JV Games Interview - Pong Toss

With the upcoming release of the controversial WiiWare title Frat Party Games - Pong Toss, we thought it would be a good time to get some inside information on the title. We were fortunate enough to catch up with Jag Jaeger, co-founder and VP of JV Games and he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to do an interview with WiiWare World. Here's what Jag had to tell us in this exclusive interview.

Wiiware World: What gave you the idea to translate this frat party game into a videogame?

Jag Jaeger The reasons are many, but the main goal for Frat Party Games is to create simple and fun games where a player doesn’t have to invest hours of game play. We want to create games where if someone that is no good at video games or intimidated by them can simply pick up a controller and be competitive with others. We were always talking about the college style games we used to play and how much fun we had with them. A light just went off, those styles of games fit perfectly into our goal model because they are so competitive and simple. We choose Pong Toss as our first release based solely on its massive popularity.

WW: Are there any benefits to playing the videogame version of Pong Toss versus the real life party version of the game, besides the ability to walk a straight line afterwards?

JJ: Big time, foremost you don’t have to worry about “Disease ball or Nasty ball as some call it”. You get rid of the pain of setting everything up as well as the cleanup. Also the convenience, Pong Toss is perfect if someone doesn’t have the real life gear (primarily the table) or the room to set up the gear, but has a Wii. How many people live in small apartments or dorm rooms?

WW: Can you tell us a little about the actual game play in Pong Toss? What are the rules?

JJ: We followed a very common set of rules. In Pong Toss, the objective is for your team to remove your opponent’s cups by throwing a ping pong ball into it. Each person per side gets one throw; should each team member make their shots consecutively, a Roll-Back (Bonus Throw) occurs. Then the table rotates and it’s the other team's turn.

Speed Pong – We created a very fast variation of Pong Toss. Up to 3 players compete at the same time on a split screen and the objective is to be the first to remove all your cups. Special power-ups randomly appear over your cups and sinking one of those will jack-up your opponents by making their cups invisible, shrinking them, adding cups, etc. You do this to try and slow them down and gain the advantage.

WW: Will Pong Toss feature any online play or other options we should know about?

JJ: Unfortunately we don’t have any internet options in this version.

WW: What benefits do the motion controls of the Wii bring to the table for you developing a game such as this?

JJ: Everything! Certain games require a higher level of tactile feedback to be entertaining. Using Pong Toss as an example, it could certainly be programmed onto a traditional controller, but I can’t see how it would be any fun without the Wii Remote. We spent a lot of time fine tuning the controls to behave and feel as natural to a real throw as possible.

The challenge was that everyone has a different throwing style and in order to not add another level of complexity, we had to find a happy medium. It was very important to us that a player doesn’t have to press any buttons to throw. It sounds simple, but creates some serious programming issues. We studied and analyzed over 15 people’s throwing habits and we are confident that no matter what your gaming level, after several minutes you’ll be able to keep up with anyone.

WW: What are some of the challenges you've faced as a developer in having to deal with the file size limitations of the WiiWare service?

JJ: It wasn’t that bad for us, the majority of all the games that we have done have been under extreme size limitations. Bloated code is just bad form and shows horrible programming technique. We consider ourselves extremely efficient programmers and even if we had all the room in the world, we would probably optimize everything anyways. It just seems to be in our nature and we were able to squeeze Pong Toss into 16megs. This includes 3 different levels in full 3D, 3D character animations, and 9 songs.

WW: Will there be any add-on content available for download on the WiiWare service?

JJ: We won’t have any add-on content.

WW: What are some of the key advantages for you as a developer in creating games for the WiiWare service as opposed to creating an actual retail release?

JJ: The Wiiware system is awesome. It allows for a much smaller development time frame as well as severely reducing development cost. To a degree it brings back the good old days (like the 80’s), where you could have a team of 3 to 6 people and create fun games, but not need the financial backing of a major publisher.

You have to remember that console games typically cost 3 million and above with hand held games being 600,000+ to develop for. Publishers and developers are always taking a good risk just to break even. This is one of the reasons you see so many cookie cutter games. It’s a substantial financial risk to try and break from the mold.

Wiiware opens the door for all of that and as long as people will remember that games that are being developed are being developed for a 10 dollar price point and should be judged accordingly. You’re going to be finding established studios as well as the birth of new garage development focusing on Wiiware.

WW: When can we expect to see Pong Toss released on the WiiWare service in North America?

JJ: It’s not finalized, but we are hoping for July 28th.

WW: Do you have plans to release this on the WiiWare service in Europe too?

JJ: Yes, we’ve had a great response from players all over Europe. The sport is growing very quickly there. We will start working on the translations immediately after the American release.

WW: How many Wii Points will this retail for?

JJ: While Nintendo has the last say, we are asking for 800 points.

WW: Were you surprised by the reaction from certain groups about the association with alcohol in this game?

JJ: Yah, this completely came out of left field for us. Believe me; I know how dumb that sounds, it’s like “How could you not see this coming”. We never anticipated such a severe reaction to the word Beer. I don’t think anybody did.

I know we can debate this all day long, but if addiction or the game itself is the problem what about all the gambling games. If alcohol is the issue, pick an RPG and a ton of other games. If influence vs. rating is the concern, then compare it against the movie industry where Disney films constantly show alcohol or primetime TV like the Simpsons or Family Guy where the main characters are alcoholics. I mean really, do video games have more influence than any other form of media? How about going to a ball game and seeing your parents getting a tall cool one and enjoying it. A real life interaction (in my opinion) will always be more influential then anything else.

I’m still having a hard time wrapping my mind around the sensitivity to all this.

WW: What prompted you to change the name from Beer Pong to Pong Toss? Did Nintendo insist on this or was it your choice?

JJ: It was our choice and suggestion. Nintendo and ESRB contacted us to make us aware of the controversy that was brewing and wanted to know how we were going to react to it. I think I said “Are you serious?” like 500 times (I really thought they were messing with us). That same day we started getting the form letters that the anti-alcohol coalitions were sending.

No matter how ridiculous we thought that it was, it was still a concern for us. We debated on whether a name change would hurt the product and our stance was that it was never about alcohol, so it’s the same game no matter what you call it.

We got back to Nintendo and asked them what they thought about us doing a name change and removing the minor alcohol reference. Nintendo agreed that it was probably in the best interest of the gaming community.

WW: Aside from the name change, can you detail every other change you have made to the graphics as a result of this media trouble?

JJ: Sure, 2 table skins - One with a keg of beer that had wings the other that was a pilsner glass rising out of a stormy sea. A neon sign that said cocktails and a pilsner glass meter to show how hard you threw the ball.

That’s it, that’s all the alcohol reference that was in there.

WW: What would you have done differently if you could start again from scratch?

JJ: Not too much, the conversion of our Entity Engine to the Wii took longer than expected, but for the most part we are very happy the way everything came out.

WW: Many gaming blogs and news sites have been very dismissive of this game when it was first announced. What would you say to those who write this game concept off as trash?

JJ: It doesn’t bother us at all. The people that make those statements without even seeing the game are usually of the hardcore crowd. The hardcore gamers have a tendency to be very prejudice to the styles of games they like and there is nothing wrong with that, you like what you like.

Pong Toss is designed for the casual crowd. It’s a really fun and simple game to play that will appeal to the same people that enjoy Wii Sports. While we have a good AI and its fun for a single player, you’ll probably have the most fun with a group of friends over or in a party setting.

WW: We see you have a rich back catalog of games in your portfolio. Is there any chance you might bring the WD-40 spray can game to WiiWare next?

JJ: WOW! That whole WD-40 thing is a story in itself, but never, not in a zillion years, ever ever ever ever. Just to be clear the answer is no .

WW: Can you tell us about any other games you might be working on for WiiWare at this time?

JJ: We have a lot of ideas for Wiiware, some that will be inside the Frat Party Games series and some outside of it, but we’ve made no determination on the next project yet, so there is really nothing we can talk about yet.

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