Though the console is in the midst of a disappointing sales decline, the Wii U is a system that - for those already on board - still has plenty to offer. It's in the download scene where intriguing titles can still be found, and the eShop on the home console continues to attract ambitious new developers. Red Column, led by Arturo Chaves Maza from Berlin and with contributors around the globe, is one of these fresh studios making its debut on Nintendo's system.
Its debut is intriguing for multiple reasons, not least because it aims to make strong use of the GamePad - 3Souls - Episode 1: Nelesa will be the first of three parts that will aim to tell an involving story with three distinct characters. Originally planned as a single release, the episodic approach is just one way in which Maza is willing to adapt and adjust in order to make a success of his studio's first game.
We caught up with Maza to learn more about this intriguing project.
Can you start by introducing yourself and Red Column to our readers?
My name is Arturo Chaves Maza, and I am the creator of the indie game 3Souls for Wii U. This is my first game, and Red Column is the name brand that I will use to present my projects from now on.
3Souls is your first title and a Wii U exclusive, so can you give us an introduction to the broad concept?
We can divide the concept of the game into two main cores.
On the one hand, and more related to the characters, are the souls. Each of the characters in the game have a soul which floats around them in different colours and portrays what the character is feeling. At first, the player is not able to know what the character is feeling by looking at the TV, where only a colour is shown. They need to look down to the GamePad to get more information.
I like to compare this with the real life. When you meet someone you can't really tell what they are feeling, but with time you know that person better, and by looking "into" them, you can tell if they are sad, happy or angry. The game works similarly. With time you don't have to look down at the GamePad anymore, because you know that character, you know what it means when a soul turns red, for instance, and why it is red at that moment.
I use a technique used in 3D Mario games that is called "kishōtenketsu". This philosophy consists of four parts: introduction, development, twist and conclusion.
This concept helps me to describe the character in a different way, trying to make the player feel that they have their soul in their hands… literally.
On the other hand, we have the gameplay. Although this is an adventure, where I tell a story, the game is really structured like a Mario game, but the player is not really aware of it. I use a technique used in 3D Mario games that is called "kishōtenketsu". This philosophy consists of four parts: introduction, development, twist and conclusion. Those four parts help you to learn how to use the new element that is introduced on that level. At the end of the level, you know how to use that element really well.
This happens in my game as well. For example, in the first episode with Nelesa, you are going to discover different places on "Moon Prison". Each of the places are actually a new level and to go through that level, you will use the GamePad in a new way. To do that, you have to find the new element from that level, and connect to it with the GamePad (for example, a camera). Then, you will learn to use it similar to the structure used in 3D Mario games, but in much more compressed levels.
Those elements will appear again on future levels, but by this time you will be an expert on how to use them, so it won't be the hard part of that current level.
Your early trailers have put a lot of emphasis on the characters and the world they inhabit; how important is the story and concept in terms of driving the experience?
Really important. Although the most interesting part of the game is probably the gameplay, I really enjoy playing games that create an atmosphere and a world around them. One of my favorite indie games is Thomas Was Alone. This game has really interesting gameplay, but what makes it great and unique is putting it together with the amazing soundtrack from David Housden, the great voice of Danny Wallace, the story from its own creator Mike Bithell, and the simple but beautiful artistic style.
When I started the game, I knew I wanted to create a gameplay focused on the GamePad, but what I was more interested in, was creating an atmosphere that drives you in the game. A good story/concept with the right artistic style and music. This is, of course, my first game, but with the help of the team that is working in 3Souls, I'm really excited with the result so far.
You make extensive use of the GamePad, so can you talk a little more about that?
The most basic one is the use of the soul. You can touch it any time during the game to hear the feelings and the thoughts of your character. You also can check the collectibles there.
The most interesting theme is the use of the "connect" button. This is used only when you find one element in the game that has a portal (the ones that we mentioned earlier). The only one that has been shown is the camera. You can connect to it, to see platforms on the GamePad that you can't see on the TV.
The other elements, I will not share, because I decided that part of the game's experience is discovering how to use them yourself (like in "Zack & Wiki"). If I spoil them, the game will lose a big part of the experience. At first I wanted to make a trailer to explain better… but those who played Affordable Space Adventures maybe appreciate that the trailers could never transmit the real experience that you have by playing with the GamePad. I think in this case "word of mouth" would work better than teaser trailers that spoil the real experience of playing the game.
How do the character's emotions, visible on the GamePad, affect the general play?
I think in this case "word of mouth" would work better than teaser trailers that spoil the real experience of playing the game.
It affects more the definition of the character than the gameplay itself, although there are some moments (more on future episodes than the first one) where it has a bigger impact on the gameplay. In this first episode, it will give you clues sometimes for different things, but I rather not spoil it either (by now, you're probably figured out that I hate spoilers!)
You've confirmed an episodic approach to enable you to spend more time developing later areas of the game; is this an approach that can be made into a positive change, from your perspective?
Yes. This is my first game, and at first, I was on my own. When the game became bigger, more people joined me because they really liked the concept and wanted to be a part of it. This makes the quality much better than I could have achieved alone. The problem is that now I need more time to put all this together. Making an episodic approach will let the player have a much better experience overall.
Another big reason is the way of selling a product like this. I don't want any spoilers for this specific game (if you haven't noticed that by know, you must have skipped half of this interview! By selling the first episode, I can achieve better marketing with "word of mouth" than actually spoiling with trailers. More people can talk and try the game if I sell a first episode that is cheaper than the whole game. And I think in the long term this will be more beneficial for a game like 3Souls… well, this is all really my theory.
And as well as this, people don't know me at all, and with episodes I will be able to reach more people to gain their trust (if they like it of course!)
A co-op mode is also going to be included, can you tell us about this?
I adopted this mode thinking about all the people that enjoy puzzles but are really bad at platform games, or the other way around. If you are bad at platformers, but you wanted to enjoy 3Souls, you can play with someone else that controls the character with the Wii Remote (or Pro Controller). You will solve the puzzles with the GamePad and be in charge of the characters' feelings and thoughts. Some parts will feel really different by playing the game like this. Like the level with the camera for instance. If you play with the Wii Remote, you have no idea where or when to jump, and the other player will tell you.
"Ok, jump between those two doors… now!"
Overall, how sizeable an experience is this in terms of playtime, and do you have pricing details in mind for the first episode and add-on-content?
I still have no final word on the price. The time, based on the testers… well, most it will likely be really different, depending on how long you take to figure the use of the GamePad. It won't be a long game, and now even shorter because I'm dividing it into three parts, but this will be reflected in the price.
In broader terms, can you talk a little about your experiences bringing this project together?
Although I play all types of consoles and games, I identify more with Nintendo games than any other.
The project was my brainchild from two years ago and consisted only of me. Since then, I stopped several times due to different reasons, but since September last year it's been taking my full time. And since then, until now, many people have joined the project. Two musicians from Brazil are composing the soundtrack. The artistic design is being developed by two other persons (one for the background and another for the illustrations of the menu and end video). The text and translations are being worked by four different persons, and I have another three people providing the voices. It's great to work with them, I really enjoy that each of them contributes something special to the game. The most difficult thing has been the distance, because they are from all around the world, but I am really lucky because the chemistry between us has worked very well and we understand each other from the get-go. If you are interested, you can find out more about each of them and previous work on our official site.
How helpful have Nintendo been for you, in terms of providing advice, dev kits and so on?
Really helpful. They have been great with me the whole time. Every single problem, doubt or question they are always there for you.
I really like Nintendo. Although I play all types of consoles and games, I identify more with Nintendo games than any other. Two years ago, when I received the confirmation to be able to get the Dev Kit, there was not a single doubt in my mind; I quit my job from one day to the other (I was previously a web developer). It's been really hard because I have had to learn so much in so little time, but I have zero regrets. Making a game for a Nintendo console is a dream that came true.
What have been the biggest challenges in working towards bringing the game to market?
Maybe trying to find the right structure for the game, into which I can integrate the various features of the GamePad. The structure that I mentioned before wasn't the first idea. I had many tests with different ideas, and it always felt a little repetitive after a while, or perhaps involving too much information early in the game. This way, each level feels fresh and new. I'm really happy with that decision. The only problem with this was to find the right curve of learning, which is new every single time that you start a new level. It feels as though you are always learning, so there is not really one curve of learning… there are many. Some people take forever in a place where other people resolve in seconds. I think this is maybe a problem for some people, but Wii U has Miiverse to help those who get lost in a specific element.
Are you optimistic that Wii U gamers will be drawn to this title, especially as it makes use of the GamePad so much?
I think the lack of games on Wii U that make full use of the GamePad will give me the first users, and these users are actually the ones whose I'm more interested to know about their opinion, because those are the one that bought the Wii U because of the GamePad, and mostly because they enjoy Nintendo consoles. If I find people that like what I do, I would be more than satisfied.
Do you have a final message for our readers?
For those who don't like the episodic format, don't worry, just wait, and you can enjoy the full experience without pauses later on this year. By then you can read reviews to know if this could be your type of game!
For those scared of it being episodic, think that this is the story of three different characters, and each character is one episode, so the first character won't be stopped in the middle, because you will not control that character any more in the next episodes.
I really hope you enjoy it, and please, I am always really open to opinions, emails, suggestions, questions… I'm a user on Nintendo Life, so please contact me if you want anything!
We'd like the thank Arturo Chaves Maza for his time. Are you intrigued by 3Souls for the Wii U?