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Interview: MixedBag on Bringing forma.8's Mysterious Adventure to the Wii U eShop

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

"I think there's a lot of untapped potential in the GamePad"

Earlier this year Italian developer MixedBag caught the attention of Wii U gamers by teasing an announcement for the system; this turned out to be forma.8, an exploration game with a stylish visual approach. The studio's announcement reserved particular praise for Unity, Nintendo and Sony, as companies and resources vital to their efforts as a small, independent studio.

The opening trailer did grab attention, suggesting a thoroughly atmospheric exploration experience on an alien planet. Keen to learn more, we've caught up with both core members of the team, Mauro Fanelli and Andrea Gallato, to learn more about their project and their thoughts on Nintendo and its current home system.


First of all, can you tell us more about yourselves and MixedBag?

Andrea Gellato: MixedBag is a really small indie team, two people doing code, design and game design, with two other great collaborators for music and sfx.

I do all the graphical stuff, and Mauro all the difficult number-crunching things, together we design the games. I've been a web designer for 20 years, and Mauro started his career as a videogame journalist, launching one of the first internet videogame portals in Italy back in the nineties.

The two audio guys are Luca Gasperoni and Omar Ferrero, without them our games'll be totally silent!

Can you give us an outline of forma.8's design and play style?

Mauro Fanelli: forma.8 is what I call a classic action adventure game, heavily inspired by Metroid in his structure, with a big open world to explore, puzzles to solve, enemies, bosses and power ups to collect.

The story of the game is a very mysterious one: we don't use text in the game, and after a brief intro it's up to the player to fully understand what's going on, as it's up to the player to progress. There's no hand holding: it's an 'old school game' in a good way!

While simple at a glance, the visual style is the result of months of work. The idea of using silhouette and stylized backgrounds was in from the start, but the visual language evolved a lot from the first prototype. Since the game map is huge and we are only two, we needed a way to produce content very fast and have it ready for a wide range of resolutions: so all the maps are drawn using vector graphics in Illustrator and then imported in Unity.

The first prototype was a lot more colorful, but in the end we came up with the decision to use a black silhouette for all the gameplay elements and few, very contrasting colors for the background. I think that really helps us convey the basics of the gameplay and the narrative in the game.

When did you start development on forma.8?

Andrea Gellato: It was more than two years ago, Mauro and I met and he showed me a cool iOS prototype, something in the vein of PixelJunk Shooter, with a really versatile control system. He asked me to try to give some graphical direction to the prototype, at that times it was just for fun, something to do in the spare time.

Eventually, the game started to shape up, we came up with some cool ideas about the direction the game could take, and we realized that forma.8 was becoming bigger than initially expected. A little more than one year ago, I decided to quit my day job and to go full time on the project.

As a ship on a mysterious planet with no initial powers, what kind of abilities can the player earn throughout the adventure? Will these powers then require backtracking, travelling to areas previously out of reach?

Mauro Fanelli: There are some really interesting abilities in the game, and as in the classic Metroidvania structure, you will need to find them in order to advance further. For now we've unveiled the two basic power ups, the shield and the bomb, and we don't want to spoil the other powers for now. Let's say they're pretty different from each other and offer some compelling gameplay twists.

There will be some backtracking, but we don't want to annoy the player with an excessive amount of it: the idea is that the abilities you will find will give you access to shortcuts or change the way you travel through the world. We hope that after earning a new power the player will want to go back and check if he can reach new areas in the previously explored maps.

There are tons of secrets to discover...

The initial trailer shows a mix of exploration and combat. Can you explain how the latter will work? Do you have a basic weapon from the beginning?

Andrea Gellato: The main character in forma.8 is an exploration probe, so he's not really a warrior and his abilities are more defensive oriented.

At the beginning of the game the player finds an energy shield. It's a spherical blast that forma.8 can use to defend from physical attacks or to interact with energy based object, like door switches.

A bit later he finds the second main ability: a bomb that forma.8 can drop to open up his path through certain walls or to destroy tougher enemies.

The combat pacing is very peculiar: it's all about timing, positioning, and knowing your enemies. You can't simply spam your shield or force your way through dropping bombs!

The combat pacing is very peculiar: it's all about timing, positioning, and knowing your enemies. You can't simply spam your shield or force your way through dropping bombs!

Obviously there are more power ups in the game, and different ways to use and combine them.

What specific games served as the core inspiration when putting this idea together?

Andrea Gellato: The first prototype of the game was quite similar to PixelJunk Shooter, and I think that something of that game is still visible in forma.8, but during the brainstorming phase we decided that we wanted to do a game more exploration focused.

We didn't want to focus too much on combat, we wanted a good mix of adventure and action. So we started looking in the direction of the classics of the genre: Metroid and Castlevania. The main difference is that forma.8 floats, so we completely removed the platforming element from the game.

On the visual side, I always loved the alien landscapes and structures of Eric Chahi's Another World: the main graphical inspiration for forma.8 came from that great classic.

Are you planning to utilise and special features of the Wii U, such as the GamePad?

Mauro Fanelli: Sure. We'll use the GamePad to convey information to the player, always showing the game map and all the important information on the second screen.

We'll also make extensive use of the GamePad speakers to better immerse the player in the rich soundscape of forma.8.

You mentioned the Unity engine earlier, so what are its biggest strengths?

Mauro Fanelli: Yes, we're using the Unity engine and, for a small team like us, Unity gives us a massive help on multiplatform development. We can manage to work on forma.8 at the same time on all the different platforms, using a single codebase and making only minor, platform specific adjustments.

It's safe to say that, without Unity, it would have been nearly impossible for us to bring forma.8 to the Wii U.

How would you describe your experience to date with Nintendo, in terms of initial registration and support during the development process?

Mauro Fanelli: We signed up for the Nintendo self publishing program after last year's GDC Europe, and the process was fast and extremely straightforward. Support is absolutely great: there's a lot of indie love coming from Nintendo, and we like it!

I think it has never been easier to develop on Nintendo consoles, and having the Unity license included makes developing or porting games on the Wii U a no brainer for indie teams like us.

Do you have a target release window for forma.8?

Mauro Fanelli: Not a really firm one, but the game is planned for the end of the year. And we're working as hard as possible to deliver it on time!

Are you planning a co-ordinated worldwide release, or is it possible that it'll vary per region?

Andrea Gellato: Well, I need to say again that we are a really small team, and managing a worldwide multiplatform launch is extremely difficult. It's possible that we will suffer delays in some regions, but we'll try to avoid that.

Have you considered any 3DS development, or is that something you'd look at more closely if Unity arrived on the handheld?

I think it has never been easier to develop on Nintendo consoles, and having the Unity license included makes developing or porting games on the Wii U a no brainer for indie teams like us.

Mauro Fanelli: We surely look with interest to the 3DS, but the lack of Unity makes it impossible for us to work on the platform: all our current projects are Unity based.

Also forma.8 is not really the best project for the platform. The character is often very small on screen, and that would not work well on the 3DS.

But for the future... we hope Unity comes to 3DS as fast as possible!

Are you confident, at the moment, that the Wii U eShop will be a successful platform for forma.8?

Andrea Gellato: I think it could surely be. The game fits the platform really well and there have already been successful indie experiences on the eShop.

I think that the Nintendo public could appreciate forma.8, it's a very 'Nintendo like' game.

Me and Mauro grew up with Nintendo games, so I hope that some of their "magic" in doing games has passed to us too!

What's your personal opinion on the Wii U as a system and its eShop, and are you optimistic for its prospects in 2014 and beyond?

Mauro Fanelli: We love the console, and I think there's a lot of untapped potential in the GamePad. The fact is, in the current market is very difficult to get a constant stream of interesting AAA content, especially AAA games tailor made to support the unique features of the GamePad. That's why indies are extremely important: just look at what Sony did with the PSVita and is doing right now on PS4.

We are seeing the same from Nintendo, and it'll only get better in the coming months.

Are there any plans to bring your shooter Futuridium EP Deluxe to the Wii U?

Andrea Gellato: Sorry, no plans for now about other versions of Futuridium EP Deluxe.

Do you have a final 'pitch' for forma.8 that you'd like to share?

Mauro Fanelli: If you like action, exploration, mystery and alien planets full of secrets and nasty enemies, forma.8 is for you! We love our little black hero, hope you'll love it too!


We'd like to thank both Mauro and Andrea for their time.

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User Comments (19)

sketchturner

#5

sketchturner said:

Looks like my kind of game! It sort of reminds me of Fluidity. I will almost certainly be buying this one.

Cyberbotv2

#6

Cyberbotv2 said:

Interesting. I always like to hear from the developers. I'll buy when I get a firm release date.

Purple

#7

Purple said:

Ive noticed a lot of games coming to wii u Eshop but then I never see them get released.

Dark-Link73

#8

Dark-Link73 said:

@Purple I think it is becoming obvious that the apparent AAA Indie titles take time to develop just like their big company counterparts. Anything else is either announced/unveiled close to release date, or is simply shovelware.

andregurov

#9

andregurov said:

If the soundtrack and gameplay are HALF as good as that trailer this is a must-buy for me. The palette seems heavily influenced by Pixel.Junk, but that is a just fine by me … it looks bold and stylish and very well executed. Hopefully there is enough diversity in the world to give the gameplay some depth.

CthulhiGames

#10

CthulhiGames said:

@Dark-Link73 This is exactly true, If you really think about it the average development cycle for a AAA company is 2 to 3 years, and they have huge teams. Why is it looked down upon when us indies ask for the same amount of time. Especially given that we are composed of small teams or are sometimes one individual producing everything from beginning to end. Unless your want more shovelware then I would cut the indies that are aspiring to more a little slack.

Skyrise

#12

Skyrise said:

Hi everyone! Mauro from MixedBag here. Thanks NintendoLife for the interview, for any question, I'm here. :)

Skyrise

#14

Skyrise said:

@Dark-Link73 yes, it can take a lot of time! We started working on forma.8 in 2011, and it's a very big project for a small time like us. Also we've worked in the meantime on Futuridium as our 'smaller' game. We don't want to rush forma.8: we prefer to have it ready a little later but to have the time to make it as 'perfect' (for us!) as possible.
For indie teams, like us, the quality of the work is everything: we don't have huge marketing budget to sell a game, quality is the first priority. :)

Skyrise

#15

Skyrise said:

@NImH nothing decided for now, but we're always looking on how we can implement platform specific features in our games.

Cyberbotv2

#16

Cyberbotv2 said:

@Skyrise : game looks great in motion! How long would you say the game lasts? And how many levels of difficulty will it have?

Skyrise

#17

Skyrise said:

@Cyberbotv2 it's difficult to say, we're aiming for a 5-6 hours of gameplay, but it can take a lot more if you want to discover all the secrets. Single difficulty level, but we are throwing around some ideas for an eventual second run... :)

JustinH

#18

JustinH said:

@Skyrise This question might be a tough one, but it was the first one that came to mind when you announced the game: Are you concerned about this might launch too close to Affordable Space Adventures on Wii U?

This isn't a question and I don't really expect you to respond, but I for one would definitely buy Futuridium on Wii U. Just adding another voice out there.

Skyrise

#19

Skyrise said:

@JustinH funny thing is we announced that forma.8 was coming to Wii U the same day Affordable Space Adventures was announced!! It was a surprise, but while both games have a lot of things in common, from what I've seen they play very differently. They're both scheduled for the end of the year, but we're not really concerned... I mean, great games are great games, no? I think there's a market for all of them. :)
BTW, love Affordable Space Adventures, can't wait to play it!

On Futuridium, we love all the attention the game is receiving! But for now I can only say that the Deluxe version is a PS4/PSVita exclusive...

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