Interview: Ripstone on Pure Chess, Knytt Underground and Joining the eShop

Pushing cross-platform play and planning for the future

NL: Can you tell us a little about Pure Chess and its developer?

PG: The developer Voofoo Studios has become synonymous with high-fidelity visuals. I worked with them on the PSN version of Hustle Kings when I was at Sony, so when they suggested doing to chess what they did to pool I jumped at the chance to work with them again.

Pure Chess is the most spectacular chess game you're ever likely to play. The main game features three stunning locations and three different sets of chess pieces to play with in a selection of different materials. My favourite is the traditional wooden Staunton set in the Library, it looks so warm and cosy! But it's not just about the visuals, the game also features 10 different skill levels which were tuned at the high levels by a genuine chess Grandmaster so it plays as good as any professional (and expensive) chess AI out there. If that wasn't enough the game features 100 chess puzzles to scratch your head over, a single player tournament mode with three levels of difficulty, and online multiplayer.

NL: Has this game performed well, commercially, on Sony's systems; or to put it another way, is there a sizable market for chess games on consoles?

PG: The game has been a great success for us on PSN, particularly on PS Vita. Not just the game itself but also the DLC has been very popular. In the US our Temple pack set in Roman ruins with Roman figures as chess pieces is the most popular. In Europe our most popular set is the Forest pack which is a set of Lewis chessmen (the oldest complete chess set ever found by historians) set in a secluded forest clearing.

We're also looking into sets exclusive to Nintendo gamers, so please support us when the game launches and we'll be able to offer more content to have fun with. I'd love it if we could do a Mario-themed set, maybe your readers could suggest which characters would match up to the different pieces.

NL: Can you expand on the various modes on offer, and is this a game that can teach newcomers how to play?

PG: The game has a comprehensive tutorial mode that will help improve your chess strategies and abilities. It will teach you the very basics like how each piece moves, but it also takes you through more complex moves like castling and en passant. It will also clearly explain more advanced tactics such as pins and skewers, and even some opening plays. We're pretty confident there's something there for everyone, from the novice to the more advanced players. My chess abilities certainly improved immensely while working on the game.

NL: Will the Wii U version have the "play by mail" feature, and if so can you tell us about it?

PG: Yes, through the use of our own servers we've significantly enhanced the multiplayer since launching on PSN so it's a much slicker experience. Even though the play is asynchronous it works much more seamlessly now, more like live online. As soon as one of you leaves the game it doesn't matter, you can carry on over a longer period sending moves to each other like a true play-by-mail game. But it doesn't end there. I can exclusively reveal that the game supports cross-platform play. That means that not only can Wii U players play against 3DS players, but they will also be able to play against tablet and smartphone players too! All they will need to do is register in game for a Pure Chess account (a process we've made as simple, safe and easy as possible) and then start issuing challenges to their friends or even to strangers on the ranking boards! The beauty of registering for a Pure Chess account is if you own both the smartphone/tablet and console versions you can log in and continue your multiplayer game on any of those devices seamlessly.

NL: How did you first come to consider publishing some of your titles on Wii U, and was it a joint decision with the individual game's developers?

PG: When we spoke with the guys at Nintendo Europe they were very excited about the prospect of both games coming to their platforms. Nifflas worked with NICALiS on NightSky which is a 3DS eShop title, so Nintendo were keen to see Knytt Underground come to Wii U and we wanted to give Nintendo gamers something extra, which is why the Infinity Hype update is included. With Pure Chess we saw a great opportunity to provide something that really showcases what the Wii U and 3DS can do, and when Nintendo pointed out they didn't have any chess games in the eShop it was an easy call to make.

All decisions like that have to be joint. Voofoo have to be comfortable with the platforms we work with them on, and fortunately they are a clever and keen bunch so it was actually very easy to get them excited about taking Pure Chess over to Nintendo platforms. Similarly we had Mathias look at the SDK and Wii U hardware to ensure he was comfortable with it before starting.

NL: What are your overall thoughts on the system and its concept so far?

PG: I personally love the platform, particularly when playing games with my kids (I have two boys aged 6yrs and 3yrs, who are almost bigger gamers than their Dad!). We play New Super Mario Bros U and I love the fact they can play independently with just a little bit of help from me on the GamePad. The fact that you can switch the TV over and still play games on the GamePad is brilliant, and allows the family to multi-task without any fall outs. As a massive fan of Zelda Wind Waker (imho the best looking Zelda game ever made) I was beside myself at the announcement of the HD version and I can't wait to introduce my kids to it. I know they're gonna love it!

NL: Can you share your views on the Wii U eShop, in terms of its strengths and weaknesses compared to other platforms on which you've worked?

PG: At this stage we've not gone through all the processes to launch a game via eShop so we can't really compare and contrast to other platforms. The team at Voofoo have found the technical support provided by Nintendo to be very beneficial though.

NL: How would you summarise the experience, so far, of working with Nintendo?

PG: Nintendo have been very helpful indeed, right from the very first meeting we had. They're very open to trying new things like cross-platform play, something I thought would fall foul of the corporate machine. They've also been very supportive when it comes to loaning development hardware, featuring the game in their marketing and upcoming consumer shows, and in their technical support.

NL: Are any of your other developers interested in Wii U, and are we likely to see releases such as Big Sky Infinity in the future?

PG: Yes, particularly the developers we work with who use Unity. We've no solid plans for any of our other games, but Voofoo worked on Big Sky Infinity so once their in-house engine is Wii U compliant it should make it a much easier decision to bring that game over. I'd love to make Men's Room Mayhem for the 3DS so you might see that one day.

NL: Can you tell us about further plans for the Wii U, or possibly the 3DS?

PG: We've nothing specific to announce at this stage but I can tell you that we are working on several titles for 2014 and a Wii U version is in the plan for each of those games. Watch this space!!

We’d like to thank Phil Gaskell for his time.

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