As the Year of the Dog begins to wind down, you can look forward to its theme continuing into 2019 with Stonebot Studio’s The Last Friend, a tower defense and beat ‘em up hybrid that follows the journey of a mobile dog shelter in an apocalyptic world.
Dogs on Screens and Shirts
A vibrant demo of the game was available to play in the Santa Monica College Center for Media and Design, the site of IndieCade 2018. Colorful, stylized, angular action played out on a large screen with accompanying rock music.
Gameplay primarily revolved around protecting a van full of dogs from enemies through a mix of physical combat, and taking the time to lay down gun turrets and defensive barriers.
The Last Friend demo was located at a booth with colorful dog-focused merchandise laid out.
“From a commercial perspective, we wanted a strong IP (intellectual property),” said Alessandro Biollo, business developer on The Last Friend and business development manager for publisher Ludus Games. “Shirts were made to appeal to non-gamers, via art, not just a game title.”
He said that one of the goals is to expand the IP as a whole.
The shirts—and a scarf covered in a Shiba Inu pattern—are available for purchase on Redbubble.
“Dogs are very appealing for people to have,” Biollo said, explaining why dogs are central to the game, and how that helped later merchandising efforts.
Biollo said that dogs have a lot of artistic appeal, explaining that there are currently over 30 dogs from several different breeds visually represented in The Last Friend.
Canines in Need
There were even more personal reasons for the decision to use dogs.
Biollo said that most of the team at Stonebot Studio has a dog. He explained that some of them are even involved with dog rescue, and that they wanted to create a little awareness for that through The Last Friend.
Biollo shared that Stonebot Studio is currently in talks with distribution platform Humble Bundle about charity work, especially since the latter has previously given support to dog rescue shelters.
Tracing a Game’s Mixed Pedigree
According to Biollo, The Last Friend had a different concept before. It was originally more of a beat ‘em up, and exclusively a mobile game.
But then the concept evolved.
“Half of the team loves strategy and tower defense,” said Biollo, when explaining the current genre mash-up. “The rest of the guys were more into beat ‘em ups and fighting games.”
Biollo said they decided to try combining the two, creating a tower defense and beat ‘em up mix that’s been rarely done.
But Biollo points out that Stonebot Studio does have a history with combining game genres, such as creating the rhythm shooter Stereo Aereo before.
Though the game’s mix of tower defense and beat ‘em up gameplay is rare, similar has happened before, given that Biollo describes The Last Friend as the 2D version of Orcs Must Die!—a 3D action-tower defense game released in 2011.
But he shared that GameRevolution and fans of Stonebot Studio have said The Last Friend is Plants Vs. Zombies meets Streets of Rage.
According to Biollo, Mad Max and other ’80s and ’90s movies inspired not only the game itself, but the soundtrack too.
“The composer and most of the guys on the team like rock music,” Biollo said. “They wanted to add it to the game.”
Crafting a Career in El Salvador
Biollo said Stonebot Studio is based in El Salvador, which he describes as a small country in Central America.
He said that due to its small size, exporting goods—like coffee—can be difficult. According to Biollo, it can be easier to export games, since it can be done with just a click of a button.
“Working on video games can be a good career for people to live the ‘American Dream’ in El Salvador,” said Biollo. “The U.S. government and the El Salvador government support local artists, to encourage young guys to make a living in El Salvador.”
Biollo said that Stonebot Studio is working hard on The Last Friend, to prove that a game like that can be created in El Salvador.
The team tries to have members that are local. For an example, Biollo pointed out that their composer is from El Salvador (and also works as their community manager).
But Biollo said that if The Last Friend has voice acting, they will cast from the U.S., since that will be the game’s natural market, with planned releases on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and Steam.
“We are deciding if we will do voice overs or not,” said Biollo.
Continuing Down the Road
The Last Friend already has experience with awards, recently earning a nomination for “Best Latin American Game” at Brazil’s Independent Games (BIG) Festival 2018.
The tower defense-beat ‘em up hybrid will also be an official selection in best action games under the indie category at DreamHack in Atlanta, Georgia, scheduled for Nov. 16-18. Before that, Biolla said The Last Friend will head to TwitchCon in San Jose, California on Oct. 26-28.
The Last Friend was also a 2018 digital showcase finalist at BostonFig and an official selection at the developer’s showcase held by the MIX at EVO 2018. The rest of its awards are listed on the game’s recently established Steam page.
Stonebot Studio’s dog-centric title has even had a brush with academia. According to posts on Twitter, Biollo recently gave a talk at Santa Monica College about video game commercialization on Oct. 18, days after IndieCade 2018 concluded there.