Interview: Ripstone on Pure Chess, Knytt Underground and Joining the eShop
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Pushing cross-platform play and planning for the future
After a spell of silence and mystery beyond games confirmed earlier in the year, we're now getting a better idea of the range of titles coming to the Wii U eShop in the rest of 2013 and into 2014. More from North American developers is likely to emerge in the coming weeks and months, while Nintendo of Europe took the opportunity to release a sizzle reel of games from European and Australian developers which showed plenty of promise.
Two games featured in that trailer were Pure Chess and Knytt Underground, both of which are being published by UK-based company Ripstone. In the case of Pure Chess, we revealed yesterday that its multiplayer "play by mail" mode would include cross-platform play between Wii U, 3DS and smartphone / tablet versions of the game, another sign of eShop titles expanding their potential audience.
As a newcomer to Nintendo systems, we took the chance to speak to Ripstone's Co-Founder and Creative Director, Phil Gaskell, about both upcoming releases, their respective developers and future plans for the Wii U and 3DS eShop platforms.
Nintendo Life: First of all, can you tell us a little bit about Ripstone?
Phil Gaskell: Ripstone was set up by myself and Leo Cubbin in 2011, along with help from Will Clarke and Paul Higgins who are heavily involved in the UK film industry. We pride ourselves as a company built on honesty, integrity and trust. We're very focused on providing as much help as we can to indie game developers to get their games out on a variety of digital platforms, in a way that's fair and supportive to the developers themselves. We’ve released games across PlayStation 3, PS Vita, iOS, Android, PC, Mac & Linux; with games ranging from toilet-based line drawing game Men’s Room Mayhem to twin-stick shooter Big Sky Infinity.
Nintendo Life: You've done a lot of work supporting and publishing Indie developers, how would you define the role Ripstone plays with games it brings to market, and what differentiates you from other publishers?
RS: In terms of the nuts & bolts of publishing most significantly we offer the all-important funding options so indie developers can afford to spend time crafting and creating without worrying about where the next paycheque is coming from, we also look after localisation into many foreign languages, we manage the testing of the games so they hit the digital stores error free, we liaise with the various digital store teams on each platform to ensure a smooth route to market, and we work with development teams on solid marketing & PR plans to help create buzz and awareness of each game leading up to launch.
However there are also things we bring to the table that are much more subtle and can only really be matched through experience. For half of my career I've worked as a developer designing and producing games at the coal-face, so to speak. For the other half I've worked in publishing. So I know exactly how it feels to toil and stress over a game, only to hand it over to the publisher who sometimes didn't fully understand it, and often didn't care for it in the same way I did. We treat every game in a bespoke and respectful way. We're also mindful of the creative process – Leo was the external producer on LittleBigPlanet and teams don't come more creative than Media Molecule! So whilst we're always happy to comment on gameplay and be involved in creative decisions, ultimately the final call always lies with the developer who holds the vision for the game. We're supportive not dictatorial.
NL: Can you tell us about Knytt Underground and its creators?
PG: Nicklas Nygren aka Nifflas is a Swedish indie game developer best known for his freeware games Within a Deep Forest, Knytt, and Knytt Stories and his commercial games Saira and NightSky. He's a truly awesome guy with a passion for creating. He's one of those super talented people that can write code, design levels, create artwork, and even compose music. Nifflas has help from a coder friend called Mathias Kærlev, who he says is the best programmer he's ever met! Mathias helped to create the desktop versions and was hand-picked by Nifflas to work on the Wii U version with us.
As for the game itself, Knytt Underground is the sequel to the massively popular Knytt and Knytt Stories, the original boasting over 1 million downloads globally. In this iteration; humans have long since abandoned the planet after practically destroying it in a war, five hundred years ago. The remaining population of Sprites, Fairies and various other life forms now live in mysterious tunnels underground – where they are trying to discover the secrets of their origin and the meaning of life.
Mixed up in all of this curiosity is Mi – a mute but extraordinary sprite. She develops special powers as the game progresses and embarks upon many exciting quests on her adventure. Her main goal is to find and ring the six bells of fate before time runs out. If she doesn’t a destructive chain reaction will begin that will obliterate the entire planet! There’s one small detail though; the odds are its just superstitious nonsense and the world isn’t really ending…
NL: Its materials refer to a "Zen-like" experience, can you expand on that?
PG: The controls for the game are really tightly balanced, and because Mi sticks to the walls and can fall tremendous distances you find yourself jumping and skittering around the vast levels like a little insect. It's really very forgiving in its dynamics, but fiendish in its level design. Couple this with the magical and evocative backdrops, and the atmospheric soundtrack, and suddenly you lose yourself for hours exploring the enormous map and forgetting all about ringing the bells of fate! It's even hypnotic to watch someone else play.
NL: Is it a lengthy experience, based on having "over 1800 rooms", or can it be a relatively short, focused game if the player adopts a certain play-style?
PG: Yes it's a vast game, and the Wii U version will be even bigger. With the Nintendo version we're including the Infinity Hype update that Nifflas has been working on, which will be the only place you can play it on console. The game is split into three chapters. Chapters 1 & 2 are really like tutorial levels where you learn how to control Mi in each of her two forms, and Chapter 3 is where the real epic adventure begins. It definitely isn't a short experience, even when you know what you're doing it will take you many hours to complete. If you want to explore every room and find every secret (Nifflas has said this game has the most secrets of any of the games he's designed) it will take you even longer. Especially if you want to find the secret ending!
NL: Cross-platform compatibility is cited between PS3 and Vita, so is that multi-platform (Wii U save could be played on PS3 etc) or would a 3DS version be required. Is a 3DS version on the cards, in that case?
PG: There's no cross-platform compatibility for Knytt Underground, and no 3DS version planned at the moment. But Pure Chess has both cross-platform compatibility and a 3DS version!
Hit up page two to learn more about Pure Chess and it’s cross-platform options, coming to Wii U and 3DS, as well as Ripstone’s experience to date with Nintendo.