If you're trying to get the attention of the average Nintendo fan, mentioning Metroid usually has the desired effect. When Dead Pixel Entertainment announced Sync for the Wii U eShop earlier this year, that particular tactic worked wonderfully; of course, the Wii U exclusivity, intriguing storyline and attractive prototype screens didn't hurt, either.
The game has now moved from the design phase into full production, and we caught up with Dead Pixel's Ravi Jayant and Wesley Kwang to talk a little more about the game, as well as the studio's other title, Starbeast.
Nintendo Life: Can you give us a little bit of background information on the talent you have at Dead Pixel? What titles have your team members previously worked on?
Ravi Jayant: Dead Pixel is comprised of a very passionate team of people who haven’t finished a game before, but have immense experience in design, 3D art, concept art, music, writing, business development and programming. Many of us have gained a lot of experience working with one another through various other projects. We have met with various successful game developers and companies who have offered great words of wisdom which helped us move forward with this company. Once we became official Nintendo developers, it helped us gain some solid footing and helped everyone focus towards a common goal.
What's the storyline behind Sync? Will it be your typical run-and-gun FPS title, or are you aiming for something a little more cerebral?
Ravi Jayant: Since we first announced Sync, some major changes have been made to the storyline. Unfortunately, we can't talk too much about it because everything is changing as development moves forward. In terms of gameplay, Sync is a very unique kind of game portrayed through the first person perspective. Players could go guns blazing and power through the game — if they want to lose. The focus of the game is exploration and discovery. We want players to think with their head and find the best way out of the situation they might be in, instead of just using their gun.
Wesley Kwang: We tried to steer away from your typical first person shoot ‘em up type of game. I thought it would be refreshing to have your gun be a tool first, rather than an offensive weapon. Oh, and keep in mind there will be a lot of puzzle elements built into the gameplay. We want the players to adapt to different situations and styles of gameplay.
You've already mentioned Metroid Prime being an inspiration for Sync. Can you elaborate on this a little? What elements are you looking to borrow from that series?
Ravi Jayant: Honestly, the game was initially inspired by Metroid Prime specifically in terms of progression and storytelling as well as a little bit of gameplay. Now, the game has evolved into something that is much more unique. However, through the platforming mechanics, HUD design and weapon mechanics, players will feel a hint of Prime, while enjoying a very unique game.
Wesley Kwang: Originally, it was supposed to be a very simple game with no story, and it was supposed to be completed within a month. But after constantly revising the game, a story got added, weapon mechanics got added, and it just blew up there. I think in reality, the game started to write itself.
Have any other games or movies influenced the design or gameplay seen in Sync?
Wesley Kwang: Portal really influenced the environment. It had a very minimalistic, futuristic look to it that was very elegant. The gameplay was initially influenced by Adam West’s portrayal of Batman. I’ll just leave it at that, I don’t want to give too much away yet.
Ravi Jayant: Wesley is right. When he had told me his idea, I knew we could create something extremely special in terms of gameplay and progression. Obviously, I was inspired by Prime, but it goes beyond just Prime. Metroid as a series was a huge influence on the way players progress through the game. I was also influenced by Tron and its hyper-technological world. 2001: A Space Odyssey also influenced the design of the visual style.
How do you plan to make use of the Wii U GamePad? Will we see any unexpected innovations?
Ravi Jayant: This is an interesting question, because our ideas include some very unique features that haven't really been implemented in any game to date. One of these features include the use of the touch screen on the Wii U GamePad as an alternative control scheme. We don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Wesley Kwang: Well, with the introduction of the Wii U GamePad and all of its functions, we honestly came up with too many ideas. The GamePad is a highly flexible piece of equipment and the possibilities are seemingly endless right now. The problem we are facing is choosing which mechanics to implement to make the gameplay intuitive, and seamless.
What aspect of Sync do you think gamers are going to be most impressed by?
Wesley Kwang: Hopefully the entire atmosphere of the game. We are focusing more on the feel of the game, more in terms of design and gameplay. We hope these elements come together to make a very immersive experience. We really want players to be completely sucked into the world.
Ravi Jayant: I believe that today's technological advancements have allowed groups of people — indie developers and even AAA developers — to create some exceptional gaming experiences. I hope that players will feel like the character they play. I want players to talk and think about the game even after they have played it fifteen times over. I want this game to be an extremely immersive experience.
You've mentioned previously that you intend to be quite aggressive when it comes to pricing the game. I know it's possibly too early to say, but what kind of price point do you expect to launch Sync at?
Ravi Jayant: Unfortunately, it is very early to say, but when the game launches, we are planning on having a special "early bird" price for gamers who decide buy within the first week of the game's launch.
What has it been like working with Nintendo so far? Has the company given you any input or feedback?
Ravi Jayant: Working with Nintendo has been fantastic. Honestly, it's a dream come true for me. They are very responsive. Very supportive. They have, in fact, recently given input regarding the project and it was epic. Let's just say, they are impressed with our work. Comments like these really help motivate the team and pushes us to work harder to get more compliments!
The Wii U's commercial struggles are well documented. Have the slow sales of the system given you any reason to reconsider making Sync exclusive for the console?
Wesley Kwang: No. Although there are commercial struggles, the Wii U eShop is still quite new, and we see this as an opportunity. Besides, Nintendo has been known to release very unique games that no other companies are willing to even attempt; that and their history for making awesome games such as Zelda, Earthbound and Mario Kart gives us a lot of confidence in Nintendo’s vision of what games can be, not what they should be.
What's the estimated release window for Sync?
Wesley Kwang: Everything is extremely organized and moving along smoothly, so we are predicting an early Spring release in 2015.
Can you tell us a little about Starbeast, your other project? What kind of game will that be?
Ravi Jayant: We are being extremely tight-lipped on the basic premise of Starbeast. Everything about the game is evolving at such an alarming rate, we would prefer to not give out information about the project that will become outdated. I will say that we hold meetings and focus our efforts towards the early design of Starbeast, frequently.
How does Starbeast fit into your plans, giving the ongoing production of Sync?
Ravi Jayant: Honestly, it feels really good to take a break from Sync, from time to time, and talk Starbeast. We are all very passionate about it and believe it will become special, but we don't want rush it, which is why we are focusing our efforts on Sync while the early planning and concept phase for Starbeast slowly moves forward in the background.
Wesley Kwang: We’re basically taking it slow with Starbeast.
You seem to be pretty passionate about supporting the Wii U, but what about the 3DS? Are you tempted to work on that system as well, given its unique hardware and massive audience?
Wesley Kwang: Absolutely, I love the 3DS and what it has to offer. Unfortunately Sync’s design was created with the Wii U in mind, but hopefully we have a chance to design games for the 3DS in the future.
Ravi Jayant: We have a few ideas, but nothing concrete. That being said, one aspect of the 3DS Wesley and I both love is the connectivity the system offers. Expect Dead Pixel to utilize that to its fullest.
What's the biggest challenge when it comes to running a small indie studio? And what's the biggest benefit?
Wesley Kwang: Not having the resources that established companies have and lack of experience. It is a huge struggle everyday to just keep track of everything and to keep progressing at a steady pace. Plus as a start-up, we were completely new to a lot of business practices, and we didn't know our strengths and weaknesses. It took a lot of trial, error and research, but it is starting to pay off. Also, working with an awesome team, meeting new people and having a lot of creative freedom is something that drives us to put in so much effort.
Ravi Jayant: The biggest challenge for us has always been the funds. However, everything in the industry is changing and development is getting cheaper. I’d have to say our biggest challenge has to be the small team, which I believe isn't really a challenge at all. Since there is a small amount of people assigned to do multiple tasks, we struggle to stay on schedule. However, our team is comprised of people we trust and are motivated to work with us because they believe in our projects.
Looking beyond these two titles, where do you see Dead Pixel in five years time? Will you continue to support Nintendo platforms exclusively?
Wesley Kwang: I can’t say for certain. In all honesty, we are only focusing on Sync right now, and there are too many uncertainties to plan that far into the future. Not that we don’t have a plan, but a lot is riding on the success of Sync. Nintendo’s platforms offer such potential that some games can only be released exclusively on them.
Ravi Jayant: We have a bunch of ideas that would only work on a Nintendo console. Obviously, those would be exclusives. So yeah, in our near future, we are planning on supporting Nintendo greatly. We believe that if Sync is successful, this is just the beginning of Dead Pixel's journey.