During Sidequest’s 24-hour Live Stream to celebrate the launch of our new website, we decided to play a game that editor-in-chief Melissa fell in love with at PAX West 2017: Monster Prom. It’s a competitive dating sim that involves wooing monsters to find your perfect prom date, and we’re hooked. Luckily for us, the game’s lead developer, Julián Quijano, decided to stop by during the stream and chat with us. With Monster Prom’s release today, we decided to share that talk with all of you—and give you more reasons to love the game.
Given that most of this interview was in an impromptu Twitch chat in November, the answers have been modified for grammar and moved around for interview flow. The content remains unchanged.
Where are you guys from?
I was born in Argentina and I live in Barcelona. The programmer is Spanish.
Who are your writers?
We have two main writers, Maggie H. and Cory O. Also some minor writers, including myself. I wrote all pop quiz questions, for instance, so I’m happy you like ‘em.
How did you and your team come up with the idea for the game itself?
I wanted to make a game; I had some ideas—some crazy ideas. I loved The Yawhg, which is a great game, and I was all like, “Damn, how come there is no more games like this one? I should make one.” I had some ideas, some scribbles in my notebook. Monster Prom seemed like the smartest choice, both creative but strategic. I asked myself stuff like, “Can this game work on Kickstarter? Can this game be appealing to streamers? Can this game encourage people to do fanart?” You always need to fuse your creative side with your bizniz side. You need to follow your creative hunger, but never forgetting that a video game is a product that will cater to a market.
It’s hard to combine business and creativity, especially when you’re starting out, though.
Welp, to me, it has always been kind of natural. I come from advertising, which is one of those fields that demands that from you. So thing is, Monster Prom is bold and unapologetic. But at the same time, the game has been designed so it can work nicely in terms of the current market. We hope it’s not a miss! We can still fail.
Be proud of what you do but also be smart about what you do. When writing… I can’t give lots of general advice. I think i know one things or two about writing, but my experience on vgames is limited to this one, aside the fact I can’t write properly in English. I have a proofreader to check everything.
The advice you’ve already given is enough. Remembering to be proud and also smart about what you do is really good advice.
For games like this one, I would say you need to excel in three fronts when it comes to writing: GREAT characters, GREAT situations, GREAT dialogues. I double as the creative director on Monster Prom. I write ALL the event prompts and I’ve built the universe and the characters. It is tricky but rewarding. We have done lots of changes to the chars to make them as good as possible.
How long have you been working on this?
Hmm. 18-24 months, I think… In early 2016, it was just scribbles in a notebook, if I recall correctly. One year ago was the first time we had something playable… a super small demo. We did a Kickstarter from Oct 25th to Nov 25th or so. It has been quite enriching for sure.
And people seem to like it so far, which is mega-rewarding, because it is the first time I go bit with creating something. In the sense it is like a bet, you know? I built the chars and I do my best to make them likeable… so it’s great to see people actually like them! Obviously, that’s thanks to the work of the MARVELOUS writers and artists.
Did the artists get to design the characters however they wanted?
Like at first? Well… thing is, we started working with another artist actually. So the current artist translated lots of the old designs to his style. Some of them changed a lot because the old artist had a hard time nailing them, especially Miranda and Liam, if I recall correctly. I participate a lot on giving feedback and doing fashion research. I love doing fashion research. I actually have a clear idea on what would be a third standard outfit for almost all of the six characters.
Apparently, someone on the Kickstarter paid to have a character in the game, and they asked for a tiger coach/Tony the Tiger. Is that true?
Yeah! I love that guy! The one that gave us lots of money.
Are there more pop quizzes?
Right now, I’m not sure how many questions there are. In the end, there will be 20 questions with three answers and 10 with six.
Funny fact: my best friend and his girlfriend used to make this question [in the screenshot above] as an icebreaker, and I do now too. So sometimes I ask people I met recently on what animal they want to make love to.
Now that can break icebergs.
Yup. Funny thing—I was working at this company, indie video game small company (6-7 people) and I made the question. And one of the guys said the shark thing with the “at least I would have a great story to tell.” And to the date it is the BEST answer I have ever heard… so now it has been immortalized here. I even changed my standard answer to that one. I have lots like that one. I try to live my life absurdly.
You and your team have done an incredible job.
Thanks! Let’s hope it clicks in a big scale with the market. We won the most smoochable game, right? I hope someday we win a physical award that says that. I also hope that award is given to us during the Oscar ceremony, somehow. Just like after Best Supporting Actor they say, “And now, Most Smoochable Video Game.” Somehow, we lose to Dustin Hoffman.
We reached back out to Julián after the team got a publisher to ask about that experience and a few follow-up questions that were nagging at us.
What has it been like working with a publisher for Monster Prom? Did you have to change your vision of the game at all?
We’ve been working with THOSE AWESOME GUYS. They’re super legit. We chose them because of many reasons, starting by the fact they seem to have the same vibes than us. I mean, the very name THOSE AWESOME GUYS is irreverent and cool and made me already think they thought similar to us. They’re young super enthusiastic people that have helped us a lot. The game hasn’t changed due to them. They give us lots of suggestions to improve it, but in the end they seem to respect our creative vision. Super nice!
What are your favorite parts of the game?
I think… best part of the game are the characters, for sure. All about them: their art, their dialogues… we’ve done a fuckton of work to make them larger than life. It’s a heck of a challenge: we keep our chars absurd while giving them depth and a layer of humanity that makes you want to spend more time with them, to think they live beyond the game. We hope this proves to be as intended and people end up falling in love with them.
You launched a Kickstarter for the game in 2016. Did you feel that pressured you to create the game in a certain way, or did it give you artistic freedom?
I think it didn’t affect that much the creative vision of the game. It was a much needed step while creating the game. It helped making us bigger and of course getting some more funds to make the game. I’m grateful to all the backers that believed in us!
Tell us the story of the Kickstarter guy who made you put in Tony the Tiger.
Qaantar is the best. He has been a backer of mine since the very beginnings. Officially, I’ve done 3 KS campaigns so far: INDIE G ZINE, Monster Prom and INDIE G ZINE vol. 2. But reality is there was a campaign before those, one I did from a friend’s account, before it was even possible to be a KS creator from Spain. I did this very humble and amateurish campaign that succeed just by a bit. It was some prints about old TV shows and indie games. Qaantar was one of my backers. He backed again on all my projects and it was always nice to see a known face there. He always backed standard amounts to get the anchor rewards (so around 10 and 20 euros). It was the case on Monster Prom. I’ve been always super nice to him, because I feel grateful of all my backers and specially of those that show so much loyalty. Thing is during the last 48h he went from 10-30 euros to 500 euros. It was crazy and unexpected and beautiful.
He was super nice and asked us to create this coach character. We coincidentally had a coach character that was mentioned in some events, and so it was a very convenient and lucky proposal. Also, he asked if he could be a tiger person, and it made lots of sense because he’s super close to Scott, who’s a werewolf, so making him an animal-based char too was very consistent.
We love Qaantar!
When we last talked in November, you said you thought a lot about the fusion of business and creativity. Did you have a particular audience in mind when you made Monster Prom? Who were you catering towards when you made the game?
This game is for people who enjoy tabletop games with friends, for people who love the crazy stupid humor on the internet, for people who binge-watch lots of TV shows and love to comment them afterwards. We envision 4 friends grabbing some drinks and having some good ol’ laughs with our game. It can be played by a single player, but it’s meant to be a social experience. We also built this game for the fandom generation: people ready to argue about canon ships and making memes out of the stuff they love, people who has visited a Wiki at least once.
How big is the game? The last time we talked, you were designing something like 350 scenarios, 30 pop quiz questions, etc. What does the final product look like? Did it get any bigger or smaller because of the publisher, or are they just helping you get the game in the hands of players?
Oh, no, never 30 pop quiz questions. 18. That number has been there for a while. We have around… 390-410 events. Each event has 2 or 4 outcomes. So there’s around 1,200-1,500 different outcomes. I think we have around 20 secret endings. Nah, the publisher has helped us specially outside the development field. They always give us nice suggestions and of course they gave us some funds for dev. But they’ve been more useful at other tasks that were more urgent to us! They’re super smart and resourceful when it comes to that, from creating our current kick-ass trailers to preparing a super dope booth for PAX East.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
In general, when a videogame excels at narrative, people often say it’s like an interactive film. We want to be the first interactive TV show. We’re doing this through our mechanics, which allow for shorter runs with LOTS of replayability. So our goal is for people to fall in love with the characters and say stuff like “Oh, I wonder what wacky situations will happen next time to this character,” the same way it’d happen with a good TV show. Also, when indie games try to excel at narrative, they often go for the deep tone, either intellectual or emotional. It is quite more rare to see a game try to excel in narrative on the comedic side. It’s hard for me to find games with which I had laughed till choking. This is a challenge, both because writing comedic dialogues can be quite more difficult than writing serious ones, and because comedic narrative is often underestimated. If you watch the Emmys, you will know that the Drama categories tend to be more valued than the Comedy ones. And people talk about all the ways the Oscars are elitist and close minded in many ways (from issues about the winners’ ethnicity to being truly surprised that a fantasy movie like The Shape of Water won best picture), but what is even harder is for a comedy movie to win an oscar. It is as if there was this misconception than “high-brow” stories are by definition of higher quality. So this is our little big adventure: trying to shine by being an excellent narrative game while mostly relying on comedy.
Another important topic when it comes to narrative is our unapologetic tone. We think there’s a bit of a double standard on “taboo topics” when it comes to video games. There has been lots of discussions to defend the fact that violence in games isn’t a bad thing inherently… that violence in games won’t turn the gamers violent. And yet, we’re still quite the shy medium when it comes to sex and specially drugs. This is quite absurd. Let’s focus on drugs: when it comes to other media, we’re past the prude era of tackling drugs as “an evil thing.” You have tons of stupid comedy films that include the use of drugs as a tool for comedy and half the time it isn’t presented as an evil thing, but just as what it is: something that some people uses and sometimes the fact they do drugs has no terrible consequences. Ten years ago or so, this happened specially on very edgy and unapologetic comedies, but now you can find it in the most vanilla movies. This scene is a perfect example:
Same goes with TV shows. So it’s about time we also have video games that are more natural and modern when it comes to love, sex, and drugs. I’m not saying all our chars are super into all of that because that’s cool. But damn, it’d be a lie to pretend is the opposite. So each character has their own relationship with these concepts, and it’s always very different. Scott doesn’t put a lot of thought on any of that, and his way of tackling love is quite natural and naive. Polly doesn’t put a lot of thought on the concept of love, while diving into sex and drugs; but we try to do it so she doesn’t do it because is cool, but just because it gives her pleasure… so the idea is she’s not an obnoxious girl that fucks a lot and does lots of drugs because she thinks that makes her cool… no, she’s just a millennial bon vivant who’s not afraid to explore what (after)life has to offer her. And so, we could discuss this topics but applied to all the chars.
And that’s yet another sweet narrative challenge: to keep an unapologetic tone that feels natural while also pushing some nice topics. From feminism to gender stereotypes, we try to start a conversation around some sensible issues, but we have to do it in a way we stay true to our irreverent way of addressing everything. So most of the chars are absurdly shitty in many ways and yet there will be times where you hopefully will say “Well… they made a valid point!”
We really hope people notices this. We wish they like the game and specially the characters. We dream with fanart and cosplay and shipping and fanfics and passionate arguments of what pairings are canon. We want to ignite a fire on the players’ hearts, we want to see we’ve created something worth of producing a beautiful crazy strong fandom.
Sidequest’s former managing editor Naseem Jamnia used to do sciencey things, but they now slam their keyboard and call it art. By night, they play a lot of video games. And regardless of the time, they spend way too much of it on Twitter, @jamsternazzy. Also, their debut novella, THE BRUISING OF QILWA, comes out in August 2022!