Developer interview: Moo Lander

Before the year is out, we wanted to share one more developer interview with you. This time we’re taking a look at Moo Lander, a wacky 2D platform adventure with flying saucers and cows from Bulgarian developer The Sixth Hammer. We talked to studio co-founder Yasen Bagalev about the game’s development, about working with an international team and about what players can expect from the game in the near future.

How did you guys get started with videogame development?

All of our core team members started out as dedicated gamers. Then we started to learn various programming languages, then some game engine work, then came the early developer projects here and there. Naturally, when we got pretty good at those things, we wanted to create something special – we wanted to make a video game. One skill that we have to our great advantage is our musical education, as both me (Yasen) and Dimitar graduated from a high school of musical arts. I play the guitar and Mitko plays the piano, so we make our own music and game score and this helps immensely.

Where did the bizarre setting for the game, which is a mix of cows, milk and sci-fi, come from?

The core idea of the game came in 2013 – there weren’t many cool mobile games at that time, so we decided to make one great, big game that we ourselves would like to play. The first idea was pretty simple – you fly with your spaceship and suck cows into it. During the development process we made the storyline bigger and longer, added new and improved enemies as well as several more pretty interesting abilities, and we made larger and more complex levels. The problem was that we strayed away too far from the initial idea and the game became way too big and complex for a mobile device platform. One day we just decided to stop, rethink our ideas and start over.

We discussed a ton of ideas, expanded the storyline and in the spring of 2017 we decided to make Moo Lander again, but this time we would target PC and consoles so we could develop all of our ideas without any limitations. The game engine of our choice is Unity, and because we like the concepts of the Metroidvania and RPG genres of games we decided that the game will be based around these concepts.

Which other games have inspired you?

Our two biggest inspirations are the Ori series and Rayman. We love the art style of those two games, as well as the genre and mechanics. We also thought that it would be cool to have cows in the game, as well as classic flying saucers because there aren’t many games like that out there, especially platformers (without actual platforms 😀 ).

Can you tell us more about the recent steps in the game’s development?

At the end of January (2018) we finished the code and the systems for the game and during our participation of the annual Plovdiv Game Jam, we discovered our third programmer for the team – Ivaylo Palchev (from Plovdiv). It was then when we started to implement the finished versions of our enemy prototypes into the game. We built the beginning scene of our game, using our finalized graphics. It was a grand moment for all of us!

moo lander

Around that time we found a freelancer for the custom shaders we needed, and he did an amazing job with the wind shaders, the cow sucking shaders and all the other different types. At the same time, we found an animator who did amazing work with our cows. Unfortunately we still had a rather small budget, that’s why all remaining animations were made by Ivaylo Palchev.

We were also falling behind schedule with our level design, and this was a good reason to find a team member for this exact field of operations. We got lucky and came across Jonathan D’Anjou from Canada, who is very talented and he had more than 10 years of experience in the gaming industry. He sketched almost 90% of the level design on paper. We then implemented the parts that needed work and built all the level design into the game.

During 2019 all kinds of people helped with a lot of different tasks and obstacles. We finished the game’s story, which is full of memorable characters and amazing plot twists. We found our own voice Artist in Troy Hudson from the USA, who voiced the main hero of the game rather amazingly. We also got a good robot voice for our ship’s AI companion. Amongst all these things we even managed to build the multiplayer part of Moo Lander.

Moo Lander represented Bulgaria at this year’s EuroPlay contest – how did that happen?

An opportunity was presented to us by SYSF – a Bulgarian non-profit organization tied to game development, so we simply took it. We were competing with two other Bulgarian game studios via a contest with voting. We were the only ones with a fully playable demo on Steam and won the right to represent Bulgaria in the EuroPlay contest and the rest, as they say, is history. It all turned out great, we had a lot of fun and everyone liked the name of our spaceship AI – Hamilton, very much. The whole thing was an unplanned appearance, but we carried out our duty rather well.

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Have you been able to benefit from player feedback?

We took part in an event called the Plovdiv Startup Weekend, and there we made the first ever playable prototype of the game – we did it in only 2 days. It was only the two of us – Dimitar and Yasen. All the other participants of the event liked it lot. So we started working on a bigger and better one that we could present at the largest gaming happening in Bulgaria – the Game Dev Summit in Sofia. We finished a playable demo in time for the summit in Sofia and it was that summer when we presented the game for the first time in public. We got a lot of good feedback on our work and that actually got us very excited and motivated to continue with the project.

So we got all this feedback and implemented what we could in the game. Everyone wanted bigger and stronger cows and more interesting battles with them, not just sucking up an object with the flying ship. So we actually listened to the gamers during both these events and got some real live feedback, you could say. Getting that natural, impulsive opinion straight out of your audience really helps a ton.

How different is it to develop a game for desktop platforms rather than mobile ones?

Games for desktop devices and consoles require a lot more resources, people management and skills, and of course – more work. It is a bigger endeavor altogether, with more risks and higher rewards if you execute the development right.

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The Sixth Hammer is a team that has steadily grown, and was already an international team – how did that help you during the 2020 pandemic?

Even before the pandemic we had great communication and organization between our different coworkers, artists and friends. But now we are able to fully appreciate this, as it’s easier for us to stay at home and keep working on Moo Lander. Almost all of our team has done it this way, and we have experience. These troublesome times brought us some unexpected opportunities as well, as we were able to participate in more global gaming events than before due to the digital nature of the happenings. This way we can reach more potential fans, so in a strange way this pandemic has been kind to gamers and developers across the world.

Where are you in development right now?

Right now, you could say that we are about 80% done with the game. All the assets are in place, the story, the mechanics, the multiplayer. Porting for XboX One is also done, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch ports are waiting in line. We’ve achieved the overall “feel” of Moo Lander the way we wanted it, but now, as you well know, polishing is taking place. We do not want to get a buggy and unpolished game to the gamers, so we’ll take our time and deliver a fully completed game with all the features we have announced (and hopefully even some surprise ones). Expect Moo Lander to come out some time in late 2021.

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The current demo gives players a taste for Moo Lander – how will the final game differ from the demo?

Our free demo on Steam is around 15 minutes long for the single player portion. The multiplayer has 2 modes unlocked and is playable for up to 4 gamers. We have planned at least one more demo build for our fans that will add new stuff, but the final “form” of Moo Lander will blow them away!

You can expect 6+ hours of single player campaign content and multiplayer with more than 20 maps and 2 more modes in the final release. We keep our plans close to the chest so far, but we’ve prepared really cool stuff to add and to contribute to the overall fun of the game. So follow us on social media and Steam for the upcoming features, and we will not disappoint.

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