[Continuing our series of interviews with the 2009 Independent Games Festival finalists, Gamasutra talks to Nicalis' Nicklas Nygren and producer Tyrone Rodriguez about Night Game -- a physics-based ambient action puzzler nominated for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and the Excellence in Design awards.]
Nicklas "Nifflas" Nygren gained a strong fan following with his indie games Within A Deep Forest and Knytt, and IGF title Night Game marks his first WiiWare effort.
He's known for an innovative, dreamlike style backed by soft skies, detailed sprites, and ambient music and sound he usually composes entirely himself -- Night Game gets musical aid from Chris Schlarb, of Twilight and Ghost Stories and experimental jazz duo I Heart Lung.
Night Game also differentiates itself strongly from Nygren's previous work with a strong silhouette style outlined against vivid sunsets and surreal backdrops. He's working on it alongside a Wii port of Pixel's Cave Story, and ahead of the 2009 Independent Games Festival, Gamasutra spoke to Nygren and producer Tyrone Rodriguez to get details on both projects.
What kind of background do you have making games?
Nicklas Nygren: I've spent a long time attempting to develop games, and when I learned how to complete them (which by the way takes many years) started to release games on a more or less regular basis.
Tyrone Rodriguez: Unlike Nicklas, I didn't really have a chance to make my own games. In the past, I've worked at publishers or developers that have created games for various platforms like the Genesis, SNES, PlayStation, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 and GameCube.
When did you start working on Night Game? Have you been developing it alongside with your Cave Story Wii port?
NN: I started out conceptualizing Night Game quickly after Knytt Stories was released. Development on Night Game actually started in late '07 and began before we started porting Cave Story.
TR: We have since been developing them side-by-side. However, as Night Game is 100-percent original, it has taken longer than Cave Story.
What challenges have you found developing the two titles at the same time?
TR: On my end, it's primarily about how we handle bandwidth. Where the development of one game advances the other one might face some technical issues or bugs. But in a way, this has been almost helpful because we're able to move between the two.
NN: For Night Game, I made all the game design related choices, and designed the graphics, most levels, and sound. For Cave Story, I've helped out with music related things and a tiny bit of art.
I've been working with Yann van Der Cruyssen on the audio. I loved his revised Cave Story soundtrack, but knew it wasn't going to work with a cheap sounding standard general midi soundbank, so I pushed for creating our own soundbank, and helped Yann out a lot in this process.
He carried the heavy load, of course -- he both created the revised soundtrack and assigned new sounds to the songs, but I've created a large amount of those sounds as well.
What tools or lessons were you able to share between the two titles?
NN: For me, maybe just Photoshop. On Cave Story, I used AWave Studio, and a whole bunch of VST plugins for sound generation. We used a lot of sounds from GXSCC which is a really neat GM compatible chip synthesizer and I did all the work on my faithful laptop, the Sprünkelbox, a HP6820s with an extremely slimmed (nlite'd) version of Windows XP and all the bloated HP drivers on top on that to ensure the computer doesn't run too fast.
TR: Aside from some Adobe tools and the Nintendo SDK these have been very different projects. But even though they're each unique, they have both benefited from being on the same console, so we've been able to use a lot of tech on the SDK side to tie either game into Wii functionality such as the Wii Remote or even something as simple as the Home Menu.
Will Night Game see a release before Cave Story? Nintendo noticeably left Cave Story out of its recent list of upcoming spring releases.
TR: No, Night Game is due to be complete after Cave Story. Cave Story is pretty close to complete and we're shooting to wrap up it up really soon, in April. Night Game to follow later in the summer.
How was Night Game conceived -- what led you to create a physics-focused action/puzzler, and why did you decide on this silhouetted presentation?
NN: I've always liked games like Marble Madness, Ballance, Super Monkey Ball, Marble Blast Gold, Switchball, Hamster Ball, and well, you get the idea. I've since long had a vision to create such a game, but I got started when I realized I could go for a 2D take on the concept.
I didn't think that much at all when I decided to go for the silhouetted look, I just thought it looked good, created a few rooms with that look, and couldn't see a reason to change it.
Are there any specific games or other media that helped inspire Night Game or its mechanics?
NN: As I mentioned, there's that long list of games that I've been inspired by. Graphically, I don't know a specific source of inspiration, but there are plenty of "black silhouette on gradient background" games, so I must obviously have been inspired by a few of those.
Night Game is the final title? How did you decide on that?
NN: Night Game isn't the final title. I'm just not very good with titles, and it is important that a game really have a title that fits! It has to take its while, in other words. I'm still open to suggestions, but the G in the word "Night" blends so nicely into "Game" if it's written on two rows with a decreased line height with the font the game title is supposed to be written in :)
TR: As Nicklas said, Night Game is the sort of codename for the title and not its final name. We've been kicking names back and forth between us now for over a year.
When and why did you decide to make Night Game exclusive to WiiWare?
NN: I've always wanted there to be a PC build of NG, since many of my fans have been waiting for this game. I however respect Tyrone's decision here.
TR: Unknown to probably most people who have seem screens or the initial trailer for NG is that we've actually approached Nintendo very early on. They've been great to work with and have been very helpful during the development of Night Game and Cave Story.
Many have complained about the lack of original, quality releases from third-party studios. What's your opinion on the current WiiWare market?
TR: I think WiiWare is doing well for being such a young service. Big publishers are taking notice and creating games. Look at the money Hudson is putting into it with games. That alone speaks well for WiiWare.
But I'm not sure I agree with complaints regarding the lack of originality in games. Original games don't always sell enough to be considered worthwhile investments for publishers or developers so it's a tough situation.
Nintendo's Tom Prata recently stressed the need for the company to better support and provide resources to WiiWare developers. Have you benefited from this renewed focus?
TR: I'd say so. From what I can see, both Tom Prata and Dan Adelman have put a lot of effort into advancing WiiWare as a well-supported service for developers.
Nintendo maintains a website and support group specifically for developers. The site regularly updated and the company provides all the tools needed to get up and running from that location. Other things developer's summits seem to be more than just one-off, now becoming annual events--there's one this month in LA and another in Europe, too.
Nintendo's support group is also pretty quick at helping developers with technical issues on a regular basis.
What sort of adjustments have you had to make in your release strategy for WiiWare, as opposed to your typical plans when releasing to PC?
NN: I don't think I've really changed that much. I started out with Night Game as my own little personal project, and kept developing it the way I would have liked it to be for PC--although we decided that the game should have more levels than in the initial plan.
I also had to change the key layout a little bit to work with the Wii remote, but it resulted in an improvement that would have been an advantage even on a PC version.
How has the move to WiiWare affected your budget, compared to releasing indie PC games?
TR: The budget has definitely increased when compared to the original concept. Things like dev kits, copyrights and dealing with the ESRB wouldn't be required if this were a straight PC release. The scope has increased incredibly, where initially the game might have only been three or four levels it's about four times that now.
Why did you pick WiiWare over other platforms, such as PSN and XBLA, for this particular project? Have you explored releasing any other future titles through those services?
NN: When I was contacted by Kevin at GoNintendo who got me in touch with Tyrone, he was discussing developing for the Wii so it was sort of natural to stick to that console. I have nothing against PSN or XBLA, and would love to release games through those services, too.
TR: The game was designed with NTSC-like resolution and we have a strong concept making it ideal for WiiWare. We have a few other concepts that would actually be perfect for PSN or XBLA. We'd really like to explore those services as well.
What sort of development tools did you use for Night Game?
NN: I used Multimedia Fusion 2 to create the initial draft engine of the game, and the tool which we use to develop it's levels. The final engine itself is created in C using the Wii's hardware and software development kit.
If you could start the project over again, what would you do differently?
NN: I would have written the level format very differently, now I know how to do it right, but I didn't when I started with NG. The final product would still end up being the same thing, I am really happy about how it turned out despite that I had to fix some more mistakes than I'd have to now.
TR: I agree with Nicklas, I think the external level format presents a challenge, but the game is thus far what we wanted it to be.
What do you think of the state of independent game development, and are there any other independent games out that you currently admire?
NN: It's awesome right now! There are lots of tools to develop in and all the consoles have network for games by smaller authors and studios. The hardware is becoming so powerful that the large companies are moving to huge sophisticated projects involving tons of programmers, animators, voice actors, modelers, and so on.
While more people get interested in gaming, a lot of people want those simpler 2D games too, like they used to be before. This has left a large hole that indie developers and small companies can fill!
TR: Yes, it is pretty awesome right now. There are so many opportunities and tools for would-be and veteran indie developers to utilize. Ten years ago tools were nowhere near where they are today, making it much easier to build a game, even if you're not a programmer.
What I admire right now? I just played a game called The Linear RPG -- it was cool, reminded me of a totally unrelated game called Vib-Ribbon. Legend of Princess and Snapshot are both pretty neat, too.
Many have wondered if Nicalis' attention to WiiWare could signal an eventual port of the Knytt series to the platform. Your thoughts?
NN: I like the idea of porting my previous games to consoles! At the moment we're focusing on the current projects, though.
TR: Well said.
Do you plan to work with [Cave Story creator] Daisuke Amaya on any other future projects?
TR: We'd love to. His understanding of design and art is so well-matched. Plus he's a great guy, I think he deserves to have more people play his games. He's working on a new project right now, but I have a feeling it'll be a couple of years before anyone sees that one--it looks pretty cool so far though.