Videogames are not necessarily the first thing that come to mind when one thinks of Miami, but SkyJoy Interactive is looking to change that. Cultist had the opportunity to see company's office, play its first game, and learn more about the firm at the forefront of the Miami videogame scene.
SkyJoy, listed among Miami's first videogame companies, is located on the tenth floor of a Brickell building sprinkled with the dust of nearby construction. CEO Abdulhady "Abboudi" Taher sees the construction as a metaphor for Miami's burgeoning tech possibilities.
"We think Miami is a great place. It has a lot of potential," he says. "There's no reason why it can't be a videogame center. I mean, Austin is a videogame center, and there's nothing there! Even Boston! It's nice, but it's not Miami. And San Francisco, it's nice, but the cost of living is astronomical. You can live much better for half the price [in Miami]."
Producer Amanda Drewniak says there's a ton of talent here. Local colleges and universities offer tech programs, so why not give students the opportunity to showcase their talents without having to move elsewhere?
Most of SkyJoy's 11-person team is locally grown and made up of people frustrated with the sentiment that plagues a lot of creative industries in Miami: Those who know better head up North or to the West Coast to find fortune.
SkyJoy's first attempt to build a gaming industry in the 305 comes in the form of mobile game Super Kid Cannon, a vertical launcher they describe as the first of its kind. You play as Kid Cannon, a red panda tasked with rescuing his girlfriend from the clutches of Kahn, a snow leopard (which in real life is the red panda's natural enemy).You can pay to subvert the classic damsel-in-distress trope by buying the ability to play as Justine, the girlfriend, for 99 cents. In addition, the team explicitly wants to show that Justine is not by any means weak.
"We want Justine to represent a new type of female protagonist in videogames," Taher states in a recent news release. "She's strong, feminine, cute, and a loyal companion, but she's not a wimp. Her strength and spirit were key points we're keeping in mind during development."
In an effort to save your feisty panda princess, you tap to shoot your way vertically through increasingly challenging and lengthy levels via cannons, bubbles, ships, and other forms of transportation. When you reach the top, you are greeted with the image of Khan holding your panda paramour hostage. No worries if you don't make it on the first shot. Cannons act as checkpoints, and you respawn at the last cannon -- provided you have enough hearts left to do it. As the devs pointed to harder levels, we found ourselves challenged, but in a good way. We left more determined than frustrated.
The game has come a long way since its start two years ago. Many game mechanic prototypes were passed around to different focus groups. The cannon's tap-and-shoot mechanics were the favorite among the prototypes, and the game was built around it, first with a frog protagonist looking to save his frog princess from the clutches of a predatory bird. They looked for an animal that was more unique, inspired by Sonic the Hedgehog. When they stumbled upon the red panda, they knew the animal was just the protagonist they needed. But they knew all along it had to be an animal.
"I mean, humans are cute, but we don't wanna fire a baby out of a cannon."
The world's characters and backgrounds are cartoon eye-candy drawn by a two-man art team that counts Marvel, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network among its pedigrees. The characters, whether protagonists or villains, are built with an art style and personality extending beyond this one mobile title. Level designer Isai Oviedo mentions they are characters that can be comfortable in any genre, whether it be a vertical launching sequel or a racing game. The potential reach of the characters became even more evident when handed a sample of Super Kid Cannon plushies.
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The game (and the company) has serious vision, and the greatest thing about Super Kid Cannon is what it isn't. While it is a free to play the game, it is not "pay to win." In-app purchases will give you alternate costumes, hearts, and powerups that can give you an edge in later levels, but you're not going to sell your soul to get to those levels like some other free-to-play games. Even better, you can feel good every time you make an in-app purchase: SkyJoy has partnered with a company that makes a portion of each in-app purchase benefit women entrepreneurs in the developing world. Who says gaming can't help change the world?
Bottom line: It's cute, fun for the whole family, challenging, socially responsible, and local. All it'll cost you is a bit of space on your phone or tablet.