Chatting with The Big Con devs about the art of the grift
Picking pockets and brains with Mighty Yell
In The Big Con: GRIFT OF THE YEAR EDITION, you play as Ali, a runaway teen who cons her way across the country. Don’t worry, she’s doing it for a good reason! Ali wants to save her mother’s video store, which has been commandeered by a rather unscrupulous group of loan sharks.
Developers Mighty Yell describe The Big Con as a “comedic crime-filled adventure” where you don disguises, pick pockets, and meet a wide cast of characters. Best of all, the Big Con’s release on Switch is actually a super-sized version of the original game! The Big Con: GRIFT OF THE YEAR EDITION features nearly 2 hours’ worth of extra content, including more puzzles, witty dialogue, cool collectibles, and wacky quests.
We had a the chance to chat with Mighty Yell in order to learn more about The Big Con: GRIFT OF THE YEAR EDITION. We talked about the game’s many 90’s influences, struggles during development, working on the Switch port, and much more. You can see our full interview below!
GN: For those who don’t know, what is The Big Con all about?
Mighty Yell: The Big Con is a game about being a teenage con artist in the 1990s. You play as Ali, she’s funny, sarcastic, hates playing the trombone (usual teenage stuff). When she finds out that her mom owes a lot of money to loan sharks, she sets out across the country to grift and steal the money they need to save their video store.
It’s a game about talking to people, about ripping them off, about a mother and daughter just trying to run a simple video store. Oh it’s also a game about making our players laugh a lot (we think, anyways).
GN: The 90’s aesthetic is a huge part of The Big Con. What made the team focus on that timeframe?
Mighty Yell: Looking at con artist stories they’re always set in the 60s, or the 80s… they are periods that we’ve seen a lot of game stories in before. So we wanted to do something different, something colourful, something that we grew up during.
Also, I think the early 90s was the last time that you could ever really be a travelling grifter with any level of success. People didn’t have cellphones, they didn’t have the internet – you couldn’t really google to see if the person offering to sell you a rare Burblo was on the level, or part of some elaborate scheme. It’s a time that feels mechanically simpler in a way that really works for the kind of game we wanted to make. You had to talk to people. You had to write things down in a notebook. You had to phone your mom to check in from payphones on the road while you were trying to accomplish an elaborate safe heist. You know… simpler times.
GN: How much research was put into nailing that 90’s vibe?
Mighty Yell: A ton! Narratively the work that started with Jill Murray’s story creation and characters was all about figuring out what Ali’s home town would feel like, what her hobbies would be, how she would talk, what kind of things we would need to make it feel like you were right there with her. When our art director, Saffron Aurora, started doing research, everything from the sprinkly backgrounds to the different outfits our NPCs wear, all of it was done with a lot of love. There’s a level early in the game that takes place entirely in a mall, and it has a carpet running through the middle of it – that was one of our earliest design decisions. We looked at a lot of malls, some of them used to have carpets.
If you think about it, it is incredibly gross!
But that was the thing that made us go “Oh yeah, we’re doing this. We are leaning right in.” Musically too, Dan and I would just share references, grunge and hip hop stuff that really worked (or one example, a small grocery store that plays a motown tune because the speakers would probably be pumping retro radio in the 90s, was one of my favourite bits of his research).
GN: Were there any 90’s games that were major inspirations for The Big Con?
Mighty Yell: We were definitely looking more at TV shows and comics (Rugrats, Ghost World, Doug to name a few), but its hard to avoid that inspiration. Aesthetically we get people comparing us a lot to ToeJam and Earl, and mechanically I grew up loving Monkey Island a lot, so that type of high-comedy adventure gameplay really resonated with me while we were making this.
GN: The Big Con aims to offer a comedic adventure. Comedy is an extremely hard genre to nail, especially in games. How did the team go about handling this?
Mighty Yell: I have a lot of thoughts about this! I think timing, perspective, and tone are everything in comedy, so we actually tried to design for that.
Timing wise, we tried to make sure that Ali was quick to respond to things, so that you’re almost reading dialogue with her punch and sarcasm. The amount of text we show on screen and the amount of dialogue we have before Ali speaks again, all of that is very carefully considered. We can also control when you get stuck in conversations which we did a couple times for comedic effect.
Perspective-wise, we aimed to make Ali the sort of sarcastic straight-man in a world of weird, funny people. So her reactions to their strangeness echo yours. If a character says he is working overtime shifts so he can win a stuffed animal he is in love with, and you the player make a big huge yikes face, and Ali gives him a big huge “YIKES” face, I think her response mirroring yours is a source for a lot of laughs for folks.
I can’t say that everyone will laugh out loud at the game, that’s almost impossible to promise. But one of our rules early on was that if something made us laugh, it went in the game. Our fictional canned meat product, HORM, for example, is a source of neverending jokes. If we could give ourselves chuckles, hopefully that meant that we could present a unified comedic tone and style that just makes you feel like you’re in the room laughing with us. There’s a conversation with a character that tries to teach you about something (I’m not going to spoil it, but the game really rewards you the more people you talk to), and it quickly becomes clear that you’re stuck in this complete nonsense conversation, and using our dialogue system to bury our players in silliness like that, that’s the kind of thing I think really worked.
GN: What was the most challenging aspect of bringing The Big Con together?
Mighty Yell: Making a game during a global pandemic was I’d say a bit of a challenge! There are people that worked together every day for two years, and only met for the first time at our bbq we had when we shipped the game. This is also our studio’s first game, so working together, learning our pipelines, AND learning how to adapt to work from home was a real adventure. But with everything we do we try to remind folks to take care of themselves and one another first. Take time to walk away, take time to help each other out, the game will come later. Centering our people made it a little bit easier on everyone.
GN: Anyone worth their 90’s cred was floored when they heard Rockapella performing The Big Con’s theme in its debut trailer. How did that amazing collaboration come about?
Mighty Yell: I think Corina, our marketing director, pitched it randomly at a meeting with Skybound (our publisher on the PC and Xbox versions and close partners on this version), and we all kind of laughed, and then she quietly cold-emailed them and got a response! Once we saw it was possible, we sat down to writing the song. My longtime musical collaborator and one of my best friends, Matthew Winkler, wrote the melody with Dan and I came in and wrote the lyrics. We sent a demo to Rockapella and were absolutely dumbfounded when they turned around the pretty-much-done version over a weekend. ABSOLUTE PROFESSIONALS. It was a lot of fun to work with them, and I’m still crazy proud of the song.
GN: Was the Switch version of The Big Con always planned from the start?
Mighty Yell: This is absolutely something we have wanted to do from the get go. It’s a colourful game that rewards reading, exploration, and session-based gameplay – it is perfect for Switch. We had some support from Microsoft at launch, and they have been amazing in getting the game out first on Xbox, and getting it in front of people’s faces, and now we get to share it with an even wider audience. I was playing the game a bunch today on the couch… it just feels great and I’m glad more people will get to have fun with it.
GN: The Big Con: Grift of the Year Edition packs in over 2 hours worth of extra content. Was this content originally left on the cutting room floor due to time constraints, or was it inspired by fan feedback?
Mighty Yell: This was ALL stuff we wanted to do right from the jump, but like most things in independent game development you gotta make some cuts to come out on time.
The stickers that you can collect in the levels are brand new, and a fun way for players to see some cool art and do some exploring, and it was a feature we had planned since the middle of development. That and a ton of user experience improvements were spearheaded by our UX Director Tabby, who got to continue to make it the most accessible and usable version of the game we could make.
You can now do a little changebreaking minigame with clerks all over the map, which is again something that we always wanted to do to give people a lot more variety in how they con people.
There’s a quest where you have to hunt down Burblos (our in-universe Furby insert), and that was a quest written entirely by our producer Yash (and he absolutely killed it). My favourite thing though is the skateboarding minigame, Rad Skater. I love love love in-game-arcade-games, but we never had the time to make it. We were about a week out from submission last year and one night our Tech Director George just programmed the skeleton of the game for fun. We sat on it and then ultimately hired Zihe who came in and turned it into a full-fledged game.
GN: What is the main thing you hope The Big Con players take away from the experience?
Mighty Yell: I hope you explore the world that we set out here, and find all the fun things we tucked in there for you to find. It’s a game that rewards you if you think outside the box, if you screw up, and if you like talking to strangers. Also I hope they get to take away this story that means a lot to us – about a small scrappy upstart that is trying to save this small corner of her world by doing something amazing. That part resonates with us a lot.
A huge thanks to Mighty Yell for answering our questions! You can hop on the Switch eShop right now and pick up The Big Con: GRIFT OF THE YEAR EDITION for just $15. The game takes up 692 MB and includes TV mode, Tabletop mode, and Handheld mode support.