Super Punchy Face
An Interview with 8points' Drew Dunaj
Trevor | October 29, 2021
Drew Dunaj is a game designer, musician, owner of many cats, and the co-founder of 8points.
It may be hard to believe, but every now and then we do get emails to our press account. Press releases about upcoming early access games, kickstarter launches, trailers for new VR projects, that sort of thing. In all honesty, we let many sail by without comment. Many don't feel fully fleshed out, or lack a decent proof of concept. No matter how neat an idea is, it's difficult to cover a nonexistent entity.
When we got an email for Super Punchy Face however, it caught our attention. This is due to yours truly being a fan of beat 'em ups, of course, but there's another angle here too. As something of a connoisseur of Kickstarter projects, Super Punchy Face had far more to show for itself than the average project I've thrown money at. It had an excellent trailer, a charming page, and perhaps most importantly, an entire alpha build ready to go.
It was clear to us 8Points had done serious legwork to get this project ready for a Kickstarter launch. And yet, by the time it reached our eyes, it had six days to go and hardly any funding.
I reached out to Drew Dunaj to ask some questions about his studio, future plans for Super Punchy Face, and the difficulty they faced finding traction for a Kickstarter campaign.
Trevor: Before we get on to questions about the game and future plans, I thought it might be fun to start with some quick questions about your listed inspirations. Favorite God Hand Roulette Wheel ability?
Drew: I probably use La Bomba the most, but Ball Buster will never stop pleasing my inner 13 year old.
T: Power Stone 1 or Power Stone 2?
D: From what I remember, 1 because I wasn't a fan of 2's level gimmicks. Though I did lose a lot of time to 2's crafting.
T: Favorite 90’s Saturday morning cartoon?
D: The obvious answer is Jackie Chan Adventures, but honestly I like Pokémon more as a show. Batman Beyond is up there too!
T: Best Jackie Chan fight scene?
D: That's a tough one! The mall fight in Police Story probably? It uses a particularly wide variety of mundane stuff in really creative ways, and there's lots of iconic acrobatics. But also anytime he fights Benny the Jet, like in Wheels on Meals or Dragons Forever. While there's far less use of objects, the speed and impact of the choreography those two can achieve is amazing!
T: Names of the cats who appear in the kickstarter trailer?
D: The big boy on the right is Gimble and the one loving my bass is Blaze. They're only 2 of 5 cats living here! I was really trying to get them all sleeping on the bed but we had like half an hour to shoot that footage and they all woke up and left as soon as we set up.
T: Moving on to the project itself, your Kickstarter trailer shows off a wide variety of footage from early builds. What did the earliest version of Super Punchy Face look like? How did it come about in the first place?
D: To be honest, I first started working on a brawler type game not just because it's my favorite genre, but because my friends were really into the Arkham Asylum series and I couldn't stand the combat! I wanted to see if I could make something better, just to win arguments really.
That footage shows the major art changes over the years. One of the first things I programmed in GameMaker was a basic action game called Punchy Face, and you controlled those little square things fighting the targets. That was in 2013, post Flappy Bird (that's where I got the name; I came up with it in like 5 seconds because I needed something to name the file and I just never thought of anything better!) I spent the rest of the year programming random things, doing game jams, hanging out on the TIGsource forums.
Then, I watched the Juice it or Lose it talk by Martin Jonasson & Petri Purho. It inspired me to go back to Punchy Face and jazz it up, and that's where the "Super" came in. I tried to use a bunch of their tricks, but got pretty distracted playing around with new mechanics, deeper AI, and tuning especially.
I went through a bunch of art styles before I took a hard look at the game and realised I was making a Jackie Chan simulator! That's when everything really started coming together.
T: Moving forward in the timeline, when did Super Punchy Face cease to be a solo effort? Or, to put it more succinctly, when and how did the current team at 8points come together?
D: Jake and I have been friends since elementary school, and we collaborated here and there on all sorts of different projects but it wasn't until 2018 that we made it a thing.
I'd been using 8points as a handle since high school, and we adopted it to start working on our first commercial game, Eves Drop. Soon, we realized we needed a pro to handle the art, and I put out the call on TIGsource. Kyle was actually the first person to respond, and while we wanted to hold out to see our options, his style was too strong to pass up. I also put out the call for a composer, without really expecting any replies. But thankfully Rupert found us and reached out! After our first chat with these guys, we knew we had to work together.
When Eves Drop was done, we knew we wanted to make another game together. We played around with some other ideas coming back around to Punchy.
There was too much art for one person to handle so we searched for a new teammate for a little while. That's when we found MAVW! His style perfectly matched the characters Kyle had designed, and he brought some great ideas to the design of the dojo.
Grace and I have been together for a long time, but she only stepped in after everyone else joined and I was really struggling to find the right story for Punchy.
T: The previous 8points project, Eves Drop, is a very different type of game from Punchy Face. But even so, do you feel you learned anything from the launch or development of Eves Drop you were able to carry forward into Super Punchy Face?
D: Far too many to list here! But the biggest lesson was about marketing.
I would describe our intentions for Eves Drop's marketing campaign as "if you build it, they will come". Who knew that if nobody knows about your game, they won't play it! We released on itch.io in 2019, with no more than a couple reddit and twitter posts to let the world know. We had a few sales, but barely got any traffic. It wasn't until we were included in itch.io's Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality that we started getting traffic and some fans and more sales. That made me realize how important exposure is.
Eves Drop is also a harder sell because people straight up don't understand what they're looking at! We intentionally modeled it after inscrutable hacking scenes from movies, but even with that context people have trouble picturing what the experience is like. One of the reasons we chose Punchy as our next project is because it's very clear what's happening and what kind of game it is just from a screenshot.
T: For the next set of questions, I wanted to focus on your crowdfunding efforts specifically. What prompted the decision to seek crowdfunding in the first place?
D: There's two big reasons here.
The first is pure logistics. I need a way to pay my team, and that includes myself. We can't justify spending time on Punchy when we need to pay bills and eat and all that. Working a day job, I can spend only a fraction of my time on Punchy, and I don't make enough money to pay the rest of my team. A source of funding will go a long way to making this game a reality, otherwise we could be in development limbo for quite a while.
The second reason is personal. After Eves Drop, I really wanted to push for making game development my career. I developed all of my games up to and including Eves Drop in my free time. I've had steady full-time work to pay the bills, but I've always pined for a job making games.
And then the pandemic hit.
Being unemployed in 2020 was the most productive I've ever been. Punchy transformed from a dinky prototype to a full blown alpha. I had tasted what it's like to be a full time game developer, and I was ready to pursue my passion. I spent the whole year reaching out to indie game publishers, hoping to guarantee funding up front.
I had shied away from crowdfunding in the past, but after I couldn't find an agreeable publishing deal, I decided to take it into my own hands. I knew I had a great team and that we were making a great game, and I felt confident we could pull it off if we got it in front of the right people.
T: How did you go about finding people to reach out to?
D: First off, I don't know what I'm doing when it comes to PR, and I'm not a very social person. I've read articles, I've watched GDC talks, I understand in theory how to do it. But putting in the ground work of pitching the game and reaching out to folks is something I really struggle with.
I focused a lot on Twitter; trying to post every day, hitting popular game dev hashtags, finding the right time to post so the algorithm will pick it up (I still don't understand it). I would look for people asking to see indie games, or just try to find anyone talking about beat em ups or Jackie Chan movies or whatever. It felt really intimidating to tweet at people, so I wound up reaching out more through DMs when available. I tried to post more on Reddit too, but the 10% self-promo rule prevented me from using the more popular subreddits. I posted on a few forums and Discord servers too, but didn't want to cross boundaries with new communities.
As for press, after shotgunning all the biggest sites, I just tried to find people who were into games I thought were similar. I googled reviews of games like River City Girls and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, or articles about beat em ups and roguelites, indie games and kickstarters, Jackie Chan or God Hand fans. Beyond Google, I used metacritic to track down reviewers with similar taste.
I know "influencers" are supposed to be important for marketing these days, but I felt a lot of social anxiety whenever I was looking for people to reach out to. It was easier for me to contact groups of people rather than try to make individual connections. So I wound up reaching out to only a handful of people that I was already a fan of.
T: How many responses would you say you got?
D: While it may not seem like much in terms of numbers, for me, it was incredible! In the 7 years I've been developing Punchy and trying to get it out there, I've never seen as much love for it as I did in that month. People reached out to me to share their support and give me feedback, we got like 50+ new followers on twitter, even our tiny discord got some new members!
I think some of the most exposure we got was from Tom Francis quote tweeting us with a compliment. That was a cool moment for me!
I've had a few players gush about how much they love the game and that's what makes it all worth it. It feels great knowing that the game does connect with people, it makes me confident that we can scale up this marketing thing and be successful next time.
T: This next question might be a dagger to the heart and if so I apologize, but uh, how much time and energy would you say went into building the kickstarter page, contacting outlets, and recording trailers only for the project to reach about 10% of its goal?
D: 10% is a generous number! At our highest, we were at 4%. This is apparently pretty average for kickstarter campaigns. According to biggercake.com we are ranked 213,192th out of 404.3k campaigns in terms of backers, and ranked 251,878th for the amount pledged. I saw campaigns fail from other devs with thousands of followers. The vast majority of kickstarters don't make it. That kind of softens the blow.
If you want to talk time and energy, I spent about 1 month working on the written campaign and all the graphic design whenever I had time. The video was written, shot and edited in like 2 days. I had put the trailer together in about a week previously. We should have spent more time on the video but I was too eager to get the campaign live as soon as possible.
I knew after the first day that we wouldn't hit our goal. I was devastated. It wasn't just weighed against the couple months and change I spent on the campaign, but all those years of development, all the rejections, not knowing what more I could do. I was so proud of how far we had brought it, and it wasn't enough.
But like, what am I going to do, give up? Failure is something I'm still learning how to deal with properly, but I haven't let it stop me before. This kickstarter was already plan C, so now it's on to plan D. And if that doesn't work, I'll figure something else out.
T: What’s next for Super Punchy Face? You’ve come this far and assembled the dream team, so I imagine a new plan is underway.
D: Absolutely! We're going to launch on early access as soon as the next build is ready. The main problem is sustainability, but I should be able to continue developing it in my free time. One way or another, I'll fund the team at some point to actually finish it. It better take off soon because we got sequel plans and everything! Not to mention all the other games we want to make together.
T: What would you say is your main takeaway from this Kickstarter effort?
D: I'm lucky that I can work on this game in any capacity even though the campaign wasn't successful, but it sucks that we don't have the free time to dedicate to artistic pursuits, and need to justify them with income.
T: Two final questions. First off, do you have any advice for any other indie developers who may be considering taking to Kickstarter or IndieGoGo to crowdfund their next game?
D: You need a lot of eyes on your project, so if you're not the kind of person who thrives on social media and meeting new people, team up with someone who is.
I think having a high funding goal put people off from pledging, like they felt there was no point since we were so far away from the goal. If you aim a little lower, it will seem more achievable to your community. And it's not like you can't make more than you ask for!
T: Lastly, I wanted to know if there were any contemporaries you might want to shout out. Are there any other indie developers whose careers you are watching with great interest?
D: Oh for sure! Matt Estock is a good dude making good games. Go play Kingdom Bash!! Also teedoubleu, he really helped push me to make Punchy a better game back in the day.
Keep an eye out for Super Punchy Face. A big thank you to Drew for his time, and best of luck to 8points.