Interviews: Robotube Games - Bloktonik
Posted by Sean Aaron
We talk to founder Jason Cirillo about Robotube's upcoming WiiWare debut Bloktonik and the Bit Museum.
Nintendo Life: First things first - who and what is Robotube Games?
Jason Cirillo: Robotube loves games, Robotube makes games, Robotube wants to support indie gaming and those who want to get into game development. Aside from being stoked about some of the games we're developing, we love to discuss other people's indie games and we also love to get into other creative stuff like making our Bit Museum show. Robotube is a manifestation of years and years of deep interest in gaming, specifically indie gaming, and it's sort of a shrine of appreciation to it.
I myself am the founder and creative director and I do most of the actual game design stuff, as well as leading the other projects like Bit Museum, which I write and host. Dennis Peters is our business guy as well as the director of Bit Museum. Dennis has a lot of experience in the film industry, so he's the guy that makes sure I don't burn the place down with the lighting or end up filming only my pants for the whole episode. Jackie Peters handles a lot of our PR and helps us get deals going. I'm based in New York and they're out in LA.
Nintendo Life: You've started out in the mobile games space, specifically mobile phones and the iPhone - what draws you to WiiWare?
Jason Cirillo: The mobile phone phase of Robotube was a dark, dark time. I have to separate the mobile phone phase from the iPhone phase, since they're so different. Making mobile phone games sucked. There, I said it. It was awful. We were a super small company trying to build games for like 100 different devices, and then trying to get these monstrous carriers to pick the games up to put in their shops. It was a really great learning experience, but it was nothing but a giant headache. iPhone, that was different. Building the game was much easier since we were only building for one device.
So to WiiWare: we're drawn to WiiWare because Robotube is really into genres like puzzles, platformers, arcade, etc. I'm a longtime Nintendo fan, and I think WiiWare is shaping up to be a cool playground for Indie developers, and so many wonderful surprises are coming from the platform. You've got the pioneering Bit.Trip series, platformers like Cave Story and Super Meat Boy and some really nice puzzle titles like Magnetis. It seemed like a comfortable place for us to introduce some of our ideas on a console. Plus we'd like to incorporate tasteful use of the Wii Remote in our games where it would make sense.
Nintendo Life: Some of our readers may already be familiar with your game Bloktonik from the web and the mobile space, but for those that aren't, what is the game about/how is it played and who is the target audience?
Jason Cirillo: Essentially, Bloktonik is a block-based puzzle game where the object is to match 4 same-colored Bloks together. The Bloks fall in 4 directions and you need to land the falling Bloks on top of something that already exists in the cluster. It sounds totally weird and confusing, but it's surprisingly simple - in concept anyway.
I've played puzzle games for years and I'm so inspired by great games such as Tetris, Puyo Puyo, Super Puzzle Fighter and many more. I wanted to create something that was really new and unique that had a concept that hadn't been tried before. One of the things I wanted to do was make a puzzle game that required the player to think ahead a couple of moves, like chess, to keep them on their toes. I figured if blocks fell in four directions rather than one with the gravity constantly changing, you wouldn't be allowed to zone out as easily. The experience is pretty nuts! Once you get into it, you get sucked in. I may be biased, but I think it's really addictive. We recently added various "bomb blocks" to the game that can be earned and saved. You can then deploy them when you need them, so it adds an entirely new layer of strategy.
The game is targeted at puzzle game aficionados, but also at people who really want a serious challenge. Bloktonik is definitely a bit more cerebral than most block-based puzzle games.
Nintendo Life: We know Bloktonik is still in development, so it's probably too early for even a ballpark release date, but is 2010 still achievable and which territories is it going to be released in?
Jason Cirillo: It definitely is very early. 2010 is absolutely achievable I think, but it's not guaranteed. Since we've never done a WiiWare game before there is a lot that we've needed to gather and learn. We're in unfamiliar territory so we're always encountering variables that we hadn't considered.
When the time comes we'd like for the whole world to get a nice heaping helping of Bloktonik goodness. We'll certainly release to North America for sure. Japan is a territory I have a very specific interest in releasing to as well. Europe and Australia would certainly be awesome - if we can pull together what will be needed to make that happen.
Nintendo Life: How does WiiWare development compare with game development for a mobile platform? Are there plans to do DSiWare as well?
Jason Cirillo: At the time we were developing for mobile phones you needed to develop and test across a bazillion different devices, and it was more or less like trying to teach a donkey how to speak 50 languages. Then there's always the challenge of working with tight control schemes and sometimes the processors are not very friendly to work with either. Some companies do it well, but we're just too small. iPhone isn't the case there; that's pretty straightforward.
WiiWare requires you to develop for essentially just one platform, so that's certainly a big difference right there. Plus, in terms of control, you have a lot more to work with on WiiWare and you can be creative with that; which is something we plan to do.
As far as DSiWare goes I'll just say that we're not currently set up to develop there, but we wouldn't be against talking to other developers who might be interested in giving Bloktonik some love on that platform. (wink wink)
Nintendo Life: The Bit Museum video series is how some of us in Nintendo Life towers first became aware of Robotube Games. It does seem a bit of a departure from game development - how did that start? Is there more Bit Museum to come?
Jason Cirillo: First off, yes…there is more Bit Museum shenanigans to come. We absolutely LOVE doing Bit Museum. It's such a reflection of who we really are.
I'm really fascinated by the history of video games and I love reading about all the behind-the-scenes stuff that went into their creation. I noticed that there were some crazy consoles along the timeline that were so obscure or rare that they had little to no proper coverage online, so I wanted to create Bit Museum as a means by which to give some of these long forgotten weirdnesses some love. There's so much out there about the Atari 2600 or the Colecovision - which are just badass systems - but I wanted to do a show about the stuff that nearly nobody has heard of, let alone seen actually being played.
We didn't want to just make games, we wanted to show our respect for games and their history. I feel like the video game industry is coming into an age now where it deserves to have its history examined and appreciated. People take their current gen consoles for granted, understandably so, but I think they'd be pretty fascinated by seeing how it all started.
Nintendo Life: Recently you completed a game "mash-up" or "jam" with the guys at Gaijin Games as part of Blip Fest '09. The resulting Bit.Tonik game was pretty interesting. You may be aware of nods to other indie games being included in Super Meat Boy for WiiWare, what's your take on the indie development community - are you in regular contact with other development outfits?
Jason Cirillo: Our friendship with Gaijin Games grew out of our similar interests in retro gaming and supporting indie game development. I have to credit Alex Neuse with the idea of doing the "Battle of the Brands" collaboration at Blip Fest. When he called me up to suggest the idea, I was all over it. This is one of the things I am so into in regards to indie gaming. These small teams have the freedom to do pretty much anything they want, and I think it's just great how indies use that freedom to support one another's endeavours. So much insane creativity is coming out of this space and it is so exciting. I honestly feel like the work being done by indie game developers is among some of the most important in the game industry today.
We're always shooting the breeze with other game devs anytime we can. I love talking to these guys and girls. You never know when an opportunity will arise to do something kick-ass.
Nintendo Life: Finally, anything else you can tell us about future projects on the Wii or elsewhere? Any parting thoughts?
Jason Cirillo: Well, we're still talking to Gaijin Games about doing more stuff together, but at this point we're just talking. I don't have anything I can specifically talk about at this point, but I think people will enjoy the projects we've got coming down the pipeline. I'll just say that a big focus of Robotube is to collaborate with awesome people and just have a really good time coming up with really cool stuff.
I would just urge everyone to support independent game developers. So much great work is just waiting to be had. If you've got a friend or family member who hasn't gotten their Wii online yet, show them how it's done and introduce them to some of your favourite indie WiiWare games. Get more people on board the Happy Indie Train!