The Wii U eShop is gradually expanding its horizons and bringing us more innovative projects. Two developers that typify a creative, in some cases artful approach, are KnapNok Games and Nicklas Nygren, the latter better-known as Nifflas. The former brought us the innovative, at times peculiar, Wii U exclusive Spin The Bottle: Bumpie's Party, while the prolific Nifflas is behind NightSky (3DS eShop) and the more recent Knytt Underground. All are either impeccably designed or, perhaps in the most recent examples, intriguing experiences available on the Wii U.
News of the collaboration between the studios on Affordable Space Adventures got the attention of download gamers, then, and we recently had a chance to go hands on with the title, taking on a number of stages in co-op with Nifflas. We'll bring you those impressions soon, but first we have an interview on the game, in which we discuss the working relationship between the two studios and the concept behind the title.
To start off, how did the collaboration between you and KnapNok Games start?
Basically I met them at a game jam where they were showing this game called Dark Room Sex Game.
Ah, I remember that got some attention!
Yeah. To most of the Swedes they were like, I guess, weird people, with a weird sex game. For some reason I thought it was hilarious, so we just made friends. I went to visit them again then for about a week.
So, basically, it was like we were friends first, then just we happened to finish Knytt Underground at the same time as they were finishing Spin the Bottle. They were looking for a new project and so was I. It was very natural that we just started to talk about doing something together.
So was that last summer you started doing that, or a bit earlier?
Oh, yeah, about last summer when we started thinking about what we could do together.
So this kind of strikes me - and I was hoping you could correct me - that maybe you’re the creative force behind the world design, whereas these controls with the GamePad and the Remotes are very much the speciality of KnapNok Games, as they showed with Spin the Bottle. Is that the case, or is it more of a blend?
I am like the game director. I mean it’s my idea in terms of the ship computer and the way you modify the ship.
A lot of how it’s implemented is KnapNok’s part right there, I haven’t done the interface design. KnapNok did all that. So where I design the systems and did some of the programming for them also, they make it understandable.
So, how does the collaboration work? Are you working together in one space?
So it’s an office. Dajana is like a producer. She tells us, like makes sure everybody’s on the same page, or what each other are doing. Then we’ve got Heino who’s just an excellent programmer. He’s like the structure programmer. So he builds the framework for the game, like all the cursors and how things connect. So where I’m more involved is in implementing ship systems, like individual systems I usually build. Then we’ve got two 3D animators who also do interface. I just do a bit of everything. I kind of jump between tasks. Probably like everybody has a specific area, where I don’t have a specific area, I just jump.
Obviously in this build, they’ve been split up into levels for this demo, but in terms of the final game, will it be like Knytt Underground where it’s one large world you’re exploring, or is it going to be split up into set stages?
It will just be split up in levels. It's got a level base, but it doesn’t have level titles. It still should feel really smooth.
How many local players does it support? Is it two players? Because we were playing two-player.
Three, max. So the third person can be like the flash light/ the scanner and so on.
Right, so the more players you’ve got, the more you delegate?
So rather than flashlight and scanner, I’d just be on the touchscreen and you’d be driving.
It’s interesting how the difficulty changes. The puzzles get a bit easier to figure out when there are multiple people, because then you can talk about them and figure out together how to solve them, but executing them becomes much harder because then everybody needs to be on the same page about what you are doing.
Is it the kind of game you’d want people to ideally play through both in single player in which you’re doing everything, and also when in a team?
Yeah. I think a lot of people will have different opinions about which mode is the most fun, but I would recommend multiplayer.
The thing is because when I’m developing it and I’m testing it so much on my own, whenever I get a chance to play with somebody it’s like a different experience for me, and just maybe that’s right, but I really think the multiplayer is very fun.
Is it being designed so that if you’ve got players of different abilities, say someone who’s not particularly used to games, there’ll be a role? Like, for example, with a third player, would they just be controlling the light? That would be the easiest for them?
Yeah, I would say the easiest is probably to be the pilot to fly the vehicle.
So the hardest is definitely to be the system manager, especially when you have to figure the ship out yourself.
Yeah, even with your guidance I was making a mess of it initially! Is that a concern at all, accessibility?
We will make an easier mode in the game.
So there will be these two modes, but, yeah, we still have to name them. We don’t want to do easy and hard names. Maybe we’ll call it like technical and casual, or something like that. Like the technical mode, just so people will think, “Do I want the highly technical, complicated game or ...?”
So we’re starting with a hard mode, or technical mode, and testing it on gamers that are really into hard, technical stuff - then we will get a new test group less into really difficult games, so that we can scale down the difficulty, and then we will have our thoughts.
This feels like something that was always, from Day 1, setup for the Wii U, because you’ve got the controllers plus a touchscreen. Was that the case, or was it an early experiment on something like PC that you decided would be a good fit?
No, actually the funny thing is, the story of how I came up with the idea right from the start was there was game the Steel Battalion for the Xbox, where that came with this huge custom controller, right, and l really want to make a game that has like a crazy controller where it can modify systems. I started to think how would I make a spaceship game around something like that, but I realised this is not what’s going to happen because I can’t make an Indie game and ship it with a custom controller. Then, luckily, the Wii U was announced at exactly about the time I was like thinking about this and I just realised that, oh, with this, that game could actually really work.
So, yeah, just a console happened to show up that had what the game needed.
Then it just happened to work. Yeah, so this idea is actually older than Spin the Bottle. Yeah, so like I guess like a couple of games. I was still working on Knytt Underground when I had this idea. So basically that was when.
A bit of serendipity then, you have an idea and a console shows up.
Has the project progressed quite far so far then? Or do you still feel there’s a lot of work to do in terms of structuring it all into the final game?
I think level design is mainly done now. There’s a few more levels we want to add, but there’s a lot of polish - there’s all these small details and there’s so many of them that we really want to work into the game just to make it feel really nice.
I assume the levels in some of the examples will have more controls and things to do, with some pretty tough levels?
Yeah, but there’s also so many small things about how the ship handles, like just to make the ship feel more alive also, so, yeah, add even more which will be about what is happening in the ship and stuff like that.
Do you expect this to be a pretty big game then? Because Knytt Underground was fairly sizeable and, on the flipside, Spin the Bottle is a minigame collection. It's an interesting fusion of studios.
Yeah, we’re going for smaller and instead trying to make it just a really tight game. That’s the plan for this one. So it won’t be super big, but we want everything that is there to be really good.
Brilliant, thank you. I’ll let you get back to the Shovel Knight demo...
We'd like to thank Nifflas for his time, especially as he was rather keen to continue playing Shovel Knight at the event. Check back tomorrow for our first impressions of Affordable Space Adventures, and our thanks to Nintendo UK for arranging this interview.