Three years ago, a group of computer game design and playable arts, games, and media (AGPM) undergraduate students at UC Santa Cruz collaborating on their capstone senior project set out to design a fun game and engaging. None of the 10 students at the time believed that Squish, the game they developed, would eventually be picked up by a major publisher and released on the Nintendo Switch platform.
Squish is a fast-paced competitive multiplayer game featuring skelegoos, ghoul-like characters, who must escape from a collapsing underground crypt. The game begins with the characters partying so hard that the ceiling begins to fall. In order to escape without getting run over, players must navigate skelegoos around various obstacles and use the environment to their advantage.
“What we kept saying during our three-quarter review is that this game belongs on Switch. Our dream was to get it on the Switch console, and now it’s happening in a month,” said said Fernando Zamora, music and sound producer Squish (Porter ’19, AGPM).
Level 0: Game Design Conceptualization
The BS Computer Game Design and AGPM BA programs require students to complete a three-quarter capstone project. Engineering students and AGPM work as a team to design and produce a unique game. The first quarter focuses on brainstorming and prototyping the game, followed by two quarters of production and development.
During Q1, the Squish team decided on a spooky aesthetic and a design and name for the game’s main characters: the skelegoos. Prototyping and development of ideas started with cardboard models before being transferred to computer production.
Team members refer to Squish as a mashup between Tetris and Super Smash Bros. The original game format was inspired by a community level within the Little Big Planet series of puzzle platformer video games.
“I find a lot of games are inspired by what game developers grew up playing. You can see that in the design and aesthetic of Squish,” said Reed Scriven (Merrill ’19, computer game design) , Squish’s Technical Art Designer and Media Relations Manager, “We wanted to design something that was interactive, fun, and capable of engaging multiple players.”
At the end of the third term, Squish was chosen as a finalist for the E3 College Game Competition. The Southern California Summer Gaming Convention “helped put us on publishers’ radar and was a major stepping stone for our game,” said Athene Yip (Rachel Carson ’19, AGPM), president and producer. environmental design for Squish.
Level 1 and beyond: From competition to publication
After speaking with Warner Brothers during the E3 competition, the Squish team was referred to leading game publisher PM Studios. In the summer of 2020, the team, which was now down to five alumni, with the remaining five leaving to pursue other career opportunities, signed a contract with PM Studios.
Thanks to the expertise of PM Studios, the team was able to improve the production of the game, add a multiplayer format and improve the user experience with new designs and music.
“I like to joke around and say it’s the longest assignment I’ve ever been given. But it all helped gain experience,” Zamora said. I’m excited to continue to build on that and make it the best game we can make.
Squish was first introduced to gaming enthusiasts in August 2021 at PlayNYC, a small convention focused on indie games. Within a month, they were showcasing their game at the popular and prominent west coast gaming convention PAXWest.
“With a few big companies absent from this event due to COVID concerns, it gave us a chance to shine. We had people coming back multiple times to tell us how much they loved the game and wanted to play it again,” Yip explained.
By the April 2022 PAXEast gaming convention, Squish had built up a fanbase, and gamers who had attended previous conventions were excited to try the game again – an indication of Squish’s growing popularity.
The last convention was memorable in more ways than one for the small team at Squish. It provided a moment to reflect on three years of hard work and a way to celebrate while looking forward to the game’s upcoming release on Nintendo Switch and Steam.
“When I think back to the beginning, I felt like it was a cool game idea and I really enjoyed being with my team members,” Zamora said. “None of us thought it was going to continue and become something more.”
With Squish’s upcoming digital and physical release, members of the alumni team reflected on the game’s development process, beginning with their time at UC Santa Cruz. Yip, Zamora, and Scriven mentioned that despite being a small team, they were able to use it to their advantage during the entire production process. This allowed them to collaborate closely with each other, generate new content ideas and improve the user experience.
“Being able to complete a project like this brought so many lessons and experiences that were invaluable to our growth and development,” Reed said.
Despite the challenge of lack of industry experience, the Squish team quickly proved their potential and managed to find opportunities for continued growth. They are now on their way to becoming seasoned competitors in the gaming industry.
Squish is available for pre-order. Visit the Squish website for more information. The other two members of the Squish team are Coulter Petnic, Senior Gameplay Designer and Programmer, and Jessie Aniguid, Gameplay Programmer, Designer and Artist.