WiiWare Focus: Interview with Nnooo (Pop)

Our coverage of the upcoming WiiWare service continues with this exclusive interview with Nic Watt of Nnooo, the small indie studio behind the promising Pop. We caught up with Nic and grilled him on this forthcoming release - here's what he had to say...

WW: How did the concept for Pop come about?

NW: Since the Wii was announced I have been thinking a lot about the sorts of games I could make for it and how it could change peoples relationship with games. In particular those new to video games. Pop itself came about when thinking about what the Wii is suited for, how the controller works and how best to approach our first game on the Wii.

Having played a lot of Lumines, Tetris and Geometry Wars and also watching my partner play games I was thinking a lot about how you could bring these sorts of games to a wider audience and still keep some of their core philosophies. The idea of bubbles came to me as I think that everyone enjoys popping them as a child and games for me are in part about returning you to that child like inhibition and sense of fun.

However I wanted to ensure that the game was not just about popping bubbles as all games need something to keep you interested, a sense of progress. So we introduced a lot more elements to the game which layer the complexity. Systems like chaining, multipliers, waves, badges, power-ups and the pump up system all add elements to the game to keep you playing and discovering more.

For me any game should be a system which for the player is initially easy to pick up and play but has a lot of content below the surface which they can experiment with and discover. Games like Mario Galaxy or 64 and Ocarina of Time give you things which are fun to play about with even when you are not 'doing what the designer wants'. For example in Ocarina of Time you can hook-shot into a lot more than just the normal mission objectives e.g. trees, walls etc and so Nintendo evoked a sense of play and discovery. In Pop we are no where near as complex as those games! But we are trying to facilitate that sense of play and discovery.

WW: Could you give us a quick summary of what the game entails and how it plays?

NW: At its most simple Pop is about the fun of popping bubbles. We have focused on making this really enjoyable and so have a lot of player feedback to make it satisfying, these include rumble, a great audio sound which comes out of the remote's speaker, nice particle effects and so forth.

Once you 'get' how to Pop bubbles the player needs to learn that missing is bad as it deducts time and can also break your chain and remove your multipliers. For a beginner player it should be enough to get that missing is bad the subtleties can come later.

As you are on a timer big bubbles will reward a lot of time when you pop them but smaller bubbles will reward less, conversely smaller bubbles are worth a lot more points (they are harder to hit!) while big bubbles are worth less.

To get the really high-scores you need to learn how to chain. Chaining is where you pop the same colour of bubble sequentially. As long as you keep popping the same colour your chain will grow and you will be awarded a multiplier, the more in your chain the bigger this multiplier. The risk with chains is that your time and points are being held in a tally until you break the chain. This means that your timer is getting smaller all the time. When you break a chain the tally is added to your score and timer and so you gain more time and points. The real benefit of chains is the multipliers which will multiply the amount of time and points you get so if you chain 20 bubbles you will score a lot more time than if you popped those 20 by themselves.

Now the bad side to chains is you can break them in good and bad ways. A good way as I mentioned above multiplies the points and time in your tally, and adds it to your total score; while a bad way will remove the multiplier and only add the base points and time. Good ways to break your chain are to pop a different colour of bubble or to wait for the chain to time out (similar to Project Gotham's Kudos system). The two bad ways are to hit a skull powerup or to miss (hit the background) both of which break the chain and remove 3 seconds!

On top of all this Pop has 3 main modes: Normal, Advanced and Chill. Normal is the standard game and has 16 waves which you can play through. If you reach wave 16 the game will loop and return you to wave 1, the score will also loop so if you get above 9,999,999 it will reset to zero just like the old Game and Watch classics! Advanced mode is much harder and the only way to record a high score is to get to 9,999,999 where the game will end and record the time it took you to get there. Finally Chill allows you to forgo points and timers and just play the game, it will still transition between waves and such but you have no time or points pressures.

WW: How will power-ups impact on the gameplay?

NW: Power-ups add another layer of interest and skill to the game. Both single and multiplayer feature power-ups of some sort:

  • Skull: This is bad so try to avoid them. Popping a skull acts exactly as missing and will therefore break your chain, remove your multiplier and deduct 3 seconds
  • Nuke: Pop a nuke and like pumping up you create a shock-wave which destroys any matching coloured bubbles it hits
  • Grow: Makes your cursor double in size making it easier to pop bubbles but harder to pop just one (avoid these when trying to create chains)
  • TimeWarp: Pop this and time will slow down making it easier for you to pop bubbles and in particular create chains. In multiplayer this stuns your opponents so only you get the benefit!
  • Torch (multiplayer only): Pop this and the screen goes black except for an area around your cursor. Now you control the action!
  • Shrink (multiplayer only): This will shrink you opponents cursors making it much harder to pop bubbles
  • Shock (multiplayer only): Pop this and you become electrified now you can hit other players cursors and stun them!

These power-ups add a level of strategic depth in single player and increase the competitive aspect in multiplayer.

WW: How will the single and multi player modes of the game differ?

NW: The single player mode is much more about you focusing on trying to get through the waves, getting a high-score and/or unlocking more badges. While the multiplayer is interesting in that it can be approached with different mind sets. You can play it co-operatively and try to get as far through the game while working together or you can play it competitively and try to score higher than the other player(s).

The great thing about our multiplayer mode is that it can change at any time. When the timer is running low people often start to work together to build it back up but once they feel safe from the timer they then focus on nobbling the other players or trying to score high. It should also be mentioned that friends can join in at any time so if you have been playing single player for a while and a mate arrives you don't need to reset they can just turn on a Wii remote and start playing!

WW: You've said that Pop is aimed at both casual and hardcore gamers alike - how will the more skillful player keep themselves entertained? Will the game have different difficulty settings?

NW: As I mentioned above there are two difficulty modes with which 'core' gamers can get stuck into. We also have online high-score tables for single player so once you have mastered the game you can work on getting to the top of the leader-boards. I also think that there are enough systems in the game for core gamers to start experimenting with the best tactics to score high.

You can pump a bubble up by pressing A while pointing at it then shaking the controller up and down. When it reaches its maximum you can position it and let go of A. The pumped up bubble will then explode setting off a shock-wave which will destroy any matching coloured bubble it hits. This creates chains also! Experienced players can then use this feature to start a chain and can also practice setting off one chain reaction while pumping up another bubble to keep the chain alive.

We feel there are a lot more of these examples waiting to be discovered.

WW: You've mentioned "aiming for worldwide high scores". Will you be supporting some form of online leaderboard?

NW: Yes, we are hard at work integrating this just now and hope that you will be able to see the top 10, your wii friends and the 10 closest to you after each game.

WW: Did any particular game inspire you to come up with Pop?

NW: As I mentioned above Lumines, Tetris, Geometry Wars and EveryExtendExtra all influenced and inspired me. Pop was also directly inspired by the Wii as without it I do not think it would be the same game.

WW: What feature of Pop are you most proud of?

NW: We are really proud of the pump up mechanic as it has added a lot to the game, particularly the wealth of tactics it offers in both single and multiplayer. On the audio side we are also really proud of the way the music changes and builds as you create bigger chains.

WW: Do you have any other WiiWare projects on the horizon?

NW: As we are self funded we are hoping that Pop will be a success so that we can move onto our next game. We have several game ideas we would like to work through with each one getting a little more complex so that as our understanding of how the Wii works grows so do our ambitions!

WW: What attracted you to the concept of WiiWare?

NW: The simplicity and the self-publishing. It is very hard for a new start up to get a publishing deal these days and most games take over 2 years and cost millions of dollars. For me I wanted to start small and really learn the craft. Previous game designers have had to work on simpler systems and so really learn their craft, now with all you can do on the latest consoles it can be overwhelming and game designs can get too bloated. Going back to basics for me has been really great as I think we have really had to focus on what is fun.

WW: Do you have any idea of what price point the game will be?

NW: We are aiming for somewhere between 500 and 800 Wii points but nothing has been confirmed yet.

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