Interviews: Gravitronix - Medaverse Studios
Posted by Corbie Dillard
Medaverse Studios talks about their upcoming WiiWare release.
While Gravitronix has been in development for the better part of two years, the game is finally about to hit the WiiWare service in North American on Monday, October 5th. You might remember that we did an interview with Medaverse Studios way back in February 2008, but that was over a year and half ago and we assume a lot has changed since then.
In anticipation of the release, we were lucky enough to catch up with Jesse Lowther, Lead Designer of Gravitronix, who was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions from Nintendo Life. You can check out everything he had to say in the exclusive interview below.
Nintendo Life: Can you tell us a little bit more about Medaverse Studios?
Jesse Lowther: Medaverse Studios started as three guys who knew nothing about game development wanting to develop games. From there, a few more people joined the team, all on a part time basis, and we’ve been working together on Gravitronix for the past two years.
Nintendo Life: Given your background it seems it seems quite a change of pace for you guys to develop and publish a game. How did the initial idea come about?
Jesse Lowther: It was something that was always discussed but never thought possible. We had considered developing an RPG for the GBA but saw the barriers to entry has too high and never went anywhere with it.
When Nintendo first showed off the Wii Remote, that’s when it suddenly became more serious. I wanted to make games for this new controller, and I remember how much seeing the Wii Remote brought that to life in me. When the VC was revealed and Nintendo briefly discussed having original downloadable content on the system some day, that’s when I went for it and began emailing Nintendo about becoming a developer.
Nintendo Life: Gravitronix was one of the first WiiWare titles announced for the service, yet it's just now about to be released. Why has the title taken so long to develop?
Jesse Lowther: We started developing Gravitronix with the overarching goal of keeping it as small as possible, since the primary complaint we heard about WiiWare was the lack of storage space. We actually did that, as Gravitronix is only 122 blocks in size. However, trying to keep it small meant developing a lot of our own toolset when we should’ve used premade ones. This basically added an entire year to development time. We also wound up changing the physics system we were using from ODE to Bullet Physics because Bullet was a better fit for our needs.
Looking back, we did pretty much everything wrong, though we started out with the good intentions of keeping the game small.
Nintendo Life: Can you tell us a little bit about the actual gameplay in the game?
Jesse Lowther: You twist your controller (be it a Wii Remote or Nunchuk) to move within your territory on the circular arena. Defend your shield wall from attacks by using your two gravity beams to manipulate the projectiles that appear in the arena. If a projectile escapes the arena through your territory, you are defeated. Be the last territory left undefeated to win.
Controlling the game is simple, and that was our goal from the start. Anyone, no matter what level of gaming experience, can pick up the controller and be playing in minutes, yet players will not completely master the game for quite some time. All of this depth conceals itself from the unknowing new player, which is exactly how we wanted it to be.
Nintendo Life: What controllers will be supported in the game?
Jesse Lowther: You can play with either the Wii Remote or the Nunchuk controller. Playing is as simple as twisting the controller and pressing two buttons.
Nintendo Life: What makes Gravitronix stand out from the many other games on the WiiWare service?
Jesse Lowther: It’s an 8 player action battle game that you can play in co-op mode with your mother one minute and be having intense 1v1 matches against equi-skilled friends the next, or have 8 people (regardless of skill level) playing at once, shouting mid-match and generally having a great time (this is what most of our playtests consisted of). Then, playing on your own, you can make all shield walls invincible and just mess around with the physics system, or you can try to beat the last level solo. Good luck with that, though!
Nintendo Life: What made you choose the WiiWare service over rival services by Sony and Microsoft?
Jesse Lowther: It was all about the controller and Nintendo’s business model for fledgling developers like us. I mean, I like the business model, but I REALLY wanted to develop for the Wii Remote. My only regret in all of this is that we may see the next console generation before I have a chance to get all of my ideas for the Wii Remote made and out the door.
Nintendo Life: Will there be additional downloadable content made available for the game down the road?
Jesse Lowther: No, though we had planned that. The characters featured in Gravitronix will appear in future Medaverse games and we initially wanted to have the game download bios of the characters when their games were released. We’ll be doing that on the Gravitronix website, though, as doing so doesn’t add to the size of the game.
Nintendo Life: Does the game feature any online modes of play or leaderboards?
Jesse Lowther: Sadly, no. We wanted to get online play in, but doing online play and doing it RIGHT would’ve taken longer than we had funding to hold out. We’ll be looking into online play for future games, however.
Nintendo Life: Any idea when we might expect a European release?
Jesse Lowther: As soon as we can, which will hopefully be early next year. I can’t stress enough that we would have liked to launch world-wide, but launching in Europe entails getting past no fewer than three additional rating boards, all of which have their own fees associated with them. Combine that with the localization costs of translating another three languages and we just couldn’t afford it yet.
We hope to have future game releases launch simultaneously or as close as possible. I’ve always hated how Europe gets ignored and I would’ve preferred to launch at the same time, but it just wasn’t a monetary option for us.
Nintendo Life: Do you have any other WiiWare titles in the works?
Jesse Lowther: We’re already laying the programmatical groundwork for our next game, though we’re not necessarily sure what type of game it will be just yet. One of the big mistakes I’ve seen a lot of developers make is tackling a project that’s too ambitious for their capabilities. I mean, we thought Gravitronix would be a small project and look how that turned out. So our next game will be small in scope as well as we work our way into larger games. Remember, if you really want to make that 20-hour epic, you start small and work your way up.
Nintendo Life: Has any WiiWare title particularly impressed you to date?
Jesse Lowther: I haven’t had a chance to play many WiiWare titles over the past two years (or much gaming at all, really) so I can’t comment on the matter.
Nintendo Life: What are your thoughts on Nintendo's DSiWare service and do you have any plans to support it?
Jesse Lowther: I love the idea and I’d definitely like to develop for it at some point. I honestly just don’t have any ideas for the DS, though. All of my ideas thus far revolve around the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. I’m sure that’ll change with time, however.
Nintendo Life: After now gaining first hand experience in developing and publishing a game. Can you tell us what are the highs and lows of this process?
Jesse Lowther: The lows come from dealing primarily with team issues. We had a few disputes along the way and those are like a sock to the gut for anyone trying to run a team. You have to expect it with people, and while it takes the wind out of your sails to see it happen, all you can really do is work through it and push on. It’s also depressing when you realize how far you still have to go before the game is truly ready to ship. Gravitronix could’ve launched months ago but we held onto it and polished out every last bug and glitch, even the “happens once every thousand games” bugs that some devs might’ve let slip through.
The highs come from watching the game come together, and watching people who have never even heard of it play it for the first time and before long, they’re laughing and swearing and having a blast.
Despite the lows, I enjoyed developing Gravitronix to the point that I miss working on it. I truly do. I wonder if I’ll feel the same way about the next game. I certainly hope I will.
Nintendo Life: Are you slightly concerned that a lot of expectation has built up over the last 2 years and that gamers might not “get” your final product?
Jesse Lowther: I wish we had held off on announcing the game, yes, but am I concerned about it? Not at all. Gravitronix is the kind of game that just doesn’t translate in trailers. What you experience while playing it is a feeling that is completely different than watching it. From the start, it was a difficult game to describe to people, and I expected no difference when it came to showing it to people on the internet.
Over the years, I’m sure everyone has seen a trailer or preview for a game and said “What?” then later grown to love it. I think “Animal Crossing” is the best example of that for me. I couldn’t understand why my friends started playing it, but after they brought their copy over and I created a town, I was hooked.
I think Gravitronix will have much the same effect on people. It doesn’t look like much, but once you play it for yourself, you’ll understand.
Nintendo Life: Is there anything you'd like to tell our readers in closing?
Jesse Lowther: It’s been a long, bumpy road to the completion of Gravitronix. There were times when we weren’t certain we’d make it to the finish line or not, but at long last, here we are.
I realize Gravitronix doesn’t communicate well in trailers, and that the graphics aren’t what most people were expecting. To that, I can only say that everyone reading this sentence has, at one point or another, had high hopes for a game with beautiful graphics, only to later learn that the game was ultimately terrible (hopefully, you learned that from a review and not after buying the game like I have in the past). Browse the reviews section of this or any other gaming site and you’ll probably come across the sentence “If only they’d spent as much time on gameplay as they did on graphics.“ at least once, probably multiple times.
The clock is ticking on any development cycle and ours was no different. With everyone working part time and a limited number of total hours that could go into the game, I had a choice: do I have my programmers work on anti-aliasing and lighting effects or do I have them work on honing the controls and game mechanics?
I went for the second option, and the end result of that decision is a game that doesn’t look pretty in trailers but immediately captivates anyone who sits down to play it. I’ve seen a 76 year old woman who had never played a videogame before in her life yell at the projectiles while playing. I’ve also watched a group of four high school boys leap from their chairs in celebration after finally beating the COM players in a 4v4 match. I’ve watched groups of friends having exactly the same kind of fun with Gravitronix that my group of friends and I used to have with SSB and Mario Kart, and this is exactly the experience we were aiming to deliver.
If I had to do it all over again, I’d make the same decision: Gameplay over graphics, no question. If you decide to try Gravitronix, I think you’ll agree that it was the right decision to make.
We at Nintendo Life would like to thank Jesse for taking time out of his busy schedule to take part in the interview with us and we look forward to playing Gravitronix on Monday.