it’s the type of thought that most gamers have entertained at one point or another. I had left my job and had some time on my hands, so I figured I would see what I could come up with. I didn’t know the first thing about the process, so I just started googling solutions to the various problems from the ground up. I think the first thing I googled was “make man move”!

Kathleen It just made sense for us to jump into games. We both had skills & experience that fit together perfectly to form a company and make some awesome games. It happened super organically and honestly sometimes we are like ‘huh? How did this even happen?’

We had a blast playing the Onion Force demo but despite simple controls, we found it to be pretty challenging – was that an original aim of the game or something that simply happened?

Steve It was an original aim. I tried to make a game for the player, a lot of thought and testing goes into making the right decision to cater to how the average player might prefer and/or expect things. In the case of the challenge, this was a personal and deliberate choice, I like a game that kicks my ass, and that is what I wanted to make.

The game seems ideally suited to being played on mobile devices – is that a strong focus for Queen Bee Games?

Steve We wanted the project work on a multitude of platforms, we had to come up with something that would maximize potential, while not needing massive overhauls for each platform. The controls have actually been changed since the demo that you played, we had some testing done and the idea that the new control system is much better seems universal.

Kathleen Our strategy all along was to launch our games cross-platform. It’s interesting because we both don’t have a mass amount of mobile gaming behind us, so it always surprises us that it ‘feels’ so mobile. We tried to make the controls to be ported more easily from platform to platform. We have just tweaked the controls on the PC version of the game, due to some feedback from Let’s Players and they are much better now.

What other games played a role in the inspiration for Onion Force?

Steve As I mentioned above with Dragon Warrior, I think that game really found its way into the heart of Onion Force. I tried to recreate the sense of wonder and the atmosphere that I find in that game. Otherwise, there are a lot of things I drew from other games, Diablo, a bit of Dynasty warriors, a lot of influence that is in there that is not obvious. I could mention a bunch of games that are influences, but people would not understand since how their influence is in there can be quite abstract. To me there is a hint of Maniac Mansion in there, anyone else would call me crazy.

Steve has an impressive background in the animation industry having worked with Disney, MGM, and BBC to name a few – is there a greater sense of freedom in working for yourself?

Steve Yeah, it’s kinda scary actually. Going from a single cog in a machine, to all of a sudden being every cog in the machine is quite daunting, as well as having a very nice sense of freedom.

Do you have any advice for would-be developers reading?

Steve Clear your mind of the idea that you know what to expect. Take your estimated production time, and triple it. Be prepared for a life filled with extreme highs, and extreme lows, they come fast and furious. Don’t underestimate the challenge, plan for the worst, stick to your guns, know your limitations, and work with them.

At the time of this interview, the anticipated release of Onion Force is just a few days away – do you already know what your next project will be?

We’ve got a few things up our sleeves we are not ready to discuss yet. We will keep you posted!

Thank you so much guys, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you both. Good luck with the release!

Onion Force is due for release on 7th January 2016 on PC, with iOS and Android coming along a little later. There are also further plans to release it on other platforms but nothing concrete as of yet.

We’d love to see this get greenlit as soon as possible – our vote is in the bag – and we’d love for you to do the same. Head over to Steam now if you’d like to see the game get accepted.

Post nutured to Life By:

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Ben Palmer

Birth Weight: 10lbs

Ben is a peanut butter enthusiast. Web Developer by day. Web Developer by night. The rest of his time is spent web developing. A sucker for a good narrative, his favourite games are usually story and character driven affairs. Nic Cage sympathiser.

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