Cubed³'s Adam Riley: To begin with, is it right that only four people worked on Theta? How long did the game take to complete and what were some of the biggest hurdles faced along the way?
Giles Goddard, CEO of Vitei Inc: There were 4 of us working on it for about 6 months. It actually started off as one of several prototypes we were working on and we ended up choosing it because it suited the DS so well. I'd say the biggest hurdle was testing all the puzzles, there was 1 guy at NCL that could complete the entire game and the poor lad had to redo it all every time we gave them a new version... actually, he loved it so much he helped out with a couple of the ultra-hard levels later on.
AR: What was the reason for choosing to do a game like Theta as your first project for Nintendo under the Vitei label? And why choose the DS to launch the project?
GG: We wanted to make a game that could only be done on the DS and Theta ended up being the best candidate out of all the prototypes we were playing around with at the time. Also, I've always wanted to make a "real" puzzle game, i.e. something that could physically be made out of wood and still work as a game. The DS was ideal because it has the most versatile interface and of course its the most suited to small developers.
AR: Can you please explain the concept behind the game and what modes are on offer?
GG: The idea is to oxygenate and feed the aquariums with molecules collected from various puzzles in order to breed fish. You extract the molecules from the puzzles by rotating the cogs so that the molecules fall into the coloured cogs and disappear. So there's 2 basic modes : puzzle and aquarium. The natural tendency to go WTF? goes away after you actually play the thing.
AR: How many different types of fish are included in the game, and is the aquarium feature interactive at all?
GG: There's about 50 fish in total (including the ones that aren't actually fish) but its very hard to collect them all. A few of them you can only collect by "connecting" 2 DSs together using the "Aqua Call" in the main aquarium to cross breed new fish.
AR: How important do you think the soundtrack is for a game such as this? Did you have a hand in which tunes were composed and made the final cut?
GG: The music is very important for the aquarium mode because that part of the game is more of an ambient toy Ė the music changes depending on how healthy the water is. All the music was composed by Esem in Bulgaria. I was a huge fan of his work so I got in touch with him to see if we could work together and we ended up licensing some tracks from Scateren (http://dot.cult.bg/esem/scateren/) - You can actually download the entire album for free from his website.
AR: Sadly Theta failed to light up the Japanese charts even at a budget price. How has it done in terms of sales expectations on the whole, though? And why do you think it did not prove to be as popular as its glowing reviews thought it should be?
GG: I'm not sure which "glowing reviews" you mean, in fact I don't remember seeing any reviews of it! Actually, I do remember Kotaku calling it boring (a compliment I think). Sales wise it did as well as I expected - we sold 8 copies, 4 of which we bought ourselves and gave away as presents. NCL actually gave us some posters so we went around all the game shops in Kyoto asking if they could display them in the window. A few of them actually obliged until they realised they didn't stock the game.
Theta was actually one of NCL's "stealth" games, i.e. an ultra low cost, un-marketed experimental title that might have taken off via word of mouth. Marketing actually told us that they had no idea who to aim it at or how to make a commercial for it even if they wanted to.
AR: The game hit Japan last September and does not seem like it would need much in the way of localisation. Considering how puzzle games on DS have been very popular in Europe and how the theme seems perfectly suited for the West, do you think Theta still has a chance of coming over at some point?
GG: I totally agree about it suiting the western market. In fact we've had a huge amount of mails/comments from westerners eager to find out more about it or just to find out how to get hold of it…Sadly there's very little chance of that happening, though, to be honest. NCL pay us to do games like this because the costs and risks are low. Taking it abroad would probably double the costs.
AR: Are you planning on doing an expansion of the idea behind Theta, perhaps one that makes use of Wi-Fi for multi-player or even sharing aquariums with others? And would this, if it ever happens, be more likely on DS or would something like WiiWare be a natural progression?
GG: This ties-in with the previous question really, NCL don't make sequels unless the original sells well. One thing we figured out early on though is that it would be impossible to make Theta on any other platform other than the DS because of the rotating cogs, so that rules out a Wii version for a start. I am trying and persuade them to publish an iPhone version though…
AR: Considering twisting the Wii Remote works very well on Mitchell's Actionloop Twist and the whole pointing-and-dragging mechanic is used extensively in many Wii games, would these two action not suit the two main modes in a possible Theta for Wii?
GG: The problem with twisting the Wii-remote is that it needs to be incremental, i.e. the more you twist the faster it rotates, otherwise it really hurts after a while. But if you do that then it gets much harder to rotate the cogs in the subtle ways needed for the harder levels.
I'm not saying it would be impossible of course *smiles*.
AR: Is Vitei classed as an independent Third Party, or does Nintendo have a stake in the company? And if independent, is your main focus Nintendo or are you considering developing for other platforms?
GG: We're an independent 3rd Party but we work very closely with NCL, so I suppose we're 1.5 Party or something. They don't have any stake in the company, though. We do actually work for other companies occasionally, but our primary focus is with Nintendo because I like working with them the most.
AR: Your website currently has several job vacancies listed. How large are you hoping the team will become and can you comment or even give a hint as to what your next project will be yet?
GG: I'm aiming for around 10-15 people depending on how well the team works together, so any talented people reading this please get in touch *smiles* We're planning on starting a relatively large Wii project sometime towards the end of the year.
AR: Do you keep in touch with Dylan Cuthbert at all and have you given any consideration to a joint venture, a game worked on by both Vitei and Q Games?
GG: Very much so. He's literally just around the corner so we very often get together for beers and a brainstorm, etc. We've talked about joining up on a game but it's difficult to get the timing right as they're always starting a new project while we're ending our's or vice versa…Having said that, we're working together organising a game developer party here in Kyoto sometime this year. Hopefully it'll turn into a yearly event if enough people come…
AR: With Wii Fit taking Japan by storm at the moment and more Balance Boards now in Japanese homes than PlayStation 3 consoles, have you given any thought to creative ways your team could make use of the Wii peripheral in the future?
GG: Our current game uses the Balance Board actually, and it's due out in September on WiiWare. So yes, much like Theta we came up with several prototypes of games and picked one that we thought was the most uniquely suited to the interface. The interesting thing is that the games you would think would work well with the Balance Board actually don't. So it should be interesting to see what kind of stuff gets made for it.
AR: Given your strong involvement in the 1080 Snowboarding project, is it likely you would want to get deeply involved in a potential Wii version?
It's hard to say. In one sense I'd love to do a Wii version - the Nunchuck / Wii Remote combo plus the Balance Board could give players a really interesting control method and given the budget I think we could do it justice. However, I like making games that I've not seen or played before and there's still a load of ideas we've got for Wii / DS prototypes that we're itching to try out.
AR: And is a full Wii project on the cards for Vitei in general or will you prefer to go down the WiiWare route first?
GG: Well, we are going down the WiiWare route at the moment because it makes the most financial sense. Once we have a full team in place and it's working well together we'll move onto a "full" Wii game no doubt.
AR: Finally, following the success of the DS and Wii so far, where do see Nintendo going from here?
GG: I see them making playing cards…! Actually, I think they'll continue doing what they're doing until the DS / Wii stops selling, and then they'll figure out what to do next. The Gaming Industry is pretty much impossible to predict more than a couple of months in advance and Nintendo only needs to change its strategy when it's not working. At the moment it's working well…
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