Developer Interview: Pwnee Studios Talks About Cloudberry Kingdom and Wii U
Posted by Katy Ellis
"We have learnt to expect bizarre events"
With all of the excitement surrounding the upcoming release of the Wii U console and its retail launch titles, it’s easy to forget the assortment of potentially fantastic Wii U eShop titles also heading our way. One of which is Cloudberry Kingdom, a platformer which promises to supply the gamer with infinite levels to make "an endless conquest that [gamers] can lay waste to until the end of times". We caught up with TJ Lutz, Vice President of Pwnee Studios and Michael Suswal, Director of Business Development, to find out what it’s like developing a download title for Wii U.
New York based indie team Pwnee Studios was formed by University pals Lutz and Pwnee President Jordan Fisher. While procrastinating from his PhD in Maths, he thought about whether it would be possible to design an algorithm that could make infinite Mario levels, which in time formed the basis for Cloudberry Kingdom. However, if you ask the Pwnee team how it all started, you’re most likely to get this response, “…Zeus threw his most awesome thunderbolt at the sword, and lightning exploded everywhere, just like Thundercats, and lo, in the glowy after-haze the Pwnee Team was formed…”. “Unbelievable,” added Suswal, “but true.” Hmm…
Being Nintendo fans from a young age, the guys at Pwnee Studios grew up with the NES console and platformer titles, and when asked why they chose to develop Cloudberry Kingdom for Wii U, Lutz said that “sticking with Nintendo was basically a moral requirement for us. How could we not develop an infinite platformer for the company that brought us into gaming in the first place?”
“Opening the [Wii U] dev kit made me feel like the same 5 year old opening his first NES, I may have cried just a little bit.”
While Fisher did succeed in making an impressive AI system for Cloudberry Kingdom during the early development stages, the team decided to start a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to hire a full-time artist and an animator to polish the game with extra gloss and cinematics. "We were lucky to receive a lot of suggestions from our backers. They have been very supportive and helpful throughout the development of the game," explained Lutz. "Every one of our backers has had the opportunity to become a beta tester, and has given us tons of feedback and have done a lot of bug-hunting." Pwnee Studios started its campaign on the 26th April 2012, with a goal of $20,000. In the space of exactly one month, it aroused huge interest and surpassed the funding goal by $3,582, with a total of 640 backers. "There have been a good number of adjustments made through backer suggestions. We know that without our backers/testers this game would be nowhere near what it is today."
Many smaller, independent development studios have stated that the hardest part of the development process is usually gaining the initial go-ahead from Nintendo, however armed with such an innovative and high-reaching idea Pwnee Studios found little difficulty in getting hold of its Wii U development kits. "We just contacted [Nintendo] and sent them a build of the game. They seemed to really enjoy it, and we just got the ball rolling from there." In fact, the only real difficulty in terms of development challenges that Pwnee Studios faced was rewriting the code from C# with the DirectX stack to make the game playable on Wii U, which usually uses C++. However, Lutz explained that this was to be expected for any porting process and added that Nintendo was always available for advice should they have had any problems.
"The Wii U itself is a great machine, the documentation and tooling is fairly mature."
When we asked the team about the possible inclusion of DLC in Cloudberry Kingdom, such as bonus character costumes or hats, Lutz stated that he couldn't officially confirm anything at the moment, yet it would be extremely likely there will be some DLC in the future. "We have a horrible tendency to keep adding to the game. Even when we are under the gun and need to get something done immediately, we suddenly come up with a new idea for an obstacle or hero and feel like we absolutely have to put it in the game." In response to whether the Wii U version of Cloudberry Kingdom will also have achievements Lutz commented, "we're a huge fan of achievements and already have some made up, so hopefully something will be able to come of that as well."
Another exciting feature of Wii U is the implementation of Miiverse, which was demonstrated at E3 earlier this year with the help of everyone's favourite Nintendo sidekick, Non-Specific Action Figure. Many developers have already announced their enthusiasm for the potential of Miiverse in creating a new gaming experience on Nintendo systems. We were keen to ask Pwnee Studios whether it had already been implemented into Cloudberry Kingdom, but unfortunately Lutz explained that the team hadn't had the chance to play with it much, but added that they were very excited to start exploring the feature. We also asked them what features they would like Nintendo to employ in the Wii U download store, from a developer's prospective. "It would be cool to have some sort of rating system for each game ... having the cream rise to the top is always a good thing." Lutz continued by talking about how he would also like a sorting list of the downloadable games to make it easier to find a specific game, genre or look for something by the number of downloads.
"I watched the teaser for Little Inferno and it got me pretty interested. I still have no idea what it is, but I want it."
A common misconception about Cloudberry Kingdom is the emphasis put on the harder difficulty settings, known as Abuse, Hardcore and Masochistic. "We actually have a huge range of difficulties, we just like to show off the hardest in the trailers because it looks cool ... We have had 5 year old children easily dispatch our easier levels, and we've had grown men throwing tantrums at some of our hardest. You can think of it like Tetris - there is a specific range for everyone."
We are finally reaching the final countdown stages of the Wii U launch, and so with this in mind we asked if we could expect the Wii U version of Cloudberry Kingdom to be made available to customers from the system's launch date. Sadly, Lutz explained that while they would love to have the game out on day one, they couldn't confirm this. "There is still the chance that Jordan goes insane and runs away, or all of our computers crash at the same time, or any number of strange occurrences that we can't really prepare for. We have learnt to expect bizarre events."