Cubed3’s Adam Riley, Operations Director: Could you please tell our readers when the LEGO Ninjago project started and what your role on the project was?
Christopher Mair, CEO/Creative Director at Hellbent Games: LEGO Ninjago officially kicked off in March 2010. I am the creative director at Hellbent and I oversee development.
AR: How does LEGO Ninjago relate to the first DS game, LEGO Battles?
CM: LEGO Ninjago is a continuation of the Battles franchise but with a completely new theme. The story in LEGO Battles was created at Hellbent while the story in LEGO Ninjago follows the events of the LEGO Ninjago toy line and movie. We were able to bring back some of the characters from the first game as hidden heroes in Ninjago.
AR: What made you keep this as a Nintendo DS project, rather than holding it back and revamping it for Nintendo 3DS?
CM: We started the project before the 3DS was announced. When the 3DS was announced we considered making a 3DS version but other LEGO titles were chosen for the launch.
AR: Why did you choose to go with a real-time strategy style of gameplay rather than sticking to the formula TT Games has been using for its mainline LEGO videogames?
CM: LEGO Battles was conceived as an experiment to intentionally try something new. Real-time strategy was chosen because it works perfectly with LEGO; you build and play. It was also chosen because it suits the DS with the touch-screen controls.
AR: There have been plenty of negative comments based around the visual and audio elements, with some even stating it seems like its roots may have been on the Game Boy Advance. What is your response to this criticism, and looking back now do you feel more could have been done on these fronts?
CM: There have been good and bad reviews for the art and audio. We looked at doing a full 3D presentation for the games but due to the number of units we wanted to have this wasn’t achievable. We support 50-80 units plus buildings in a real-time game. This is asking a lot of the DS and we wanted to make sure we delivered enough units to support a true RTS experience. That being said, we are very proud of the art and audio in both games and feel that with the limitations we were working in we delivered an excellent product.
AR: What would you say the biggest selling point is, and were you able to include all the original ideas before the development deadline hit?
CM: These are fun RTS games that you can carry in your pocket! There aren’t many RTS experiences on the DS. Add that to the LEGO brand and it is pretty appealing to the audience. We were able to include all of the ideas we planned for in the games.
AR: The single-player mode is thoroughly enjoyable, but lacks the high level of difficulty found in other RTS style games, such as StarCraft or Command & Conquer. Was this a conscious design choice to attract a wide audience? Did you ever consider including the option to change the difficulty level to suit different players?
CM: The game is intended as an RTS for first time players. The game does ramp up in difficulty but nowhere near as much as a PC RTS would be. The game is designed to be forgiving and fun, allowing time to explore and create without heavily punishing the player. In multiplayer the game is as challenging as the players are skilled. We didn’t have difficulty levels in LEGO Battles but they are in LEGO Ninjago.
AR: Can you briefly explain what is on offer for two players and what aspects will keep solo players coming back?
CM: Battle mode allows two players (or a player against the computer AI) to fight in multiple mode types. These include Annihilation, Brick Race, Capture the Flag, and King of the Hill. Battle mode also allows players to challenge the computer AI in Survival or Goliath maps.
Solo players will keep coming back trying to find all of the hidden items and working to get True Ninja in each level. The game keeps track of your progress and players can work to attain 100% completion.
AR: Sales appear to have been strong so far, and despite the criticism of the presentation, the main game itself has been mainly praised by reviewers. Is the game living up to your expectations so far in terms of retail response and feedback from media and players?
CM: Both games are successful beyond our expectations. We would have been happy with a modest amount of success but with the two games exceeding 1.5 million unit sales we are blown away. We receive a ton of fan mail and we have been nominated for and won multiple awards.
AR: RTS games work wonderfully well on the Nintendo DS touch-screen, yet there are barely any games in that particular genre. Why do you think developers have shied away from translating more PC RTS classics across to DS?
CM: While the touch-screen works wonderfully for RTS games, the memory and graphical limitations make it very challenging to develop a true RTS experience on the DS. Porting the experience of classic PC RTS games would be very hard, as you wouldn’t be able to support the graphics or unit counts. We are obviously big fans of the genre and always hope for more handheld strategy games.
AR: What are your thoughts on the idea of LEGO Ninjago for Wii? Is it something that you would like to work on in the future, using the Wii Remote’s pointer controls for the genre?
CM: We would love to work on LEGO Battles or Ninjago games for many platforms. LEGO, TT and Warner Bros. control what LEGO games are made but we love working with them and we would jump at the opportunity to work with them on any project.
AR: Have you already started working on the Nintendo 3DS, either on another LEGO game or something completely different? If so, can you at least give a small hint to what the project may be?
CM: We are working on three new projects but I can’t say what they are or what platforms they are on. Sorry! Trade secrets and all that sort of stuff.
AR: Have you seen or heard much about Nintendo’s upcoming Wii U, the successor to the Wii hardware? What are your thoughts so far?
CM: We have had a chance to check out the Wii U and it is very cool hardware. With the new touch-screen controllers and processing power it looks to be a fantastic console.