One of the many Indie titles I was lucky enough to check out at PAX Aus 2017 was Spryke, a fast-paced platformer. I spent some time with Dave Bleja from Volnaiskra and had a chat with him about the game on the show floor.

Josh: So look, I’m here at PAX in the PAX Rising area and I’m with Dave from Volnaiskra to talk about Spryke, the new game they are showcasing here. Dave, how are you mate?

Dave: I’m great, thanks Josh.

Josh: Good to hear. How has the morning been going for you so far?

Dave: It’s been very good, we have had a lot of people playing it, a lot of people enjoying it. We have got a speed run challenge going on at the moment, and we have already had quite a few times that are going to be hard to beat. We have a few people being competitive about it, so that’s always fun to watch

Josh: So, before we get into the game, give me a bit of info about yourself, the company and where it all came from. You’re an Indie Dev, so I’m interested to hear what spawned the idea that you wanted to do this and where you started.

Dave: So, I’ve always been a graphics guy, I’ve worked as a web designer for Melbourne Museum for a few years, with animation, illustration and different sort of graphics based stuff. My lifelong passion was always games though, so it got to a point where I thought ‘You know, I might try making a game’ and I just fell in love with it. I originally started on Spryke as a side project, but after about 6 months decided that this was what I wanted to do, so quit my job to go full time on Spryke.

Josh: Wow Jeez, Ok. That would have been a bit of a big call for you, at that point in your life.

Dave: Yeah, it wasn’t maybe the most sensible decision but I stand by it.

Josh: Now, from the information that I have looked at already, Spryke has had about a 4 year development cycle?

Dave: Yea, it’s coming up to 4 years. I’ve been working on it now full time for about 3 years. It’s mainly me, it’s sort of my baby. But I’ve got a concept artist, a music team and some other guys that are helping me. We are aiming at getting a full release towards the end of April next year.

Josh: Yeah, fair enough. Releasing on steam, and are you aiming at anything else?

Dave: PC will go first and Steam will probably be the first place we launch. I think it would be great on consoles though so that’s something we are definitely going to look at after it’s been released. But yes, PC will be the first platform.

Josh: Well, let’s get into it now. Let’s delve into Spryke. Why Spryke? What drew you to make this game? We are standing here watching people play at the moment and I was just wondering where the idea came from?

Dave: I think there were probably two main sort of inspirations for Spryke in terms of games. I’m a big Super Meat Boy fan and that certainly had an impact on the early genesis of Spryke. I love Super Meat Boy and I think that there is something about that formula that they really nailed, and can I make something that’s not the same but similar. So iIve taken a lot of inspiration from Super Meat Boy in the way of a small, very fast character. Very short, bite-sized levels that are really challenging. Instant re-spawns so you don’t get too frustrated when you continuously die. But I have also really loved those cartoony games like Rayman Legends. Games that are just really visually lush with animated, cartoony characters. I think I’ve always wanted to combine those two idea’s with Spryke. So it’s sort of a no mercy, tough kind of platformer but at the same time providing a fun, lively cartoony kind of aesthetic.

Josh: As I said, we are standing here at the booth and watching people play, watching them go over and over the same area just trying to get that one little jump down pat. You said the levels were designed so that there were multiple ways to get through the level and do certain different things?

Dave: Yea, definitely. So we have tried to design every level so that there might be a sort of a slower, safer way to do it but a more risky but potentially faster way to get through the level. So that matter’s for the Speed Run challenge we have happening here at PAX, but it will also matter for the full game. Getting a fast time will really be part of the gameplay. The faster you get to the goal in the level, the more Sporalium you will get. Sporalium is the resource for the game, so by shaving off second and split second in the game which will earn you more stuff, which in turn will let you unlock more levels.

Josh: Yeah fair enough. So Spryke is obviously the main character for the game, and is a fish, cyborg hybrid?

Dave: Yes, a cybernetic fish. A Cyberfish.

Josh: Where did that idea come from? It just seem something so…I guess left field for lack of a better term. Was this something that was kicking around in your head for awhile?

Dave: Um, I don’t know where it came from really. It was just how she evolved, really. So in the story, and we are really working heavily on the narrative at the moment with my writing team, she starts off as a fish but then she gets injured. This kindly, scientist-engineer kind of whiz find her and fixes her by making her cybernetic. That kind of changes her abilities, by making her able to go above water for extended periods of time, and making her fast and zippy. I just think it is a fun concept, and really helps explain why she is in all these different environments. I don’t really know why we picked a cyber fish, but we just liked it.

Josh: As you said, you have a concept artist working with you as well, which is where I assume the final artwork came from?

Dave: She defined Spryke, yes. We went through many iterations to get to where we are. The character herself, I’ve done most of the finished graphics but she has done many of the concept graphics and the overall character design of Spryke. One of the prerequisites for Spryke was her shape. I knew straight away when I first started working on the game and made the first prototype, which had no graphics at all. I just used blocks and shapes just to get the feel right. One thing I discovered quickly was the most fun shape was a 50×50 pixel square. A rectangle just wasn’t as fun, and I just sort of found the right shape and size that just felt the best for the game that I was doing. So one thing I knew as well was that the character could not be long, so probably not humanoid. Because she was a square or a circle, that kind of made her a bit more ambidextrous, more sort of agile in all directions. So yeah, that was the one kind of design constraint we had when we were designing her, in that whatever she is she has to be something that was kind of like a ball so she could bounce off or stick to any surface which just helps with movement.

Josh: So we said Spryke is your first game, your first love so to speak, and we are looking at a release next year. What are your plans after that? I mean, are we looking at more content for Spryke, or are you thinking about other concepts, ideas or game genres that you loved that you would like to play around with?

Dave: Um, I’m not really sure. I might come back to a sequel one day, perhaps. I definitely want to get this one right, do it really right. So, if it goes according to plan I’ll make a game I’m really happy with and I’ll be satisfied that I have done my best with this genre. For a second game I would like to probably tackle something else. I’ve got a few, half formed ideas in the back of my head but I haven’t thought too deeply about that yet. I think, probably my second game will be in a different genre.

Josh: I guess, my last question is more about the game than anything. You said you have designed the levels to be small and bite sized, yet challenging so that people can really play around with them. How expansive are you looking at making Spryke? Are we talking hundreds of levels? What’s your plan?

Dave: Dozens, I would say. There will be a sort of narrative campaign with a story, characters and you take part in Spryke’s journey. But then there will be this additional component for the speed run player. Even after the campaign is finished you can come back to previous levels and even unlock further, bonus levels and really try and get the best times. With better times, you will unlock more content. So there will be sort of a narrative based campaign content and this extra bonus content.

Josh: That extra content you’re talking about unlocking, obviously it’s going to be extra levels but is there going to be things like extra skins for the character and things like that?

Dave: Not sure, but that’s definitely something we’d like to do, like costumes. Probably not changes to the game play or her abilities but definitely that kind of fun, cosmetic stuff yes.

Josh: Right, that sounds cool. Well, as I said mate we are standing here watching people play. I really want to get in and try my hand at it because it looks like a lot of fun. David, I just want to thank you very much for your time. I hope you have a really good weekend, and that a lot of people come and look at this game because it’s a gorgeous game. Thanks again David and thanks for your time.

Dave: Cheers.

After our talk, I did get some time to play Spryke. I’ve never really spent much time with these kind of fast-paced platformers, and honestly have never played Super Meat Boy. With that said, Spryke was an enormously fun game to play. Yes, I died a few times and had to re-do some of the levels, but half of the enjoyment I got out of the game I played was successfully getting passed that jump or pit after trying time and time again.

For my first play through, I think I got a pretty reasonable time on the level of something like a minute twenty. At that point, they had recorded runs of very close to one minute and I just couldn’t see how to shave that time off. I did go back to say G’Day to Dave on the Sunday of PAX, and gotta say was amazed when I saw someone had gotten through the level in under 50 second. Even Dave said that he was surprised by how quick some of these guys were getting through the levels, when even he couldn’t get those times after designing the game.

If you didn’t get a chance to play Spryke at PAX, but you think it might just be a game for you, make sure you keep an eye on their Facebook page, or the website at www.sprykegame.com.

I will say I am very, very excited to get my hands on the final game when it’s released next year.