For Brett Pennings, an electrical engineering degree plays second banana to developing video games. He worked several jobs before deciding to return to his roots as a gamer and start work on his own indie title. Now, Pennings calls himself the “dev half” of Bowlcut Studios, an indie video game developer he started with his brother, Chad. Pennings, drawing upon the wisdom and perspective of a guy who knows more about games than I know about comic books (an incredible feat), set about educating me on how to pitch to Nintendo, how indie games differ from mainstream ones, and what it takes to stand out in such a cutthroat industry.
Luckily for me, he’s super qualified to school me on this topic. The Pennings brothers created MageQuit, a top-down wizard brawler which turns tired tropes on their heads and offers players the opportunity to live out their dreams of sporting a beard that would make Gandalf shit himself.
Yep, you read that correctly. Bowlcut’s brawler hilariously uses beard length as a metric for success, a creative decision that turns hoary, hairy spellcasters with questionable punctuality into competitors who just want more use out of their beard combs.
Drawing inspiration from Warcraft 3 mod Warlock, the Michigan-based duo set about creating a party game that offers up just as much fun to groups as it does to individuals. Its emphasis on inclusion and fairness immediately separates it from other games of its kind and pushes it closer to why video games exist at all: to connect people. And, to the brothers’ delight, players seem to respond well to their play-first, party-second approach.
A lot of people see MageQuit as a party game. I say that it toes the line between a party game and competitive. Here’s a high-level overview of what the game is: It’s a top-down wizard brawler for up to 10 players. You can play online or locally. Every kill you get makes your beard longer and the wizard with the longest beard at the end of nine rounds wins.
Sounds like a winning concept, right? Well, it is. MageQuit enjoys high marks on Steam, a growing following, and an impending release for the Xbox One. No official release date has been announced, but the game is gaining traction.
But for Brett, the initial decision to make MageQuit indie was an easy one. Not only did he recognize the merits of community feedback (a HUGE advantage), but he also seized the opportunity to create a game that he felt was built “more on anticipation than on reaction.” For MageQuit players, that means timing spells is tantamount to predicting where opponents are going to position themselves at any given time. If we’re gonna peel away the layers and look at what it is, it’s a strategic game masquerading as a chaotic free-for-all between hilariously insecure magic-wielders. It can technically be both, depending on how you play it.
But that’s not the only tweak the Pennings brothers made to the Warlock formula.
You learn spells between rounds. In Warlock, you buy spells from a store between rounds with gold you get by getting kills. We took that and flipped it on its head and made it so last place picks first to try to rubberband players so the game is more fun. In the mod, it was very snowball-y. The person who won the first round tended to win the whole game.
As a gamer himself, he wanted to make something dynamic, fast-paced, and easy to pick up and play on a whim, whether it be alone or with a group. He and Chad coordinate with their followers on Discord and play with them twice a week, a practice that Brett says makes the game better. They ask for feedback from their community, and that community happily obliges. It’s a healthy relationship, one that both Brett and Chad continue to foster through positive, playful interactions and receptiveness to constructive criticism.
Judging from the look, feel, and energy of the game, it appears that the Pennings brothers have crafted something that’s as unabashedly silly as it is relentlessly entertaining.
And when it came time to pitch to major console companies, the Pennings brothers started getting excited.
Typically, when you approach a console company, you have to sort of pitch your game. For Xbox, it’s a form that you fill out. We haven’t actually pitched to Playstation yet but pitching to Xbox was a lot easier than pitching to Nintendo. But it helped that we already had the game on Steam, actually, because we were able to send them keys and say, ‘Hey, try this out and see if it looks like something you’d want on your console.’ We actually got approved for Xbox two years ago. That one was a while ago. Switch was less than a year ago.
The game’s Xbox release will feature 70 spells (twice the number available now), an original soundtrack, and more beard envy than you can handle. Currently, the game boasts eight stages, 400 spell combinations, and physics! Lots of beautiful, sexy physics. The best part, though? The brothers are unleashing it all on Xbox One this fall.
Shoutout to Brett Pennings for being such a good sport while answering my shitty questions. Look for MageQuit on Steam and Xbox!