Nicalis Interview: Cave Story
Posted by Darren Calvert
The news that the legendary PC freeware game Cave Story is making its way to WiiWare has made many people very happy indeed - us included.
Created by Japanese programmer Daisuke Amaya (better known as Pixel), the game is being ported by Tyrone Rodriguez and his team at Nicalis.
Keen to know more about the historic conversion, we tracked Rodriguez down and fired some questions his way which he was kind enough to answer:
WiiWare World: Cave Story is one of the most popular freeware games we can think of, when did you first come across it and what were your initial impressions?
Tyrone Rodriguez: I was introduced to Cave Story a few years back. A friend mentioned it to me in passing. Having never played it, I thought it’d be worth giving a try - especially after he raved on and on about it. This may seem biased - at the time I had no connection to Amaya-san - but minutes into the experience, I thought the game was fantastic. Something about it struck me as really memorable.
WW: How receptive was Pixel when you pitched the idea of bringing his masterpiece to WiiWare? We understand he has always said he never wished to profit from the game, was he reluctant at first?
TR: First, he’s just a really nice polite guy. Japanese are naturally polite, but he takes it to the next level. I introduced myself in an e-mail and he replied back. We e-mailed back and forth for a few months very casually discussing things.
Initially, I just asked him if he would mind doing something more as in some kind of commercial release. He wasn’t dismissive at all and was relatively open to the idea. As silly as this may sound, I didn’t approach him with bags of money, I just wanted more people to play the game. Maybe that’s why we hit it off. I think WiiWare and the idea of the game on a Nintendo console was what really got him excited—the opportunity to release his own game and give more people the chance to experience it.
WW: Will Cave Story retail at a cheaper price point than the average 1000 Wii point game?
TR: I can’t promise anything, but we’re trying to bring it in under 1,000 points.
WW: Will the WiiWare version be a port or brand new code? What WiiWare specific differences will there be?
TR: A bit of both? We’re using the original code, but there is a significant amount of work to get some of the new elements to work such as the graphics and audio switch. There are other elements as well that we haven’t yet announced that require new code to run on the original engine.
For instance, Pixel never intended for the game to run in two different resolutions. As such, we need two different fonts and two totally different sets of artwork. The game also originally had one save file, the WiiWare version has three--we put that in specifically to make players seeking multiple endings happy. Plus, we also had to accommodate the new audio format so there’s more code there. But we really can’t take the credit, we’re building on top of his code and making it work on the Wii. It’s been smooth so far.
WW: Did you consider adding any online features such as leaderboards?
TR: That’d be a good idea.
WW: Other than Wii Remote and Classic Controller options are any other control schemes supported?
TR: As of right now we’re just planning on supporting the Wii Remote and the Classic Controller. At its roots, Cave Story is a classic 2D game and the Wii Remote is actually more than sufficient to handle its gameplay. Call me old-school—or just old, but I prefer the Wii Remote. However, the Classic Controller does offer some cool features like being able to switch weapons with the shoulder buttons; you can still switch with the Wii Remote, it’s just a little easier on the hands with the Classic Controller.
WW: How many people are involved in the WiiWare version of Cave Story? Is Pixel really hands on or does he just let your team get on with it?
TR: There are about eight of us working on the project. And that does include Amaya-san, yes. He is pretty hands-on. We weren’t kidding when we said he’s leading the character artwork. Everything passes through his computer. In fact, when we met up in Japan we looked through all the art files and game, working side-by-side and he commented that a couple of the character portraits needed to be updated to reflect the new in-game artwork. So, you’ll that in the finished product, too.
WW: There has been much debate over visual and audio enhancements which have been added in the WiiWare version. Why did you feel this was necessary and can they be disabled in the settings menu?
TR: Do I feel it was necessary? I think we both felt it was necessary--at least to give the game appeal in the eyes of fresh new players. The original artwork is really close to perfect. Amaya-san did a wonderful job on it, but if you take into consideration that he first drew the main character almost 10 years ago and finished the second (unreleased) version of Cave Story almost three years before the “real” Cave Story you start to realize the artwork and music are much older than we usually give them credit for. Everyone who knows Cave Story and is a fan LOVES the artwork, but we can’t assume that new players will understand the appeal. The good news for purists is that they can choose to play with the original artwork and music.
WW: What challenges did you face with the fonts given that the new audience might be playing on large TVs not PC monitors?
TR: Giant pixels for one. I’ve seen a few negative comments about the “new” font, but this isn’t so much a preference that we just arbitrarily changed. We really wanted to give the game a solid experience on Wii. That meant looking at every aspect and that includes the script, or size of. With so much reading involved with Cave Story, I’d rather have people be able to comfortable read what the characters are saying.
WW: Will this enhanced port of Cave Story support 16:9 ratio? If so are there any challenges in doing so?
TR: There are definitely some hurdles with making sure the game supports 16:9, some of which Tiffany (the game’s programmer) has already encountered. I think some fans experienced the same issues with the portable version of the game, but we’re doing our best to overcome weird character spawns and other related bugs.
WW: Cave Story has built up a very dedicated fanbase. Have they been complimentary of this project on the whole or have you received any death threats yet?
TR: The initial fan feedback was mostly positive. There was some negative feedback about the new artwork and music, but we’ve done our best to be as forthcoming as possible. First, we’re working directly with the creator of the game and make sure he’s happy with everything we’re doing. Secondly, a big reason we’re doing this is because of the fans, to give them a version they can enjoy without doing naughty things to their consoles. We do appreciate the feedback and do our best to read everything, even if we don’t always reply.
WW: When do you expect to release Cave Story in North America? Are you already working on securing a subsequent release in Europe and Australia or are you waiting to see if the US launch is a success first?
TR: We’re still aiming for a holiday release and working as much as we can to make that a reality. And, yes, we do want to see the game in other regions regardless of the numbers. There are a few things we have to do for certifications in other regions so they’ll come after the North American release.
WW: Has Pixel ever considered creating a Cave Story sequel? If so would he want to spend five years in developing it this time?
TR: He’s probably sick of me asking about a Cave Story sequel. For me, I just want to know what happened before or after the events of Cave Story. I wouldn’t get too excited about the idea of a sequel, he’s pretty content with what’s going on with Cave Story on WiiWare. It’s like a new game to him. I can’t speak for Pixel, but I think if he were to do a sequel, he might be able to do it in much less time than five years. In that amount of time he made three versions of the game. He admitted to me that he feels like a much better designer now.
After the first Cave Story (even pre-dating the famous “beta”) he took some time off to learn more about design and programming. Then he tried his hand at the second version of the game. Somewhere in between, he abandoned the project and began working on (and finished) Ikachan. He credits that game with giving him the understanding of game development necessary to finish Cave Story properly. So everyone should give Ikachan some respect because without it, you and I might not be having this conversation. I’m personally a huge fan of Ikachan and I put in a tiny little homage in the new version of Cave Story.
WW: Do Nicalis have any current plans for other WiiWare games? Do you want to develop any original IP or find more highly esteemed freeware to port?
TR: We do have plans for more WiiWare games. We haven’t announced our next time, but you should hear about it sometime next year. Nicklas Nygren (known as Nifflas to his fans) is leading the design for this one.
As far as original IPs or more freeware games, we’re not expressly out to port freeware games, but there are so many great games that deserve more exposure so why not help fellow developers reach more people? We do have a few concepts that we’re currently fleshing out. With that said, some of our other projects would probably be viewed as far more commercial. We just wrapped up Dance Dance Revolution Mobius for Konami Mobile and we’re working on a couple of other mobile games.
WW: What WiiWare games to date have impressed you personally and why?
TR: World of Goo. I can’t stop talking about it. There’s something about it, the game feels like it was developed in-house at Nintendo. I’m sure Soulja Boy would disagree, but I feel Goo even surpasses other major “indie” games like Braid as far as its originality, scope and creativity. The game could very well be a cartoon, children’s book or feature-length animation. To think that two guys put the game together is yet another reason that big publishers and developers should take note.
And the other WiiWare game would probably be Mega Man 9, but only because it seems unnecessarily difficult. I’ve beaten through every NES Mega Man previously and I hate to rag on one of my favorite franchises. As well done as the game is, it just feels like there is no first level or difficulty progression. Maybe I’m not as good as I used to be.