By Josh Speer / May 1st, 2020
It’s no surprise that oprainfall loves niche and indie games. That’s a big part of why I decided to start writing for them years and years ago. My love of and appreciation for smaller and more interesting games also brought Casual Bit Games to my attention years ago with Insanity’s Blade. Since then I’ve been a fan, especially of the art by Chris Obritsch. Now he has his own company to promote great indie titles, starting with the newly released Battle Princess Madelyn Royal Edition.
I talked with Chris about his experience in the industry, the importance of family, gender in gaming, and much more in an e-mail interview.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and content.
Operation Rainfall: Could you please introduce yourself?
Chris Obritsch: Hi! I’m Chris Obritsch. Creative Director of Monster Bath Studios Inc. formerly known as Causal Bit Games. I’m an artist, designer and programmer with roughly 30 years of experience. And sometimes, I’m also King Daddy, Ha ha!
OR: We will get to Battle Princess Madelyn in just a moment. First, you’ve jumped between programming games and creating art for your career in the video game industry so far. Do you prefer one over the other? What is it like transitioning from one field to the other, and back again?
CO: I’ve been doing both as a hobby since I was a kid. I actually went to school for programming about 20 years ago, but ended up going back again for graphic design, eventually landing a job as an Art Director for a magazine/web page. I was doing web programming but I never liked doing that. What I love most is doing pixel art for my games – it’s therapeutic. Web design basically had me hating programming completely but when I started bug fixing the original Battle Princess Madelyn, I was getting my taste for programming back. I took over programming Royal Edition after a few months into the project, after my lead dev left to pursue other things.
Since then, I’ve taken over all of the programming myself – the new game I’m working on, Hyper Sugar Rush, I’ve programmed completely from scratch and Super BPM I’ve reprogrammed about 75% of the game at this point. I love problem solving, so I find programming a lot of fun now. There is no transition because I’m constantly doing both. I’m either in the mood for art or in the mood to problem solve. But I never really have to switch modes [per se].
“Battle Princess Madelyn wasn’t supposed to be quite as big as the Kickstarter one became. All of the added extras saw me redesigning levels to fit things in, making the game too big and bloated.”
OR: Along those lines, what would you say is your specialty – aesthetic design or programming? Which do you feel is more important in making a successful gaming experience?
CO: Graphics are probably my specialty but in my opinion, a combination of both are what makes a successful gaming experience. Everything needs balance! I don’t compare to some of my coding friends for sure – with 10 years + experience in one engine. I only really got into c# mid way through BPM to fix a few things and realized it was similar to other languages I’d already learned. I still “old man code” a few things because it just naturally comes out that way – as long as there are no bugs and it’s optimized!
OR: Two of your best-known prior games, Insanity’s Blade and Escape from ’85, are both a retro-style 90’s game. Was that on accident, or is there something about that style of throwback gameplay that appeals to you? Why?
CO: No accident – that’s just the style I like. Escape from ‘85 I only did the development, no graphics. That was for a company based out of the UK. I’m just a big fan of the golden age of gaming. Nothing since then has held the same charm for me, really. There are lots of good games and I like them but most have become too complex and too long; between work and my family I don’t have as much time to play them. I’d rather play something I can beat within a few hours and come back to play again if it was fun, than to burn through 40 hours of gaming. I tend to forget most of what I’ve done when I pick a game back up again after a few days.
That being said, I love the Witcher series and Dragons Quest series. Also, the Mana series for the most part. They’re pretty much the exception to the rule.
OR: You released Battle Princess Madelyn almost a year ago, and you more recently released another version of the game called Battle Princess Madelyn Royal Edition. What are these two games about, and what is the difference between the two of them?
CO: Yeah, it’s been almost a year and a half since Battle Princess Madelyn came out, which would have been in mid December of 2018. I finished development on Royal Edition near September of last year. Battle Princess Madelyn wasn’t supposed to be quite as big as the Kickstarter one became. All of the added extras saw me redesigning levels to fit things in, making the game too big and bloated. Originally, Arcade mode of that game was supposed to run in the same level set as story mode but they’d become so big I had to turn around and spit out new arcade level designs. By the end of it, it strayed so far from the original game design I was doing by myself –pre [K]ickstarter– all the campaign goals and tiers just altered the content in a significant way. That being said, we did deliver to the backers the content we had promised. Once that was done, I set myself on my own mission to create the arcade game that I wanted from the start, that I had complete creative control of this time.
Both games have the same plot – save your family and avenge your dog (though his ghost assists you throughout both games in different ways).
We started on Royal Edition back when we were bug fixing the original game. I pulled out my old design papers from pre [K]ickstarter and got some of those programmed into the game – the swappable weapons and the permanent melee weapon. I redesigned all of the levels and did a bunch of new art for them. I took over as lead coder in May of last year. Programmed some new bosses and enemies, designed the art for them with Maddi’s concept designs and creative input. The coding changes were drastic enough that it couldn’t be part of the original game as it would have destroyed the story mode. A lot of the bug fixes and changes I did to Royal Edition fixed bugs that were built around in the original. Fixing them was like a tower of cards unfortunately. Fix one base bug and cause everything else above to fall down on you. So I spent a lot of time fixing things like that for Royal Edition. That was the good thing about remaking the game. Removing the backer elements that bloated the game was another reason for the new version. Updating the old game, even if I could have worked around the bugs, I couldn’t delete the bits added from the tiers. So Royal Edition ended up being a remake of the original games arcade mode with a lot of extras.
OR: You said on Kickstarter that Battle Princess Madelyn is a tribute to your daughter, Madelyn. She is in fact listed as the game’s “Honorary Assistant Creative Director” and “Drinker of the chocolate milk”. How did Madelyn help you create this game? Did she give you any ideas or suggestions that you wouldn’t have thought of inputting otherwise?
CO: Aside from being the inspiration for the game, she was basically my art director. She drew a lot of the enemies in her own style between the ages of 4 and 6. And for the most part would sit with me when I was drawing out her ideas and tell me if she liked them or not. She was very honest about not liking things so a lot of my designs were deleted or shoved aside and redone.
It was my favorite part of doing the project. When I started on Royal Edition I had her design some pickups and enemies for the new game too. Then I added the original boss drawings she did as a wallpaper for the game. The one thing she did that was really impressive was design the boss fight for the cat boss in the winter level of the game. She was so excited about it when she was showing me her little drawing. Explaining how you have to shoot that cat in the bum while he’s eating. It was pretty cute and pretty funny!
OR: You successfully funded Battle Princess Madelyn on Kickstarter in 2017, and you kept in fairly regular contact with your backers until after the game’s release. What was the Kickstarter process like for you? Would you do it again?
CO: It was a very bumpy road. We weren’t originally running the Kickstarter page, the original company we hired, the owner of that company dropped the campaign right before launch, and then it just felt messy and disorganized. Our policy has always been honesty first, but we were constantly told to refrain from certain updates, because they would somehow bite us in the butt. We were just between a rock and a hard place, and it sucked! I’m not lying when I say I hated every moment of dealing with Kickstarter, which we’re still dealing with. To put it into perspective – artists will especially understand this: That feeling when you have someone breathing over your shoulder while you are drawing – then amplify that by a million. That sums up my Kickstarter experience. I’m not a public person and I don’t think everyone needs to know what I’m doing every minute of every day. I won’t get into the insults to myself, my daughter, or the game that we receive through Kickstarter.
“Monster Bath Studios represents us as a family, it was based around our daughter Sofia splashing in a bath. I thought it was funny. I wrote it down in case I wanted to use it some day.”
OR: You contracted with Limited Run Games to make a physical edition of your game first as a reward on Kickstarter and then later as a standalone LRG release in October 2019. What was it like working with Limited Run Games? Was it hard for an up-and-coming studio like yours to get LRG’s attention in the first place?
CO: Limited Run Games team have been fantastic, they know exactly what they are doing, they create a solid marketing plan, assist with ratings, properly prepare for launch–working with them is a very smooth process. I still check in with Douglas on a regular basis! Douglas had actually heard about the game pre [K]ickstarter and loved Maddi’s story about wanting to fight “Greenhead” in Ghouls n Ghosts.
Working with them was a lot of fun – especially for the Royal Edition release. They are incredibly helpful and easy to work with, and I truly hope we get to work with them again one day!
OR: In your LRG note, you talked about how your “game was straying from its originally intended roots” during the development process to become the Battle Princess Madelyn that was ultimately released. How did you feel when you realized that you could no longer release the final game as the intended “classic arcade action, with adventure elements” that you had stated initially in your campaign while still keeping all of your backer tier rewards and stretch goals intact? Was that ultimately a hard decision for you to make?
CO: Honestly, by the time we finished and I played the game fully, I was completely miserable. There was just too much to the game. Between that and the bugs, I had a complete breakdown on the night the game initially launched. Somewhere between embarrassed/ashamed that I didn’t stick to my guns or follow my gut about not doing a [K]ickstarter in the first place. I was barely sleeping at that point. Only a couple of hours a night. I remember going to bed at 3am or so and the bed was rattling because I was shaking so hard. All I could think was we let Maddi down – *I* let Maddi down. And even though there are still things left over from the original BPM I couldn’t fix to the way they should have been, I got it a lot closer to my original designs than what the Kickstarter version became. Minus the story – I cut that idea out completely.
OR: There were two physical versions of the game produced for Limited Run Games: a PlayStation 4-exclusive version of Battle Princess Madelyn and a Nintendo Switch exclusive version of Battle Princess Madelyn Royal Edition. Why not offer both versions on both platforms, instead make them exclusive to each console?
CO: When we signed the contract with the Japanese publisher 3GOO, I believe LRG didn’t have the ability to do physicals for the Switch yet. Then, by the time I started working on the Royal Edition, LRG was publishing on Switch, so we were able to partner on that version together. I don’t know enough about PS4’s additional hoops to code the extra bits for the game. We had contracted someone to do the original version. Not to mention, we are a team of only two people, it’s just my wife– Lina–who is my business partner, and myself. The process of going through all of the certification stuff for two or more games by ourselves again is a daunting task – publishing is quite a job in itself.
The LRG PS4 version was part of the contract for Kickstarter and has all of the updates.
OR: With Battle Princess Madelyn Royal Edition out the door, will there be any more content, in perhaps the form of future DLC, on the horizon for either version of the game?
CO: Unless I’m doing a major bug fix for Royal Edition, then no. I’ve been working on Super BPM since November under our new company name Monster Bath Studios Inc. And I’ve almost completed the base engine for Hyper Sugar Rush within a month back before I started SBPM. It’s just been 6 years of BPM and I’m done looking at it/fixing other people’s work. It’s time to move on.
I’ve completely finished the reprogramming work to make Super BPM into the game for arcade hardware. Massive changes from the original game and even Royal Edition. I’ll show that off once it’s ready. But I don’t expect it to ever come to consoles. Hyper Sugar Rush on the other hand, definitely can – I designed it specifically for couch-co op. It’s a perfect fit for the [S]witch and an arcade cab.
OR: How would you feel if Madelyn followed in both your footsteps and the work she did in Battle Princess Madelyn and decided to create her own video games, even if she does not start out on a Commodore 64 like you?
CO: That’s what she wants to do. I recently gave her one of my older laptops to start learning on but I won’t have time to help her until I have the current arcade game out the door. I’ll be starting her off on logic before she codes though. It’s important that she isn’t trying to get the answers before she asks the questions in the code. I think starting her off in a visual editor like Construct 2 to learn how things work and what order they need to be done in will be a first step. No matter what she ends up doing with her life – I’ll be proud of her always. She always gives everything 100% effort and always puts her heart into everything. A very rare quality these days.
OR: Battle Princess Madelyn is a game starring a female warrior. Do you think it’s important to have equal representation of female as well as male heroes in games? Why or why not?
CO: I never much cared for this topic. A story is what you make it. I don’t have a balance of males to females in my house in real life, I’m heavily outnumbered. Forcing characters in where you don’t need them to fit an agenda is stupid. You’re never going to make everyone happy – so just do what feels right for you/your story. I made the game because she wanted to be in a game, I made it because she was told she couldn’t be a knight. If I’d had a son instead, I’d have done the same thing under those circumstances. Though the knight thing would have been “you’re too much of a sissy to be a knight” or whatever other childish insult they could come up with. I make games I’d want to play – they’ll never be part of a political agenda or some crusade for rights – I’m just here to have fun.
OR: I couldn’t help but notice the name ‘Monster Bath Studios’ when I played Battle Princess Madelyn Royal Edition. Is that connected to Casual Bit Games, or is it a new venture?
CO: It’s not a new venture, but a rebranding. Monster Bath Studios represents us as a family, it was based around our daughter Sofia splashing in a bath. I thought it was funny. I wrote it down in case I wanted to use it some day. After our partner left in May of 2019, it was just Lina and myself, at that point, it seemed fitting to rebrand for a fresh start. Although we are still in the process of changing our name over on social media, it has been such a welcomed change. I’m doing coding now and I’ve always seen coding as its own form of art. Now it’s my art people will be seeing both literally and figuratively so it should have a name I wanted, attached to it. And on the plus side, this name should have a lot fewer misspellings haha!
OR: What’s next for you? Are you planning on continuing to program games, or are you going to shift back to creating art for titles? Do you have any projects on the horizon that you can talk about now?
CO: Finishing up Super Battle Princess Madelyn is first. That’s pretty much completed now… Some minor art and tuning is all that is left from me there. We’re just polishing the heck out of it for a couple more months. After that I’m taking a month off and having a summer for once – or at least part of one. Then I’m back at Hyper Sugar Rush and aiming to have that done for the middle of next year, at which point I’ll decide if it’s going to console and arcade or just arcade. After that I’m remaking Insanity’s Blade in a proper engine and instead of turning a single player quest game into a co-op action game after the game was heavily into development, this one will be straight up co-op madness from the get go and will only follow the original story loosely so you can always play as Finn the Dwarf – the hero Thurstan’s sidekick, at all times unlike the original. I’m still on the fence about making it a platformer or going for a beat em up style. I’m a little sick of working on platformers at this point haha!
I wanted to thank Chris for his informative and very open answers.
I also have to credit oprainfall’s own Brandon Rose for the sweet Featured Image below.
Thanks as well for reading, and if you haven’t already, definitely check out Battle Princess Madelyn Royal Edition!
Battle Princess MadelynCasual Bit GamesChris ObritschInsanity's BladeMonster Bath Studios