Interview

The Big Indie Interviews: We sit down with Battlebrew's Shawn Toh to discuss cooking up a successful indie studio

The Big Indie Interviews: We sit down with Battlebrew's Shawn Toh to discuss cooking up a successful indie studio

The Big Indie Pitch is a regular event run by the makers of PocketGamer.biz. It sees indie developers engage in a speed-dating-style pitching competition for fame and those sweet, sweet promotional packages.

The event gives indies four minutes to pitch their games to a panel of press, publishers, and industry pundits. The judges then pick three winners and everybody gets valuable feedback.

The indie view

The Big Indie Pitch is getting bigger and bigger as we bring it to events all across the world. To give you an idea of what the event is like, who attends the events and the games on show, we've sat down with a number of past BIP contestants to offer their views.

The Big Indie Pitch goes digital

Today, we're speaking to Shawn Toh from Singapore based Battlebrew Productions, who pitched Noodle SouperStar at The Digital Big Indie Pitch #3 (Mobile) in August and walked away with the prize for second place.

PocketGamer.biz: Tell us a little about yourself and your indie studio - has anything changed since you last walked away with one of our Big Indie Pitch prizes?

Shawn Toh: Wow, that was 2 games ago. I'd say it really helped with publicity. Much has changed though. In the interim, one of our other games, BattleSky Brigade: Harpooner, was selected for Apple Arcade's launch. The team has also grown and changed a bit. Back then we were 4 or 5 folks, now we're at about 7 for the core team.

Tell us about your new BattleStar game, Noodle SouperStar, that you pitched at the competition.

So, we've always liked food a lot. We usually go out to eat together, and we've had cookouts at the office a few times. It's featured here and there within some of our games. For this one, we decided to go all-in on our love of food.

We're also huge fans of ramen. I think we might have been modelling some food-related thing while prototyping and decided to see how far we could push it. The results of that experiment got us both hungry and thinking. Thus, work on Noodle SouperStar began.

What do you think are the most unique and interesting aspects of Noodle SouperStar that gamers may never have seen before?

So one of the pillars of Noodle SouperStar is animated "Food Porn". You know, basically when you look at pictures of food and start drooling. We're definitely fans of other cooking games but some of them we think could have pushed the food porn factor more.

We wanted to do it in a stylistic way, we don't believe you have to go photorealistic to sell that fantasy - just look at Ghibli films or other anime food. We're also looking at an Iron Chef-style cooking battle mode (with all the humour and weird tropes) and collaborative ways to run the kitchen. All this is of course set in the world of BattleSky Brigade, with the signature cute smolians, except now you're running a rather chaotic restaurant.

Cookery games have seen something of a resurgence in the last 12 - 24 months. What made you choose this different genre for your next game, and what do you think you bring to it that may not have been seen before?

Well, we tend to do different genres each game at BattleBrew anyway - it's a bit of a creative itch. Love of food is a common factor amongst the team and it features in some form in each of our games previously, we wanted to see if we could incorporate it more heavily into our next game. That ended up being the focus of Noodle SouperStar. Given our country's lockdown for COVID19 (we're kinda back to normal now luckily), we also missed eating out at restaurants. That hunger definitely drove home the importance of tasty food.

How did you come to choose the platforms that you would develop Noodle SouperStar for, especially given your previous mobile focus?

I'd say development on our previous game for Apple Arcade definitely helped with that. We released on 3 platforms - Mac, AppleTV and of course iOS. There's always challenges of course, and each platform comes with its own unique challenges but I think it was and is still a great learning journey. We're looking at a possible combination of PC, Switch and mobile for Noodle SouperStar for now. We're still early in development though, so things might change.

Looking at the studio a little more now. How hard is it to survive as an Indie developer?

I think we're a little luckier as we have prior released games, but even we had to adapt to some work-from-home arrangements. We're currently in a hybrid model, but we do feel communication is a lot more spontaneous in a shared studio. Communication lag can be real with remote work.

Some friends' studios who do a bit more service work have definitely felt the trickle-down economic effect of the global recession. It can be a tough time for many folks right now. The lack of physical events this year also really hurts outreach (B2C/B2B) and dealmaking, but at least the various shows (including this one!) have gone virtual, which really helps.

Are there any tips and advice you would give to independent developers out there who are just starting out?

Very strangely - maybe go work for or WITH someone else first if possible. You'll gain a portfolio, publisher/localiser contacts, possible new partners and colleagues even years down the road. Members of the Battlebrew crew were colleagues/classmates in previous places before we formed a company officially Additionally, have reserves. You never know when you'll need them.

On the flip side, have a community or even if you're solo an informal 'team'. It could be other solo devs, where you do regular check-ins and show-and-tells. Feedback is useful, but it's also great for social motivation.

The indie scene in Singapore is small but close-knit and we share contacts and help pretty often which really helps survivability. On a friendly or social note, it's just also really nice to have folks who understand the same struggles. Making friends in your local community can be make-or-break for other folks in other countries too, I'm sure.

How did you find your experience pitching as a part of the Big Indie Pitch?

Oh, it's always really fun! It's a really good experience, and each pitch that you do, you'll find you crystallise and refine your vision even more. The questions are always great (although you should be anticipating them), as knowing the advantages and disadvantages of your chosen project is always a good thing.

It's also inspiring to see what other devs are working on and presenting. It's both terrifying and gives one hope. You look on and see some amazing ideas and execution, and at the same time maybe hope you're making something people think is cool too.

What do you feel you have gained from the experience, and what do you still hope to gain?

Definitely more confidence in the project, both in its appeal and vision-clarity. At the same time there's even more discussion (for example which platform first, can we expand feature X or do we double down on something else). We're looking for good partners for this game and more publicity and wins is always great.

What are your hopes for this game in the future, and do you have any plans for any future projects?

We hope of course that we'll make a good game that people enjoy greatly! We did have other prototypes lurking around, but we're very highly likely just going to double down and concentrate on Noodle Souperstar and launch that as our next title.

As to what the other future titles are...I'm sure we'll share those in due time.


Want to show off your exciting new game? We host Big Indie Pitch events throughout the year, so be sure to keep an eye on our events page for an event near you.

Upcoming Big Indie Pitch Event Pages & Registration

October 14 - The Big Indie Pitch Digital #4 (Mobile Edition)
November 10 - The Big Indie Pitch (PC+Console Edition) at Pocket Gamer Connects Digital #4
November 11 - The Big Indie Pitch (Mobile Edition) at Pocket Gamer Connects Digital #4

More coming soon so make sure to regularly check our upcoming events page here and over on BigIndiePitch.com.

Developer Evangelist & Big Indie Pitch Manager / Special Features Writer

Queen of all things Indie. Sophia is Steel Media’s Big Indie Pitch Manager and Developer Evangelist. She’s also a global speaker and lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that she’s written a thesis on one and lived in the other.

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