RealArcade Interview - Tiki Towers

Tiki Towers is set to hit the US WiiWare service this Monday, December 22nd so we decided it might be a good time to get in touch with the developers of Tiki Towers in order to find out more about the game.

Graham Kays, producer of Tiki Towers, was nice enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk with WiiWare World about the game. You can check out the full contents of the interview below to find out what he had to say.

WiiWare World: How did you come up with the idea for Tiki Towers?

Graham Kays: Tiki Towers was conceived in the mind of designer Frank Boosman from Republic of Fun before the Wii launched in 2006. Excited by the promise of the new console, he felt that the Wii Remote would work great for games that required a lot of physical interactions. We’ve all played construction-style games as kids, and Frank felt that this would be a great use of the Wii Remote.

While considering the best way to design the building mechanics, Frank heard a talk by Will Wright where Will said something to the effect of “monkeys are funny” and another piece fell into place. From there, he instantly realized that the building pieces could be represented by bamboo and coconuts, and because a good friend was a huge Tiki fan, the tropical/Tiki backdrop seemed the perfect fit for the game.

WW: Can you tell us a bit more about the actual gameplay in Tiki Towers?

GK: Tiki Towers is a game of construction, destruction, problem solving, and monkeys. You must reclaim the islands of your tribe by defeating a series of evil enemy chiefs. Your monkey friends help you to build towers in your quest to defeat the enemy chiefs. The enemy chiefs are bent on destroying your towers and driving you from the islands and will cast spells that will disrupt your efforts. As you progress, you must also navigate levels filled with crazy building challenges, and deal with unfriendly wildlife and other environmental obstacles. You have your own repertoire of spells to cast that help you overcome these challenges.

The core of the game is about building. You must build structures to help your monkeys get from the start point to the exit in each level. Bamboo poles of various lengths, connected by coconuts, provide the structure for your towers. Shorter bamboo poles are less likely to break, but don’t provide the speed in building that the more breakable long poles do. Vines can be wrapped around coconut joints for added strength and stability, and are essential for building structures side-to-side.

The game runs in real-time. Time is marching forward as you build your towers and respond to the actions of the Enemy Chiefs.

The asynchronous cooperative multiplayer mode (where one person builds and another person casts spells) allows you to play through the game with a friend or family member.

WW: How long has Tiki Towers been in development?

GK: Tiki Towers took a little over a year of active development to complete.

WW: What control schemes are supported in this game?

GK: The controls for the game are very simple. Using the Wii Remote in the vertical position, all actions are handled by using the pointer and the A Button. In order to build towers, you grasp a connection point with the A Button and drag the pole section to where you want to build. When you’ve positioned it to where you want it, release the A Button and your monkeys will handle the rest. Menu and button actions such as casting spells are also handled with the pointer and A Button.

WW: Will there be any online gameplay modes or leaderboards in this game?

GK: We considered these features, but didn’t feel that they added much to the game so we focused our efforts in other areas.

WW: Did you run into any unique challenges while developing Tiki Towers?

GK: Being a physics-based game, getting the physics right was the biggest challenge. After we built the foundation of the physics simulation model, we needed to tweak the parameters so that the towers felt just right. Also, tuning the levels and spells to best utilize and leverage the tower building physics was a big challenge.

WW: What was it like developing a game that makes use of such a unique game controller as the Wii Remote?

GK: The Wii is great because the Wii Remote is so versatile. You can do so many things with it. We iterated on many different control schemes, but ultimately decided on the simple and elegant use of just the Pointer and A Button. It makes the game so easy to pick up and play that anyone can play and enjoy it.

WW: Are there any differences between the mobile/iPhone versions and the WiiWare version of the game?

GK: Each version has been tailored to its specific platform. In the WiiWare version, you can explore large and expansive levels that have multiple building sections and use the Wii Remote’s pointer functionality to quickly build towers pole-by-pole. Spell casting, monkey management (between casting and building) and the Enemy Chiefs are also exclusively available in the WiiWare version.

Conversely, the mobile and iPhone versions are specifically tailored for play on the go. Accordingly, the levels are shorter and smaller but there are more of them. Because of the closer viewpoint, the personalities and antics of the monkeys are more emphasized, and building is expedited by constructing triangular sections rather than pole-by-pole. Gameplay for mobile is controlled with the directional pad, while the iPhone version has touch screen support.

WW: Many of our readers have been quick to note some similarities between Tiki Towers and the excellent World of Goo. Can you tell us what features differentiate your game?

GK: We’re big fans of World of Goo and think it’s a great game. However, Tiki Towers and World of Goo are fundamentally different experiences and each provide a uniquely fun gaming experience. To begin with, the building experiences are different, and we think Tiki Towers is separated by more dynamic and realistic building mechanics. Players will notice that Tiki Towers has a more sophisticated physics model.

World of Goo uses rigid body dynamics for its physics system, meaning the sections in their towers never break and there is no modeling of tension or compression forces. Your focus is primarily on making sure the towers don’t fall over or sway into environmental hazards. Conversely, Tiki Towers models physics using a mass-spring truss system with linear and angular constraints that models the tension, compression, and shear forces applied to the towers. Simply put, tower sections can become shorter (compress), stretch (tense), sway/sag (shear) and break based on the forces that are applied to them. This makes the towers more dynamic as sections of your tower can break and cause additional force to be applied to other sections of your tower, making it sway and buckle under the weight. In some cases, you can create a chain reaction that will bring your tower crashing down.

Other aspects of the building mechanics are also different. In Tiki Towers, you build individual segments (whereas in World of Goo, you build with triangles) so the construction of interesting offshoots on your towers and more freedom to build crazy structures is enabled. Plus, the building controls are more natural and overall more simplistic. And your monkeys have an unlimited supply of coconuts and bamboo poles, so you never run out of building materials.

Further, Tiki Towers is not just all about building. The usage of Enemy Chiefs as adversaries adds an additional strategic element to the game. The Enemy Chiefs want to drive you off the islands and will cast spells at your monkeys and towers in order to thwart your progress. Luckily, you have spells of your own to counter the attacks of the Enemy Chiefs, but you need BananaMana in order to cast these spells. You can assign monkeys to chant for BananaMana, but monkeys that are chanting aren’t available for building – so it’s all about balance.

We think Tiki Towers will appeal to a very broad segment of players, as it’s fun and whimsical, yet challenging at the same time. All these features make for a unique playing experience, plus it can all be had for only 500 Wii Points.

Oh, and don’t forget, Tiki Towers has monkeys. Everybody loves monkeys. Monkeys rule!

WW: It has been announced that Tiki Towers will sell for only 500 Wii Points. What was the thinking behind pricing the game so low?

GK: We believe in Tiki Towers and know people will have an enjoyable experience when playing it. Unfortunately, there are no demos or trials for WiiWare games and we understand that some people don’t want to spend a large amount of money on something they haven’t tried. We wanted as many people to play the game as possible and didn’t want price to be a deterrent so we priced the game accordingly. When you play it, you will likely agree that it provides a lot of fun and gaming value for the price.

WW: What are some of the advantages/disadvantages of developing for the WiiWare service as opposed to a full retail title?

GK: From a development standpoint, there is little material difference between developing for WiiWare vs. a full retail title. The program file size limitation on WiiWare is the only major issue to deal with as it can reduce both the quantity and quality of your game content compared to what you can accomplish in a full retail title. However, there are business reasons to choose either path. A full retail game requires additional investment in order to create packaging, a printed manual, and manufacture the game disks. Plus, getting a game distributed and out to retailers is not a trivial effort. Making a WiiWare game bypasses all those difficulties, but reaches a much smaller user base. Each path also has different and unique marketing challenges in order to reach customers and let them know about your game and what it has to offer.

WW: Does RealArcade have any other WiiWare projects on the horizon?

GK: We have nothing to announce at this time, but we’ll certainly keep you posted when we do.

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