Funky Panda Interview

Funky Panda

Funky Panda are a mobile/social gaming startup that was founded in 2015 and work based out of London, England. Their mission statement is to ‘make the best role playing games’ in their field and recently they successfully received an Angel Fund to help them in this endeavour. Their team of 7 hardworking people is headed up by CEO and Founder, Jack Tang, who has agreed to answer some questions for MBU regarding their first release, ‘Monster Mountain’.

MBU
Firstly, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer the questions today. For those unfamiliar with Funky Panda, can you tell us a little about the company?

JACK TANG
Sure. We started the company in January 2015. Our goal is to become a game studio, which can produce RPG games that can offer both evolutionary game play and unique art style. The team is fairly small but many of us have plenty experiences working in the game industry and served companies like Playfish, Electronic Arts, Product Madness, Bohemia Interactive and Plumbee. We believe that small team can change the world.

MBU
How difficult was it to put the company together and gather a team that shares similar ideas?

JACK TANG
It is not easy. It took me a while to find the right people but past start-up experiences and good relationship what I built in the game industry helped a lot. I feel lucky that I built the core team quickly after I started sharing my ideas of Funky Panda with others. Once the core team was set up, we’ll just need to focus on game ideas and gradually finding the right people who also share similar ideas with us to enhance the team. The entire process is interesting because to me it is more like a journey of inspiration.

MBU
What’s your history with RPGs like? Do you have any favourite titles?

JACK TANG
I am a big fan of Final Fantasy. I started playing the series since NES time but Final Fantasy 7 and 8 are my favourite. I like the story, the character design, the battle play and the music. Actually ‘Eyes on Me’ is one of my favourite songs and I would always like to hear someone sing the song every time in Karaoke. Except that, Pokeman, Dragon Age, Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, and Langrisser are also my favourite titles.

MBU
Monster Mountain is your first release, can you introduce it for us?

JACK TANG
Monster Mountain is a RPG mobile game that you won’t find a same one in the market. It has a beautiful fantasy world with an interesting storyline and well-designed characters. It is a little dark, a little sad but also cheerful. The battle system is a simplified ATB system that is very easy for players to control on mobile. It also offers interesting features like Gesture Match skill trigger and Tarot Card to enhance the battle play experiences. It is a game you won’t regret to start playing.

MBU
How long was Monster Mountain in production for?

JACK TANG
We spent more than 10 months to shape the game ready for global launch. It took a bit longer as what we planned that’s why we had to cut some important features that is a shame for me.

MBU
What are the direct inspirations behind Monster Mountain?

JACK TANG
The story was original inspired from a well-known fable from Chinese mythology, The Foolish Old Man Removes the Mountains. The myth is about a Foolish Old Man who lived near a pair of mountains that blocked the village’s connection to outside world lead his family to remove the mountains while others laughed at them. It is a story about faith, courage, and persistence that is something we would like to have in our game. We want to create a unique fantasy world with many different interesting creatures but also a meaningful story behind it. Base on that we also heavily inspired from Tarot Card, Kowloon City, Limbo, Monument Valley and Adventure Time.

MBU
Why build for a freemium model rather than dropping a pay to play game?

JACK TANG
This is a tricky one. I personally would like to build a premium RPG mobile game but I don’t think players on mobile are ready. It is very expensive and time consuming to make a well-designed RPG game compares to casual games but the total number of audiences is smaller than casual game players. This results that most RPG game makers had to sell their product with a much higher price than casual games. For example, on App store Monument Valley could only charge player $3.99 but game like Zodiac had to charge player $8.99 and is still fighting for profits. On another side, we know that games like Summoners War and Brave Frontier are very profitable in the freemium model. As a small studio, my strategy has to focus on not only building a good RPG games but also make it profitable. That’s why I chose freemium model but on another side, offer players a unique game play world with interesting storyline, sticky battle play on mobile and well designed characters which other competitors didn’t have. Then players will decide whether they want to buy items in game or not after install the game.

MBU
Monster Mountain features an excellent, off-beat story with a post-modern approach to a fantasy-dystopia world. It’s kind of the anti-‘Shadowrun’. Who concocted this setting and what was it like writing scenarios for?

JACK TANG
Haha I won’t call it anti-‘Shadowrun’. The story was originally proposed by one of our artists, Xabi Mendoza. He also worked with me in Playfish back to Facebook games time and he is awesome. He told me that the image of a great mountain eclipsing the sun was something that had always touched him personally as a metaphor for the classic duality of light and darkness, good and evil, etc. Inspired by a book written by Alejandro Jodorowsky, in which he tells this ancient and inspiring Chinese legend. “Maybe you cannot change the world, but you can start to change it”. This is the core sprit of Monster Mountain.

MM1

The game always shows you the road ahead, intimidating you with the sheer length of your journey without need for dialogue.

MBU
Graphically the game stands up alongside recent artistic releases such as the ‘Banner Saga’ and ‘Transistor’ (which both sell at a hefty premium price tag), was the intent always to have this hand-animated style?

JACK TANG
First I am really happy to receive this comment. Yes, I would like the studio stands out by using hand-animated style. We have very good artists in the team and each of them is very talented. It would be a big waste if we don’t keep that style. It is also one of the key elements to make us stand out among other competitors. In the current market, there are too many games with 3D content and I truly believe that players have started getting tired with full of similar styles. However it doesn’t mean that we won’t try something different when it’s needed in the future.

MBU
How many characters are there to find in-game?

JACK TANG
So far there are more than 125 unique characters in the game and each character has an interesting BIO. We will also keep adding more and more in every future version update.

MBU
Do you have a personal favourite character among them?

JACK TANG
It is very difficult since there are many characters in the game I like a lot but if I had to choose one, I would say Peter Baboon. He is a character combines faith, courage and optimism. Can you imagine that one day you evolve to a monster from human but still entertain yourself skimming stones on the cold lakes of Snowblind?

MBU
Did any content get scrapped or not make the launch edition that you regret?

JACK TANG
Yes, I would really like to have character collection book, leader board and tarot card in the game when we launch the game. These features are designed as major features in the game but we had to cut them off to be able to launch the game on time. Also it is a shame that we didn’t localise the game in to some major Asian languages like Chinese, Japanese and Korean since we were featured on banner in App Store of many Asian countries.

MBU
The game has a distinctly colourful palette but a grungy feel to the setting, a tone greatly added to by the music employed. Your company doesn’t list a composer on the ‘Team’ page, who was responsible for the games soundtrack?

JACK TANG
I am surprised that you didn’t find the name in the Credit popup inside the game. The main person behind the games soundtrack is Rachel Simpson. She is a very talented audio maker and we met each other when we were both working for Playfish. I still remember when the first time I showed her Monster Mountain and asked her to produce audios for us she was very excited and start talking about her ideas immediately. I knew she’ll try her best at that moment and also she made it!

MM2

Static images look great but don’t do the quality of this games animations justice.

MBU
Can we expect to see additional DLC coming to Monster Mountain in the near future?

JACK TANG
Yes, we are keep adding new chapters and features in the game. We might also introduce side stories for some popular characters like Umbrella and Ouyang Shifu.

MBU
Has Funky Panda considered releasing the game for consoles such as PlayStation Network? The visual style would look amazing on a big-screen. Perhaps a port to Android?

JACK TANG
I would say it is definitely an option. As a person grew up from NES time, release a game on console is definitely my dream. Also I still believe console is still a strong platform for RPG games but if we are going to do it, we’ll probably remake the game to make it fit into console game play a bit more. Although we are going to release on Android very soon and smart TV can also be a good option.

MBU
Are there any future projects in the works or is all of your attention on Monster Mountain right now?

JACK TANG
We have started planning a new title but right now Monster Mountain will still be our focus. The biggest challenge is lack of manpower and resources as a small studio so if someone would like to help us rise extra funding please give me a shout!

MBU
Can we expect to see a sequel or more games set in the same world-setting from Funky Panda?

JACK TANG
I would love to. I truly believe that Monster Mountain has the potential to be a successful IP.

MBU
How has the game been received since launch and have download figures been as expected?

JACK TANG
We were very lucky that ‘Monster Mountain’ was featured by Apple on home page in 126 countries on 19th Nov 2015, which is the same day when we went live globally. During that time, we received about 150K downloads worldwide in 7 days. Now we have received more than 170K downloads in total with a tiny marketing budget. Although as a London based studio, it is a bit shame that the game was not featured in UK on App store during that time.

MBU
Do you have any advice for budding game developers?

JACK TANG
Not much but you’ll always need to believe yourself and keep searching the right people to team up. Try hard, fail hard and play harder!

MBU
Thanks again for your time today. If our readers want to check out Funky Panda for themselves, their official website can be found HERE, and don’t forget to download a copy of Monster Mountain from HERE.