Indie Interviews: Kissy Kissy! (Gamescom)

When people talk about why they enjoy the indie scene, very often you’ll hear them talking about how they enjoy that the games are different from bigger productions in how they’re more personal and charming. That’s rarely been more true than in the case of Kissy Kissy, a charming little indie title featuring and aimed at younger children, who in the game run away from monsters trying to kiss them. We talked to dr. Constance Fleuriot from Pretty Digital during UKIE’s EuroPlay event, and later followed up so we could bring you this last entry in our series of Gamescom-related Indie Interviews. Here’s a look at Kissy Kissy, which can be found at kissykissy.game and through @kissykissygame through Twitter and Instagram.

Kissy Kissy’s origin story is lovely – can you tell us more about it?

The core concept for the game of children running away from unwanted kisses was genuinely inspired by my two grandsons, who are rather lively identical twins I call the Tooting Terrors. I was describing them and their antics as an idea for a game at Fuse Jam in Bristol, and this was the birth of Kissy Kissy! Luckily the others on the team (Harry Sussams & AJ Murdoch) thought it was a funny idea too. The gameplay mechanics were inspired by what real children do – run away and hide, and build dens that grownups are too big to get inside, rather than being based on any other particular game.

I did get the grandchildren to play test the original demo and give feedback, and they came up with all sorts of ideas and characters and different wonzies that I would love to incorporate. I did veto in-app purchases though! It was the chats with my terrors that led to the idea for Wonzie World – as that was how they spelt Onesie when they were designing all the different outfits that you could buy, and we designed a few more follow on games too. In my mind Wonzie World is the home of Kissy Kissy and lots of other similarly funny cheeky games with cute little characters hopping from game to game.

What sets the game apart from other games for children?

I’m not sure – the subject matter is quietly subversive, and meant to be funny rather than educational. But it has sparked conversations with a lot of adults, whether they are parents or not.

The game wasn’t originally designed for children but for all ages to play, like many game jam games. Originally I had some ideas for slightly dark humour levels but I cut that out when it became apparent that it was a game that little ones could play with their adults.

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It is designed to encourage co-operative play – you have to help each other with some of the items you are dragging to your den, and you have to rescue your fellow player if they get caught – something I included after watching the twins play and wind each other up by not rescuing each other. Both of you have to be in the den at the end of the level to progress.
It is deliberately non-gendered and not violent – the most violent it gets is throwing a banana skin for grandparents to skid on.

What about the look and feel of the game?

I love the artstyle! That is mostly from Harry Sussams’ imagination – I showed him some pics of my grandchildren in their tiger wonzies, and asked Harry to draw Tiger and Bee (originally Bear) so that they could be seen as girls or boys and also with hair colours and skin tones to hopefully appeal to children everywhere. As the game developed I wanted it to keep the feeling of being different to ubiquitous cartoon style games. Harry was very clever with the little animations that make the characters even cuter and funny. I also sent him images from my childhood favourites by Oliver Postgate for our ‘moodboard’, to try and use colours and nostalgic objects that would appeal to grandparents like me. I think it stands out quite a bit from other games out there.

How was the team behind the game formed?

The game started at Fuse Jam in Bristol where I worked with Harry Sussams and AJ Murdoch – they are both illustration graduates and were friends from uni, and I did the code, which was pretty basic! As the game developed with UKGamesFund support, Claire Morwood of Before I Forget/3Fold Games came on board as Unity Coder/designer and I commissioned original music from Cooper Rose, who was in a band with AJ. AJ was actually in four bands and working full time and doing some art work for Before I Forget – the 3Fold Games project that came out this year. So in the second phase Harry did all the background artwork as well as the characters. Without AJ I wouldn’t have met Harry or Cooper, so the game would look and sound very different. Without Claire there would have been no Fuse Jam to start the whole ball rolling!

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Can you tell us a little more about the development process for Kissy Kissy?

At EGX we added a very basic scoring system and there was lots of competition from other devs and the public to hit the fastest time and highest score. It was highly amusing to watch but I didn’t want the actual game to be like that – I wanted to keep it a more relaxing experience for people of all ages to play without being discouraged by getting things “wrong”. That is why you can replay as often as you like.

One thing we did add was the Unkissable Mode so that both of either character can not be caught by the grandparents. It was a suggestion from Owen Davies at Arc Fire Games – another Bristol game dev whose children had played Kissy Kissy! and the older one got frustrated with the younger one’s inability to evade kisses. His idea to choose to make a character uncatchable works really well, avoiding the “three kisses and it’s game over” moment. The game is still co-operative but dawdling does not affect gameplay. My littlest grandchildren will play a level for around 20 minutes, bumbling along quite happily, slowly dragging things into place, together. That’s something that is hard to explain to people who test play the game alongside an adult instead of a 4 year old – it can last longer than a couple of minutes! And that little ones will enjoy playing it over and over again.

I am exploring replayability though, and that is next on the list of things to look at in terms of the game content.

I have found it frustrating trying to understand how the games industry works, and getting to grips with the all-pervasive idea of having to write a killer pitch for funders and publishers. It is hard for me to get into the mindset of comparing my game to other ones out there that aren’t quite the same, and that you have to really, really know how to play the stats and audience game to convince people to back you. It is also hard when you are a new team without years of proven experience and lots of published games. But I will get there!

Did the challenging events of 2020 influence development?

Yes, 2020! So there is a three level demo, and one level is free on itch for lockdown fun. If only I had made an online remotely playable co-operative game!

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I did try crowdfunding Kissy Kissy! but publicising a game crowdfunder seemed a bit superficial when there was so much happening in the world. I got £4k of pledges but it wasn’t enough to really do what we wanted to do – create at least one other level and port the demo onto Nintendo Switch, so I am now looking at pitching again, and practicing that. Ideally I will get funding to create a dozen levels and port to Switch, as that seems like a natural home for it. Claire and I also came up with an initial design for a touchscreen version, but that will have to wait a while.

I have attended a few things online, conferences and some UKIE events, and made some interesting contacts and got onto the Family Video Game Database as a result of one UKIE showcase, which was good. It is hard ‘meeting’ people online for the first time, but lots of people are trying to adapt to it, and in some ways it is nice to attend something in NY one day and one in London the next! It was great being part of the UKIE GOTS, and seeing all the other games out there. I also enjoyed seeing Wholesome Games get going, and feel as though it is not just me that wants to make gentler games that include little children in their players. It is hard to keep momentum when you are home alone and got no access to the usual meetups – you notice the lack of your informal support system when you can’t go out, and here in Bristol there are a great bunch of people, mostly gathered around Bristol Games Hub. Zoom calls and Slack channels aren’t quite the same as dropping in for a chat. Next week I am giving an online talk at WIGE on making Kissy Kissy!, and it works out a lot cheaper for me not having to pay travel to go to London, but I will miss the informal networking and catch ups that go on around the planned sessions.

When the game releases, what do you hope people will take away from the experience?

I hope that people of all ages will enjoy playing Kissy Kissy! together and find the game amusing. It is even more fun if you play alongside a small child, as they use their whole body to try and turn the characters, and really get into the idea. I have watched children copy the high fives that the characters do, and kiss their parents after playing together – perhaps to reassure them that they won’t run away. I also hope it will encourage adults to think about letting children have more autonomy and choices. But mostly I want it to be fun for all the family to play, perhaps encourage grandparents to join in too.

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