Earlier this year, Cubed3 had the chance to go hands-on with an almost finished version of And Yet It Moves from Austrian developer Broken Rules, the thoroughly upgraded WiiWare of 2009’s cult PC hit. With the title set for release on the Wii download store in the coming weeks, Adam Riley caught up with Felix Bohatsch, Project Lead, to discuss more about what has changed since the original version, and what the future possibly holds for the small development outfit.
Adam Riley, Senior Editor at Cubed3: Can you tell our readers a bit about your team and the reason behind the game’s name?
Felix Bohatsch, Game Design and Project Lead: We are three former Media & Computer Science Students from the University of Technology in Vienna and our company, Broken Rules, is still based in Vienna. Broken Rules evolved naturally during the development of And Yet It Moves. The more serious we got, the more we realised that a proper company will be necessary. We had deals to sign, money to organise and so on, so we decided to take the step and found our own company. It’s also a commitment from our side to really do professional game design and development and move on from our student status. Now we have already passed our first birthday and are happily looking into an exciting future.
The name And Yet It Moves came from our colleagues at the University of Technology in Vienna, which is where And Yet It Moves started. We immediately liked it because it’s a fitting title with enough ambiguity. It hints at world rotation and has a nice dreamy sound to it!
AR: Where did the idea of rotating the entire world around come from?
Felix: And Yet It Moves started as a proof of concept for a university course. Our supervisors constricted us to make a 2D game, which really helped a lot because we could focus on game design rather than technical challenges. However, we really wanted to do something that gives the player more abilities and freedom in a 2D space than what you are usually used to in games. That’s basically where the idea to rotate the world came from. Through the power of rotation we remove vertical limits and the player immediately has more freedom in a 2D space.
AR: Is there a story behind the main character?
Felix: No, there isn’t. This is our first game so we wanted to focus on the game design and put all our effort to get this part nice and polished. During the development we were a team of four computer science students, so we had to use our limited resources wisely. We decided to leave a narrative part out because it would have either meant way more work and thus an even longer developing process, or a cheesy story line that just feels tacked on.
We do like the idea of transporting a narrative through gameplay, but we know that it is a hard thing to pull off elegantly and it needs a project that is focused on this from the start. And Yet It Moves was all about exploring the gameplay possibilities of rotating the world and that’s what we decided to focus all our resources on.
Although there is no real storyline, there is a kind of leitmotiv we followed when arranging the levels. As a player you start in dark caves and then break out of them into the more open jungle and then the snake poisons you and finally dissolves you completely from reality. At last you end up in a blank world of paper, a tabula rasa. Basically it’s a journey starting from being confined to becoming free *smiles*
AR: When did you decide to bring the game to WiiWare and how long has this version been in development?
Felix: We were approached by Nintendo in October 2008. Back then we were still busy finishing the PC & Mac version of And Yet It Moves, which we released in April 2009. It was too late in the project to incorporate a WiiWare version into the project and do a simultaneous launch, so we decided to focus on the PC/Mac version first and then start the WiiWare build. After the launch, we were busy updating And Yet It Moves and doing PR and community work. We only started to work on the WiiWare version in June 2009 and submitted our first ‘final’ version to Nintendo’s Quality Assurance team in May 2010. Right now we are still in the QA process, fixing some bugs that Nintendo found.
AR: How did Nintendo approach you, and were you left to do most of the leg work to get And Yet It Moves on WiiWare?
Felix: A representative from Nintendo saw And Yet It Moves at the IndieCade Festival 2008 in Los Angeles. We didn’t go there, because it was too expensive for us to travel all the way to LA, but I guess somebody presented And Yet It Moves in a very good way! Anyway, we got an email from them, asking us if we want to bring And Yet It Moves to WiiWare. We didn’t think long about this decision because we always wanted to bring And Yet It Moves to a console and I have a sweet spot for the Wii.
AR: How do the PC and WiiWare versions of And Yet It Moves differ?
Felix: We have added three special play modes, which allow the player to focus on different aspects of And Yet It Moves. We have also added three funny modifications that allow the player to play our game a bit differently and get a fresh view on its abilities. Additionally, we have created three new bonus levels that have simple black and white visuals and gameplay variations on elements we already have used in other levels. These levels are meant more for the experienced players and will require more skill than the other levels. Actually we still find them quite hard to play ourselves *smiles*
However, the biggest difference is definitely the controls. We have put a lot of work into finding a good way to use the Wii Remote’s unique features to improve playing And Yet It Moves and I am confident that we have succeeded. There are four different ways to control our game on Wii using the Wii Remote only, the Nunchuk and even the Classic Controller.
AR: How responsive do you think the Wii Remote is, and have there been any surprises (positive or negative) during development?
Felix: I think that the Wii Remote is very responsive, but it can only detect a certain type of movement and there are a lot of cases that we imagined, but ended up being prone to errors. Developers definitely have to design the game for the Wii Remote or at least make significant changes to the gameplay to make good use of the motion sensors. For us, the breakthrough was to allow completely free rotation and ditch the old restriction of 90-degree steps. We have tried hard to build a control system that fitted the 90-degree limitation, but there was always a gap between the analogue rotation of the Wii Remote and the discrete control scheme of rotating in steps.
We tried to add some kind of HUD to give immediate feedback, but it still felt like a crutch and controlling the game using the buttons felt always better. As soon as we gave the player the freedom to rotate the world as much as he or she wanted to, it felt right. It finally made sense to use the Wii Remote, because there was a direct connection between the world and the controller. Rotating the Wii Remote to rotate the world allows for more fine-tuned control and more immediate feedback.
AR: What made you take this unique graphical approach?
Felix: We are a team that consists solely of computer scientists and, even if we consider ourselves to be typical technical students without any knowledge about aesthetics, etc., we didn’t have a dedicated artist on the team. Therefore, we tried to come up with a style that looks good and that we are still able to pull off ourselves. First we started thinking about doing everything in a rough (and as we later realised boring) pencil-on-paper look, yet it felt too empty and became way better when we started to add photos, which naturally evolved to the collage idea. What was important for us was to stay true to a rough and analogue look and feel. This proved to be quite tedious, though. Making the levels look good took a lot of effort.
AR: What range of level styles will be included in the final game?
Felix: All the basic levels are exactly the same as in the PC/Mac version (except for the three WiiWare exclusive bonus levels we added). The levels are organised into three chapters: Chapter One is situated in an underground cave, where you get to learn the basics and have mostly lifeless objects, like stones to deal with. In Chapter Two you reach a forest, where you will walk on large trees and encounter animals that don’t want to let you pass. In Chapter Three you get bitten by a snake and everything will turn very psychedelic; the challenges, as well as the visuals. If you successfully pass this journey you will unlock the bonus levels, where we went crazy with the game design and which we made especially challenging.
AR: Are there any items to help or hinder players during the game?
Felix: No, there are no items or power-ups during the whole game. From start to end you have exactly the same abilities, but we designed the levels in a way that you will learn to use your power to rotate, and the limitations of the physics system, to your own advantage, and you will have to be very clever with your rotating in later levels to progress through our game. There are also no bad items or real enemies, yet there are certain animals that don’t want to let you pass so you’ll have to use your power of rotation in clever ways to get passed them.
AR: Have you considered adding multiplayer content or Wi-Fi modes? (if not, please explain why)
Felix: In the PC/Mac version there are online high scores and a ghost-run feature where you can download recorded runs of other players for every level. We always planned to include this in the Wii version, but over time we realised that only a few of our players actually used this system. We were also under time constraints, so we decided to ditch this feature and instead focus on what is really important for the Wii version: content and controls.
AR: Do you think the rotation aspect could be translated onto the DS touch-screen? Is this something your team is considering doing, or would 3DS be preferred now?
Felix: I’m quite sure that the free rotation could be translated to the DS touch-screen. I’m also sure that our parallax layers would work great on the 3DS, but we are currently not planning to bring And Yet It Moves to any other platform.
AR: Will you be hoping to expand the And Yet it Moves world further in a sequel, or would you prefer to create more new, original games?
Felix: We really prefer to work on new ideas and games. We have been working on And Yet It Moves for more than three years now, and that’s really too long! I mean, I still like its concept and, amazingly, I still enjoy playing it, but what we really like is working on new concepts.
We have also started a new label called Broken Radio Games where we collect small and experimental games that we make collaboratively with colleagues and friends. These little projects are really fun to make and are great way to free our head from the maze of technical implementation issues found in bigger projects, such as And Yet It Moves.
AR: Team Meat is working with other developers to include their characters in Super Meat Boy. Would you like to see your main character feature in their game as well?
Felix: Sure, it’d be fun to play using our character in Super Meat Boy! I really enjoyed playing the game at this year’s Media Summit and love what they did with Flywrench, Commander Video, etc. I’m sure it would also be a good marketing push, because I think that Edmund and Tommy are masters at community work *smiles*
AR: There have been some concerns from developers about both the file restrictions on WiiWare, as well as lower than expected sales. What are your thoughts on these issues?
Felix: The file size is not really a problem for us, but I can imagine that it can be a problem for others. However, I do think that there are always ways to deal with this issue. Sales, though, are definitely a problem and we are anxious to see how And Yet It Moves will work out. Partly Nintendo has to be blamed for the shortcomings, but I also think that developers have their share of responsibility. Too many games are ports and have not been designed with the limitations and possibilities of the hardware in mind. Players have had enough shovel-ware, so they turned their backs to the system.
I do think that a lot of responsibility lies on our own marketing effort as well. There’s no way the game will sell without us doing any PR and community work. Although the WiiWare audience is not that big, I think that a lot of people who would enjoy playing And Yet It Moves have a Wii at home. They just need to blow the dust off of it! I do think that WiiWare has a lot of potential. If I look at the current and upcoming line-up I feel that we are in very good company and that Nintendo has been able to pick up great independent games.
Our contacts at Nintendo, who got us into the deal, are helpful and forthcoming, even if the company as a whole is still slow-moving and bureaucratic. I just hope that Nintendo realises that independent WiiWare games could help them get gamers back into playing with the Wii and at the same time provide exactly the entertainment many new-won Wii players are also looking for: short, innovative, thoughtful and creative experiences. If they put enough weight behind the WiiWare channel and try to bring it to the people’s attention, it could be way bigger than it is now.
AR: Akaoni Studio and Press Play have both signed deals with Marvelous Entertainment to have their WiiWare games released in Japan. Will you be next to sign?
Felix: We would totally love to get And Yet It Moves to the Japanese market as well, but we have not yet started to work on it. Marvelous would definitely be an option. Let’s see!