Last week, we took a look at Space War Battle Cadet DX, the debut title from Dundee studio Two Tailed Fox. Today, we explore further frontiers; chatting with Avery Mullen, the team’s Game and Sound Designer and Composer, and Jann Mjoen, the team’s Programmer, we discuss the origins of Two Tailed Fox, the development of SWBCDX, their experience showcasing the game at events, and what the future holds for the team.
The story of Two Tailed Fox begins in 2019, at the University of Abertay, Dundee. Mullen and Mjoen, friends through their classes at the time, took part in a game jam, where the first seeds of their colour-swapping shoot-em-up idea were sown.
These lay dormant for three years, before finally sprouting in 2022, when Mullen and Mjoen decided to take part in Dare Academy, Abertay’s prestigious annual game development competition. Recruiting Scott Simpson as a Level Designer, and Piet Prager as an Environment Artist, the now fully-formed Two Tailed Fox was ready to kick their fledgling project into gear.
When it came time to develop the game proper, the team drew from a variety of notable sources. “We took a lot of inspiration from a game called Ikaruga.” Said Mjoen. “By modern standards, this is a really difficult game, and we wanted to make a colour-matching shoot-em-up that was a lot more accessible.”
This idea of accessibility was one of the core pillars of SWBCDX during development. “We wanted to make a game that you could play in more bite-sized chunks.” Mjoen continued. “In older arcade shoot-em-ups, you’d have to play through the entire game in one sitting. We designed the game around short, five-minute bursts, with levels that take about 2 and a half minutes to beat.”
Beyond accessibility in a difficulty sense, the team also considered accessibility from a disability perspective, including features such as one-finger controls and colour choice options from the start of development. “We made the decision to let the player choose which two colours they want to use right at the start of the game. We used colour wheels representing different types of colour blindness, and made sure to include a lot of contrasting colours.” These features would prove to be a key selling point down the line, helping the game stand out among other titles at events.
Another key element of SWBCDX’s design that helps it stand out is its use of multiple gameplay styles; in addition to the core shoot-em-up sections, the game also features from-behind laser-dodging sections, with third-person shooting sections to come in a future update. “We didn’t see a lot of mobile games doing much else beyond what they’re already doing; they tend to have one mechanic or idea and that’s it.” Mullen said. This concept was drawn from one of the team’s shared favourite games: “Regarding the idea of having multiple game types, we took a lot of inspiration from one of our favourite games, Nier Automata.” Noted Mjoen. “It just does so many things to such a high standard; shoot-em-up, 3D side scrolling, 3D hack n’ slash.”
“That’s my number one favourite game in the world, I can confidently say.” Mullen added.
While the addition of extra modes could have complicated things, undoing the team’s efforts with regard to accessibility, they made sure to keep things consistent across the different playstyles: “As long as you can tap the screen to change colours, you can play the entire game, even if the camera is moving and things are changing.”
With these core ideas in place, the team pitched their game and successfully secured a place among the Dare Academy 2022 competitors. Development then took place over the summer, with the majority of the core content coming together in around 3 months. While this process went quite smoothly overall, the team did run into some issues regarding the game’s performance.
“We had a lot of hitches with performance and memory, particularly on older devices. That was a low point in development.” Mjoen said. Mullen echoed this sentiment: “We tested the game on older phones from 3-4 years ago, and at certain points in development the game was running at around 8fps on those devices.”
Following a lot of optimisation work, and a series of patches, the team managed to get the game running smoothly even on older phones. “That was a really good job on Jann’s part, optimising the hell out of the game.” Mullen added, appreciatively.
On the other side of the developmental coin, the team managed to go above and beyond their initial promised vision for the game. “When we originally pitched the game, we pitched four levels, four supers, and original music for each level.” Recalls Mullen. “During development, we hit those goals, then doubled it. We ended up with nine levels, including a tutorial, and a playable credits level.”
The latter of these gave Mullen the opportunity to add in a flashy final flourish, to end the game with a bang. “I got in touch with Alan Reid, a local musician in Dundee, who agreed to do a guitar solo for the playable credits level. It’s a super-cool track, and a cool way to deliver the game’s credits.”
With development complete just before the announcement of the Dare Academy 2022 winner, Two Tailed Fox were able to launch their game at the biggest gaming event in the UK: EGX London. From September 22nd-25th, the team showcased their game to a huge audience of players and developers. “It was awesome!” says Mullen, wistfully. “People came up and asked when the game was coming out, and we were able to say ‘it’s out now’, unlike most of the developers there.”
Finishing their game prior to the event gave the team an edge, allowing them to get feedback on the finished product from the biggest playtest group imaginable. They received a lot of positive feedback, particularly from players who appreciated their decision to include accessibility options. “A player with fused thumbs was able to play the entire demo, due to the one-finger gameplay setup.” Said Mullen. “And a player with monochromatic colour blindness was also able to play the full demo.” These experiences were powerful vindications of the team’s accessibility efforts, and a reminder of the rewards that come from opening your game up to the most players possible.
While Two Tailed Fox didn’t win Dare Academy, losing out to fellow fauna-based team Yellow Crow and their potion shop simulator For Hexposure, They did make a lot of valuable contacts and receive some excellent feedback. Their next step was to take the game to the Scottish Games Expo, held at Barclays Eagle Lab in Glasgow alongside Scottish Games Week’s More Than Games event. “It was great!” Said Mjoen. “The audience was mainly other devs, rather than the general public, so we got to do a lot of networking.”
“Overall it was a fun event!” Added Mullen. “With good chats and good pizza afterwards!”
Written in the Stars
Since release, Space War Battle Cadet DX has been performing well, hitting 250 monthly active users at one point, which was a big deal for a small team releasing their first game. As far as next steps for the studio are concerned, they’re planning to continue work on the game for the foreseeable future, with a suite of seasonal events for Winter, Spring and Summer, as well as additional content and the previously-mentioned third-person shooter sections. The team is also planning to take part in Tranzfuser in 2023, which is a big move for the new studio.
Despite all of this excitement, the team is keen to keep things grounded. “We’re just making a game, and making it fun. It’s just an honest video game.” Finishes Mullen. You can’t say fairer than that.