Spain’s Guillem Tenza Albeldo went from architect to game designer of Mojito the Cat – and has big plans for the future…
Game developers can come from all walks of life, and their approach to design will often be informed by their own experience. Take developer Guillem Tenza Albeldo, for example: based in Altafulla, a picturesque town on the Spanish coast near Barcelona, he’s an architect by trade but started making games in 2019. His most recent release is Mojito the Cat, a charming 3D puzzler in which you move a cuboid feline around blocky levels, hunting down keys to unlock doors, while other collectables will net you bonus points. For Albeldo, his training in architecture provided a sound basis for designing each level’s block-based puzzles. “I’ve always enjoyed puzzles and jigsaws, and descriptive geometry [the process of drawing 3D objects in 2D] was one of my favourite subjects in my architecture studies,” he tells us. “I mixed both concepts and made a puzzle that has to be solved by preparing your next move and visualising the subject from all sides.”
Albeldo mostly designed his levels directly within Unreal Engine, and has created a flexible system that allowed him to rapidly switch between themed blocks – lava and ice, say – as he created each puzzle. “The reason I prototyped them directly in the level editor is because I played the levels as I was designing them,” Albeldo says. “Working that way helped me make decisions and keep designs that were enjoyable. When I found a memorable solution, I kept that design. If it was too repetitive or boring, I changed it.”
Unreal Engine is a major reason why Albeldo got into game development in the first place; although he’d been a gamer as a youth – he was an avid player of Unreal Tournament – he stumbled on Epic’s game engine by accident. “In 2015, I was studying for a Master’s degree in Building Information Management,” Albeldo recalls. “One day, while I was attending a boring lesson, I saw a familiar icon on my desktop. It reminded me of the Unreal Tournament logo… Once I opened it, I saw it was a game engine. I started to study it in my spare time, and it was a hard period because I had zero prior programming knowledge.”
Albeldo initially used the engine to create 3D visualisations and walkthroughs for his architectural projects. It wasn’t long, though, before he started thinking about making games – which brings us back to Mojito the Cat, based on Albeldo’s own 13-year-old, somewhat moody moggy of the same name.
Albeldo’s background also helped with something other than design itself: planning. “I think that architecture studies gave me a major skill – project design and management,” he says. “From the first year, I had a subject called ‘Projects’, which meant you started to get used to living with a big load of work on your shoulders that couldn’t be finished in a short period of time… You must be critical with your work, recognise what can be improved, but also know what’s fine for you. This is a lifelong skill for all areas of life.”
An ability to plan and organise came in especially handy as Albeldo settled into life as a solo developer. Initially, he was fitting work on Mojito the Cat around his day job, working on it from seven o’clock at night until the early hours of the morning or through entire weekends.
But as the game started “shaping out”, Albeldo decided to quit and funded the development of Mojito the Cat by doing architectural visualisation projects on a freelance basis. All the same, money was tight at times, he recalls. “When you’re a solo developer and your funding source is your savings,” Albeldo explains, “the biggest challenge is to face reality and accept that you won’t have spare time or money. All you will do from now on is live for your project… having to say ‘no’ to plans with friends and family due to the lack of time and money is definitely not easy, especially in the summer.”
All-consuming though Mojito the Cat’s development was, it successfully launched back in July for the Nintendo Switch, with Red Deer Games handling the porting duties – the PC version is due to hit Steam soon. Meanwhile, Albeldo’s busy turning his indie project into a mini-franchise. Mojito the Cat: Woody’s Rescue is billed as a 3D puzzle-platformer with a much broader scope than its predecessor – if the original Mojito felt like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker with its compact levels, Woody’s Rescue is a big, open-ended adventure in the vein of Super Mario Odyssey. It’s a hefty project for a solo developer to take on, but Albeldo seems confident about the workload – partly because he’s learned so much over the course of making his first game. “I didn’t know how to model with Blender and I’d never done a single animation before,” he recalls. “That’s one of the reasons why Mojito is a cube, and the rolling movement is just mathematics.”
Albeldo hopes to have Woody’s Rescue ready for a Kickstarter campaign soon, but first, he wants to make a playable demo to show off what he has planned. “I want the player to have the most high-end experience possible with the demo to encourage them to support the project,” he says. “My perfect plan would be finishing it in a year or a year-and-a-half.” Watch this space!
Although Mojito the Cat has been Albeldo’s main focus, it isn’t the only project he’s had on the go over the past couple of years. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, he also released VidBuster – an endless runner designed to encourage players to help curb the rise of Covid-19 through better hygiene and by wearing protective masks. Made for a game jam in collaboration with a couple of friends, it provided a welcome change of pace from Mojito. “Although it was a short project, it was enriching,” Albeldo says. “At that moment, the project was like a breath of fresh air in the middle of the longer development [of Mojito the Cat]. I was grateful [to be] working collaboratively after a long period of solo dev.”