Spark Plug Games Developer Interview With Ben Lichius

Are you ready for the blistering high-speed mech battling action coming to PlayStation 4, Vita and PC this summer? We so are. Spark Plug Games realized full funding for their newest title, MechRunner, on Kickstarter this May. Impatient for details, we sat down with Ben Liuchis of Spark Plug to learn more about this title that’s a little mech, a little tank, and all non-stop action.

Mariah Beckman: Hey there! Thanks for carving out some time to talk to us about Spark Plug Games. So, who are you and what do you at Spark Plug?

Ben Lichius: VP and Art Director at Spark Plug

MB: Can you tell us a little about the projects that you or your team have worked on prior to forming Spark Plug? How did your experience working on these titles shape Spark Plug’s vision or mission–what sets you apart from other developers?

BL: John and I had each been working in games for over 10 years in 2008 and we started SPG as a way to get back to making ‘making games’ fun again. We both had experiences making exciting titles, but too often the process got bogged down by just trying to do too much. It’s no one’s fault really. A lot of it has to do with the market you are in, or the publisher you are working with, or the platform you are on. But the end result is that those games can end up being no fun to make, and usually, not very fun to play.

Every developer wants to do focus on making games that they like to play. What may have set us at SPG apart however, was that we wanted to work small.

In 2008, being an ‘indie developer’ wasn’t quite as hip as it is now, but we had a vision for making small, tight, fun games targeted at mass market gamers. We never would have guessed what a challenge it would turn out to be (what with the bottom falling out of the economy that year) but I think we chose the right path and being small and flexible has allowed us to ‘ride the wave’ so to speak. And now six years later, with games like MechRunner, we find ourselves doing just what we set out to do in 2008 – which is rewarding.

MB: Can you introduce our readers to some of the other members of your team? For example, we understand that you work with Josh Nizzi, known for his work on films such as the Avengers, Iron Man 3 and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

BL: Josh, obviously has had a major impact on MechRunner. We’ve also been working with David Joseph Wesley. He’s a Grammy-nominated composer that’s done work for film and television for a number of years. He’s really knocked it out of the park in terms of setting the mood and really giving the game a cinematic feel. The rest of the SPG crew has been a great support as well – guys like Chris, Matt, Kevin, and Ben – but most are dedicated to our other active projects, like Firefly: Online or our serious games. Tobias, our producer, really keeps things on track for us.

MB: For those unfamiliar with some of the great titles from Spark Plug, can you tell our readers about a few of your favorite projects?

BL: I’ve really enjoyed different things about each project we’ve done. Mostly I like that I get to do so many different things. I think that ‘Witch’s Workshop’ is a fun match 3 game that I especially enjoy. The first iteration of that game was built in just 2 weeks and I probably played it for 6 months straight. It even got my wife hooked, and she doesn’t play games at all. The newer one is more polished and, I think , a really solid game that I’m pretty proud of. Plight of the Zombie is fun too. It’s got some great puzzles and has some fun visuals. I really enjoy the character design in that game.

MB: Can you tell us a little bit about MechRunner, the upcoming endless arcade runner with absolutely stunning battles with an endless robotic army?

BL: For us, MechRunner is a throwback to some of the arcade-style games that we all grew up playing. We wanted it to be about giant robots, lots of destruction, and good old-fashioned shoot-em-up action and I think we’ve done that. We’ve mixed in some elements to keep it interesting, like rescuing civilians along the way, boss battles, and using your swords to slice up enemies, but at its core it’s about how long you can keep playing.

There are “runner” elements to it, obviously, but even with those we tried to keep it feeling a little different. For instance, there are multiple districts in the game that you can unlock by playing. Once you have them unlocked they will appear as “off ramps” along the path you’re on and it’s up to you to decide if you want to switch now or wait. Same goes for the boss fights. Before you take that turn to a boss arena you have to ask yourself “Am I ready for this?”. It’s an extra rush when you take a chance and pull through.

And my favorite part of the game, of course, is the slicing feature. It really adds a cinematic feel to the game that you don’t get with other “runners”. It’s fun to play and an exciting way to finish off enemies.

MB: MechRunner just realized its funding goals on Kickstarter May 16th–congratulations! What is the next step for Spark Plug to complete this title by the anticipated release date in July?

BL: Thanks! Lots of long hours and late nights fueled by burgers and milkshakes! Most of the heavy lifting has been done, but now that we are able to, we want the polish that we’re adding to be done right.

MB: What other titles, if any, do you presently have in the works?

BL: I mentioned Firefly: Online already. We’re extremely excited about that since we’re all big fans of the show. It’s really fun to be a part of bringing it back to life – at least in game form. We haven’t announced any other products yet.

MB: What sort of titles and development can we expect from Spark Plug in the coming months and years?

BL: We hope to be able to keep doing what we’re doing now game-wise. At this point, we don’t really have an interest in working on games that take 2-3 years to make.

MB: What’s your favorite game? It can be old or new, one you’ve worked on or one that you feel is iconic?

BL: Man that’s tough. I think for me, one of the top 3 games that I just loved playing was Metal Gear Solid on the PS1. It just broke so much ground and felt like no other game I’d played to that point. Plus, I haven’t seen another game before or since that could make running around in a cardboard box cool, but MGS did it.

MB: That’s great! Again, we thank you for taking the time to sit down with our readers, and we look forward to reporting on future developments from your studio.

BL: No problem! Thanks!

Excited for MechRunner? Let us know in the comments! You can find out more on the game’s website, or via Spark Plug Games.

Mariah Beckman

Mariah lives in Seattle, and is really 3 midgets inside a lady suit.

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