Developer Interview: Ludosity Talks Ittle Dew, The Comparison To Zelda And The Metroidvania Style of Play
Posted by Andy Green
"Ittle Dew has been 'that game' for us for a very long time"
Based in Sweden, Ludosity is a small and successful developer that has created software for a vast range of platforms, including 3DS, Steam and tablets.
In appearance the game looks a lot like a top-down Legend of Zelda title, albeit with a cartoon art style and it stars a green clad girl called Ittle, who embarks on an adventure on an island with her flying fox Tippsy. Now, Ittle's motives are not quite as noble as Link's and she simply wants to go hunting for treasure, while annoying as many inhabitants as possible.
It features plenty of humour and puzzles, with a range of bizarre characters to meet along the way, while there are also a selection of leaderboards to add longevity to the overall experience.
It's currently scheduled to be released in the Wii U eShop towards the end of this year and we recently sat down with Joel Nyström, CEO and founder of Ludosity, to chat about the game itself, how it came about and what the development process has been like.
Nintendo Life: First of all, could you tell us what Ittle Dew is all about? Where did the idea for the game come from?
Joel Nyström: Ittle Dew came about a long time ago, in 2008 when Daniel Remar and I were in university. We decided to work together on our thesis and sat down to brainstorm some ideas. Ittle Dew was the idea that we landed on, but interestingly, that session also produced the concept for what later became Mama & Sonwhich we made for Xbox Live Indie Games and 3DS later.
Anyway, we wanted Ittle Dew to be as dense as we could possibly make it. The items were boiled down to 4, the level design was as compact as we could possibly make it, and the "fluff" was kept to an absolute minimum. We made the game in 20 weeks and it came out pretty good.
Some years later when we had started a company, we were deciding what to do for our next project. Ittle Dew was what we really wanted to make, so we decided to go for it even though we had other concepts we thought had better potential of making money.
So we started, but had to pause the entire production, not once but twice, for paying gigs. First we made two Nintendo 3DS games, and then we hadn’t been back on Ittle for more than a couple of weeks when we got an offer to make Magicka for tablets.
So, it took us 5 years to make this game!
NL: That's really interesting. It sounds like Ittle Dew is a project that has been there in the back of your minds for a long time. Is it a game that is particularly special to Ludosity, considering how long it's been around?
Joel Nyström: Definitely, Ittle Dew has been 'that game' for us for a very long time. Personally, I have a very hard time letting go of projects. There are still projects from my University years I want to make proper versions of!
NL: Being an indie developer, do you feel that gives you the freedom to take these risks? Choosing to make a game that you think may not make as much money as another title.
Joel Nyström: Of course, funding your own projects give you 100% creative freedom. But the problem is to get to the point where you can do that. At the end of the day it's more important to me that I don't have to fire employees because of lack of money in the bank, than to realise our "pet projects". I probably wouldn't have said that 10 years ago though.
NL: It sounds like Ludosity certainly isn't short of ideas! It's interesting how you've condensed Ittle Dew down, removing the fluff so the core elements of the gameplay can shine through. How would you describe the style of gameplay in this one?
Joel Nyström: Ideas are something we frankly have too many of! The actual design work is to discard / reduce them and identify the gems.
From the start we wanted the game to be "compact" - compact level design, compact core game loop, compact item system.
From the start we wanted the game to be "compact" - compact level design, compact core game loop, compact item system, etc. Even the story is compact in the sense that it gets to the point as quickly as possible. Ittle is motivated solely by her thirst for adventure. What motivates Tippsy - well I think we will find that out in our upcoming games! We frankly don't know ourselves yet. The characters grow organically as we develop and joke around with new ideas. When a joke stops being a joke and is implemented into the game, that's when we know how that thing works or how that character thinks.
NL: So creating Ittle Dew was a little bit like panning for gold to get to the very best elements. Were there any features that you found difficult to discard?
Joel Nyström: The discussions (or arguments, even!) over what we should have or shouldn't have, and how to do it, can be quite excruciating while they're happening. But afterwards, it almost always feels good when we cut down on things or slim the design. It's like killing a baby at first, but very soon you can tell that we were better off without it. I guess that's when you know you made a good call.
NL: It features quite a lot of humour in the action and the dialogue, was this something that was planned from the beginning?
Joel Nyström: Yes, the humour has been there from day one - the entire game makes fun of tropes, it's what it's all about. It's a balance act to not over-do it though, and I think maybe at some places we did. But it seems many players like it over all, so that's very nice to see.
NL: We imagine the debates over what stays in can get quite passionate. How do the decisions get made, do you all talk it out or is there someone who makes a final decision?
Joel Nyström: Daniel Remar was "creative director" meaning that in a case of disagreement his word went. But I can't recall when that ever had to be invoked actually. I think good ideas survive, and it doesn't take too long before you realize the other guy's idea was better.
NL: The artwork in Ittle Dew is very unique, with a hand drawn feel to the environments and characters. It looks different to previous Ludosity titles, how did this idea come about?
Joel Nyström: The final art direction you see is vastly different from the first ones. The first two were pixeled styles actually. It was probably the most painful part of development when we decided to throw out the art direction - and a lot of assets with it - so many times. We wanted something that felt fresh and was clear for the player. The wobblyness for example indicates something you can interact with.
It is a bit frustrating to see the constant Zelda referencing. When we first launched the game it came as a surprise to me actually, but now I can understand it better.
NL: The homage to The Legend of Zelda is obvious, but Ittle Dew is its own game. Does it get frustrating to see people focus on the Zelda comparison, or is it something you welcome?
Joel Nyström: It is a bit frustrating to see the constant Zelda referencing. When we first launched the game it came as a surprise to me actually, but now I can understand it better. Most opinions you see online are not from people who have actually played the game, and judging from screenshots alone, I can see how the comparison is always going to be there.
Once you play the game though, you'll notice that it's structurally quite different - more like a metroidvania really if anything.
NL: That's interesting, so are there areas of the game that require certain items to progress into or is everything available to explore from the off? From what we've seen there are plenty of puzzles to complete as you go through the game. Once you've completed them all is there an incentive to go back?
Joel Nyström: The game is very open ended. You progress by obtaining items - but you don't find them in chests, rather you find money to buy them in a store. this means you can choose in which order you progress, and you can also entirely skip one item and still finish the game by using clever shortcuts.
You can also speedrun and post your times online. There's one leaderboard per "route" or item set. It's very interesting for us to see which route is proving to be the fastest one. For those that are interested in finding the most clever route and try for a faster time, there is a lot of replay value. We really went for that in the design of the game.
However if you just progress naturally, you will have a more normal experience. I think most players will probably not even notice how many hidden puzzles and shortcuts there really are.
NL: It sounds as though there's enough replay value in finding all the secret paths alone. So will the Wii U leaderboards all be Wii U players or will the scores be across all platforms?
Joel Nyström: We're still deciding on the leaderboards for Wii U.
NL: With previous Ludosity games, they’ve mainly released on specific platforms. However, with Ittle Dew, it’s on quite a lot of platforms simultaneously. Was that always the intention? How has it been to develop for so many platforms all at once?
Joel Nyström: When we started on Ittle Dew the Wii U wasn't even announced yet, so the leading platform was Steam. But we had consoles in general in mind from the beginning, yes.
Nintendo are great to work with - really approachable and helpful even to small studios like us.
NL: Can you tell us how the GamePad will be used for Ittle Dew? Will the game feature off-TV play?
Joel Nyström: The GamePad will display the map which is updated in realtime as you progress and uncover more of the world. If you hit the minus button the screens switch and the action will be on the GamePad while the map moves to the TV.
NL: Will there be other controller methods supported as well, such as the Wii Remote or Pro Controller?
Joel Nyström: We also support the Wii U Pro controller and the Classic Pro.
NL: Boulderdash XL 3D and Alien Chaos 3D were on 3DS, but Ittle Dew is skipping the console. Was it ever considered? Could we still possibly see it happen in the future?
Joel Nyström: I love the 3DS but chances are slim I'm afraid. We would have to port the entire game over without any middleware, and that takes a lot of time. It's really too bad that Unity decided to not support the 3DS.
NL: What has it been like to work with Nintendo?
Joel Nyström: Nintendo are great to work with - really approachable and helpful even to small studios like us. But really, there are only a handful publishers out there that aren't. Most publishers have a strategy for indie titles these days.
NL: Is the Wii U version of Ittle Dew still down for a 2013 release?
Joel Nyström: Ittle Dew is ready for submission at a day's notice. We're literally just sitting around waiting for Unity to come out of beta. So best case, the game can be out within a month!
We'd like to thank Joel for taking the time to talk to us. Ittle Dew is set to emerge in the Wii U eShop later in the year.