Q&A with Starlab Games, makers of Repugnant Bounty!

Plus, new screenshots and music from the game

While writing up last week’s post on the Kickstarter for Repugnant Bounty, a new Metroidvania-like for Game Boy, I was able to get in touch with the developers at Starlab Games. They graciously agreed to answer some questions I sent over, and provided some brand-new music and screenshots (in color!)

I had the pleasure of hearing from Starr (founder), Taiki, Quait, and Colonel Panic. Their in-depth and thoughtful answers give a deep insight into the process behind bringing Repugnant Bounty to life. Check it out below!


Thank you for agreeing to this Q&A! Please tell me about Starlab Games: who are you and how did you get started?

Starr: “Starlab was named after a comic I drew a couple years ago called ‘SLAB!’ It wasn’t very good and the art in it was less than stellar. However, the name ‘SLAB!’ stuck with me, and I eventually ended up extending that name to ‘Starlab’ for the name of the team.

I personally started working on another game called ‘LUNA’, but ended up canceling it along with a Game Boy demake of Cave Story because of hardware limitations and various other issues.”

Where did the idea for Repugnant Bounty originate?

Starr: “I had just recently started playing my first Metroid game: Metroid II on my DMG. Even though I hadn’t even beaten the game yet, I knew that this was what I wanted to really make, though at that time I didn’t even understand that the earthquakes in Metroid II signified that the poison water had cleared an opening for a new area in the surface area…

So basically, the design and game play of Repugnant Bounty is how I thought Metroid II worked at that time, which I think gives it some of it’s own personality when compared to the source material.”

You’ve given me some new screenshots from the game. How is it adapting art and spritework for the Game Boy? Do you find the limitations enjoyable or a burden?

Taiki: “Honestly, I think doing spritework and adapting art for the Game Boy is very, very fun with the limits, and since my art gets featured in the game, it’s very enjoyable. Color limits are fun usually.”

Quait: “I find that limiting yourself to 4 colors, the standard for a classic game boy palette, is great for someone like me who is a relative amateur at pixel art. Because of the limitations, I felt like it was easier for me to simply ‘jump in’ to spriting. When I have too many options, I tend to get locked with indecisiveness, but with creative freedom and the palette and resolution limitations, I ended up doing much better than I expected. I would recommend using GBA-style pixel art to hone in your skills — after you’re comfortable with that, it’s easier to increase the resolution and expand your palette.”

Starr: “The system we have set up for NPCs, enemies, and target enemies are completely different. I do all the characters and NPCs myself to keep it consistent, Quait and Taiki both did some regular enemies, but for the target enemies (the ones required to progress in the game) I thought it would be an interesting idea to make them have the aesthetic of a drawing. Converting those drawings to actual sprites has definitely been the most challenging part of development so far. I find myself running out of frames rather quickly and have to do some serious trickery to get everything working.”

The music in the Kickstarter trailer was rockin’! Can you tell me more about the audio side of Repugnant Bounty?

Colonel Panic: “Ah, the music! The soundtrack actually all started as a piece that Starr wanted me to write to demonstrate my skills. Apparently, he seemed to like what I cobbled together after a few hours (and after a compiler blunder of sorts due to MilkyTracker being picky), so we decided to roll with it. In fact, a direct variant of the original piece is the music for Irulia. The Irulian leitmotif could be heard throughout most of the pieces in the game (except some incidental music such as the boss music and the like).

“Irulia Theme” from Repugnant Bounty

The Irulian tune (and, by extent, the Irulian leitmotif) was originally composed in G minor, though technically uses a D scale in Phrygian mode. The original tune’s Bass is also in D Phrygian, resting typically on a D or Eb to create dissonance and unease, something which I think should be common in this stye of a metroidvania game. However, with some simple tweaking, I was able to transpose the theme and fit different chords under it. Lochiru, for example, constantly switches from F# Major to F minor in the Intro, A, and B sections, until it switches to Bb-minor, C#-major (second inversion), F#-major, then F-sus4 to F-major, all under a new melody. I was also able to have the leitmotif fit under a i-VI-VII-V progression in the key of D minor for the next.

One might be able to notice that each level’s tune, as it builds up towards the mothership, gets more and more energetic in feel and style as you’re nearing the end of Rosemarie’s long and taxing journey. I believe those kinds of little details would hopefully allow the soundtrack to be as memorable as the game itself.
The boss tune’s ostinato draws Heavy inspiration from Gustav Holst’s Mars: The Bringer of War. It’s just for the Holst of it (get it? No? Aw, man…). I decided to make the tune as chromatic as possible, again, to create unease in the player.

As of right now the tunes are compiled for GB Studio’s current GBT player (via Mod2GBT), but, eventually, I plan on moving the tunes over to the upcoming hUGETracker-based player for GB Studio 3. Also, I should mention, that as time goes by, I am making adjustments and edits to all pieces I have worked on, so technically the soundtrack is still WIP.”

Starr: “I’m no wizard like they are but I’ve done a few tracks myself… The title theme is the only one I really plan on keeping though.”

You’re using GB Studio for this game, correct?

Starr: “Yeah, and there’s a couple reasons why. First reason is because I have an addiction to Game Boys. I honestly find classic Game Boy games to be some of the most fun games I have ever played, and I carry a Game Boy around with me pretty much everywhere, even if its just to go get bus tickets or something. If I’m not playing it when I’m in public though, its more than likely in my bag anyway.

The second reason is because I’ve wanted to make a game for a while, and the fact that there’s now software to make that easier than ever, and for my favorite platform no less, it seemed like a no-brainer. The third reason is really just because I can’t program for the life of me. I know a bit of batch but that’s about it.”

I believe I read that Repugnant Bounty needs features in the next version of GB Studio. Is that correct? And do you see that as risky when you’re committing to a certain timeline for the Kickstarter campaign?

Starr: “Yeah, definitely I think that its a bit risky, but I think it ended up working out already since I know everything I have planned works in that new version. I managed to figure out how to compile an open source Alpha build of that next version of GB Studio. Though the build of the software I’m playing with is quite broken right now, I am still able to make sure all the assets I have will work in the new version when it does eventually release. So far I have had to modify quite a few things, and making sure everything can be brought over to the new version as smoothly as possible is my biggest focus right now.”

Shifting gears to the Kickstarter campaign, could you walk me through the rewards? How were they decided on?

Starr: “The rewards consist of the following:

  • A prototype soundtrack which consists of different versions of songs from different points in development, as well as scrapped tracks.
  • A full game guide including all the maps, a full 100% walkthrough, item locations, tips and tricks, and more.
  • A copy of the game ROM on release. (digital)
  • An early copy of the game ROM a month before it’s official release. (digital) This tier is mostly for people who might want to make reviews of the game, want the game early, or just want to help out the Kickstarter a bit more.

They were all decided on things I know I could follow through fully on, and that people may find either useful or interesting. Earlier in the Kickstarter I had a tier for concept art too, but I decided to make that part of the game guide. (Thankfully nobody had gotten that tier yet when it was still up haha).”

More and more Game Boy games, including GB Studio projects, are being published physically (Infinity, Genesis, Soul Void, etc.) Is that something you’ve considered for Repugnant Bounty?

Starr: “I have considered it and might end up doing that at some point, but for now the only physical copies of the game I have planned are for the staff as thanks for volunteering to help on the game. That’s actually the main reason why the Kickstarter is up in the first place. They’re volunteers, but I still want to be able to give them a bit more than that physical cart of the game we all agreed on. The game will still launch without the success of the Kickstarter, but I honestly just don’t have the funds to pay them at this moment, so I would really appreciate anyone who helped us reach the 5000$ (CAD) goal!

Thank you so much again. One last question: is there anything else you’d like to add?

Starr: “We do plan on making other languages available in the ROM that you can change from the start menu. Right now the game is only in English, but we also want to include Japanese and Spanish if we can. There isn’t a lot of dialogue though, so the task shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve.

Also, if the game does well enough then I might consider a sequel. I’ve actually done a bit of thinking about what a sequel might be, and I’m torn between a prequel (where you play as the queen) or a direct sequel, which would take place after the events of Repugnant Bounty. I heard there’s an SNES maker program coming eventually, so maybe it would be on that? It’s fun to think about.

Other than that, expect a whole lot of subtle Metroid references, a whole lot of secrets, and a whole lot of difficulty.”


Thank you so much once again to Starlab Games for this Q&A!

If this sounds like something you’d like to check out, head on over to the Repugnant Bounty page on Kickstarter. The game’s official Discord can be found here and offers regular game development live streams. There are 26 days left for the project to reach its $5,000 CAD ($4,139 USD) goal!

Andrew

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