Last March we interviewed Kukouri Mobile CEO Kim Soares to get the scoop on his studio’s second title, Tiny Troopers. We greeted its release with a solid 4.0, noting in particular the game’s unique and artfully disturbing approach to violence. With Tiny Troopers about to get a big content update, we seized the opportunity to get back in touch with this veteran developer for another chat focusing on the subject of gaming violence.
Tiny Troopers might look like an exercise in the glorification of violence on the surface, but I found that the experience had a genuinely disturbing quality to it; the childlike stature and voices of the combatants and little touches like player and enemy death cries really got under my skin. Was it your goal to present violence in a different way than you’ve seen it done in most other videogames?
Yes, it was our goal from the start. Nice that we succeeded! Many reviewers have actually stated that despite the Saturday morning cartoon look of the game, violence in Tiny Troopers is more disturbing than in “real” war games. I would say the disturbing feeling comes from the fact that the presentation is so much at odds with what is happening in war. If anything, Tiny Troopers is anti-war rather than glorifying war. I find it intriguing that players who are so used to hardcore violence in games find Tiny Troopers unsettling.
I saw that a few ideas were removed from the final build compared to early preview builds. The one example that really sticks out in my mind were encounters with screaming civilians strapped with bombs (or possibly suicide bombers), which made for game situations that felt intense on an emotional level. Why did you end up removing that, and some other game elements, in the end?
Yes, they were suicide bombers. It was sad to see them go for two reasons: they were there to add to the controversy and that disturbing feeling mentioned earlier. They were also funny at the same time. Every single tester laughed out loud when they saw them come running and screaming. However, I felt it was pushing things too far. Tiny Troopers’ setting is clearly contemporary and there are ongoing wars. We felt it would be too soon to touch on some of these topics in a game; you could have kamikazes in a game because that’s history, but with contemporary issues I think you have to be more considerate.
Having completed one game under the Kukouri label that revolves around violence (Tiny Troopers) and one that doesn’t (Mecha World), have you found that game design is inherently easier when combat is the major gameplay mechanic?
I would like to think it’s not, but it could be to some extent. Everybody understands the basics of combat: you try to hit the enemy and if you get hit you lose hit points. Armor, weapons — all those are familiar as concepts to basically every single player.
Looking at the subject of violence in games more broadly, what do you think draws us as players to virtual violence? Does it serve some psychological or emotional purpose?
I’m no psychologist but I think people in general are drawn to violence on some deep level. Violence and death are very extreme subjects. They are also present in all human culture, from national epics to opera. Just look at Agatha Christie: she was an old lady who wrote dozens of books about violence and murder. It’s not just games! Then again, there are studies like this one that suggest violence is not necessarily the main factor for gamers.
As a game developer, gamer and a father of two active gamers, I despise the trend where more graphic violence seems to be the only way games can come up with anything new. Just putting in more blood and gore has a detrimental effect on the whole industry.
Finally, tell us a little about the planned zombie-themed update to Tiny Troopers. And where does Kukouri Mobile go from here? Will you be expanding Tiny Troopers for the foreseeable future, or do you have new projects in the pipeline already?
We wanted to give the players more content and thought that something away from the main game could be a nice change. Zombie survival mode is not the most original idea but we enjoyed it a lot ourselves and people seem to never get bored with zombies, so we thought, why not?
Zombie mode has you fighting endless hordes of the undead. Some enemies are familiar from the main game, albeit in zombie form, but there are also completely new enemies. Oh yes, there are undead chickens too. We know that players have a habit of shooting the poor things in the campaign, so now they’ll get their revenge.
As for longer term plans for Kukouri, we are definitely going to continue expanding Tiny Troopers. The game has been a success both in the press and commercially too. And we have yet to release Android, PC and Mac versions, which are coming out later this month. We are also looking into PSN and Xbox Live Arcade ports, but those would be further along the line.
At the same time, we are looking to develop other IPs as well, and to expand our team in order to have more than one game in production at a time.
Big thanks to Kim for taking the time out to complete his second interview with us, and to Chris Carver for facilitating. If you’re a Tiny Troopers fan already, be sure to keep an eye on the game’s App Store page or your iTunes library so you can get to some zombie bustin’ the moment the update hits. Here’s Kukouri Mobile’s Facebook page, Twitter account, and dev blog for good measure. Let’s leave you with this sneak peek of the upcoming zombie survival mode in action: