RiverMan Media Interview - MadStone

MadStone was confirmed back in June and it appears to be shaping up to be a pretty solid puzzle title for the WiiWare service. Keen to know more about the mysterious developers RiverMan Media, we tracked down brothers Jacob Stevens and Paul Stevens and asked them nicely if they wouldn't mind answering a few questions about the soon to be released game. Happily for us they were only too happy to oblige...

WiiWare World: Can you tell our readers a bit about how Riverman Media got formed?

Jacob Stevens: It may sound sentimental, but from the moment our grandfather gave us an NES for Christmas, my brother Paul and I knew we wanted to create games. I programmed text adventures in grade school, and Paul designed Dungeons and Dragons quests.

During college I started working as a freelance artist, including some work on more high-profile games like Contra 4 for the DS. As soon as Paul graduated from high school, we founded RiverMan Media with two close friends and started working on our first casual game, Cash Cow.

Paul Stevens: We were so eager to start making games that we began work on Cash Cow after I had less than a semester of college programming experience. For those readers who know the technical side of programming, you might be amused to know that I prototyped Cash Cow without even knowing that a function could return a value. Cash Cow’s source code was a hideous mess, but it turned out to be fun and, as far as we know, bug free!

JS: After we made Cash Cow and Primate Panic for the casual market, Nintendo introduced us to WiiWare, and we immediately set to work developing for the Wii.

WW: The puzzler genre is already a bit crowded on WiiWare, how will MadStone stand out from the crowd?

JS: Actually, you know, it’s funny, but I don’t find the puzzle genre to be especially crowded. I was thinking we’d see a lot of block-based puzzlers, and really there aren’t too many. It’s almost disappointing because it’s my favorite genre! Of course, less competition is a good thing for MadStone.

PS: From the beginning, MadStone was designed to be very fast-paced, almost an action-puzzle game. I think players will find that it doesn’t follow the current trend of casual puzzle games, where the experience is almost relaxing. If you try to relax while playing MadStone, you will lose! A huge part of the game is the quake super move, where you shake the controller to destroy blocks onscreen. We think that this physical engagement adds a visceral level of excitement that is uniquely possible only on Wii, and sets MadStone apart from other WiiWare puzzlers.

JS: Also, there is no color matching, which distinguishes it from almost every other block-based puzzler ever made!

WW: What were the main influences when developing the concept for MadStone?

JS: Paul and I have both loved puzzle games since Tetris was first released on NES. I remember waking up one morning to find that my dad awoken early just to play Tetris. The only other game he’d ever played was Duck Hunt, but he was hooked! The fact that we could play with our dad, without feeling like the experience was watered down, was really cool.

PS: We used to have Kirby’s Avalanche (Puyo Puyo) and Tetris Attack tournaments on my birthday! We also really liked the pacing of Meteos and Tetris DS.

WW: Can you give us a brief explanation of the gameplay mechanics in MadStone? How does a player win the game?

JS: The objective is very simple. The goal is to move your MadStones, the brightly glowing objects like moons and stars, into the energy pool at the bottom of the screen. To do this, you have to destroy the blocks that are in the way. When an object falls, it will damage the block that it falls on. You can use this to your advantage by creating chain reactions to help you destroy more blocks more quickly.

WW: Is the single player game more or less the same as the 2 player VS mode? i.e. essentially a race to collect the most Madstones.

PS: Both the single player and multi player have different modes where you win based on different conditions like how many MadStones you’ve collected, your score, etc. However, the single-player mode also has some fun, slower-paced bonus rounds where you solve puzzles.

WW: What is the idea behind harnessing the power of the land?

JS: MadStones are spirits of the land, and as you collect them, you use their energy to perform the quake super move.

WW: How are chain reactions used to aid victory in MadStone?

PS: The chain reaction system is the heart of MadStone. It would take forever to break all the blocks onscreen one-by-one, so you have to use gravity to help you. One well-placed strike could start a chain that destroys several blocks and earns you a few MadStones. By carefully examining the layout of the screen, you can clear through massive amounts of blocks with just a few moves.

JS: The chain reactions are also the basis for the combo system. Once you collect a MadStone, a combo begins, and the combo continues as long as something on your screen is falling. The larger your combo, the more quake time you earn. The less you strike during a combo, the more quake time you get. This rewards intelligent thinking over thoughtless button-mashing.

WW: Does MadStone offer any interesting power-ups to spice things up?

PS: Obviously, the central power-up in the game is the quake supermove, where you shake the controller to cause total chaos onscreen. I think you’ll agree that it’s quite spicy indeed! There are also giant MadStones and bombs mixed in to provide variety.

JS: If you’re good enough, you might even be able to find another hidden power-up as well...

WW: What different themes are featured in MadStone?

JS: Since MadStone is targeted at serious puzzle lovers, we wanted to do something a little different with the theme. You’ll notice that the game is fairly dark, and some of the MadStones are truly unsettling and bizarre. Environments include a lava pit, a pumpkin patch, a cave full of glowing mushrooms, and many others.

WW: What control schemes are on offer in MadStone? Is it all pointing at the screen or can you use the Wii Remote in NES style?

PS: MadStone is played entirely with the Wii Remote held NES style. You use the D-Pad to move your cursor and the 2 button to strike. We experimented with the pointer but we preferred the precision of the NES-style mechanics. The motion sensors are used to control the quake super move.

WW: Do you feel MadStone is more aimed at the casual or hardcore gamer?

JS: We designed MadStone first and foremost to be a game that we would enjoy. We wanted a deep and engaging experience that would be tough to master. The themes are darker and less colorful than you’d find in traditional casual games. I think all of these things come together to make MadStone lean more toward the hardcore.

PS: That said, the mechanic is incredibly simple, and the game is really exciting to watch, so I wouldn’t be surprised if MadStone attracted some new players to the genre.

WW: We understand that MadStone will not be supporting online play, what factors made you decide against implementing this?

PS: This comes down to us being such a small company. Online play adds a deep layer of complication to every aspect of the game. We simply don’t have the staff, or budget, to support features like this.

JS: We were also concerned about lag. MadStone has an incredible amount of stuff happening in real-time, and the timing of events is vital. You can clear through entire screens every few seconds. I was concerned that online networking might not be able to support this without slowdown.

WW: What is it like not only developing a game, but also publishing it?

PS: The best part about publishing our own games is, of course, that we can do whatever we want. For better or for worse, MadStone is our game!

JS: The downside is that there’s nobody to provide marketing support. If we want to advertise, we have to do it ourselves. In a way though, that can be a liberating feeling. Our fate is in our own hands.

WW: How many Wii points will MadStone retail for?

JS: Nintendo has not set the final price for MadStone yet.

WW: Are you planning to release in both America and Europe? Roughly when do you think MadStone will debut in the Wii Shop?

JS: The North American version will be ready first, but we are also planning a European release. MadStone is in the last stage of testing at Nintendo, and after that it gets put into the WiiWare release queue. I’d estimate it will be released in North America within a few weeks.

WW: If this WiiWare experiment works out do you plan to expand on this to Wii retail and maybe even the DS?

PS: Absolutely! We’ve got two more WiiWare games in the works, but we also have some ideas that are better suited to more storage and physical media.

JS: We’re a tiny company though, less than six people. So the logistics would be tough!

WW: What is your favourite WiiWare game to date?

PS: I really liked Dr. Mario Online RX. Virus buster mode was a cool addition to the series.

JS: Darn it Paul, you took mine! I also liked LostWinds quite a bit.

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