Key Art For Pepper Grinder

Dig Dug platforming? Q & A with the devs behind Pepper Grinder

Better sharpen that drill, because this looks like a good one.

9 mins read

It’s hard to find innovation in the 2D platformer genre at times. However, “Dig Dug plus Ecco the Dolphin” is certainly a concept that we don’t remember coming across before!

That is how the developer of Pepper Grinder describes his debut title, which has been more than seven years in the making and is now being published by Devolver Digital. As with most Devolver titles, Pepper Grinder offers something a bit different and creative, and we’re very much looking toward to giving it a whirl for ourselves when it launches on March 28 for PC and Nintendo Switch.

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In the meantime, here is Riv “RH” Hester, describing where the inspiration for Pepper Grinder came from, the challenge in making indie platformers stand out, and the challenges and opportunities for indies. Best of luck with the game! First of all, I was wondering if you could share with us what you’re looking to achieve with Pepper Grinder?

Riv “RH” Hester: Thanks! Pepper Grinder has been all about finding joy in movement from the start, so my main goal was to make it feel good enough that even if drilling was all you did it would still be fun – and then to expand on that in unique ways each level.

Pepper Grinder Screenshot I know the gameplay was inspired by Dig Dug, but where did the inspiration for the world and character designs come from?

Hester: Yeah, Dig Dug plus Ecco the Dolphin! Both great inspiration for gameplay but all the world-building you get for Dig Dug is the cover art. And Ecco is all about facing eldritch horrors deep underwater and I’m not a very strong swimmer. So we have to do something on land, right?

Pepper herself is a product of the mechanics. We’re burrowing through the ground so she has a big drill. I wanted to define paths through the levels that had a nice flow to them so I guide the player with buried treasure, and naturally that makes Pepper a treasure hunter. The rest either follows from that or just comes from my love for the aesthetics of dieselpunk stuff like Tank Girl combined with my own pixel art style. I leave a lot of the how and why to your imagination but there’s hints everywhere in how things fit together. Of all the genres where it’s difficult to stand out, the platformer is probably right up there. The drill mechanic aside, do you think players will see your game as being stand out and different? What will get it there?

Hester: Right? It’s even harder when it’s more of a retro platformer too because that puts you up against the classics. I never put that much thought into it though! I’m just focused on making games I want to play, and while I love platformers I’m frankly pretty bad at a lot of them. So what I wanted was a platformer with a low barrier to entry but a really high skill ceiling with a different kind of platforming that was less rigid than usual. All I could do is hope that I’m not the only one that wants that and based on feedback from the demo it certainly seems I’m far from alone!

Pepper Grinder Screenshot What have you found to be the most interesting and challenging things about developing a platformer?

Hester: Definitely keeping things fresh without over-scoping the project. I’m not making the game totally alone as I have MP2 games handling ports and dev support and Xeecee making the music, but everything else is just me. So designing enough unique mechanics to keep things evolving in a satisfying way throughout the game without extending development even further was a big challenge.

The game was first prototyped seven years (and two other failed publishing deals) ago now, and has been rebuilt almost from scratch just in the last two and a half years since partnering with Devolver to get it back to reflecting my vision for it. So with all that behind me I needed to get this thing done, you know? In the end though there isn’t much on the cutting room floor. Platformers in particular are just hungry for variety so rather than outright cutting a lot of ideas I simplified them instead. A lot of them were improved by being less elaborate anyway, so it worked out! Obviously finishing the game and shipping it is a massive, memorable achievement, but were there any other particularly noteworthy parts of the game development process that really stood out for you?

Hester: Getting enemies working not only on a technical level but also expressing their personalities through their actions is always really exciting to me. It’s a big part of what breathes life into things. So each of the four world bosses were a big deal to me in that regard because they have so much more room for that expression.

Pepper Grinder Screenshot You’ve partnered with a publisher rather than self-publishing Pepper Grinder – do you think this was important for the success of the game? What has Devolver been like to work with?

Hester: Finishing Pepper Grinder has been more than a full time job over the last few years already so it’s not hard to imagine myself burning out long before the finish line if I had had to manage promotion and securing funding by myself on top of it. So yeah, I’d say it was vital!

Working with Devolver has been fantastic, the team there really knows what they’re doing and make it a clear priority to support their people and everyone that works with them in any way they can think of. Have you got any grander ambitions with Pepper Grinder, or will your next project be significantly different?

Hester: I think the next game does have to be pretty different for the sake of my sanity. I always have a few prototypes cooking on the side just so I can do something different for a day or two here and there while keeping the creativity flowing, so maybe one of those will graduate to a serious project?

Pepper Grinder Screenshot Finally, what games have you been playing with your free time (limited as I am sure that has been) recently?

I usually play a few Street Fighter 5 ranked matches on my lunch break, though I’ve been plateaued at Platinum 1 level for a while. And since wrapping on Pepper Grinder I’ve been playing Elden Ring again alongside my partner who’s just started it for the first time. We’re super excited to get our characters ready for the DLC this summer!

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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