While playing Wizorb, the RPG-tinged Breakout clone that hit the Xbox Live Indies Game service two weeks ago, it's easy to forget you're in 2011.
I say that in a positive way, as this three-dollar title brings to mind a number of things that I believe have been missing from games since the mid- to late-1990s.
For instance, it features beautiful, pixel-based graphics that bring to mind the best that the Sega Genesis had to offer. It also features a bouncy, blippy soundtrack that brings to mind the tunes that filled our ears while playing games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
What prompted the guys at Tribute Games to create such a retrotastic title, and when can we expect it to hit other platforms (if ever)? I recently asked Justin Cyr, Jonathan Lavigne and Jean-François Major those very questions. Read on to hear their responses.
The Gay Gamer: What prompted the three of you to come together and make this game (and also form Tribute Games)?
Jonathan Lavigne: I've been serious about going indie since 2005, but it was only a matter of timing for us to make it offical this year. Just before the three of us started working on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, I was already working with Jean-François on Wizorb in our spare time. At first, it was only supposed to be a small project that would allow Jean-François to develop his game engine. Six months ago, I had just finished Ninja Senki while both Justin and Jean-François finished working on productions at Ubisoft and Eidos, so we decided it was time to join forces and finish Wizorb.
Justin Cyr: We're doing this entirely out of our own pockets, so it took a while to save enough money to allow ourselves enough time to make something good. It's always a little intimidating to give up that kind of security, but I think if we didn't make the jump when we did the moment would have passed us by.
Jean-François Major: We've always gotten along and had pretty similar tastes in games. Going indie really gives us this freedom to create the games we've always dreamed of playing.
TGG: Whose idea was it to make a game that combines elements of Breakout with those of an RPG?
Jonathan: I came up with the idea first, but it grew into something bigger [when] Justin and Jean-François added their own personal touches to it.
Jean-François: When we realized the game had great potential, we wanted to add a way to tell a story and give a bit more life to the game. We wish we could have fleshed out [the game's RPG elements] a bit more. Maybe we'll keep some room for improvement for a sequel?
TGG: Why did you decide to clone Breakout? Are you longtime bat-and-ball fans who were looking to create a new take on the genre, for instance, or did it come from another place entirely?
Jonathan: The idea came from when I was messing around with Game Maker two years ago. I wanted to take an old classic game so that I could make cool pixel art for it. The idea was to start with a really simple project in order to further my programming skills and to be able to pursue it to the end. Then, I showed what I had to Jean-François, and he was interested in working on it with me. [Thanks to his involvement, and the involvement of Justin and Paul Robertson, who handled the animations] Wizorb evolved and became the game it is today.
Justin: Jonathan had asked me years ago if I was interested in working on Wizorb, but I was too busy at the time. Once I saw the village screens he had been working on, it really piqued my interest. It helped solidify the idea that there was a world this game takes place in and I liked that a lot.
Jean-François: I remember playing brick-breakers when I was younger. When Jonathan came to me with the idea, it seemed like the opportunities were endless to break that mold and make something unique.
TGG: Wizorb has a definite "Genesis/Mega Drive" look to it, in my mind. Was that your intention, or is it just supposed to have a general 8-bit or 16-bit look to it?
Jonathan: Yeah, Genesis or TurboGrafx-16 are pretty close to what we were aiming for, but we weren't trying to emulate any specific console. In fact, I started working with the NES color palette as a basis (which has 56 usable colors) and I enhanced it to 128 colors. The idea was to work with strict limitations while still having just a little bit more possibilities than an 8-bit console. I like to imagine as if we're developing games for an 8-bit dual-processor platform or something between 8-bit and 16-bit.
TGG: Most of your past games similarly focus on pixels and "retro" aesthetics. Why is that? What is the appeal to you?
Jonathan: Video game companies stopped making these games too soon! I'd love to buy new NES games developed by Nintendo, Konami or Capcom. I love playing NES games, and I still play them regularly. I also enjoy contemporary games, but I believe that a lot of cool new things can still be done with good old pixels.
Justin: Ditto for me. There's something really satisfying about working with very limited resolutions and colors. I think it has something to do with the idea that you can almost reach a kind of perfection. Like if you take a four-by-four space, there's only so many possibilities. Raise the resolution to 16-by-16 and you're starting to have lots more possibilities, but you're still pretty restrained. When you think that the builk of old NES graphics where built from eight-by-eight and 16-by-16 spaces, it's kind of mind-blowing. That you can still explore these limited spaces and have something fresh to show seems to prove it's a valid art form.
TGG: I know you played a ton of Breakout-like games while making Wizorb. What were the main lessons you learned from those experiences, and how did those lessons impact or inform the creation of Wizorb?
Jonathan: Even after playing a ton of Breakout clones, I still have much to learn in order to make a great one. Yet, I've learned that since the nature of the game is kind of unpredictable, you have to have precise controls and also give more means to the player to control the ball. That's why we put a special focus on the use of magic and charms in Wizorb.
Justin: Balancing RPG elements into any game is always a challenge. The more you have, the harder it is to balance, because small changes have a lot of impact. With Wizorb, it was pretty light but it was still good practice. Should we include this sort of idea in a future title, we'll have to think back about what worked and how we could improve [it].
Jean-François: Making this game, I really learned how making a good brick-breaker is an art. There's so many things that can go wrong from ball speed to block count to level size. Mess up one of those variables and you lose someone's interest. It really helps when you have a good pool of games to try and see what works and what doesn't.
TGG: My first thought upon hearing Wizorb's music was that it reminded me of various Zelda games and themes. Was that a specific goal, or is it just a coincidence?
Jonathan: I'd have to ask Jean [Chan, composer] to be sure about that, but I know that she's a fan of RPGs like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, so that probably influenced her work. I also love the music of Yuzo Koshiro (ActRaiser, Legacy of the Wizard, Ys) and I know that Jean listened to a lot of his music when she was working on Wizorb. Zelda is obviously an influence, but it wasn't a specific goal to be reminiscent of it.
TGG: You've mentioned at various points that a PC version is on the way. When (and where) do you expect it to be released?
Jonathan: We're aiming at releasing it by the end of October or early November. We'd love to bring it to services such as Steam, GamersGate and Direct2Drive. We'll try as hard as we can to make Wizorb available to the most people as possible.
TGG: As much as I love playing this game on my TV, I can't help but wish that I could play it while I'm on the go, too. I don't suppose you've given any thought to releasing it through Sony's or Nintendo's eshops (for PSP/Vita or DS/3DS)?
Jonathan: We're only a team of three developers, and Jean-François is our sole full time programmer, so we can only focus on a few target platforms. We'd sure love to bring Wizorb to DS, 3DS, PSP or Vita but I don't think it's possible with our actual manpower. But you never know, maybe we'll find a way.
Justin: I'm more of a handheld gamer and I think Wizorb would be a good fit for those platforms. Sadly, it's a little trickier to develop for these platforms because they require dev-kits.
Jean-François: I'd love to bring Wizorb to handheld devices. I really don't have as much time to game, so I do part of my gaming on the go. Wizorb would be a perfect fit on a touch screen. I need to sleep less and get on that!
TGG: What's next for you guys? Surely you're already working on something else?
Jonathan: We have something in mind for our next project, but we still have to finish working on Wizorb ports first. I can't say too much about our next project since it's so early, but you can expect an entirely different theme, multiplayer gameplay and a lot more action!
See also: Previous Wizorb posts and previous 'ten questions with...' posts