Feature: escapeVektor: Chapter 1 - An Insight Into its Development
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
See how it's done
Over the past three weeks you may have seen feature articles from developers Nnooo, telling you all you need to know about escapeVektor: Chapter 1. With the title set for its WiiWare launch on 29th September, Nnooo now round off their preview coverage with a behind the scenes look at the development of the title. Check it out below.
Behind the Scenes
We recently completed our second WiiWare™ title, escapeVektor™: Chapter 1. If you’ve read our 3 features on the game over the last few weeks, you’ll hopefully know all about it by now.
Nnooo is a small independent development studio based in Sydney, Australia. We’re currently a studio of only 4 people so we’re about as small as a dev studio can get. This means we have to enlist the help of outside contractors to help make our games.
In this feature we go behind the scenes, giving you a brief insight into who was involved inside and outside the company in the making of escapeVektor: Chapter 1.
At the time escapeVektor was conceived we were working on our upcoming game Spirit Hunters Inc™ and our myDiary™ app, both for Nintendo DSiWare™. Our coders were fully occupied so we had to find an external coder who had experience programming for WiiWare.
Lucky then that Nic Watt, our Creative Director and founder of Nnooo, came up with the escapeVektor concept with an old friend of his, Dave Cowan. Nic and Dave had worked together in a small development studio in Dundee, Scotland a few years ago. Dave is a very experienced coder and he shared the escapeVektor vision. We needed a coder and Dave was available. Perfect!
To get the project rolling, Nic and Dave had to get together to make prototypes, discuss gameplay and share thoughts on enemy types, etc. Unfortunately, Nic lives in Sydney and Dave now lives in LA! Fortunately, GDC in San Francisco was coming up and Nic was scheduled to attend. So, after a few travel plan changes, Nic stayed with Dave a week before the conference and the game was born.
As LA is 17 hours behind Sydney time-wise we knew working with Dave was going to create some challenges. There was a window of only a few hours each day when we could communicate with him about the game. On the positive side, it meant that when we were sleeping, Dave was working away on the coding. At one point we almost had 24 hour-a-day production!
Nic designed the levels in the game initially on graph paper and then built them in Adobe Illustrator. Dave exported the levels straight from Illustrator into the game, making it relatively straightforward for Nic to create and adjust new levels.
Creation of levels is one thing but piecing together a cohesive set of well designed levels that flow throughout the whole game is another thing altogether. Nic wanted the player to learn the game as they played, so the level design had to start simple and introduce new enemies and obstacles without the player feeling they had information overload. He wanted the player to feel that they were being challenged but not so much that the game was no longer fun to play.
This required ensuring that the game flowed well. The first level starts with a simple square which has to be bordered to unlock the exit. The final level in the game is a complex series of grids with Patrols and Electric Fences everywhere and trigger points for spawning Hunters and Interceptors. The skill lies in making the player feel that they have transitioned naturally from the start to the end of the game.
To encourage replay and to add further depth to the game, medal and badge systems were introduced. Also, as the player progresses through the game Detonate and Boost abilities are unlocked and further enhanced as the player’s score increases. Finally, playing a level without using the Detonate ability adds a star to that level and the ultimate escapeVektor challenge is playing the whole game without using Detonate.
We’ve used the same audio engineer on every game we’ve made. His name is Andrew Curnock and he has a small studio in the basement of his house in Brisbane. We think Andrew makes great music, perfectly suited to the games and apps we make.
When we start to make a game, we’ll give Andrew an outline of what we’re doing and let him know the style of music we’re looking for. We’ll usually give him some music tracks as a reference and point out what it is about the tracks that we think are relevant to the game.
For escapeVektor his brief was to make retro-inspired electronica. We referred him to some tracks by the Chemical Brothers, Kraftwerk, William Orbit, Air and the soundtrack to the film Moon, and from there Andrew worked his magic.
Once Andrew has an idea of the music he’s making, he’ll send over some sample tracks for us to listen to and give him feedback on. Usually we only need a tweak here and there and he’s ready to launch into the final version. It’s the same with the rest of the sound effects for the game. He’s usually making the music and sound effects as we’re building the game so he only has a limited in-game reference to draw from. This makes his job more difficult but as we progress with the game we can show him more in-game footage and he can still alter the audio.
We think Andrew has made an amazing soundtrack for escapeVektor. Many people who have previewed the game have commented on how cool the music is, even Nintendo themselves! We’ll be bringing out an escapeVektor album as soon as possible after release of Chapter 1.
This was the first game we completed with a story element to it. Nic and our Business & Marketing Director Bruce sat down together to work out a backstory for all of the escapeVektor chapters (a total of 4 are planned). We also have ideas for a few other Vektor series which we will make if escapeVektor is successful. These also needed backstories.
Bruce wrote a brief synopsis for each Vektor series and each one of the 4 planned escapeVektor chapters. Once the synopses were agreed he started writing the chapter 1 in-game Vektor narrative which is how the story is told.
We had to make sure there was enough story for those players who were interested but not so much that it would get in the way for players who just wanted to play the game. The balance of the story, scoring and in-game difficulty were all tested in the QA phase.
Once all the levels were in the game, we started testing for game balance and for the inevitable bugs. Nothing can be taken for granted at this stage and everything had to be tested. Did the scores add up; were badges awarded when they were supposed to be; did the bonus levels open up when they were meant to; was the medal system challenging enough; was the gameplay balanced overall; did the story work, no matter which route the player takes through the game? You get the idea.
Then there were the Nintendo tests to be completed. We have a huge checklist that we need to go through before the game will be passed by Nintendo.
The QA testing was mainly completed by Bruce who had to play the game over and over again to check that everything worked and bugs were fixed. This is a really arduous but absolutely necessary process. It’s fair to say that Bruce is the office champion of chapter 1!
escapeVektor: Chapter 1 is released in Australia, NZ, The Americas and Europe on September 29th for 500 Nintendo Points.