Phil and Chopemon, the two guys behind this slice of Japanese-styled action, were kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about their development process and give a little insight into what it took to bring this fast-paced sushi-em-up to life.
Chopemon: I wanted to make a hardcore niche title which people had to learn and get better at. I didnít want to throw out easy rewards or hand anything to people on a plate. I wanted to create something unique and ferocious that appealed to a small number of passionate players. Our goal wasnít to make money but to make something people valued and found worthwhile. We used to be in a punk band and we brought that ethic to the game; we make what we want and if people like, fantastic. If they donít, **** them.
Phil: To make a game that we wanted to play.... It was as simple as that. I like games that are a bit quirky and that don't have their hard edges shaved off for the sake of ratings and reviews.
Chopemon: Our dev process was messy and scattered. We built the game in our spare time and so just gave it time when we could. Certain things took longer than they should and priorities got mixed up. For the longest time I focused on the art (the backgrounds are the fifth different style we tried) rather than tuning the game as Iíd never done art before. The game wasnít any fun for months until I cracked the art problem then it came together and tuning went on right until we shipped.
BD: What was the most challenging moment during the title's development?
Chopemon: Beta feedback was hard to deal with. I didnít realise how divisive our control scheme was until we sent it out and people played it. It was a mixture of catering for people and wanting to scream ďYOU PEOPLE JUST DONíT GET ITĒ. We had to ask serious questions about the game. Luckily Phil tempers my obsessive passion and forced me to face up to things about the game I didnít want to change or discuss and we added some stuff that made a world of difference.
Phil: Probably ending it. I personally found it very, very hard to say "Right, this is it; this is what we're releasing". It always felt like there was one more refinement to do, one more tweaking of the settings or just one more testing run though.
I'm sure part of this was because releasing something that is so personal to you is scary and it's easier to hide away than to have your work judged but equally I really wanted to send Wonton out to the world...
BD: 2D shooters often require fairly tight control inputs, what was the process like of trying to marry this genre with a touch screen?
Chopemon: I think you have to make games based around the touch screen rather than shoehorn existing games on to it. Iím not a fan of some phone based 2d shooters because they were made to be played on a larger screen with a physical joystick. We locked the player to a single plane of movement to account for the touch screen and offered an extra control mode for people who didnít like having their fingers on the screen.
We also spent ages working on the speed and sensitivity. Phil is a dream coder for a designer, without asking he exposes all of the variables for me to play with so I could endlessly tweak player speed, enemy speed and spawn rate. Player movement is the most important thing to get right in this type of game; if it isnít responsive the game becomes frustrating. You tweak the player speed then tweak every other factor in the game to provide a challenge and repeat until you have it just right.
Chopemon: Thank you for calling it a great title. My game developer self esteem is low and that means a lot. Having people like the game was never my prime intention, I just wanted to make something to vent creative desires and frustrations. The moment it starting clicking that we were doing some things right is when people played it and when they died they blamed themselves and not the game. If you blame a game for your failure the game may well be unfair and unfair games are bad games. If you blame yourself it means you know your own skills are at fault and that you need and desire to get better. When we started getting feedback like that we began to be happy with it.
Phil: There were a couple of points during development where I knew everything was going to turn out well. The first was pretty near the start. I had made a very, very basic prototype of the game which I was pretty pleased with. I showed Oli the next day what I had achieved and his reaction was something along the lines of "OK, we need to change that". We then spent a weekend with Oli just saying phrases like "Speed it up". Within a few hours it had turned into something that was quite exciting to play despite its early days.
Another time that springs to mind is when Oli sent me a new sprite sheet. I just loaded it into the game without really looking at it and had a quick play though. When the first boss showed up I absolutely loved the look of it (it had been a plain gray box before). Around that time Oli also started making a whole load of phrases which come up during various parts of the game. These are pretty stupid phrases but it gave the game the personality which so few iOS games have now. Combined with the art, I was really happy with how things were turning out.
BD: By having complete creative control over the project, was that a blessing or an additional challenge?
Chopemon: We revelled in it. You have to be strong to take the criticism over your baby but you get to create a unique expression of yourselves and see people enjoy that. It means you have no one telling you what to do and that means that when you fail and have to redo things it is all on you but when you do something right and it feels perfect the elation is indescribable.
Phil: I think it was a huge blessing disguised as a challenge. Oli was pretty much in charge of creativity here and whilst I never doubted his direction, I appreciate that everyone suffers from self-doubt and that's not always easy to deal with, especially when youíre making something that is basically the video game version of you.
Probably the most important thing is in that second sentence: "I never doubted his direction....Ē That is absolutely true and now I think about it, it is incredibly rare to work with someone whom you totally trust to do the right thing.
Chopemon: iPhone development is a mixed blessing. You have a limited set of hardware which makes optimisation easier and Appleís publishing tools are super streamlined and easy to use. Getting something on to the store isnít an obstacle so you can focus on the actual game. That said; I hate the race to the bottom pricing structure. It really bums you out knowing people wonít pay more than 69p for your blood sweat and tears and will often pirate it instead.
Phil: Using Cocos-2d made developing for mobile a whole lot easier than I expected. It had its technical challenges and we had some performance barriers to overcome with such a fast moving game but I wouldn't say there were any major issues (just several very late nights).
Probably the biggest challenge is the control system. This is probably the most criticised part of the game too. We actually trialled (and fully implemented) several systems like tilt control, locked paths but none of them really felt right. I think we both liked the fact that in order to play Wonton 51 well, you need to concentrate on it and learn the control system. Yes it put lots of people off but I hope that those who liked the game felt that the controls were well balanced once you figured out how to control it in your own way.
One really nice thing about developing on mobile is that it's very, very quick to change, built, test and change again. It was also nice to know that like console development, you knew what devices your players would be using so there wasn't much in the way of hardware testing.
Chopemon: We used great middleware, I canít speak to the nitty gritty of Cocos 2d but the turnaround time from feature design to feature implementation was sometimes blindingly fast. We also used Zwoptex, a good sprite sheet program and Particles, a great particle emitter program. Particles was a huge help as it meant we could use dynamic particles rather than animating everything by hand.
Phil: The whole game is built on Cocos2d and I don't think it gave us any major problems at all. As it was the first time I've used the engine, there were obviously a few issues to overcome but it has a great community which was always there to offer tips and advice. We had a couple of mobile specific issues and if I were to make the game again, I might do a few things differently but Cocos2d is definitely high on the list of engines I want to work with. It's only major downside is that it's iOS (and Mac) specific and I probably wouldn't want to limit a game to one platform again (I hear Cocos2d-x is pretty solid now though!).
BD: You can find the second part of our interview, where we'll get the developers' takes on the state of the 2D shooter today and the challenges posed by the mobile app store right here.
And if you haven't already, why not hit up the iTunes shop and pick up a copy of Wonton 51 here.
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