Saturday, September 20, 2008

Podcast Interview: Lead Programmer of the Wii game, Mushroom Men

Kain, Lead Programmer of the game...Mushroom Men, talks about programming a game for the Wii...

You can download the podcast here...

or listen to it here...

Show Notes:
You are listening to the Indie Game Development Podcast Show, visit for more podcasts. This interview is inspired by a quake meet up at the Austin Game Developers conference.

I’m here at the Austin GDC and with me is a special guest, how about you introduce yourself?

Hello, my name is Kayne Shin, I’m the lead programmer for Mushroom Men on the Nintendo Wii

And what inspired you to develop something for the DS Wii?

Um, honestly we saw a huge gaping void in the market on the Wii in terms of platformers that actually combine combat like a true combat platformer hybrid, so we wanted to see if we could set out to do something interesting and make use of the really talented artists at Red Fly Art. Red Fly is an art dominant studio, it was started by two very established artists and they wanted to kind of use that strength to develop on the Wii and kinda make use of that so Mushroom Men at its very heart and soul is a game about enjoying the art um, but nothing else to the back seat like there was design involved and a lot of the coding practices too but most people don’t see that they see the art. The first thing that they’ll see about the game is you know screen shots and stuff and I think we’ve done a decent job with that. We also put a lot of work in to the design of the game and the various aspects.

And, um, were there any different challenges for developing for the Wii compared to another platform?

Yes, um, the controller on the Wii is very unique. It has less buttons than the X Box 360 or the Play Station 3 and it has a whole gesture system. Originally the design for the combat system in Mushroom Men involved doing one to one accurate gestures so if you did an overhead smash or a character would over head smash if you did a thrust, a character would thrust or sideway smash, a character would do that. It didn’t quite work out the way that we wanted it to because of technological limitations in how sensitive Wiimote can sense the like the, uh forces of acceleration in the x y z direction of the Wiimote. So, because of that we ended up having to simplify the control scheme and we still have the concept of overhead sideways and thrust but we kind of moved that out into the choice of weapon that you select so there’s still some sort of, some sense of agency in how you attack but its preselected by the weapon that you choose to attack with as opposed to how you attack with your arm.

Now, was there ever a consideration for developing for the PC or the web instead of the Wii or was console definitely what you guys were going to do?

I would say that we were pretty set on doing the console, the design of Mushroom Men had the motion controller in mind from the very start and the way that we’ve implemented a lot of the features and a lot of the things that a player does in the game can only be done with the Wii and its unique type of controller. You know if something else came up with a similar controller I’m sure that would map too but dual analog stick or mouse and keyboard would not quite accomplish the same sort of feel that you would get with the Wii controller.

And, what were the top three design challenges that you faced as you were designing this game um, some of the other game play mechanics issues that you ran into or something else.

Um, I would say that the number one design challenge for me personally was making combat interesting. Ah the problem with a lot of platform combat is, its kind of anemic in nature you just walk through the characters that you’re trying to hit and you do your thing until that character dies over and over and over again and that gets kind of boring, so for us the number one challenge is combat and we try to make it really spread out in terms of the kinds of things that you do. The motions involved in combat include swinging your Wiimote, which is the standard thing but also pointing, but also pointing and dragging and picking something up and then throwing it so you’re looking at the environment, you’re constantly on the watch for things that you can use to make fights go faster. If you don’t use any of those features then you’ll probably die a lot and combat would last a long time so you’re encouraged to use those features. Um, so that was one thing, I guess the other challenge was just basically getting the player direction together in time to get everything working. And clear direction was, it’s a big part of the game, and a lot of the levels tend to have so much complexity involved in how you move and what you can do to them and how you’re supposed to move forward and how to do things. So that was really hard, it required a lot of stepping back and going ‘Okay, what would I do if I had never seen this before’ and so clear direction was definitely a strong component of our design. And I guess the third thing was the Boss fights. Surprisingly enough the Boss fights were different from the rest. We didn’t just want the boss to be a regular guy with ten times more hit points we wanted them to feel special and unique without taking you too far out of the game so they had to compliment their combat abilities that you already had and that you learned and kind of use them in new unique ways that you don’t get to use in the rest of the game. So, like each boss is different and coming up with a way to fight each boss with the way that the camera supported the fight and all of that was um, it was a pretty tough challenge for us. But I think we pulled it off.

And, what would you say the top three challenges in designing for the Wii itself?

Understand the hardware, the controller might not be what you think it is and even if it is what you think it is, human beings are inaccurate creatures by nature so you kind of have to support that. They’re not perfect at aiming, they’re not perfect at doing the same hand gesture every single time, so design it around the human interface with the hardware. I guess the other challenge with the Wii is, if you’re used to the technology limits that are set by the 360 or Play Station 3, you’re going to be in for a disappointment. The Wii doesn’t have shadow programming so you have to do water differently, you don’t have pixel over text shaders, you have a fixed function pipeline. So that’s something that, you know you basically fallback to is, you fall back to X Box 1 style or Play Station 2 style of development where it was made during the fixed function pipeline days. So things like bloom and stuff you can get on the Wii but you have to do them very differently and its very special how that’s done.

Is there any motivation to develop for the Wii compared to say PS 3 or X Box 360?

Um, yeah the Wii, definitely has the type of controller upon which you can make games that are unique to the Wii and if you do it right, then you’ll definitely fill in a void that needs to be filled on the Wii I think. Um, also it has, I don’t know how to say this, but there’s a lot of room for improvement on the Wii. I’ll just say that flat out, there’s a lot of room for improvement on the games that are out on the Wii, a niche to be carved, and I think that there’s a lot of folks that are trying to move in on that and carve that niche within the space of the Wii. As far as developing goes, its cheaper, that’s one thing and that’s the reason a lot of people go into it unfortunately they go into that with getting your moneys worth from that cost which is too bad.

And in terms of development process, did you do anything different when you had to develop for the Wii, or did you just follow the traditional, the model of first prototyping and then iterating or was there anything different that you had to do?

There was a lot of iteration involved, we pro typing iteration especially with the control scheme. It was um, really really important that the controls felt right. There’s not any established standard on the Wii just yet with the way that you move around in 3 D platformers and especially with the camera control in a 3 D world with the Wiimote having as few buttons as it does. You kind of have to work some things out like for example, we initially experimented with not having a whack old combat interface and just having a button combat interface but then you couldn’t do other things because that button was taking up space and so we decided to you know, allow you to like block and roll on separate buttons instead of the same button and that way we would do the waggle and most people don’t mind the waggle, well because it’s a very strategic style play, its not like mash until they die kind of game play.

So, when you do your next game for the Wii what are the three things you’re going to change to make the process go smoother, or better or differently?

Well, everyone always says communication as clique as it is, that is one thing I would say that that is definitely one thing that we can improve on, we can always improve on. Its never going to be good enough, its always going to be a work in progress, communicating between the artists, the programmers, the designers, getting them all in on the same page and getting them to buy in to the same vision, that’s really important. And, I guess other things that we would do differently is a lot more iteration. We were sort of short staffed on the development of Mushroom Men and so we didn’t really have time to take a look back and focus on what we had because we were constantly implementing features and stuff and if we could do it again, we would probably have more of the ‘step back, take a look, evaluate’ and just stronger iteration cycles than we had before. We were doing iteration but I think we could do more of that.

And where can people find this if they want to play it?

In your house, no, um, this is going to be on store shelves in November of this year hopefully so you’ll be able to find it at your local store.

And was that just getting it into retail shops, was that just a whole project in it by itself or was it, is it easy still to do that?

Um, it was intended for the retail shops from the start so before the project started that was the goal so early in development I believed that our publisher and the studio CEO kind of took care of that for us so we didn’t have to worry about it, we just knew that it was gonna happen, that it was gonna end up on retail shops.

And, is there a website people can visit to check it out?, there’s also if you want to check out the studio.

Thank you very much

Thank you

Take care,

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