Interview: Wales Interactive on its Upcoming Wii U eShop Games and Working With Nintendo
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
"We love the GamePad concept and being able to connect to another display"
It seems fair to say that, though some quality releases have graced the Wii U eShop, we're still awaiting — due to various delays — a consistent flow of tempting download-only content on the store. With each passing week the list of promising and confirmed titles creep closer, however, and more attention should perhaps be paid to Gravity Badgers and Master Reboot from Wales Interactive, a developer based near Cardiff in, naturally, Wales. Only founded in 2012, the studio's early days have brought a substantial number of smart device games, yet its focus is noticeably shifting to home console and PC projects.
It's all the more pleasing, then, that the Wii U eShop is very much on the company's radar. We've caught up with the company's Managing Director, David Banner, to discuss both upcoming games and the team's experiences of working with Nintendo and its hardware. Not only are these projects potentially very close to release, but there's evident enthusiasm for the console's concept, Nintendo itself and an eagerness to produce more titles for the store. If these games live up to their potential, Wales Interactive could become a name increasingly familiar to Nintendo gamers.
Nintendo Life: First of all, can you please introduce yourself and Wales Interactive to our readers?
David Banner: I’m David Banner (not The HULK…..don’t make me angry!) Managing Director and co-founder of Wales Interactive, and I’ve been making video games professionally since 1995. I started my career at EIDOS Interactive in London as a pixel pusher and was there for the birth of Tomb Raider. Over the years I have worked on multiple titles as an Artist, Video Games Designer and Director covering a wide range of genres on nearly every gaming platform that’s existed in that time. My softology includes: Crimewave (Sega Saturn), Allstar Soccer(PS1), Flibbidy Jibs (PC), European Soccer League (Dreamcast, PS1), Spirit of Speed (PC, Dreamcast), Paris Dakar Rally (PS2), Fashion Salon (PC), Paradise (PC), The Great Escape (PC, Xbox, PS2), Conflict: Desert Storm II (PC, GameCube, Xbox, PS2), Conflict: Vietnam (PC, Xbox, PS2), Conflict: Denied Ops (PC, Xbox360, PS3), Jibs Arcade (PC), Attack Kumquat (PC & iOS), Kitten Calculator (iOS & Android), Mr Frog the Neighbour's Dog (iOS & Android), Combombo (iOS & Android), Go Candy (iOS & Android), Stride Files (PC, iOS & Android), Jack Vs Ninjas (iOS & Android), DJ Space (iOS & Android), Gravity Badgers (PC, Mac, iOS & Android), Master Reboot (PC, Mac, PS3).
Wales Interactive is a BAFTA Cymru award winning Indie video games developer and publisher. I co-founded the company back in 2012 with my friend and colleague Richard Pring, Technical Director. We started out primarily as an App developer with the aim of becoming a successful indie games development company. Our team has now grown to 14 strong and we are Wales’s biggest game developer & publisher; we even have a display dedicated to us at Cardiff Wales Airport. We have now made the big step up to console development and are official Playstation and Nintendo developers, this year we will be making titles for all the latest next-generation platforms. We are passionate about video games and our aim is to create original games that entertain the world as well as put Wales on the video games map. Our Studio is based in Wales, UK, just outside Cardiff and we have a young (apart from me) talented team of dedicated games industry professionals.
NL: As a company you've worked on a large variety of platforms, can you give a potted history of your development projects to date?
DB: For a small indie company we’ve created lots of games over the last 18 months, 14 titles in fact for a wide range of platforms, encompassing quite a few different genres. These include: Stride Files - The Square Murder – a murder mystery which actually won a BAFTA Cymru commendation for artistic achievement; Jack Vs Ninjas – a slide scrolling arcade action game; DJ Space – a music creation game; Master Reboot – 3D sci-fi adventure game and of course Gravity Badgers – our 2D physics-based title. We are currently working on a 3D sci-fi game called Infinity Runner and the sequel to Master Reboot (we’re hoping to bring both to Wii U later this year).
NL: To start with Gravity Badgers, can you introduce the core concept for our readers?
DB: Badgers in space! Need I say more? We always wanted to make a badger based game and when we came up with an idea for a space themed gravity mechanic, we thought it would be funny to combine the two ideas. It makes for a memorable name and an awesome title song. We think of Gravity Badgers as a fictional '80s cartoon series which we've made a game about. Essentially you propel your badgers through space, riding the gravity from the different planets to get to the worm holes to free your crew. At the end of each episode there’s a boss fight, including the Giant Worm fight from within its stomach and the deadly Doomsphere space station. The game is supposed to
make you laugh, and this combined with a highly polished look and addictive gameplay hopefully makes for an entertaining experience.
NL: As a game that's previously been released on Steam and smart device platforms, was the decision to bring it to Wii U an easy one? Is it a natural fit for the system?
Gravity Badgers is perfect for Wii U, and the fact that we used Unity to develop it made the title easy to adapt.
DB: As an indie games developer we want to work on the latest games consoles and we are huge Nintendo fans, so when the opportunity came to adapt our titles to Wii U we jumped at the chance. Gravity Badgers is perfect for Wii U, and the fact that we used Unity to develop it made the title easy to adapt.
NL: Will there be a variety of control options for this game, such as using the GamePad touchscreen, Wii Remote pointer and physical inputs?
DB: Gravity Badgers utilises both touch screen and analogue controllers.
NL: It's a title that promises over 130 levels and variation with boss stages; will it occupy gamers for a good amount of time?
DB: Gravity Badgers is a casual game but it does have a lot of content to unlock and a difficulty curve which will keep you entertained for good amount of time. It has that addictive quality that not only makes you want to beat the next level but achieve the perfect score which adds to the replay value.
NL: Do you believe Wii U gamers will tackle the game in a similar way that they would on a smart device? Is it a pick-up-and-play title for short bursts, or can it be a longer experience?
DB: It was designed to be more of a casual pick up and play experience, but it really depends on the player. We can track how long people play it in one session on Steam and it’s currently at 1hr 12mins on average per session, which is much more than short burst, so it shows that it has that gameplay hook and level progression to keep you playing.
NL: We have to ask, why did you opt for a "thumping mullet rock sound track"?
DB: The theme tune was very important to set the tone and era which the game is heavily influenced by. We wanted something which was reminiscent of the many cartoon series from the late '80s and early '90s, which all had very memorable theme tunes. We wanted a track that would emulate these and we managed to persuade a local Welsh rock band, City Circus, to write and perform the song. They spent the entire day in sound studio jamming different versions of the track; it’s the perfect title song for the game and we love it. City Circus actually perform the track at their gigs now!
NL: Do you have a target release date for Gravity Badgers on Wii U?
DB: We are hoping for February release, I can’t give an exact date yet, but the game is fully complete and we are just adding some finishing touches.
NL: Moving onto Master Reboot, can you outline the concept for our readers?
DB: Master Reboot is a haunting first person sci-fi adventure game set inside the Soul Cloud. In the not too distant future they have created the Soul Cloud, a giant server that holds the data of your soul and memories when you die. The Soul Cloud is filled with floating islands; each island looks like a town, village or city filled with rooms, skyscrapers and houses that hold people’s memories. To house your Soul, a family member (or yourself before you die) purchases an island on the Soul Cloud where the server will generate rooms, houses or skyscrapers that hold each and every memory from the deceased’s past, or of memories of their choosing. The game starts with you being uploaded to the Soul Cloud, but something has gone wrong and you wake up on a beach not knowing who or where you are. It’s up to you to explore, solve puzzles and try to piece together your life and death.
NL: It's described as a "psychological adventure horror"; can you expand on that to explain the design approach you've taken?
DB: With Master Reboot we wanted to invoke an uneasiness for the player; a haunting quality as you journeyed through the game. There are certain levels where you catch glimpses of things, shadows, movement out of the corner of your eye and there are always undertones of something not quite being right. I think less is more in our game and we’ve taken the horror genre in a different direction and steered away from blood, guts and violence. I can honestly say there is nothing quite like Master Reboot on the market, reviewers have found it hard to compare it with anything and it’s definitely a game that needs to be experienced.
With Master Reboot we wanted to invoke an uneasiness for the player; a haunting quality as you journeyed through the game.
NL: Would you consider this to be a lengthy experience, or is is a shorter, focused game?
DB: There is around 5 to 8 hours of gameplay depending on the player and how much you explore. It's definitely a game you get more out of the longer you play and to really understand the full story you have to find all the “blue ducks”. Blue Ducks in Master Reboot are very important and they essentially hold clues to help unravel the story.
NL: How important are the art style and sound design to a game of this kind, and how difficult or easy was it to develop this game's aesthetic?
DB: The art style and sound design are integral to Master Reboot. We deliberately tried to make something visually striking, and that combined with the music gives a beautiful, haunting quality to the game. It was a big decision to create this bold simple aesthetic for Master Reboot because the games industry on the whole for this particular genre is geared to emulating reality, and we knew it would split opinion. We wanted to create a look that would really stand out from the crowd and give us as the developers an identity, and I think we have achieved that with this game. It’s been described as “A gorgeous indie horror", PC Gamer and "From concept to art style to the wonderful trailer, it’s a breath of fresh, creepy air", RockPaperShotgun, "A Freakishly Cool Game Where You Invade The Memories Of Dead People". – Kotaku. It’s great to receive critical acclaim and it’s rewarding for the team to get positive recognition for trying something a bit different from the norm.
NL: Will this mainly utilise traditional controls, or will you be using the Wii U's control options in any particularly interesting ways?
DB: We are so excited to see it running on Wii U, it adds a different quality to the game playing it Handheld and it's looking really cool. At this stage we are experimenting with what we can and can’t do on the device, but the analogue controls are perfect for the game but we are looking into how we can incorporate touch screen elements.
NL: Does this title have a target release window yet?
DB: Still no confirmed launch date but we are aiming for March 2014.
NL: This title has been on PC and Mac to date, has the transition to Wii U been relatively simple, from a technical standpoint?
DB: The PC and Mac versions of Master Reboot were originally developed using Unreal Development Kit, so we had to migrate to Unreal3 initially to port the game to Wii U. After some initial technical teething problems we have managed to make the transition as painless as possible.
NL: How useful have the Wii U Unity tools been for development of Gravity Badgers, meanwhile?
DB: Using the Unity Engine, combined with the Wii U tools, have really made life a lot easier for us when it comes to adapting and creating new titles. As an Indie developer we have limited resources but this software helps us compete worldwide with the big developers.
We are confident that the Wii U eShop will be vital for our continued growth as an indie video games developer.
NL: What are your impressions to date of the Wii U hardware's capabilities and, separately, the overall concept of the GamePad / Miiverse and system-specific features?
DB: The Wii U is deceptively powerful and it’s run everything we’ve thrown at it so far, with ease. We love the GamePad concept and being able to connect to another display, and have different gameplay elements working independently on both screens really adds a lot of scope for our future titles to exploit.
NL: As this is your first experience, as a studio, on Nintendo hardware, can you describe your relationship (positive or negative) to date with the company? How has the publication process, obtaining the relevant hardware and documentation etc, been so far?
*DB: I can honestly say that Nintendo have been brilliant all across the board for us. Since we approached them to potentially make games for the Wii U they have been very supportive and really open to working with indie companies. Once we’d identified the titles they were interested in they helped us with the registration process and getting development kits. Their submission system is very well documented and there is always someone on hand, just an email away, to answer your questions and troubleshoot problems. The whole experience has been very positive for us and it definitely encourages us to want to make more games for the Wii U.
NL: What are your impressions of the Wii U eShop to date?
DB: It’s amazing that we as an Indie developer can get our products out on the eShop, we are massive Nintendo fans so it's a huge privilege to be able to sell our products on their store.
NL: Are you confident of your games performing well on the Wii U eShop, and do you have any plans to explore options for the 3DS eShop?
DB: We are confident that the Wii U eShop will be vital for our continued growth as an indie video games developer, and we think Master Reboot and Gravity Badgers will have every chance of being a success on the store. There are no plans for us to make any 3DS titles but we wouldn’t rule it out in the future, we love making games and always consider supporting as many platforms as we can.
We'd like to thank David Banner for his time and for the images used in this article. Below are the latest trailers for both Gravity Badgers and Master Reboot.