Interviews: Ben Geisler - Jam City Rollergirls
Posted by Jon Wahlgren
We go all post-mortem
Cast your minds back several years to the announcement of WiiWare, and its promise to bring smaller, riskier titles to Wii owners. Over the years there's no doubt the service has seen some pretty unique games, and the latest in that line is Jam City Rollergirls, the only video game ever based on roller derby.
Our Jam City Rollergirls review awarded the game a deserved 7/10, so we caught up with developer Frozen Codebase's president, Ben Geisler, to chat about the game's development, reception and what it was like working within the constraints of WiiWare.
Nintendo Life: Now that the game is out, how do you feel its reception has been? Do you feel it’s about lined up with where you imagined it to be pre-release?
Ben Geisler: I'd say it's going pretty well. We've seen various reviews so far, mostly positive. The biggest complaint has been that we could only fit five teams in the game and one music track. But, given the limitations of a 40mb max file size on WiiWare, this is a complaint that we can live with. It would have been impossible to fit all 100+ WFTDA roller derby teams in the game. Speaking of WFTDA, we're also happy to see so many roller derby leagues helping out throughout the country with launch parties and tournaments, it's been great.
NL: What’s been the general reaction from the WFTDA? Any cries that it isn’t realistic enough or do you feel everyone is pretty happy with how Jam City panned out?
BG: So far everyone pretty much likes it. We did get one person who plays banked track derby and was confused by the flat track rules we used. I wasn't anticipating this! To the mainstream, that critique is going to seem rather obtuse since I bet most people didn't realise there were rule differences between banked track and flat track derby. Almost everyone likes the idea of an arcade roller derby game, akin to something like NBA Jam. To be honest, there have been a couple people here or there who have complained about the Mario Kart elements – but we never really hoped to attract people who don't appreciate the incredible beauty that comes out of a well balanced cart racer. To each his own I guess. Luckily, however, the design decisions we made to include influences from Mario Kart, Road Rash and NBA Jam seem to be what the majority wanted, so that's good – we think.
NL: How has it been performing at the Shop Channel so far?
BG: The sales have been coming in pretty well. We're not prepared to make any public statement right now, but at the moment we're cautiously optimistic.
NL: During development, you had to figure out ways to make roller derby work as an arcade-style video game after realising that a sim-style iteration would be perhaps a bit tough. Do you still think there is room for a roller derby Gran Turismo?
BG: Absolutely. I think there is a great momentum occurring in roller derby in general now, and I'd love to see a more simulation-based approach. Obviously this type of game can’t be made to fit the size of a WiiWare title – we knew that from the start – but it can fit on other platforms. And we love all types of games. So let's do it!
NL: Out of the dozens upon dozens of roller derby teams, how did you go about choosing the five that made it in?
BG: We actually let the WFTDA decide! They voted in four of the teams and we brought in one of our own, since they introduced us to derby: The Brewcity Bruisers from Milwaukee.
NL: Some of the tracks are quite simple whereas others have shortcuts and ramps. What was it about the included teams that influenced their home track design?
Each team has a certain aesthetic, a theme that unifies them. In Madison it's the Dairyland Dolls, and they have milkmaid uniforms in which they skate. A barn was natural for the venue – some of them told us how thrilled they were when their VR counterparts would be skating in a barn setting!
In Texas, the theme is the “Texecutioners,” based off The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Therefore, the setting is in a dark meat locker with blood everywhere. The Rat City venue is inside the “Seattle Underground,” which is a real-life place under the city of Seattle. Gotham Cathedral, with its golems, stained glass windows and gothic architecture, is home to New York's Gotham Girls Roller Derby. Meanwhile, Jam City itself is a mythical track we concocted to epitomise the idea of all the teams sending their best skaters to one central location to duke it out. It captures the DIY spirit with graffiti everywhere, and a roller rink appeal.
NL: There’s quite a lot of stuff packed into Jam City as far as customisation options, size of arenas and general art. What was the biggest challenge in sifting out what could and couldn’t fit into the comparatively small 40MB WiiWare size limit? Where did you have to draw the line?
BG: Yeah, you're telling me! I remember at one point, after we tried to stick one more helmet variation in, our lead programmer, Adam Larson – who is honestly usually a very calm guy – says to our lead artist: “No more! Not a single thing!” We have something like six customisable items (helmets, masks, wrist guards, skates, leggings, body type, hair type), and alll of these, of course, have to play with each other.
It's a pretty large system for just a 40mb game. We had even hoped to have a fully player-customisable team, but of course that's impossible for something which must fit within the size of a dozen MP3 songs. We drew the line at only the most important customisable options; we made a requirement to only have four body types and only one geometry set for many items. It was pretty old-school requirements, but it worked.
NL: Were there any big ideas that didn’t make it into the final game?
BG: Tons! Our chopping room floor is littered with design ideas, customisation ideas, expansion ideas, game mechanic ideas, the sky is the limit! We even thought of a coaching mode at one point, and we had a mode where you could play as the pivot. Some of this might see its way to a sequel some day I guess.
NL: There don’t seem to be any visible DLC “hooks” in the game. Did you at some point, or do you still, have any plans for adding new teams or tracks? If there were/are no plans for DLC, why?
BG: We do plan to incorporate DLC as soon as practical, but we'd like to get it out in Europe and Australia first. Once this happens, we'll move on to DLC – probably initially in the form of new skaters and teams, then new venues.
NL: Will there be a Jam City demo?
BG: Yes! Stay tuned for this!
NL: Is there anything else that you’d like to mention or something important you feel we may have missed?
BG: This entire experience has been great! The Nintendo WiiWare team has been fun to work with. The WFTDA has been fun to work with and we love all our new derby friends! We hope to keep making roller derby games, and we also appreciate the response we've gotten on Nintendo Life! Thanks for the support. We're grass roots, independent developers, who just love making games and it's great to see people curious about what we're doing.
Thanks to the generosity of Frozen Codebase we have two copies of Jam City Rollergirls to give away to our readers in North America, so stay tuned for competition details on Monday!
Thanks to Ben Geisler for his time. Jam City Rollergirls is out now on WiiWare in North America for 1000 Points.