Interviews: Nocturnal Entertainment's Flowerworks
Posted by Sean Aaron
We chat with Nocturnal Entertainment CEO about its WiiWare debut, Flowerworks.
We recently reviewed Flowerworks, a strange but very enjoyable gardening-and-fireworks combination, but we wanted to find out more about the game and its developer, Nocturnal Entertainment. So we got chance to sit down with Nocturnal's CEO Michael Shamgar and pitched him some questions about the game, the studio and their future on WiiWare.
Nintendo Life: Let's start by finding out a bit about Nocturnal: how long has Nocturnal been involved in software development and what has the company done that we should know about?
Michael Shamgar: Nocturnal has been around since August 2002, although we only opened the current studio 2 years ago. There aren't a lot of titles to the Nocturnal name - although our core developers have worked on a lot of titles for other companies (including AFL, Equestriad, Freedom Force and a lot more).
Nocturnal released Ultimate Arcade Games for the GBA back in 2005, and Catapult - a PC based development tool for the GBA prior to that.
Nintendo Life: What drew you to WiiWare and how do you find working with Nintendo?
Michael Shamgar: I have always been a big fan of Nintendo platforms, and we all think the Wii is just fantastic. Retail can be pretty tough for a small developer though - so WiiWare seemed to be perfect for us. It also matched the sort of titles we wanted to make with the right audience.
Nintendo Life: Were there any special challenges encountered in making the game for WiiWare or Wii development generally?
Michael Shamgar: Technically, we found the Wii very easy to develop for. Graphically it almost seemed overpowered - I guess the most challenging aspect was getting the controller feeling right - and adding bells and whistles (such as rumble and controller sound).
Nintendo Life: Flowerworks is an interesting combination of adventure/exploration and puzzler/arcade title which is a bit unusual -- what inspired this decision?
Michael Shamgar: Flowerworks started as a puzzle/action game - the flower growing sections. I thought it needed more to turn it into the sort of game I was imagining it to be - and so the overworld/exploration section was born. I felt it also gave background to the game, and let the player catch their breath between the flower growing sections.
We had some heated discussions about it though - everyone was very passionate about their view of the game!
Nintendo Life: Do you feel it's necessary to do something different to stand out on WiiWare?
Michael Shamgar: We don't really know how well a lot of the other titles have done, so it's a little hard to answer that question. But one of our goals with Flowerworks was to create something truly unique - something that adds to the overall tapestry that is the history of video games. I'm very happy with the result, and I think we have met that goal - a truly original new IP.
And history has shown that if you create a title that isn't that different or original - it has better be a truly excellent title, or the market will judge you harshly (and you could be forgotten before you know it).
Nintendo Life: Was there any target audience in mind for Flowerworks? Some might argue that it has a "kiddie" look about it.
Michael Shamgar: I definitely don't agree with that. The target audience we aimed for is "everyone" - we didn't want to create a game that excluded any particular demographic.
You could argue that someone looking at the Super Mario series for the first time would consider it a "kiddie" game - yet all age and demographic brackets buy, play and enjoy that series. Because people are not familiar with the game itself - they are judging it on the visuals (screenshots or videos) alone. But I think once people play the game, they quickly realize it is not a kiddie game at all. In fact, one of my biggest worries is that the game is too old-school, hardcore and difficult for the gamers out there!
Nintendo Life: Tell us about the look of the game -- the gnomes in particular really stand out -- was it challenging coming up with a look for Follie, the main character in Flowerworks?
Michael Shamgar: There is a lot of background here.
Firstly the look of the game - the original idea for the overworld was that it would start as a dirty, polluted, environmental mess - and it would transform into a living, clean, thriving world as the flowers grew. This is similar to games like De Blob or Okami (which was a big influence on me around the time we designed Flowerworks).
But we didn't have the skill to make the world look dirty and 'nice' at the same time - we wanted people to enjoy a pretty looking game from the start. So we came up with the idea of transforming a realistic looking world into a more cartoonish and abstract looking one - something that Follie could relate to.
Follie was challenging to design, and took several iterations before we were completely happy with the results. We wanted the themes of the game to define her as a character, and her shape and size had to work for the flower growing sections.
Nintendo Life: What's the story with the gnomes exactly? Are they alive or is Follie just touched in the head?
Michael Shamgar: They definitely are not alive - they just freak poor old Follie out!
Follie is a real alien to Elilia - she cannot relate to a world like ours, and this seriously stresses her out after she crash lands. This is why she becomes a lot happier when she hangs around an area of the world that has been transformed.
I think its also quite funny to see how Follie reacts to everything around her - she tends to miss the obvious, and becomes obsessed with colours and decorations!
Nintendo Life: Was the decision to create a game in which the introduction of alien species to a native ecosystem is a positive affair, some kind of veiled political statement about Australia's own ecological history?
Michael Shamgar: No - but it was more a general comment on humanity, and how people tend to come into an environment that is different from what they are used to and then transform it (sometimes for the worse).
I don't want to give anything away, but there is an underlying story to Flowerworks which is revealed at the end. Follie is invisible to what is really going on. It's something more subtle, and we leave it for players to work out on their own.
Nintendo Life: What is the games development scene like in Australia presently?
Michael Shamgar: Australia has always been a great hub for game development, and its only going to get even bigger in the future. The last couple of years have been tough, but we are starting to see a rebound in the market.
Nintendo Life: Are there any more WiiWare titles in the works?
Michael Shamgar: We have numerous ideas, and a couple of prototypes in development - but we shouldn't say anything until we decide exactly what our next title will be. But we are definitely working on getting Flowerworks released in Europe / Australia / New Zealand, which will happen in 2010.
Nintendo Life: Are DSiWare titles in your future?
Michael Shamgar: Not at the moment.
Nintendo Life: Anything else you can tell our readers about your future plans?
Michael Shamgar: Our immediate plans revolve around continuing to promote and market Flowerworks. With a new IP, its really important to not let up on the marketing - so we can spread the word and really explain the title (and what is unique about it) to the market. So expect to see more noise from us in the coming weeks, including some surprises!
I will say that we have spent some time adding MotionPlus support to our engine, and we have a game prototype ready that uses it - and it feels really awesome. It's a completely different game from Flowerworks, and (ok, I won't say any more!)
Otherwise... stay tuned!