WiiWare focus - Interview with the director of Butterfly Garden
Posted by Darren Calvert
WiiWare World recently caught up with Shayne Guiliano, the Studio Director of Autonomous Productions, to find out his thoughts on Nintendo's new WiiWare service and catch up on the development of Butterfly Garden. It looks as if things are shaping up well for the 2009 WiiWare release and that this will be a game worth keeping an eye on.
WiiWare World: Butterfly Garden originally started life as an XBLA title, how did you come to start work on the WiiWare version?
Shayne Guiliano: We always knew that Butterfly Garden was ideally suited to the type of players who own the Wii. It's a disruptive, original game, more like Animal Crossing and Nintendogs than anything on XBox, except maybe Viva Pinata. We became approved Nintendo devs around the same time as we started working with Microsoft, and over time, it's become more clear to us that the Wii is a better machine because of the players, the unique online capabilities and the reduced cost of development.
WW: How will the difference in graphical power be handled between the XBLA and WiiWare versions? Will they look identical?
SG: They will look different, and we may release fairly different games on each platform so players have a reason to own both. However, the Wii is about as powerful as an XBox 1, so we're trying to reach that standard. The XBox 360 can do a lot of things cheaply that the Wii can't compete with, but we still believe it will look beautiful on both machines.
WW: How will the game make use of the Wii's motion sensing controls?
SG: Mainly to make the game more intuitive. We're not trying to simulate butterfly flight, but pointing and wiimote angling is very useful for making the game easier to play while also making it more fun.
WW: How will the game make use of services like WiiConnect?
SG: Players will be able to send their friends cocoons and flower seeds, primarily. Community sharing of genes should increase overall butterfly diversity dramatically for the community at large. We'll also support some additional social networking features that the Wii supports but that haven't shown up in games yet.
WW: How many different species of butterfly do you intend to include in the game?
SG: Can't say specifically because it's all procedural. Also, due to the generative and procedural design it's not an issue of 'species' so much as 'genes'. We are striving for, and approaching, the goal of developing the game so no two butterflies are alike. So, it's really up to the players to determine how many species they can discover.
WW: How will the breeding system work?
SG: Not completely decided yet. We're trying to deal with the act of breeding respectfully, while making the courtship fun and challenging.
WW: How will the player be able to interact with the surrounding environment?
SG: They'll be able to interact with predators, hazards (water, spider webs, etc.), other butterflies (via pheremone communication, mating, dancing, etc.), and flowers (feeding, walking on petals, etc.). Certain plants will also be interactive. For instance, feeding on and laying eggs on the milkweed plant is a strategy used by some butterflies to make themselves taste bitter and causes predators to avoid the species.
WW: Other animals have been shown in screenshots (spiders, birds, etc). How will these other creatures feature in the gameplay? Will they interact with the butterflies?
SG: There is an everpresent threat from predators that occupy various niches in the garden. Fly too high, a bird might eat you. Fly too quickly through the brush, you may hit a spider web. Stay too long on flowers, and ants may crawl on you and start eating your wings.
WW: What feature of the game are you most pleased with at this stage?
SG: Flying like a butterfly has proven to be inherently fun. This is important, since butterfly control is the central means for interacting with the world.
WW: Are there any other interesting features you wish to add between now and the release date?
SG: Sure, we've got a huge list. But we want to keep some surprises! (and not raise expectations beyond what we can ultimately deliver)
WW: 2009 is a long way off - is this long development time an indication of how much content is being packed into the game?
SG: Anytime you develop an original game like Butterfly Garden with a disruptive and original game design, complex procedural generation algorithms, a genetics system, physics, predator and butterfly AI, etc., and try to fit it all in the size limits for WiiWare games, it takes time. Early 2009 may even be optimistic. Also, we're a very small, independent and self-funded studio with other projects in development, so we don't always get to spend as much time on Butterfly Garden as we would like. And we believe early 2009 is about the time that WiiWare will mature as a platform.
WW: Do you have any other WiiWare projects on the horizon?
SG: We're developing a handful of games scheduled over the next 3 years. Our first game will be PDGA presents Disc Golf. We are also working on a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer game that we hope to release this year or next during the holiday season. Beyond that, we have some very interesting games but we're not ready to make a public announcement on those. One is a music-based game, but not like you are thinking. Another is a game that will use Shakespeare.
WW: What attracted you to the concept of WiiWare?
SG: A revolutionary system with revolutionary interface, free online access, an easy to use online billing and delivery platform, managed by the greatest game company in the world. Also, Nintendo reached out to small independent studios and made development affordable in a way that is maybe the most revolutionary thing about the Wii and WiiWare. We know some other super talented indie developers working on WiiWare games and we know that players will be amazed with the quality of innovation Nintendo is encouraging.
WW: WiiWare has the potential to be much better than XBLA because the Wii's installed base so much bigger; do you think the service will change the way people distribute games?
SG: Perhaps it will further change the way games are distributed. I think it already has! Even Sony has said next-gen system shouldn't need disc drives, but we'll see what the retailers have to say about that.
WW: Many other developers are releasing their WiiWare titles for the very reasonable amount of 500 Wii Points. Do you have any idea of what price point the game will be?
SG: Most 500 point WiiWare games I've seen announced are simple games that probably take a month or two to develop. Games that take a month or two to develop should be 500 points. We may do some simple games at that price point, but we're developing more ambitious games that take years to developer and will probably release at a higher price point. Also, much research is coming out that indicates that downloadable games are underpriced. It's an emerging and quickly evolving market, so we're keeping our minds open on the pricing issue and will release at a price that the market is comfortable with and that recoups our investment in time and money.