Interview: Antti Ilvessuo (MotoHeroz)
The folks at RedLynx are no strangers to downloadable video games. They’ve brought the unique ideas to platforms like the Xbox 360 and the iPhone. Now they’re looking to bringing a unique game to the downloadable gaming service on the Wii. MotoHeroz is scheduled to hit the service sometime this summer. Antti Ilvessuo has taken some time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about the game as well as give us some very handy advice for the summer.
I am Antti Ilvessuo, Creative Director of RedLynx, a videogame company I founded with my brother Atte. We have been making games for ten years, having made over 100 games for many platforms, including mobile phones, consoles, PC, Mac, flash, Web, and more.
If you played Warhammer 40,000K: Squad Command on the Nintendo DS, that was us.
Can you tell us a little bit about Motoheroz?
Yes. We like to call it a platform racer, since it has all the elements of a charming platformer game – wacky levels, bad guys, funny characters, cool power-ups – combined with the fun, realistic physics of a racing game.
That means when you are driving, learning how to control your vehicle precisely becomes important. The controls are easy and there’s no problem getting started, but truly mastering the controls and learning the levels to get the best times on the Leader Boards is a skill that you can only build up over time.
From early videos of the game it seems almost like a combination of Trials HD, a traditional racing game and Super Smash Bros. with the simultaneous play. Can you talk about some of the games that were inspirations for the development of this game?
That is a very good comparison! It gets back to the idea of combining the platformer type game mechanics and levels with the fun driving nature of a physics-based racer. So it might look a little random in the video trailers, with all the buggies bouncing around and having a good time, but there’s definitely skill involved too, in making the best move in a constantly changing situation.
It’s hard to pinpoint any specific games that inspired Motoheroz, since each developer working on the title brings the hundreds or thousands of games he or she has played before, as an influence on how they do things. Trials HD definitely taught us a lot about Leader Boards and track building, and of course great Nintendo first-party games like Super Smash Bros., Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario Galaxy, and Mario Kart 64 are very important to learn from, especially when working on the Wii.
It is hard to say exactly how long the single player part will last, since each player will approach it a different way. Some may be fast learners, who quickly become skilled at driving their buggy and will have great fun tackling the more challenging levels, and then going back and trying to get the best time and Medal on each single player track. Others may take their time and be more careful about collecting every coin and every hidden Ancestor Spirit before moving on to the next step on their adventure. So we have made it suitable for different types of players of all ages.
Overall, there is something like 100 single player Story Adventure levels, 20 different Party Rally tracks, and 50 Online Run courses at launch.
Can you talk about the control methods for the game? Will there be multiple control schemes available?
The controls are very easy: one button to accelerate, another to slow down and brake. You also control your buggy by ‘leaning’ with the directional pad, and there’s a fifth button to activate your Power-Ups. Simple!
The game uses the WiiMote, since we do use the motion control in one instance. Whenever your buggy ends up flipped over, you just flick your controller and you right yourself. It’s a very natural, intuitive movement.
How many different vehicles will there be in the game and how will they differ from the other vehicles in the game?
We have fourteen vehicles, which are all different and fun. Some are larger, some are smaller, and they all have cool, wacky designs. For example, there’s an egg car, a robot, and the U.D.O., which stands for “Unidentified Driving Object.”
Because we are using a real physics engine to control the driving, all the vehicles handle differently too. Larger cars have less acceleration but more mass, so they are harder to push out of the way, while smaller ones may have better acceleration but less grip.
Since the cars are used in multiplayer, we have worked hard to balance them just right. With the variety of maps, no one vehicle is going to dominate on every single track. Any car can win on any given track, if the player is good enough.
Are they all available at the start of the game, or do some of them have to be unlocked? If so, can you give an example of how they have to be unlocked?
At the beginning of the Story Adventure, you just have your basic buggy, the Hero Mark I, which is driven by the main character Gene McQuick. As he drives through his adventures, he collects Coins on each level.
These Coins can be spent in the Garage to unlock the other vehicle models. So it is good to play through the single player mode to unlock all the vehicles, plus it’s great practice that helps you learn how to become a true buggy driving champion!
One of the biggest features of the game is the constantly changing online race structure. Can you explain how this works and what people are going to see when they go online with the game?
We have three game modes. There is Story Adventure, which is the single player. Then there’s Party Rally, which is 2-4 players enjoying local multiplayer. Then there’s Online Runs, which is our third mode.
With Online Runs, you are competing against players from around the world to score the best time on a particular track you can. Each day, we unlock new tracks and lock the old ones, so each online track will only be open for a limited time – 12 to 26 hours, or so.
During the time it’s open you have opportunities to practice or record the best time you can, beating that track. There is a Leader Board for each track, so you can always check your place in the standings.
There’s also an overall Global Leader Board that tallies up your total progress for all of the Online Runs you have participated in. The higher you score on one individual Leader Board, the more points you earn towards your Global Leader Board score.
Finally, if you really just want to compete against your friends in the Online Runs mode, you can create a Friends League and just tell your friends what the password is, and they can join. No Friend Codes needed. The Friends League simply acts as a filter on the Global Leader Board – on your Friends Leader Board, you will see just the scores of everyone in your League, and you can compete that way.
So create a League for everyone in your office, your school, or your favorite forum.
We are going to launch with 50 of these Online Run tracks, so for a couple months at least there will be lots of a variety. After that, we will add new tracks to the mix which will be transmitted easily over the server – the actual track sizes are only 20 kilobytes, so it’s really no more difficult than looking at a Leader Board.
We also have different game types within the Online Runs, so for example in one challenge, you can play the track as many times as you like to get the best score you can. Other tracks will be marked “One-Shots”, which means you only have one chance to score as well as you can on the Leader Board. You can practice beforehand, but only one score really counts.
So make sure you get plenty of sleep, lock your door, and get warmed up properly before you attempt a One-Shot!
Was this partially done as a way to get around the size limit of WiiWare titles and to help build the online structure of the game?
When you understand the overall game size you have to work with to begin with, you can plan your design accordingly. We have created game that looks bright, colorful with lots of 3D modeled objects and several layers of depth, because we came up with some innovative ways to handle our objects and textures to keep the size appropriate.
What is it about the Wii’s online presence that you really want to change?
It would be really fun to have the Party Rally mode as something you could play in online multiplayer, but that’s not possible given the latency issues that come up, due to the number of real-time physics collisions going on.
We have up to four cars, power-ups, and numerous 3D modeled objects like logs, bridges and windmills, on the driving line, bouncing around off each other in real-time. That isn’t going to work over a network, but that would be true of any platform, not just Wii.
The world needs a new Albert Einstein to invent light speed Internet connections, then we can have instant, lag-free, multiplayer, physics-based racing!
Many developers have said that their WiiWare games haven’t performed as well as they’d like and that some of the other downloadable services perform significantly better. What was it that attracted you to the WiiWare service over Xbox Live Arcade, which you’re seemingly more familiar with?
This is our first WiiWare game, so we are excited at the opportunity to come in and show gamers what can be done on the service.
Each platform is unique, and to us, games on Wii should have a certain feel, a style of play, almost a kind of magic – a very pure videogame experience. After playing Motoheroz, one journalist wrote that this felt like a first party Nintendo game to him. That is a fantastic compliment, and just what we were going for.
One interesting note is that even with the ton of content we are packing into Motoheroz, we are nowhere near the file size limit. Since we designed for WiiWare from the very beginning, we knew the specs and size requirements ahead of time, and it was just a matter of planning accordingly and innovating to make our graphics scale correctly.
I think the result is highly pleasing, and not even the screen shots and trailers fully capture the look and feel, compared to the actual game on your TV screen. That is where it should be tried and played. So happily there will be a demo version too.
Right now we are focusing on polishing the game and moving through the Q+A process, and making sure as many people are excited about Motoheroz as possible. How well the game is liked and supported by fans will affect our DLC plans. But yes we’d love to do DLC that added new Party Rally tracks, and a new single player adventure.
When is the gaming coming out and how much can people expect to pay?
It is planned for early summer, perhaps late June. I don’t know the number of Wii Points yet, but it should be a good number, no more than other top-notch WiiWare games, despite the large amount of content and the online features.
Many of the games in your library are downloadable. What are the advantages you see in that arena over a traditional retail release? And where do you see the future of downloadable gaming going?
For a smaller, independent publisher and developer, the digital download space is quite attractive. We can get our games to our fans more quickly, we can get feedback rapidly, and we can deliver new content in a hurry, without distributors and retailers getting involved.
We definitely have a lot of experience with the market. In addition we have been doing a lot of research in this area. So the changes in this market are very, very important to us and we have been studying them carefully.
In relation to how we see the market developing overall, we definitely see the larger publishers coming into this space in a big way. The quality and quantity of downloadable games and digital content across the board is rising quickly. Succeeding in that market will be a challenge for smaller players unless they have taken this into account. However, it’s something we have planned for and are ready for.
What else is going on at RedLynx? What can we expect to see from you in the coming months?
We have revealed a new iPhone/iPad game called 1000 Heroz. What is exciting about this game is that it is set in the same world as Motoheroz, although it is a different game with a different style of pay.
They are connected, because the Ancestor Spirits that you gather in MotoHeroz are the same heroes you will play in the 1000 Heroz game. Every day you play 1000 Heroz, you guide a different Ancestor through his or her adventure. You can see a trailer for this game at 1000Heroz.com.
Beyond that, we have several other exciting projects for different platforms that will be announced later this year!
Thanks so much for joining us to talk about Motoheroz. We’re looking forward to the game’s release. Is there anything else you’d like to tell the readers before we leave?
Yes. If I can offer only one word of advice to your readers, it would be sunscreen. Advice comes in all shapes and sizes in this world, some of it good, some of it bad. But trust me on the sunscreen.