Kevin Wienecke’s life took him from Anthropology classrooms to Tomb Raider to becoming a designer at KingsIsle. Using an in-house game jam to develop ideas, Wienecke and his coworkers decided to pursue the notion of cats in space. This became the game AlphaCat. Wanting to learn about this game and his background, Wienecke was awesome enough to allow me to interview him.
Nicholas Yanes: So when did you know you wanted to design videogames for a living? Was there a game you played as a kid that you think pushed you in this direction?
Kevin Wienecke: Making games for a living was always a dream I had, even from a young age. Back then, the gaming industry was still quite young, and there weren’t any real defined ways to break in. So I never really pursued a gaming job until after I graduated from college because it never seemed “real” to me. But I got to a point and asked, “What do I have to lose?” and then just went for it.
The largest influence I had as a kid was definitely the original Legend of Zelda. The sense of adventure, mystery, and difficulty still hold up even to this day.
Yanes: You got your undergraduate degree in Physical Anthropology. How did you transition from that education into a video game development?
Wienecke: Well, to be honest, there weren’t many jobs available as an archaeologist right out of school. At least, none that were willing to pay me! So I basically had a decision at that point in my life – continue to try and find employment in Archaeology, or pursue my dream of games.
As fate would have it, I ended up working on several Tomb Raider games, so it was fun to work on that game series and be just a little more informed of the content I was making.
Yanes: You are the Lead Designer for KingsIsle’s game AlphaCat. What was this game’s origin? Was there a specific story you wanted to tell?
Wienecke: The gameplay of AlphaCat was something I had been kicking around in my head for a while. Originally, the game was themed to be a rather high-fantasy concept. But then we had a company game-jam at KingsIsle, and I decided to try and build the game with five other people in three days. Other teammates weren’t so wild about the fantasy theme, but we had a good laugh when we started talking about the hilarity of cats in space. So we started to push that angle and had a lot more fun coming up with content. The theme then developed into a blend of Saturday morning cartoons featuring a cat that explores the galaxy with their companions.
Yanes: On this note, was there a classic game or entertainment property you wanted AlphaCat to evoke?
Wienecke: Some of the big influences we had were from a couple of sources – the old Bucky O’Hare video game, ThunderCats and a dash of Flash Gordon.
Yanes: When did you realize that your team and you had decided on the right gameplay for AlphaCat? Was there a specific type of gaming experience you were going for?
Wienecke: It took a few months of work to nail down our core gameplay loops, but we were always shooting for a game that was super accessible to casual players yet had enough meat for the gamers to sink their teeth into. More casual players would enjoy the basic pleasure of matching and the colorful, carefree art style, while other more experienced gamers would enjoy the min-maxing of developing the right team combinations for the job at hand.
Yanes: With over sixty characters, which are some of your favorites?
Wienecke: I have a good time playing around with all combinations, but honestly, my favorite team makeup is running with two attackers. That pretty much means I’m all offense and no defense. I’m currently using Mallory (who can give a team member double-attack) and Raptor (who gives my whole team the ability to counter-attack enemies). Since those two abilities can stack, the combination is pretty devastating!
Yanes: What are the long term goals for AlphaCat? Do you hope to see these characters in other mediums? Like an animated movie or as stuffed toys.
Wienecke: We have some new content planned where the AlphaCat and crew will encounter bigger and badder enemies and will explore parts of the galaxy where no cat has gone before . . . or maybe they have . . . !? There would be nothing greater than to see AlphaCat merchandise EVERYWHERE! I’d certainly love that, but it’s really going to depend on how the game is received. We certainly have a bunch of really cool features and content planned for upcoming releases, and I hope we get to release all of it!
Yanes: Looking back at this project, how do you think you’ve improved as a game designer by working on AlphaCat?
Wienecke: I’ve worked on “hardcore” games before, and strictly “casual” games, but I’ve never worked on one which tries to blend the two audiences together. It was definitely a challenge designing with all of these players in mind, but I’ve certainly grown in my ability to deliver a product that each would be happy with.
Yanes: What are some projects fans of KingsIsle should keep an eye out for?
Wienecke: We currently have two games in Soft Launch in Canada: EverClicker (https://www.everclicker.com/) and Get Jiggy (https://www.getjiggypuzzles.com/). Both of these will be headed to fans in the future, and we have an unannounced project in the works that the whole company can’t seem to stop playing! Between these upcoming games and our regular updates to our MMOs, we’re really excited about the future at KingsIsle. Hopefully we’ll be able to reveal more details on all of these soon. In the meantime, be sure to stay up to date by following our games on social media.