INTERVIEW: Khalil Abdullah Talks ‘Swimsanity!’

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Swimsanity Decoy Games

Upon release, two of our contributors had the opportunity to review Swimsanity!, a multiplayer twin-stick underwater shooter by Decoy Games. Senior Editor Jason Flatt sat down with Swimsanity! Co-Founder and Lead Developer Khalil Abdullah to discuss the game, how it came to be, and where they plan to go from here. Swimsanity! is available now on PC and consoles, including on Xbox as a free Games with Gold title through December 15th.  The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.


BUT WHY THO: Thanks so much for joining us. Two of us at But Why Tho? got a chance to play Swimsanity! when it first came out and we were pretty into it at the time. I’ve been jumping back in ever since. For those who don’t know Swimsanity!, could you give a couple-sentence description?

KHALIL ABDULLAH: It’s a four-player underwater shooter with competitive and cooperative game modes where you can play with or against your friends. We’ve got five versus modes and three different co-op modes across five completely different worlds. And the base of the game is as you do more and more damage, you’re able to unleash Swimsanity with a number of underwater, overpowered moves to defeat your enemies.

BUT WHY THO: And, as you play more and more, you’ll unlock other Unleashes to use on your friends, enemies, and otherwise. What was the inspiration behind this game? It’s simultaneously straightforward and kind of wacky at the same time.

KHALIL:  Back when I was in college, I was playing a game called Game and Watch Gallary on the Game Boy. One of the games, “Octopus,” you would take Mario and you would have to go down to the bottom of the ocean and grab gold. When trying to get the gold back up to his boat, there’d be this humongous octopus that would try and grab him. So, one semester I signed up for a Flash game development class, and in that class one our midterms was to create a game. Octopus” inspired my very first time developing a game called “Swimsanity” It started with a similar idea, going down to the bottom of the ocean to grab gold. That was my midterm. For the final, we could do whatever we want. So I was like: great—”Swimsanity 2.” And this game was actually multiplayer. Two players battling, shooting harpoons, bringing back gold to their respective boats while battling sea creatures. Kids in my class started playing it even when I wasn’t there. And so you hit that part of your life where you’re like “okay, I think I want to do this for real actually.”

BUT WHY THO: Heck yeah, I love that. Has it been a consistent journey since its inception, working on this?

KHALIL:  The drive to make a game was consistent, but that’s pretty much where it stops. The actual game idea itself? We’ve gone through so many iterations. We’d get to the end and ask “what worked and what didn’t work” and literally start over. At one point the game was a bunch of mechs going around shooting each other. Another iteration it was a single-player game that had a Megaman style and really over-the-top serious story. We’ve had a lot of different iterations.

BUT WHY THO:  Well, I definitely enjoy it as it is, though all of those other versions sound awesome too. This game has a big couch co-op vibe, are there particular couch co-op memories that went into your development of Swimsanity!?

KHALIL:  Decoy Games is mostly me and my brother and we’ve been playing games since we were three or four. My mom actually put us onto games, she used to work at Toys R Us and bring home old games from clearance. We used to play a lot of Bomberman, that was one of our top games for couch co-op. And Gauntlet, which is the worst games I ever enjoyed. I don’t even know what the appeal is. I can’t explain it to this day but the hours we sunk into that game, going everywhere and nowhere at the same time. And as we got older, Mario Party for sure and Perfect Dark. Perfect Dark actually inspired us a lot, when it hit the scene it had so many takes on the game modes and creativity.

BUT WHY THO: I always enjoyed when games come out these days that can be enjoyed in co-op online and on the couch, as well as on your own. And I appreciate the work you’ve put into adjusting and adapting the experience since the game’s initial release. Something I particularly love about the game is its art style. How did you decide on this simple art style that is also full of color and unique environments?

KHALIL: We have so much respect and inspiration from people who made games before us. For the end-game art, one of the big inspirations was Castle Crashers, because when we first started, it was the start of Xbox Live Arcade and a lot of indie games were coming on the scene. They showed just because we weren’t making a AAA experience, that doesn’t mean your artistic discipline in the game has to take a hit. Castle Crashers did a really good job as a 2D game; there’s nothing crazy about it but the way they presented their characters and expressions, it popped. Another inspiration was the last two Rayman games—the environments and the backgrounds that are simple but don’t look simple when you’re actually playing the game. And from a box art perspective? A lot of Mega Man.

BUT WHY THO: Wow, when you mentioned Castle Crashers, immediately I understood why I find the art so appealing. I could boot up my own Illustrator and with enough hard work and dedication, I could make something like this too. It’s simple but it has a lot of heart to it. Is there anything deeper to the visual motifs? There’s a lot of polluted waters and mutated sea life.

KHALIL: We actually low-key have a full story for Swimsanity! It was our intent to get it into the game but due to the size of our team and some deadlines, we said “alright, let’s get people to enjoy the game first” and maybe in the future in Swimsantiy! 2 or future updates, we can add the lore. We want to have the opportunity to release it at some point.

BUT WHY THO: Well, I will definitely look forward to seeing that take shape, whether in a sequel, an update, or another medium. Thank you so much again for joining us, I will look forward to continuing to Swimsanity! and encourage folks to grab it on Xbox while it’s free with Gold. What’s next for you?

KHALIL: We’re excited to continue supporting and growing the game with content, events, tournaments, dev-play sessions, and such. And definitely have some plans for cool new announcements early next year. And we’re already doing concepts for our next game. We never intended Decoy Games to be a one-game indie study.

BUT WHY THO: And where can people best find you and Decoy Games to stay tuned on what’s coming next?

KHALIL:  On social media, you can find us at @DecoyGames and @DecoyGames_Official. And you can join Decoy Games in our Swimsantiy! Discord as well.