Developer interview: Gumbo Machine (Vita)

We’re spending a lot of time focusing on the PlayStation Vita this week, with reviews of the very last (digital) games for the platform as well as chats with some developers. Today’s interview is with Benjamin Kapferer, lead developer for Gumbo Machine, which brought two games to the Vita in 2021 with Battle Rockets and Ultra Mission.

Who is behind Gumbo Machine, and where did the name come from?

To put it briefly: I am Gumbo Machine. As the founder of this company, and its only permanent employee, I hire developers from all over the world to help with our projects. As for the name, I got that from a season 16 episode of The Simpsons. I can’t recall why I thought of that, of all names. Perhaps it was right after a Simpsons TV marathon? Oh well, haha.

We know Gumbo Machine from Battle Rockets and the newly released Ultra Mission. What’s your background in videogame programming?

Although Battle Rockets was my very first commercial project, I had dabbled in a bit of game development before that. I don’t have much to show for that, though, just school projects and (uncredited) contract work.

battle rockets

You got involved with the Vita scene relatively late – what drew you to the handheld at this stage in its lifecycle?

Actually, I had been interested in Vita development for quite some time! During my university years, I considered creating a game or two using the old PlayStation Mobile suite. Due to a lack of experience, that didn’t go very far. Years later, around June or July 2017, developers like Arcade Distillery had found their niche with the Vita community, so this seemed like the perfect time for us to jump in. After all, our Battle Rockets project would be a lot less overshadowed on the PS Vita storefront than that of Steam or Nintendo Switch.

What’s been your design philosophy for Battle Rockets and Ultra Mission? Both feel inspired by classic arcade games with easy to grasp concepts…

You pretty much summed it up right there! I’m rather fond of the early 80’s era of arcade gaming, so starting off with those kinds of projects seemed like a no-brainer. We also believe in the power of outreach that an accessible videogame can have, without falling into any questionable price models. It’s like I get to share a little bit of myself with the entire world!

Looking back at the Vita, what do you feel are some of the standout features and games?

A big standout feature of the Vita is how much its software shares with that of the PS3, and slightly less so with the PS4. This applies to more than just the Vita’s software library; it also means there are a wide variety of engines you can use. Some of the great games that have come from this are Gravity Rush, Killzone: Mercenary, Muramasa Rebirth, and Tearaway. I have also enjoyed a TON of retro and indie games via the PlayStation Store!

ultra mission

What’s it like to program for the Vita?

Oftentimes, it feels lonely to program for the Vita, for lack of a better term. At least, that’s the case when you try and program a Vita game using GameMaker Studio. In order to use this engine on Vita, we have had to rely on a years-old version, one so old that YoYo Games refuses to offer any technical support on it. The Vita is our very first console to develop for, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when we started. Perhaps this explains why we’ve had an easier time dealing with the Vita’s publishing oddities than others? Could be!

How does it feel to be right there at the frontline as the final wave of Vita games is released?

Being part of the final wave of Vita games has its ups and downs, though. One positive is the amount of publicity we are receiving for Ultra Mission, due to its special release date. A downside would have to be an inability to patch our software. For instance, there was a trophy-related error that Format QA did not catch, so 4 out of 10 trophies will be impossible to obtain legitimately. If only I could go back in and fix that!

Now that Sony has closed the window on submissions for the Vita, what’s next for you?

Since we are already registered as PlayStation developers, it’s only natural that we look towards Sony’s other videogame platforms, such as PS4 or PS5. In addition, we are exploring the possibility of porting our library to Xbox and PC. We’re still trying to get approved for Switch development, but have not had much luck so far. If any publisher or developer is interested in helping out, we’re very eager!

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