For those who haven't been keeping up on their downloadable game news, Pop is an Australian-developed puzzle game that launched alongside Nintendo's WiiWare service in North America on May 13. It's about as simple as concepts get: players pop bubbles. The more same-coloured bubbles you pop in a row, the more points you get. GameSpot AU caught up with Nic Watt, the game's creative developer, to find out exactly what it was like making a WiiWare title, where the concept of popping puzzles came from, and why his company's name has so many o's.
GS AU: Where did the concept for Pop come from?
NW: It's something I've been thinking about a lot, particularly since [Nintendo introduced] the Wii and DS and the new ways of playing. I was just thinking a lot about how to make games that still appeal to people like myself, who I would say are core gamers and kind of have that real enjoyment of games, but also appeal to people like my partner, your mum, dad, or whatever, who maybe don't play games. It's not necessarily because they don't want to play games, they just find it quite daunting or the control methods are really confusing. So when I looked at games that I really respect, and what I would say are borderline casual and core markets, like Lumines and Geometry Wars, I thought about how I can take some of the stuff they've done and implement it in a WiiWare game and make it accessible to everyone really.
GS AU: How long has Pop been in development?
NW: Pop has been in development for approximately a year.
GS AU:How helpful was Nintendo throughout the development of Pop?
NW: The people at Nintendo have been very helpful, they're obviously not just focused on our game, but all the other games they produce. We've got a point of contact and they provide us with as much help and support that they can on any issues. Particularly if we're trying to work out how to do something with the Wiimote, we can ask people at Nintendo, "we're trying to do this, what would you recommend?" So you get good support from them.
GS AU: What's the certification process like? Can you walk us through it?
NW: In terms of how we submit games to become approved by Nintendo? Well, in the beginning stages, you submit a game design to Nintendo and then you get feedback based on that. If you're an approved developer like we are now, then it's kind of an informal process. Unless they really think your game idea is really unsuitable, it's normally fairly plain sailing. Then, you go away and you make your game and when it comes to your final submission, you send it in like they do with disc-based games. They've got a series of tests that they run the game through to make sure it conforms to their standards and that we're not deleting people's saved games on the console, or something like that. If we pass all of those and we're printing the right messages up when you're accessing WFC, then it's all good to go. Pretty much the same as a disc-based game.
GS AU: Can you go into a bit of detail of how the classification of WiiWare games work?
NW: That was a real eye opener to us. Basically, on WiiWare and I assume it's the same on the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network; though I wouldn't like to say for sure, we kind of act like our own publishers. So, not only are we developing the game, but we're responsible for marketing it and were responsible for getting all the legal approval from wherever we need to get that. It's the same with the ratings board. We had to submit to the ESRB in America, the OFLC in Australia, plus PEGI in Europe, and then separately to Germany who has its own ratings board. So, it's quite a few hoops to go through, that you don't realise.
GS AU: Have you submitted it to the OFLC yet?
NW: Yes, we've been approved and all is good.
GS AU: The premise behind Pop is really simple, how do you keep players coming back for more without getting bored?
NW: The idea obviously, is that there are several ideas that we've tried to put in there. You've got the high scores, where the aim of the game is to try and get a high score, we've also got sequential waves, which get progressively harder much like say Lumines does as you move on to different levels, or Geometry Wars as you start getting more bad guys. So, we've kind of got those as the two main aspects and then supporting all of that, is our badging system. We've got 64 badges in the game that vary from very simple ones like creating a chain of two bubbles, right up to really hard ones like creating large chains or playing for a long period of time, or various other things. So, hopefully all of those will keep people coming back. On top of that, you've got Nintendo Wi-Fi connectivity where you've got your online leaderboards and that allows people to see "oh that person has managed to get a higher score than me, maybe I can try to achieve that." You've also got Wii Connect 24 messages as well, so your friends or neighbours can send you messages that say how they've been doing, so you might respond to that thinking "I can do better than that." Hopefully, we've got quite a few things in there.
GS AU: Obviously Pop is aimed at a more casual audience, what do you think makes a good casual game?
NW: Well, I think accessibility for me is really important. It has to be something people feel comfortable playing, they also have to feel that they can get into it quite easily. I think the Nintendo Wii in general has done that really successfully. If you look at games like Wii Fit, Wii Sports and particularly Wii tennis, they're games that people can pick up and get into really easily. We've really looked towards what Nintendo has been doing with its products to draw and learn from that. We've also looked towards other casual games like Lumines and Geometry Wars and try to think "what is it about Geometry Wars that makes it a really good game," but is it the game that casual players would play? Is there something you would change to make it so more people would get into it and enjoy it. That's the approach we're trying to take.
GS AU: It seems that a lot of smaller studios lean toward making casual games, as opposed to making a traditional game. What advantages do you think this offers?
NW: For us, what something like WiiWare offers us is we invested all of our own money into this product. By releasing Pop on a distribution service, all of the money that comes back is split between us and Nintendo. That means that we can take those funds and directly invest it into making new games. If we were to make a disc-based game model, there's an awful lot more people that are sharing in that pie. What that means then, especially for a developer like us, is it would cost 5 million dollars to make a really good disc-based game. Look at Halo 3, or GTAIV, that cost I think 100 million to make, most people don't have that sort of money.
NW: To get that sort of money, you need someone that's going to back you. Then, because they're backing you, they're going to want a lot more of the money back. For you to move onto your next project, you're then relying on that person to fund you again. We would really like to be able to make the games that we want to make and hopefully something like WiiWare allows us to increase that funding.
GS AU: On your Web site, you've listed some of the games that you guys have in the works. Can you go into a bit more detail about them?
NW: It's kind of hard at the moment because we've not moved on to any of them yet, they're ideas we've got listed. I've got a rough plan of the games I would like to move onto next and they are listed on the site. I think there's one up there, that's pretty much going to be our next product. It's looking to be quite a competitive title, we're hoping to do more online and it's going to hopefully take the vein of, or look like, something like Wii Sports and draw reference from it. I can't really say much more, unfortunately at the moment. I don't want to make promises we can't live up to.
GS AU: Nic Watt, thanks for your time.