Not long ago Kid Tripp arrived on the 3DS eShop, an auto-running platformer that offers snappy but challenging stages. Some balked at its mobile origins but that was to do it a discredit; in our view it's a well-constructed and fun game.
Four Horses produced that version and is now working on a Switch port, so we caught up with director and programmer Michael Waites to learn more about the process of jumping a generation in hardware, and why this was always a 'console' game despite its smart device origins.
How has the development process been on Switch?
So far, it is all going well. I’ve taken a little break from it to help out another publisher with a conversion of a Unity project but I expect to be back onto it shortly. Some of the work on the other project crosses over with Kid Tripp anyway, such as handling all the controller configurations that are possible and other aspects, which have inspired ideas to make Kid Tripp even greater on the Switch, so it is all good!
When did it start?
I started the conversion to Switch in the week of the launch of the 3DS version. Getting the game running with identical content to the Nintendo 3DS version was fairly rapid as all it involved was getting my in-house engine up and running on the Switch. All that remains is to get the Switch-specific functionality added.
What attracted you to develop for Switch?
I’m a huge fan of Nintendo, both the games they make and the hardware they release, so as soon as I heard about the Switch I wanted to own one for game playing. I love the design of the console and wanted to get set up as a developer as soon as possible as I have a few ideas for games that make some use of the unique hardware. Getting Kid Tripp onto the platform seemed to be a good springboard to getting hold of the development hardware, getting familiar with it and then going on to develop the ideas I have into full games.
What was your exposure and interest to the rumours of the 'NX'?
Sadly no different to any other Nintendo fan. As a developer, I had no early access to the hardware or any information about it. It wasn’t until what seemed like an age after the launch of the hardware in March that I got access to the Switch developer site. In some ways, I’m happy with that because I did enjoy all the hype as a consumer.
It must be exciting to launch on Nintendo platforms that have huge popularity at the moment, one well established and the other in its infancy?
It really is. I never thought I’d be self-publishing a game on Nintendo hardware within a year of its launch, but that is going to happen. Plus, the 3DS has had a special place in my heart since its launch. Hopefully I’ll be able to develop and publish on its eventual successor, too!
The game is certainly charming visually, yet has elements and a degree of difficulty associated with classic platformers. How was this aesthetic/ gameplay balance approached (to appeal to different ages and skill types)?
I wasn’t involved in the design of the original game, so I don’t have too much information on that front. I do know that Mike Burns, the original creator, spent many hours with friends and family balancing and tweaking the levels based on their feedback. I'll hand over to him!
Mike Burns: I started making Kid Tripp as a hobby way back in 2011. At the time there wasn't a huge catalog of challenging, quality platformers on the iOS App Store, so I figured I'd jump in and help fill the void. I'm a big fan of New Adventure Island (the TG-16 one -- I actually discovered it on the Wii Virtual Console!). It's fast, colorful, and fairly tough. One of the cool ways that the Adventure Island games differ from the Mario games is that they kind of subtly encourage the player to never stop running. The more I played it, the more I realized I could beat pretty much the entire game without ever letting go of the right arrow on the d-pad. I think that's what sparked the idea to bring that kind of classic platformer gameplay to mobile devices (via an autorunner.).
The decision to go with the game's cute pixel art style was definitely influenced by games like Adventure Island and Super Mario Bros. (Bright, colorful pixel art just makes me happy!) The difficulty was a bit of a different story. The plan was always to make a tough game, but the funny thing is that I didn't think the game was particularly hard when I first finished it up. I had spent about two or three years testing it almost daily, so by the time I got around to creating the final level design the physics were totally second nature to me. The thing is, because I designed the levels to feel challenging for me, personally, they ended up being super difficult for people who had never played the game before.
That said, I did offset the difficulty with some other design choices, so I think it worked out pretty well in the end. For instance, the player respawns practically instantly, and the levels are short enough that dying doesn't feel like a huge loss of progress. The satisfaction of beating a super tough level is always just a few seconds away (which works great for holding a player's interest), but it's also really easy to just put down and jump back in later. I knew that that was a really important thing to have, especially for a game people would be playing on their phones.
With the 'endless runner' genre being linked predominantly with iOS, was this technically expanded and tweaked for consoles?
Michael Waites: The original game was developed as a console game that could be played easily on a touch screen with two fake buttons, so to a degree it already was a console game. Having said that, the game is considerably more difficult to play in two button mode as there are three controls – running, throwing stones and of course, jumping. We made the decision to split those controls fully for the console versions but retain a Hardcore control option that just uses two buttons the same as the iOS version. I don’t know if anyone really wants to use those “authentic” controls, but I didn’t want to make any irreversible changes to the original game.
How was the transition from one to two screens - from iOS to the 3DS, and now being able to transfer between home and portable with the Switch?
In some ways it was really difficult, mainly because we decided to just use the top screen – it is that decision which was difficult. We had some ideas for things we could put on the touch screen such as a permanent display of your current statistics and a little mini-map of the level with markers for all the places where you lost a life, but in the end we figured that it was additional work that would only delay the release without adding any value for the player. If you take your eyes off the top screen whilst playing, you tend to lose a life!
So, with that in mind, how did you decide on unique features for each system?
Since the game was already designed we were never going to be making any changes that would affect the content of the game, so unique features were never factored into the game. I was always going to be making use of the 3D effect of the 3DS, though. I personally don’t like getting multi-platform games on the 3DS that don’t utilise the 3D effect when they could do. For the Switch, the only thing I can confirm right now is that we are supporting all controller configurations – attached to the console, dual Joy-Con, single Joy-Con (left or right) and Pro Controller. We are experimenting with another feature based on the controller, but until we know if that is going to add value to the project are keeping it to ourselves!
We'd like to thanks Michael Waites and Mike Burns for their time.