Hello, Playcrafting community! My name is Dakota Hernandez, and I am the lead programmer for Star Yolk Games. I’m here today to talk to you about our first large-scale game project – Coquí Beat!
About The Game
Coquí Beat is a 2D platformer where the world moves to the music. From terrain that rises up from the ground to enemies that hop or change direction in sequence, everything but the player character is timed to the beat of the soundtrack. Players must follow the beat as they run, jump, dash, and leap through the air to overcome obstacles, nab collectibles, and clear stages.
The game is currently in alpha, but the planned story explores Puerto Rican identity and culture. Our lead character is a second-generation Puerto Rican who lives in the mainland United States and feels disconnected from her culture. A trip to visit family on the island turns into a fantastical adventure when she now has the powers of a magical coquí. Our heroine now must explore the island and save the day while also exploring her relationship with her culture.
The Coquí Beat project formally began in October 2018. In the fall of that year, I took my first steps into game development by taking Playcrafting’s “Learn Unity in 8 Weeks” course. The initial build of the game served as my final project for the course, but the roots for the project were years in the making.
Long before the Playcrafting course, I had wanted to make video games. Video games were an important part of my life growing up. Classic series like Super Mario and Pokemon brought me a lot of joy in my life. They (among several others!) continue to fuel my imagination, and as my appreciation for them matured, I became more interested in the creative process behind games. It led me to want to learn to program and make my own games.
And I was not alone – the team that now makes up Star Yolk Games (me, narrative and graphic designer Alexia Mohabir, and visual development artist Ari Mohabir) would bounce around game concepts and design ideas over the years. Me being a platforming fan, one of these ideas was that of an adventurer character for a 2D platforming game. That slowly evolved into a game focused around our shared Puerto Rican heritage, enhanced with some component of sound. That idea would be shelved as others came and went, but we came back to it when I was trying to figure out my final project for the Playcrafting course. Alexia suggested making the level design move in beat to the music, and the focus for the project formed around that idea.
Our first showing at the Playcrafting course expo got some positive buzz, encouraging us to work further on the game. Since then, we have shown off various alpha builds at events around NYC as we continue to refine the game’s mechanics and scope. While work on the project is not always steady (game development is not our day job), each new event and opportunity to show off our progress is invigorating.
Puerto Rican Inspirations
Star Yolk Games is a team of all Puerto Rican game developers native to New York City. Growing up as second/third-generation immigrants, we ended up losing a lot of connection with our heritage. From my own personal experience, I can’t speak Spanish very well and only incidentally exposed myself to the culture and history of Puerto Rico. Unlike the other members of Star Yolk, I also had never visited the island for myself – with the family almost entirely in the U.S., it was not seen as a priority. With so much disconnect, it was (and often still is) hard to feel “Puerto Rican” enough.
As mentioned before, the idea to make a game based on our heritage existed long before the first lines of code had ever been written. But even as I was working on the Playcrafting class, the horrors of Hurricane María were still fresh in our minds. Particularly spurred by Alexia’s direction, we wanted a game that brought Puerto Rico into the spotlight in a positive way, celebrating the island and our culture. This mindset informs many planned aspects of Coquí Beat, such as level settings and enemies.
Bridging the Gap Through Game
Some of our favorite moments of working on Coquí Beat have been showing it off at events and discussing the game with other Puerto Ricans. Even in such an early stage, it has felt extremely validating to see the excitement when we talk about our goals or they see the Puerto Rican flag checkpoint or the “coquí!” sound effect we use. It reinforces the importance of what we are doing and pushes us to want to keep working on the title. At the same time, it has put pressure on us to get this right. Puerto Ricans are rarely represented in video games, so this is an opportunity to show who we are.
That being said, this project is also a very personal one, reflecting our own personal experiences and feelings on being Puerto Rican. The development of Coquí Beat has been my way of working through my disconnect with my culture. By making a game so focused on the island, it forces the team and I to engage with Puerto Rico both as a place and as our culture and our people. The story we plan for our protagonist very much mirrors our feelings as we work on the title – learning that you are “Puerto Rican” enough even if you do not feel that way, and eventually growing to embrace it. This is not “the” Puerto Rican story, but “a” Puerto Rican story, and I hope that many more Puerto Rican and other marginalized game developers have a chance of sharing their stories through their games.
We are currently hard at work on Coquí Beat. While we do not have a concrete release window, we hope to release on both PC and consoles.
However, Coquí Beat is not our only project! For the Super Social Distance Jam 2020, Alexia and I worked on PICTUREWAVE, a social game about guessing obscured images. The game jam release is available on itch.io. We plan on working on this title more alongside Coquí Beat. If you are interested in checking our development updates on either of our games as they happen, find us on Twitter and Instagram @StarYolkGames.
I would like to thank Playcrafting for providing an opportunity to discuss Coquí Beat!