Yullaby talks Magnetis!

We were recently lucky enough to catch up with Etienne and Romain of Yullaby to talk a little bit about their upcoming WiiWare puzzler Magnetis. Etienne Périn is the main 2D/3D artist and lead game designer of Magnetis and Romain Gauthier is the music composer and sound designer of the game. You can find out what they had to say to Nintendo Life in the full interview below.

Nintendo Life: Can you give us a little background on your development company?

Romain Gauthier: Yullaby was started in December 2006 by 5 co-founders. We all met working at the same video game company, where David, Etienne and myself had been plotting to start up our own studio for a while. We went fishing for Victor and Kévin, who we had worked with very successfully on past projects. They were thrilled at the idea and joined the adventure. We've been doing commission games for various publishers since Yullaby's birth, and Magnetis is our first original creation.

NL: How long has Magnetis been in development?

Dropping down

RG: Magnetis is a special case. It's a project we did somewhat on our free time, nights and week-ends, and in between commissions. We wanted to develop for the Wii, and a small game project was ideal for a first contact with the machine. That's why a puzzle game sounded right for that situation, and we knew Etienne had had Magnetis in mind for quite some time. It has been in development since the end of 2008, but that was on and off. We estimate the total development time put together took a little less than 4 months. We were three working on it.

Etienne Périn: Since it's the first game we're publishing ourselves, we spent quite some time learning about all the administrative tasks needed to get a game out. When you've never done that kind of thing, you just can't imagine how time consuming it is. That came as half a bad surprise for us, but now everything is ok and we can publish games easily! At least for WiiWare.

NL: How did you originally come up with the idea behind Magnetis?

EP: The concept emanated from frustration! At my previous jobs, I was always asked to plagiarize successful existing games. Like « do a God of War clone», or « Do a Zuma clone ». So much for creativity. One day about five years ago, having had it with my superiors' lazyness, I asked myself: « Come up with a new core mechanic for a puzzler, can you do that? ». In 2 days I had the basic rules with the magnets and since then the concept hasn't evolved much.

Level up!

There was also a challenge element for me there. It might not seem like it when you play these games, but making a puzzler whose core mechanic is both simple and addictive and that balances itself right, is quite difficult. With this genre, if the core mechanics are awkward, players will let go of the controller instantly. You can't hide behind cinematic cut-scenes to keep them hooked. We'll let the players judge how we did with Magnetis, but I can say my roomate is crazy about it!

NL: Can you tell our readers a little bit about the actual gameplay in Magnetis?

EP: The gameplay is most classical. Left and right and down to move around pairs of puzzle pieces. You can only switch pieces horizontally, which may be disturbing at first but is a deliberate design choice. It's a limitation that made the whole mechanic more coherent and spawned more interesting situations. It makes you think harder if you want to make combos.

RG: I encourage people to try the game with friends. The solo mode is the one most suited to learning and practising combos, but playing a multiplayer battle is a different experience. There's a competitive tension that I find pretty addictive.

How to play

EP: Another thing is that I didn't want to implement long and boring tutorials in the game. I want the players to learn from their own mistakes and experiment. Nowadays, I feel that games have a tendency to babysit players too much. I trust the players' brains to figure out the obvious.

NL: What do you think will make Magnetis stand out from the many other WiiWare puzzlers released so far?

RG: It's not my place to judge what has been released on WiiWare so far, but I think Magnetis will stand out by its overall level of polish and finition. It's not a big game, but what's been done has been done with care and love for the players. It will not feel like a rushed production.

EP: I love Tetris and I know that creating a game with that kind of vibe is what fueled me when doing Magnetis. Very few recent puzzle games hooked me as much as Tetris, Lumines or PuyoPuyo. These games made me want to play a thousand times in a row just to make a better score. Magnetis was conceived in that direction. It's a very simple game which you can come back to often, on your own or with friends. I think I'm not wrong if I say that the learning curve for managing to create big combos is rather long. I still discover new ways to play myself.

Big bonus!

NL: If you had to describe the game in one word, what would it be?

RG: Slick!

EP: Obsessing! (I'm quoting my roomate here, she insisted.)

NL: What controllers are supported in the game?

RG: Only the Wii Remote. But you can choose to hold it either vertically or horizontally like a classic controller.

EP: The Wii is special because it's compatible with many different controllers. When you decide to implement several of them, it has a major impact on the game's production. It adds a lots of QA time to test all possible configurations and potential bugs with controller detection etc. The Wii offers great freedom with its many controllers, but it has a price in terms of development which is hard to afford for smaller developers like us. Gamers often don't suspect this, understandably so. Spending too much time on that kind of features on a small development like Magnetis would have had an impact on the heart of the game.


NL: Will there be online play?

EP: Unfortunately no. But maybe in a sequel?

NL: Any plans for any downloadable content for the game at some point?

RG: No. But don't worry, Magnetis isn't the kind of game for which downloadable content will be missed that much. We're also confident it already has good replay value.

NL: The music we've heard in the trailer is amazing. Can we expect more of the same style of music throughout the rest of the game?

RG: Wow thank you! There are a couple of other tunes like this in Magnetis, although the one in the trailer is the most upbeat, because it's the one from the battle mode. The music for the solo mode is very long (over 11 minutes), and changes pace and style over time. Since the goal of the solo mode is to survive against increasing difficulty, I thought it would be nice to achieve a feeling of “wow I've never heard that part before, so I must be doing good!”.

4-player madness!

NL: Did you find it difficult to stay within the 40MB file size limitation of the WiiWare service?

EP: No that was fairly easy for us actually, We worked many years on handheld and mobile games so we're well rounded at optimizing data. We've even made games in 64KB back in the days...

RG: But depending on the game you make, it can be difficult. For example, with our next WiiWare game it's gonna be a whole other story to fit that 40MB limitation. But we're not scared by that too much.

NL: How far along in development are you on Magnetis and any idea when we might see the game released on the WiiWare service?

RG: Magnetis is 100% complete. It's now awaiting approval from Nintendo for both North American and European release. I hope you'll be able to play it on your Wii soon, but now this isn't up to us anymore.

Competitive spirit

NL: Has a price point been finalized yet?

RG: The choice has been made on our side, but we aren't allowed to speak about it until Nintendo has approved it. What we can say it that we really want to make it as accessible as possible.

NL: We've already seen some great WiiWare releases since the service began. Have there been any releases that have really impressed you?

RG: World of Goo is obviously superb. That might be the only one that “impressed” me, because of its level design and overall polish. Like many, I was already a fan of the early PC prototypes, but I didn't imagine they would push the concept so far and do something this good with it. I also liked Mega Man 9, Gradius ReBirth, Star Soldier R. I very much like the looks of Lost Winds too. I've been eager to try FFCC: My Life as a King, Bonsai Barber and the Strong Bad games, and of course the Art Style series, but haven't really had a chance to yet.

Keep it moving!

EP: At the moment I don't have much time to play. But I'm happy to see that developers like Skip
could find a channel to publish their games. I was a big fan of the « Bit Generation » series on the GBA. Now, I see that they can still make these games on the Wii via the « ArtStyle » series, and that reassures me a great deal about our industry. Also, I regret that so few Japanese WiiWare titles make it to our region... I wanna play MUSCLE MARCH!

NL: Do you have any other WiiWare projects on the horizon?

RG: Definitely! It will be something really different from Magnetis, but we'll keep our focus on multiplayer arcade action.

NL: Is there anything you would like to tell our readers in closing?

RG: I would like to thank them for supporting WiiWare, because independent developers really need that kind of business model to be able to do something on their own. And WiiWare is one of the most easily accessible platforms today. I hope people stay interested in WiiWare.

EP: Same here. I don't know how we could hope to publish games that are personal without these new downloading platforms, and to affordable price points.

Dropping out!

NL: We here at Nintendo Life would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.

RG: Thank YOU for giving us the opportunity to tell you more about Magnetis.

EP: Thanks!

The guys at Yullaby were also kind enough to send us a preview build of Magnetis and we'll have a preview of the game up as soon as I've had some time to play it.