Based out of Hoffman Estates, Illinois, High Voltage Software has been developing one of the Wii's most anticipated games of 2011 – Conduit 2. With a background that spans many years with a solid mix of original IP's and licensed games, HVS has one impressive resume.
In mid-January, MyGamer had a chance to sit down with some of the lead developers at HVS to talk about the company, Conduit 2, and what the future holds for their game development
High Voltage Staff Interviewed:
– David Pellas, Design Director
MG: To start, can you give me a general overview of what High Voltage Software is all about?
DP: Sure. High Voltage Software has a long, 18 year history in the game development world. Our CEO and Founder, Kerry J. Ganofsky, started this company in 1993. We currently employ a staff of over 100 talented people. We have shipped nearly 60 games several of those were self-published WiiWare games. We develop a broad spectrum of games including licensed games however over the past 3 years we created 7 original IPs and are very excited about our future. We are a developer that interacts directly with the gaming community and we love what we do.
MG: Now that Evasive Space (WiiWare), Conduit (Wii), and Tournament of Legends (Wii) has been released, can you give us your opinion about developing games for the Wii? It seems you have mastered the ins and outs of the console.
DP: The Wii is an incredible piece of hardware. Since day 1, we have been very impressed with what is inside of Nintendo’s little box and committed ourselves to learning as much as possible about it. This passion for the platform developed into an obsession, which led us to create our Quantum3 engine and tool set. This engine technology is the most advanced Wii tech that I have ever seen. We are able to perform advanced graphical techniques that no other Wii developer has been able to do. Additionally, the tools make developing for the Wii very easy but it did take time to develop and refine those tools. While I certainly wouldn’t say that we have mastered the console, as I feel that there is still a lot of potential left in the system, I will say that we are proud of what we have accomplished so far and are looking forward to pushing the boundaries further in the future.
MG: What has it been like working with Sega? They obviously have been supportive of your development of the Conduit and the sequel.
DP: They are great. Sega has been supportive of our efforts with the series. They have vast resources and expertise that provided us with insight into parts of the industry that we never really knew about before. They are more than a publisher to us; they are our partners and our friends.
MG: The Conduit was quite and ambitious game. What would say was the Conduit's biggest success and why was the Wii hardware selected over the 360 and PS3?
DP: I would say that the multiplayer was the biggest success for The Conduit. While not perfect, it was very fun to play and did not suffer from the lag issues that routinely plague other FPS’s on the console. As to why we chose the Wii, well I refer back to my previous answer that we were very excited about the platform and saw a real opportunity to bring a core game to the throngs of gamers who purchased the Wii. Could we have chosen the 360 or PS3, sure but we wanted to develop for the Wii. It was new and exciting!
MG: Alternatively, what elements of the original Conduit do you think could have been better, and where these attributes implemented in Conduit 2?
DP: Level design, AI, MP hackers, art direction, and weapon balance are all areas that we heard a lot from post-ship. I am proud to say that we have addressed every one of these issues and have also worked very hard to improve the game by adding features like secondary fire modes, bosses, and making the exploration more meaningful by allowing players to find weapon blueprints, secret hints, and even complete game levels by searching the world with the ASE.
MG: Conduit 2 was originally supposed to be released in later 2010. Can you comment on why the game was delayed until March 2011?
DP: I wish I could say that there was some grand conspiracy that led to the delay but we simply wanted more time to polish the experience. We weren’t happy with some of the features in the game and wanted to ensure that we were delivering the highest quality experience to gamers on day one. This extension allowed us to work for several more months, which made huge improvements to the balance of weapons, Suit Upgrades, in-game economy, and more. We made the most of the time, that’s for sure.
MG: What is the #1 goal of the Conduit 2? Is it to make a good sequel? Make the best FPS on Wii? Create an extensive online multiplayer mode?
DP: To make a game you want to play. I believe that Conduit 2 is a better game in every way to its prequel. It’s more customizable, better designed, more visually interesting, and provides a deeper multiplayer experience than anything else on the Wii.
MG: How big is the Conduit 2 development team and how long has the game been in development?
DP: Well, we started the design for the game immediately following our wrap on The Conduit… after the initial design phase was complete; we started production which took about 16 months. So if you count the design phase, I would say it took roughly 18 months. As for the number of people, it was a concentrated team for many months. They were comprised mostly of Conduit 1 veterans. As we got deeper into production, we adjusted the team size to ensure quantity of work and quality results. Near the end, nearly every person at the company had been involved with Conduit 2 in some form or another but the core team remained small.
MG: Can you give a little more insight as to how the Wii Motion Plus accessory is compatible with Conduit 2 but not a requirement to play?
DP: The Wii Motion Plus provides an improved game experience. There is no doubt that its advanced tracking and off-screen cursor navigation allow for a more responsive experience that the Wii Remote does all by itself. That said, if you enjoyed the cursor controls in Conduit 1, you will have the same enjoyment in Conduit 2.
MG: The original Conduit is one of the very few Wii games that made use of Nintendo's WiiSpeak peripheral. In Conduit 2, the USB Wii Headset is compatible for online voice chat. Can you give a little more detail as to how the voice chat option works and why WiiSpeak is not compatible with Conduit 2?
DP: For Conduit 1, we wanted to provide gamers with an ability to chat. The only solution to do this was to make use of the WiiSpeak peripheral. For Conduit 2, we wanted to provide gamers with the “best” solution for voice chat. Since Nintendo is no longer supporting the WiiSpeak peripheral, it was clear that the improvements we were hoping for were not going to happen. When an opportunity arose to support the Headbanger headset, we did extensive research and even worked with the hardware manufacturer. We quickly realized that this solution was far beyond the WiiSpeak in clarity, filtering, responsiveness, and especially the overhead. When I refer to overhead here, I mean that it takes up much less bandwidth over your internet connection that the WiiSpeak does, which allows us to streamline our method for transferring data.
MG: Fans of the original game praised the original Conduit for a detailed multiplayer experience on Wii. What can players expect when they hop online in Conduit 2? Will there be more maps? A Matchmaking system? Rankings?
DP: We are very honored by the positive feedback that we received on Conduit 1. That is definitely one of the game’s major pillars and something that we wanted to build upon for the sequel. Conduit 2 does everything better. The networking is more streamlined, the levels are better designed, the weapons are more balanced, and the XP system has more depth. We also have a Suit Upgrade system that allows players to use the credits they earn in games to purchase ability modifiers that change the way they play the game. This system adds an incredible amount of customization and depth to the multiplayer gameplay that just wasn’t there in the first game. Also, we added a completely new cooperative game mode called Invasion. In this mode, you and up to 3 friends can team up against waves of enemies. It is incredibly addictive.
MG: Just like the original game, Conduit 2 will have a built-in Achievement system. Can you provide a couple examples? Are the Achievements going to be skill based? Time based?
DP: Yes, Conduit 2 does feature an Achievement system similar to that in Conduit 1. As for a few examples, I think I would like to keep those unwraps for now but I can say that the achievements will be varied. Some will be skill-based, others time-based, while others will reward for playing the game a certain way.
MG: How is game difficulty handled during the campaign (easy, medium, hard, etc) and why would someone play through the game on a more difficult setting? Would there be a greater reward at the end?
DP: Difficulty is handled in a similar way to how it was done in Conduit 1. When choosing a difficulty, you are affecting many aspects of the game. Enemy stats, AI decisions, weapon damage, armor values, and more are all affected by the difficulty setting. I will also say that I urge you to play Invasion mode at the highest difficulty level you can handle. There are a few surprises in there for you to enjoy.
MG: Can you talk about the pacing of the game? How will the inclusion of Boss Battles affect the pacing of the game?
DP: Conduit 2 is much more cinematic that the first game. The levels are paced out with the gameplay by providing a solid blend of exploration areas and action areas. Exploration areas include locations with limited enemies but more puzzle elements. Action areas include more enemies, timing puzzles, and cinematic moments. Each level includes multiple “Wow” moments which are there to draw the player into the world visually and audibly. With the inclusion of bosses, the designers have crafted their levels to include traditional peaks and valleys of tension but also a build up to an epic encounter for each boss. The goal was for players to feel their sense of tension grow as they play each level, culminating in a memorable boss fight that when finished will provide a great sense of accomplishment.
MG: One of the newest and most interesting features of Conduit 2 is the Invasion Mode. What are some of the highlighting features of this mode and why was it included in the final product?
DP: I have to say that Invasion mode is my favorite feature in the game. It is easy to understand (waves of enemies attack you and your friends) and difficult to master. While you can play solo, it requires teamwork to receive the greatest rewards. As I mentioned, Invasion mode features a series of waves being spawned and your job is to survive as long as possible. Enemies drop bouncing coins when they die, to encourage players to not camp. Enemy AI ramps up with each subsequent wave, making for some incredibly intense situations. One thing I should mention is that Invasion is a great way to earn Credits. I strongly recommend grabbing three friends and having a marathon Invasion match to see not simply how far you can make it but also who among you ranks the highest.
MG: What can players look forward to when they jump online with Conduit 2? Will there be new modes to play around with?
HVS: We have worked very hard to improve every aspect of the online gameplay for Conduit 2. Given the solid experience that our team managed to provide in Conduit 1, we knew we didn’t want to redo a lot but we also knew where we wanted to concentrate our efforts. We do have more and better game modes. We have new maps with much better designs including maps designed for smaller groups. We have the new Suit Upgrades system which allows players to tailor their online characters more meaningfully than they could in Conduit 1. I want to say that while our Suit Upgrade system is similar to other games, our Suit Upgrades themselves are not all simple stat modifiers. While we certainly enjoy the unlimited sprint Suit Upgrade, I personally love the Healing and Invisibility Upgrades because they completely change the gameplay. With over 30 Suit Upgrades and the ability to use up to 4 of them at once, players are going to have a lot of options and that is always a good thing.
MG: What preventative measures are you taking to prevent cheating/hacking in Conduit 2?
DP: I cannot say exactly what we are doing to combat hackers, but I can say that this part of our online system was completely overhauled specifically to deal with the issues we found in Conduit 1 as well as what some other games are dealing with. No one can guarantee that they can eliminate hackers, but I can say that we now have a way of dealing with them that is rooted in not just the game code but also in Nintendo’s servers. We are also able to patch and update the game, which will allow us to modify files for this purpose but also allow us to offer stat bonus weekends, balance patches, and more. We are working with our partners to devise a strategy for what and when we will do in this regard.
MG: The original Conduit was well respected with the amount of customizable control options. Are the controls in Conduit 2 just as editable and what other controller options are available?
DP: They are more so! Not only do we have all the tweaks and modifiers from the original game but we also allow players to use the WiiMotion Plus and the Classic Controller. The use of these also adds more options for customization that was not available in the previous game. We have also wanted to provide a high level of player customization to the game and with Conduit 2 we really worked to not simply add more options but also make it more intuitive to the user to make the changes.
MG: Now that you created a few Wii games, are you considering different platforms like the 3DS, XBLA or even Kinect?
DP: We are now and have always been a multiplatform developer. We have created or are creating games on nearly every piece of hardware since the Game Gear. While our passion for the Wii has led us to focus our efforts on the platform, we have an incredibly talented Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) that is always working on the next big thing. We also have several game teams that are working on other games right this very moment (some of them are secret!). As for the platforms you mention, I cannot say anything specific yet but I will say that we believe strongly in each of those three and enjoy a strong relationship with each of the major hardware providers.
MG: One of the more popular games that HVS is known for is last generation’s Hunter series. Is there any plans on bringing this back this franchise?
DP: Hunter is awesome, no doubt. We loved making those games and that fact was one of the major reasons why The Grinder design was changed for the next-gen platforms to be more like the Hunter games. We look at The Grinder as being the spiritual successor to those games. If you liked Hunter, you have to play Grinder.
MG: Grinder looks to be like the spiritual successor of the Hunter games. Can you release any details about this upcoming game like which platform will it be released on? Multiplayer? Power-ups? Release date?
DP: Sorry, but I cannot. I can say that the world will soon be hearing a lot more from us on this subject but now isn’t the right time.
MG: Fans have been craving news regarding Animales de la Muerte. Are there any details you can provide about this title?
DP: Its almost like you visited our office… creepy… J As with Grinder, I cannot say anything official at this time but I will say that we love Animales and believe strongly in the IP.
MG: What can gamers look forward to at this year's E3 2011 from HVS?
DP: Your question is loaded sir! Seriously though, I hope to be able to spill on everything that we are currently working on at E3. Now will our publishing partners let me… hmm. How about this, if you find me on the show floor, I promise to answer any question that you ask me. J
MG: Are there any movie licensed games in development?
DP: Yes. We believe in a diverse combination of original games and licensed games. At least one of our licensed games currently in development is for an upcoming movie.
MG: As developers, where do you find your inspiration? Do you play other games? Have office Nerf fights?
DP: We find inspiration in everything. Books, comics, games, TV shows, movies, conversations, and life in general. We are a diverse group of people with a wide range of interests which really helps keep ideas feeling fresh and compelling. As to the Nerf fights… we do enjoy those from time to time. J
MG: What does 2011 and 2012 look like for HVS? Can you fill us in on any important insider information like any secret games in development?
DP: Sorry, I wish I could. We definitely have a few surprises coming, but I just can’t say anything yet.
MG: Is there anything you would like to share with our readers before we hop into another Invasion match?
DP: I want to say thank you to everyone who bought Conduit 1 and gave their feedback. We listened to every voice mail, read every email and hand-written letter, and saw every YouTube video we could find. We believe that your involvement has been a critical part of the development of Conduit 2 and want to say thank you. Additionally, I want to say that I am very excited to have the chance to play you all online.
MG: One behalf of myself and the entire MyGamer staff, we thank you for taking the time answering our questions. We are looking forward to Conduit 2 and future HVS games.
DP: You are very welcome. We can’t wait for you and your readers to get the chance to play the game from home in March.