Interview: Zen Studios Outlines Its Ongoing Support for Wii U
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
"We are aiming for Wii U parity in the future with updates and new tables"
The Wii U eShop has seen a growing library of games from various publishers and developers since the console launched in November 2012, and among the most supportive studios — in terms of the number of titles released — has been Zen Studios. Zen Pinball 2 is one of very few free downloads on the store in which you can trial tables and packs before buying more; Star Wars Pinball is a separate game with six available tables in total. Away from flippers, Zen Studios has also released CastleStorm and various DLC offerings, which is another strong offering on the eShop.
Despite these releases, fans of the company's output have had some reason to complain. DLC has often been slow to arrive on the Wii U, and Zen Pinball 2 in particular has seen its updates lag behind those on other platforms. After a quiet spell, however, the tide is turning a little — The Walking Dead comes to Zen Pinball 2 on Wii U (on 28th August) just a day or two behind equivalent console releases, and today it was announced that three additional tables will also arrive at the same time. KickBeat: Special Edition, a rhythm-music game fused with Kung Fu, is also on the way soon. Some had been doubting whether the company was still committed to the Wii U, but recent announcements have helped to bring us back to a more positive position.
We've had a chat with Zen Studios' Vice President of Publishing, Mel Kirk, about this content on the way, along with the studio's broader plans and support for the Wii U eShop.
You've just recently announced The Walking Dead and a major Zen Pinball 2 update with another three tables. Has that update been planned for a relatively long time, or was it a recent decision to bolster the Wii U version with this content?
We have been planning the update for a long time. As you can imagine, our community is very passionate about the content from other platforms they want to see on Wii U, so it has constantly been on our minds that we need to continue supporting the system with our latest content.
When Zen Pinball 2 was first released on the Wii U eShop it was, and to a degree still is, a trailblazer in its free-to-play model and setup. Was it a particularly big challenge bringing the app to Wii U at that time?
Zen Studios has a history of complex releases! Our approach is not easy on any console, so yes, it was a challenge to get things set up on Wii U. However, did not experience anything out of the ordinary on Wii U. Our model is built with player satisfaction in mind, so anything that will give players the best possible scenario is always worth the challenge for us.
There's clearly a perception that updating the app with new tables is an easy process, whereas you've previous indicated that's far from the case. Can you give us an outline and context on the challenges the studio faces in preparing and releasing these updates?
Each table in Zen Pinball 2 is really a separate game, not just DLC or add-on content. For us, releasing a new game within a free platform is still really difficult – and we have been doing this for years! Whenever we add a piece of content, there is a risk that something else that is working perfectly well in the overall game will be affected and stop working, so the amount of testing and overhead for Zen Studios and Nintendo is really high. That being said, we operate this way since it provides the best solution for players.
Is the process particularly difficult or more taxing on Wii U, in comparison to other systems? If so, why is that the case?
In the past, there have been times when new content releases were more taxing on Wii U for reasons that I would rather not go into. However, Nintendo continues to improve the developer experience on Wii U, and we are committed to the platform and Nintendo remains a great partner to work with.
With this update helping the system play a little catch-up in Zen Pinball 2, are you aiming for similar Wii U parity with future updates and new tables?
Yes, we are aiming for Wii U parity in the future with updates and new tables. Additionally, KickBeat Special Edition will be released on Wii U in line with other releases on other consoles.
While we appreciate that direct figures are off the table, can you indicate whether sales of content in the Wii U version of Zen Pinball 2 have met your targets and expectations?
There is room to improve sales of content on any platform we are on, and the Wii U is no exception.
Having said that, we are pleased with what we have achieved on Wii U.
KickBeat: Special Edition is also close to arrival. For those unfamiliar with this one, can you provide a summary of what we can expect?
Where to begin with KickBeat…it’s a really crazy game! To summarize, KickBeat is an innovative rhythm game with a Kung Fu theme, featuring fully 3D characters and high-energy music. The main gameplay revolves around beat-matching mechanics, and the game features licensed tracks from a diverse lineup of artists from well-known bands such as Pendulum and Marilyn Manson, to indie pioneers Celldweller and Blue Stahli.
What additional content will this version have over the original release?
The soundtrack has been expanded from the original release, and now includes six tracks from the awesome indie game Electronic Super Joy from artist EnV as part of the game’s single-player campaign.
Will this utilise the Wii U's capabilities, such as the GamePad or Miiverse, in unique ways, or is it a fairly standard multi-platform version?
KickBeat can be played on the GamePad without the TV, and of course we will engage with the community on Miiverse, but there are not any really unique uses for these. I’d say that it is similar to many other multiplatform releases in that regard.
You've also previously released CastleStorm and some of its DLC on Wii U. Has the title performed well, and are you planning to bring all outstanding DLC to the system?
CastleStorm has done really well on Wii U, and we are happy with how the game has been received. Currently, all available content for CastleStorm is available on Wii U, including the two expansions From Outcast to Savior and The Warrior Queen.
Our enquiry is the same with Star Wars Pinball, is DLC parity planned and has it performed well on Wii U?
Star Wars Pinball is doing fine on Wii U, and we do need to catch up with the new table pack. It’s on our list of things for the future!
Star Wars Pinball also made it to 3DS, was this well received by fans, and do you have any additional 3DS plans to share?
At this time we do not have any 3DS plans to share. Our type of game system does not mesh very well with 3DS, so it has been tough to support add-on content. However, the game does play amazing on the 3DS, and I especially love it on the XL.
Your studio's remained supportive of the Wii U eShop; can you indicate whether that'll be an ongoing policy and share your thoughts on the progress of the store to date?
Zen is committed to continuing support of the Wii U eShop in the future. We are really encouraged by the amazing games coming to the platform and we think there will be a boost in Wii U sales that will hopefully translate to players coming to the eShop to discover games. I think Zen might have the most Wii U eShop releases, so we hope players enjoy our games!
Thanks for your time, do you have a final message for our readers?
We would like to thank Nintendo fans for their support (and patience) as we bring games to the platform.
Are you a fan of Zen Studios' content on Wii U, and what do you think of its ongoing support and Wii U plans? Let us know in the comments.