Imagine a world where innocence is present and as a child and all you had was your imagination to make anything your playground and come alive. From the ground battles, you had with your friends to having your favorite toy create a rampage on the beloved city. A time when you produced your own sound effects and made up your own rules. Things were easier and a lot less stressful if you think about it. But when I heard that developer, Happy Kramper Pictures, made a game where you are a monster to wreak havoc, I had to know more. So I reached out and the Creative Director, Brent Kappel, Executive Producer, Doug Herzog, and Lead Developer, Mike Christensen were happy to talk about their latest game, Block Buster and Virtual Reality.
Interview with the Creative Director, Brent Kappel, Executive Producer, Doug Herzog, and Lead Developer, Mike Christensen
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at Happy Kamper Pictures?
Brent: “My name is Brent Kappel. I’m the Creative Director at Happy Kamper Pictures. I’m responsible for overseeing the creative aspects of the company. For Block Buster that included writing, game design, and conceptualization.”
Doug: “My name is Doug Herzog. I’m the Executive Producer at Happy Kamper Pictures. I’m responsible for organizing and executing the day-to-day operations of the team as well as the business.”
Mike: “Hello, my name is Mike Christensen. I’m the lead developer. I do a bit of everything and most of our blueprints and assets have passed through my desk in one way or another. I’m our main coder. But I also do some animating, modeling, materials, lighting, rigging, optimizing, level layout, design, etc.”
For those who may not be aware, what are some projects that you have been a part of?
Brent: “We are new to games so our projects are limited to Block Buster, however as a production company we have done all kinds of work from narrative production work on our mini-series “Like Them” to commercial products like Crap-Chute, Street Noodles, and 3D architectural renders and animations. I was also a background performer in Jurassic World 2015. I was there for the main street attack and was also a named scientist in the lab scenes. You could say I’ve been creating and running from giant monsters ever since.”
Growing up, what were some of your most inspirational gaming experiences, and what was that one Virtual Reality moment that made you want to do more with VR?
Brent: “My early gaming memories mostly center around the N64. It wasn’t my first system but it got the most use between myself and my friends. I still have it, of course, and whenever I turn it on, I’m taken right back to Friday nights with four controllers plugged in playing Goldeneye “trip mines only”, or an all-out battle on Hyrule Castle in Smash with my friends. Those are my favorite memories even if I’ve played much better games since then.
I’d been interested in VR for years, but it wasn’t until Star Wars celebration in 2019 that I became convinced it was here to stay. I attended the convention because I’m a huge fan of the franchise, and the longest line I waited in the entire time was to test out Vader Immortal on the Quest 1. I wanted to see what VR was like untethered. Getting to see Darth Vader was just a nice bonus. Well after the demo I was sold. Went back to the office the next week and started talking with Doug about what we could do with this awesome new tech.”
Doug: ” I have many memories of all the great games I played. My first console was the SNES which included Super Mario World (my first game). I played that for a long time before the N64 came out. My favorite titles and most memorable experiences were Super Smash Bros, Star Fox 64, Donkey Kong 64, and Tony Hawks Pro Skater. After that, it was Play Station products. Ape Escape and Jak and Daxter were my 2 favorite titles between the PS1 and 2.
My first VR moment that made me think “I want to do this” was when Brent, my partner got ahold of a Quest 1 and made me play Vader Immortal. Simultaneously, our lead dev Mike also picked up a Quest 1 headset and we started experimenting with architectural walk-throughs for clients. The possibilities seemed endless, and this new entertainment medium was the coolest thing I have ever interacted with. I immediately thought about how the new standalone VR headsets would open the doors for new ways to interact within gaming altogether. It made the impossible possible.”
Mike: “I’ve been a big gamer since I was a kid. As far as most inspirational gaming experiences. There’s been way too many to count. The first game I can remember playing was called Combat for the Atari 2600. The first time beating a Mega Man game was a huge achievement for me as a kid. The first time seeing Mario in 3D. Playing a PS2 game for the first time and thinking, “It’s like a movie!” The first time I played Residents Evil at my neighbors and after I was too scared to walk the 30 feet back to my
house. The first time I played a Final Fantasy game and didn’t understand what the heck turned base was. RTS games like Warcraft 2 and 3 took over my life in middle school. I’ve got super fond memories of Zelda, Sonic, Mario, Crash Bandicoot, Croc, Tony Hawk, GTA, I could go on and on. I honestly can’t think of a video game genre I haven’t played. And all of them have left some kind of impact on me in some way or another.
My first VR experience was when my buddy brought his Quest 1 into the office. He let me play beat saber and Robo Recall. I bought a Quest 1 that night after I left work. Needless to say, I was a fan right away. I started learning ue4 after that and was able to get some of the architectural building we did renders for loaded onto the quest. Once that happened, Doug and Brent started putting some serious thought into making VR games.”
Your newest game looks to bring destruction to Cities called Block Buster. What can you tell us about the game?
Brent: “Block Buster is an action arcade game that puts you in the shoes of a giant monster destroying a city. Our game has 5 unique levels and monsters to unlock. Each level has primary objectives that are needed to complete to move on to the next level and secondary objectives that will keep players engaged for hours. Block Buster is an homage to the classic Kaiju films like Godzilla and King Kong. We wanted to deliver an experience that made you feel like the actor in the monster suit who would destroy the cities in those movies.
One of the main themes of Block Buster is monster movie fandom. This includes cosplay and toy collecting. Players must locate monster costume pieces within the levels. Once collected, players can craft their costumes to unlock the next monster. As for a reward system, Block Buster has a library of over 220 collectibles that can be displayed in your room for you and your friends to see.”
Doug: ” Block Buster is an action arcade game that puts you in the driver’s seat of being a giant monster in a city. Our game has 5 unique levels and monsters to unlock, and each level has primary objectives that are needed to complete to move on to the next level.
Our Multiplayer is limited to in-room hangouts, players can discuss game strategy and check out each other’s collectibles. We are actively working to expand these features to allow for Coop and PvP play modes.”
In the game, you play a monster. How many monsters are there and does each one have its own unique abilities?
Brent: ” There are 5 monsters, each with their own powers. Richter Scale; a blue flame attack that is controlled by the user’s head. Clawtastrophy; Tsunami Surge, a powerful water attack that sweeps everything in its path away. Gorerilla; Destruct-o Orbs 4 energy blasts used in long-range fights. Mechine of Mayhem; Rocket Propelled Fists, an ability that fires the robot fists forward. The fists can either explode or grab items from a distance and Ultra Violet; Category 6, a devastating torrent that fires in a straight path from the player.”
This is a two-part question. Were there any monsters that you wanted to be in the game, but just did not make the cut? And I have to ask, what monster in the game do you relate to and why?
Brent: “There are tons of monsters we wanted to include, but we only had time to make the main 5. We hope to release more monsters as time goes on because really, the possibilities are endless. I will say we’re all very interested in some form of
a three-headed monster, but we’re still working with our artists to decide what real-world creature to base it around. Picking one monster from our game is tough since we want players to bring their own personal touch to each one of them.
We want players to become the monster in Block Buster, so each of their personalities really comes through depending on how you play. Do you want to be a benevolent monster tip-toeing around the humans and only fighting the enemies, that’s great, or you can go full rampage and wreck everything. If I had to pick though I’d say Richter Scale just because I’ve always wanted fire breath.”
Doug: “If I had to relate to one of our monsters, it would be GoreRilla. GoreRilla might take inspiration from King Kong, but its special power pays tribute to Goku from Dragon Ball Z, which I absolutely love to this day. The giant ape paired with the Kamehameha wave really hit home for me.”
Mike: “A Giant Super Sonic Radioactive Tuna Fish Sandwich. Sadly, that didn’t make the cut, but a man can dream. A man can dream. I’ve personally never thought about that before. Maybe Clawtastrophy? He’s probably the most goofy looking one. I think that describes me well. Not that Clawtastrophy isn’t a great guy!
In looking at the trailer, it looks like you customize your monster. Is there a limit to the customization?
Brent: “Right now, our customization allows players to craft 5 monster costumes with the ability to color them. We plan to expand these features to allow for more intricate crafting as well as opening a mix-and-match function that will allow you to wear any
combination of our costumes. We also have avatar customization options for the basic character pawn under the costume. We allow players to toggle on and off certain costume pieces when they are in the bedroom, so players can show off more than just their costumes. Plus removing your monster hands makes decorating a lot easier.”
Can you tell us about the scoring system in the game?
Doug: “The scoring system we use correlates to the player’s performance per play through. The number of cars, people, and enemies destroyed, completed objectives, time limit, and hit count all play a role in whether you gain a lot of points or a small number of points. The scoring system is called Karnage Points (KP). KP is spent on toys and collectibles at the wheel of Karnage in your bedroom.”
Can you really eat people in the game?
Brent: “You can eat as many people as possible that are in the city. You get points for eating people but be careful not to step on them. Otherwise, you get nothing.”
What can you tell us about the multiplayer features within the game?
Doug: “Multiplayer in Block Buster is meant to bring people together. We wanted to deliver an experience that gave off a friend and family vibe. We like to say that Block Buster is a cross between Rampage and Animal Crossing. You get this part of the game that is dedicated to destruction and high-energy movement, but then you also get a very chill experience that focuses less on the destruction and more on the fandom. This is where your bedroom comes in. As the hub for all players. The bedroom is your hangout area where players can view each other’s toys and trophies. We are hoping to expand multiplayer features as the game continues to grow. I can’t share too much about those plans just yet, but we are listening to feedback from players, and are excited for the future of the game.”
Without spoiling too much, what can you tell us about the hidden items and secret paths?
Brent: “Each level has its own secret zone as well as hidden items. Hidden items right now are limited to monster costume boxes and “tourist cubes” The monster costume boxes unlock more monsters and the tourist cubes are an objective that always gives a prize! The secret zones also shed some light on the lore of the game. Every time you reach a secret zone, our antagonist (Kai Tech) who are human scientists bent on harvesting Kaiju for unlimited energy are seen running around (with word bubbles) as their plans for world domination are foiled!”
Visuals and sound help with the immersion. Did you find any challenges within those departments that you were not expecting when developing Block Buster?
Doug: “Our limitations came from our available resources. We are a very small team and worked with 2 artists who knocked it out of the park. We knew we wanted to keep our style low poly as we thought that looked the best on the Quest and was also appropriate for our team size to manage. With sound, we started with 2-D sounds but were able to work with professional sound designers who implemented FMOD to allow for a more cinematic 3-D soundscape. The blocky cartoony art style paired with the cinematic destruction gives the game a comical attitude that we find appropriate for the target audience.”
Mike: “There were tons of challenges for us when developing. No one on the team worked on a game before this. So, we were very much learning as we went. Because of that, our game has actually gone through quite a bit of change visually over the course of its development. Our first attempt at destroying buildings was these highly detailed structures that broke into hundreds of small blocks. It looked amazing, but it ran at like 2 frames a second. lol. Getting everything running according to Oculus Quest’s VRCs and still trying to make everything look as well as possible was quite the battle. But I think everyone did an amazing job to get the game to look and run how it does today.”
If you walked through the door into THE VR DIMENSION, but it was into the world of Block Buster and you could pick anyone from any time to be the monsters, who would they be and why?
Brent: “Merian C. Cooper the director of the original King Kong. It’s the 90th anniversary of that film this year and I’d love to see him experience this new form of media. That movie was revolutionary for its time, and I think it would be really exciting to see him with this new cutting-edge technology standing on top of a massive building, swatting biplanes out of the sky as a big ape. I like to think he would appreciate how far things have come.”
Doug: “I think Gordon Ramsey would make for an interesting person in a monster costume destroying a city. I could see a voice-over of his quirks and sound bites unironically insulting puny humans as he devours them. An actual hell’s kitchen.”
Mike: “Hmm, that’s a tough one. Being a monster would be great at first. Go around, smashing buildings and businesses that wronged you. “Take that McDonalds! Tell me how their ice cream machine is broken!” But it definitely would have its downside. For one, you’d always be getting bad-mouthed on the news. There’s no Kaiji pubs/brewers I could go to and relax with a pint after a hard day of destruction and mayhem. And where would I get coffee? I wouldn’t be able to wreck anything without a good cup of joe. And a second. And a third.”
With the content for Virtual Reality continuing to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Block Buster?
Brent: “If you’re a fan of giant monsters, this game is for you. If you’re a fan of collecting toys and organizing them to make them look cool, this game is for you. If you ever wanted to become the person in the monster suit and destroy the town, you came to the right place. Block Buster offers tons of single-player gameplay to keep players busy for hours.”
Doug: When we first set out to make Block Buster, we wanted to make the best monster experience in VR. We wanted to do something that provided enough entertainment and difficulty to keep players engaged. The support we’ve been receiving from the community means we get to grow our game to be the best it can be. We plan to release more multiplayer features to expand gameplay, new levels, monsters, collectibles, and weapons.”
I really want to thank Brent, Doug, and Mike for taking the time out of their day to give us a closer look into Block Buster and talking about Virtual Reality.
Block Buster is out now for Quest 2/Pro on the Oculus Store.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.