Interview: 4 Corner Games Tells Us Why It's Got to Run to the Wii U eShop
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
"I applied to Nintendo because I love playing games on Nintendo platforms"
Not too long ago 4 Corner Games announced that it'd be making its début with the Wii U-exclusive I've Got to Run, a runner title that'll include multiple modes and will run at a silky smooth 60 frames per second. In a wave of multi-platform download-only releases, this joins a relatively small group of projects focused on Nintendo's home console; it delivers a genre that's not exactly over-populated on the store, while its budget price in North America of $1.99 USD/$2.19CAD may also turn some heads.
We've caught up with the sole developer that makes 4 Corner Games, Syrenne McNulty, to talk about her route into development and the path of I've Got to Run from prototype to Wii U-exclusive release. She's also refreshingly honest on release plans, while highlighting the challenges that being a solo developer can bring when attempting to release a game in multiple territories.
First of all, can you introduce yourself to our readers and explain your background to date in game development?
So I’m Syrenne McNulty, and one-woman sole proprietor of 4 Corner Games. When I started 4 Corner Games in 2009, my goal was simple – I wanted to look at someone playing something that I had made and having a great time. I’ve been making prototypes since 2009, and haven’t pursued any – some have been ambitious, many just didn’t turn out to be as fun as they were in practice, and one or two were ahead of their time (but I plan to revisit soon). As far as my background goes, I’ve playtested a few games and recently helped with an English localization or two, but as far as recognizable industry work, this is my début title.
Can you give us an initial overview of I've Got to Run!, including a breakdown of the modes?
Of course! I’ve Got to Run! is an endless autorunning platformer with a couple of cool little features. Have you ever played a runner game and have had a solid run (no pun intended), but suddenly you find yourself on a really low platform, and the game gives you a really high platform that you just can’t reach? Well, the way my game works, it generates the blocks 15 screens ahead, before the player sees them, and there’s another player (controlled by the CPU!) running everything perfectly with your current ability set. If the CPU can’t make a jump, those blocks are deleted, reconstructed, and retested – enough times so that when the player finally sees them, the player can be sure that even if a jump was very, very hard, it was absolutely doable.
As far as the game modes are concerned, the game will feature three at launch. Endless Double features a double jump (and lays out jumps accordingly), Endless Special features the double jump and speed-up/speed-down items (and lays out jumps accordingly), and Endless Classic features none of these and is strictly single-jump, which might make it the most challenging for most!
As soon as I got my hands on my Wii U devkit, as most developers would be, I was excited and wanted to see what I could throw at it.
The endless runner genre is certainly popular on smart devices in particular, what led you to incorporate this style?
As I alluded to, rapid prototyping. As soon as I got my hands on my Wii U devkit, as most developers would be, I was excited and wanted to see what I could throw at it. I made 10 solid prototypes in three weeks, in fact! I narrowed down what I wanted to work on, what wasn’t going to work, what was too much for the Wii U (at the time – it’s not the hardware, but the tools, and the tools have definitely improved since I got my kit!), and then decided on what was then simply called “AutoRunTest.2” as a simple, pure, and fun début experience.
Your announcement confirms that levels will be randomly generated. How many core backgrounds and stage styles are used in this game?
Each of the three modes is locked into a visual style and song. In Endless Classic, Roy will be running on a kitchen, with an electronic song. In Endless Double, Roy will be running atop a castle, accompanied by a fanfare-type song. Finally, Endless Special sees Roy on the moon, with an…alternative(?) song. You’ll have to tell me how you describe Endless Special when you play it! Incidentally, the speed-ups/speed-downs in Endless Special also affect both the pitch and the speed of the song, creating either a thrill or a relaxed mood respectively. I have released screenshots of all three modes, so you can feel free to check them out!
Is this a one-button game — to jump — or does the player have any additional but limited control over movement?
I’ve Got to Run! is a one-button game. Every button on the controller (except for clicking in the sticks), or touching the screen, will cause Roy to jump. The other exception to this is the plus button, which does not pause the game – it instead takes you back to the main menu immediately. This is to prevent high score exploits, as many testers used a pause menu as a way to plan ahead and not play by reflexes.
Are local score leaderboards available, and are we correct to assume that online leaderboards aren't in the picture?
The current setup saves the highest score of each mode to the account-specific save data on your Wii U; that is to say, if you and your significant other or sibling both have accounts on the Wii U, launching the game while signed into your account will display your own highest score. The decision to only save the highest score was a deliberate one, and the reason for it will not be apparent at launch, although I hope that it’s not too big of a deal. If it’s a big enough concern for players once the game is out, I’m open to feedback and might display your Top 10 scores for each mode, for instance, even though that would complicate certain post-release plans.
You would be correct in saying that online leaderboards aren’t really in the picture. Without going into details that I really can’t share, unless the game sells very well (enough to justify renting a private server and maintaining it for a period of several years), I can’t justify including a feature with such a huge barrier to entry for a $2 game. If Miiverse were not at the system-level, I would do it at personal financial cost; however, with Miiverse, system-level message sharing and screenshot sharing is a possibility, which is fantastic for me. I believe that when properly utilized, and with a dedicated Miiverse sub-community for high scores (which I’ve Got to Run! will have), Miiverse can in fact be an effective and free way for developers to implement online score sharing on Nintendo platforms. I believe I’ve Got to Run! uses it in such a way that it will hopefully be a viable alternative for some time to come.
Has it been particularly challenging to implement 60 frames-per-second?
60 Frames per Second was the goal from the beginning, and it’s been an interesting path to get there. When I had my initial prototype, which only had the visible display and no animations, I was locked at 60fps no problem. Of course, adding more than a dozen additional displays and a perfect-running AI took a toll, so it’s been a lot of tweaking and some sacrifices to get the game in its current state, but it’s in a state I’m very proud of. In fact, just the other night (April 6th), I re-finished my game: the game had gone gold, then I realized there was a saving bug. Fixing that caused the framerate to drop, so I was examining, pruning, and adding code for days to try to see how I could get it back to 60fps without sacrificing anything from the player experience, and I achieved it.
The biggest issue I currently face is a consequence of having a game locked at 60fps – creating the trailer. I’m trying to be really careful of how I capture a trailer and where I host it, because, to be perfectly blunt, the game looks like crap running at 30fps, and it’s absolutely not representative of how the game looks. It’s an interesting hurdle, and one that I wasn’t thinking about when designing the game. If I could go back though, I still think I would have kept the decision to go at 60, because it just adds this level of smoothness to the game that would be lost at a lower framerate.
60 Frames per Second was the goal from the beginning, and it’s been an interesting path to get there.
The GamePad off-TV play will no doubt be welcome, but does the controller's screen show anything else when playing on the TV, or provide a mirror?
Short answer: a mirror. The game will always display the same thing on both screens, which is also necessary for the menus, which are touch-interface only.
Can you tell us about the tools you've used for this development? Is it Unity, code utilised in the Nintendo Web Framework or your own custom engine?
The game was developed using the Nintendo Web Framework. As I can say this now (it was discussed publicly at GDC), that by itself means less than you’d expect, however – the Framework is middleware that takes HTML5 runtimes and assets and repackages them – nothing more. Programming-wise and optimization-wise, the work is very similar, programming it specifically for the platform, etc. You might be able to put any .html file in the Framework, but it won’t be suitable for release at all. Don’t discount a game based on its programming language, either. There are some amazing HTML5 games out there, many of which I’d personally love to play on Wii U! Nintendo Software Technology showed off at GDC 2014 that they can create an entire, polished Mario vs Donkey Kong game in HTML5, with players unable to tell the difference. I’m very happy to see HTML5, which is easier to learn as a base language than many forms of scripting, be more widely adopted – Wii U has the Nintendo Web Framework, and Xbox One allows developers to package HTML5 games without any special middleware that I’m aware of. It’s a great time to learn HTML5!
When announcing the game you highlighted the ease of publication thanks to Nintendo's policies. Can you walk us through the process from choosing Wii U, contacting Nintendo and progressing to development for the eShop? What kind of time period did this entail?
I contacted Nintendo around March of 2013, and heard from them in September, after they had established the program and were setting it in motion. I was one of the first people they contacted! I had applied to Nintendo because I love playing games on Nintendo platforms, was excited by the Wii U, and was excited that they were being inclusive enough to the point where I could become a registered developer. Development of my game started in late October of 2013, following 3 weeks of rapid prototyping. My original vision of the game was to only have Endless Classic (then simply called “Play Game!”), and charge around $2. I kept the price, but decided to include two extra gameplay modes.
So far you've only confirmed a North American release — can you outline the reasons for this?
Of course. I’m sorry to say that I’m effectively broke and can barely afford anything, let alone international ratings. The ESRB has a great system wherein, if your game is download-only, your age rating is free. The other ratings boards, however, aren’t so progressive. I’d love to release in Europe – I have great friends who live in Europe, and I know that some people over there are looking forward to the game. To the European audience: Thank you. I understand you're wanting the game out there. Short of a Kickstarter or IndieGoGo campaign for the game to get a European release, I have to rely on the game to sell well enough to both justify itself and cover at least most of the ratings. I’m exploring different ideas as far as releasing worldwide, including (and nobody wants to hear this) releasing only in PEGI territories, or seeking a publisher for a European and Japanese release.
How important is the budget pricing in terms of driving sales for I've Got to Run!?
Budget pricing is a necessity. As many are quick to point out, there are many (less featured) runners available for free on PC and mobile devices. For $2 players are getting a 60fps experience across two screens on a console, that’s been polished and has three modes, with Miiverse score sharing. I comfortably feel okay charging $2 for that. I would feel considerably less comfortable charging $5 to $10 for that. I have absolutely no clue what to expect for sales, but I’m hoping for the best – and I’m hoping that the price point I chose is low enough for an impulse buy. Maybe even with the Digital Deluxe Points from a game like Mario Kart 8?
I would like to take this opportunity to address the issue of the “disparity” between the United States price of $1.99 and the Canadian price of $2.19. I have heard things said, including in your own comments section, such as “another developer screws Canada”. As of the time of release, $2.19 CAD is between $1.99 and $2.00 in USD in the exchange rate – the same price. I don’t like seeing the higher number any more than anyone else, but I feel the game should be sold at $2 USD. If I release in Europe, the pricing structure will be similar if not identical.
Budget pricing is a necessity. As many are quick to point out, there are many (less featured) runners available for free on PC and mobile devices.
Is Q2 still the release target, or can you narrow it down?(
All I’m saying is Q2, sorry. I would have to fail Nintendo’s Lotcheck many times for it to slip into Q3, but I will narrow it down by saying that it’d be unreasonable to expect it in April. There are absolutely no guarantees, but I hope to have it out before Mario Kart 8 launches.
Finally, what would you like to say as a final pitch for this game to the Nintendo Life community?
I would like to summarize this incredibly long, comprehensive interview article with a preview of what’s to come. I feel like readers now have a solid grasp on what I’ve Got to Run! will bring players when it launches on the Nintendo eShop – and I’m very excited about that. But what’s in the future of 4 Corner Games? Will I continue supporting the Wii U? Yes. Have I already started prototyping development of my next Wii U game? Absolutely. Is it a bigger experience? Most definitely – it’s something that I hope to charge $10 for, and for $10 to seem like a steal. You might not hear about it for a very long time (over a year or a year and a half) if I decide to pursue it.
But what about in the meantime? Perceptive readers have probably noticed that I’ve mentioned phrases along the lines of “at launch” several times throughout the interview. I have many ideas for where I want to take I’ve Got to Run!. There will absolutely be updates – including with an even easier way to post screenshots to Miiverse. More importantly, I will now for the first time confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have several plans for DLC. Most of the DLC I have in mind will be extra game modes, and I’m thinking of one or two special things I can do as well. I’d like to ask the Nintendo Life (and general Nintendo) community this right now, and I am listening: what modes would you like to see? Comment, or direct them through Twitter @4CornerGames.
Finally, I have one idea for post-launch support that has never been done on any Nintendo platform before – or, as far as I can tell, anywhere. Please look forward to it – and remember, I’ve Got to Run! might already contain a couple hidden easter eggs that only experts will see!
We'd like to thank Syrenne McNulty for her time.