Interviewed By: Zachary Gasiorowski – Editor in Chief | mygamer.com
Interviewee: Mario Wynands, Managing Director
Known for games such as GripShift® and Speed Racer The Videogame, Sidhe (pronounced, “She”) is gearing up to release their upcoming PSN title, Shatter™. Like Pong on crack, Shatter is looking like it will be quite an entertaining game. Mygamer had a chance to interview the developers on this anticipated PSN exclusive.
MG: Before we jump in, can you give our readers a general overview of Sidhe, your company’s goals, and a clarification on the spelling/pronunciation of your name?
Sidhe: Sidhe is a game production studio based in Wellington, New Zealand. We have been developing console and handheld games for over a decade including such titles as Speed Racer, Jackass The Game, GripShift, and the upcoming Hot Wheels Battle Force 5.
Our current focus is on building more creative and financial independence via increased original IP investment and a move towards self publishing in the digital download space, in addition to continuing to develop quality licensed titles for retail with strong publishing partners.
The name “sidhe” is a reference to magical beings of ancient Ireland who lived under the hills and cast their magic out into the land. Naming the studio Sidhe was sort of a spin on “making magic down under”.
MG: How has living down under affected the game design process? Do you draw inspiration from your unique environment?
Sidhe: New Zealand is definitely a great country to live. The well traveled population is made up of many different nationalities, so we have influences from a wide range of cultures. Even the landscape and environment itself is diverse and inspiring. These aspects have created a nation that is self reliant, creative and innovative. The outcome of this can be seen in the success our film, TV, fashion, and music industries where we can be unique and innovative creatively but still be meaningful to a worldwide audience. The games industry here is starting to emerge with that same sensibility.
MG: From the game’s trailer, Shatter looks like it is going to rock the faces off PS3 owners, especially fans of games like Pong and Arkanoid. How did the concept of Shatter come about? What can players expect?
Sidhe: After GripShift, we wanted to go back to basics and try something more immediately accessible and familiar. We looked for inspiration from titles that we played as kids that the team was still playing today. Brick breaking games were a genre that had survived the years and still saw a lot of play around the studio, but they hadn’t really evolved. We felt we could overcome some of the limitations of the genre such as limited interactivity, poor presentation, and the “last brick problem”, and craft a more modern title with an experience more suited to todays gamer.
MG: Was there a specific reason why you selected the PSN as the distribution method for Shatter? Will we ever see this game on other platforms?
Sidhe: We have found Sony very receptive to working with independent developers, and while the process of getting a title up on PSN is very involved, it is a straightforward one. Shatter may come to other platforms if the title is successful.
MG: From the trailer, it looks like boss battles and unique level design are going to be a dominate feature. Can you tell us more about the approach you took to level design and the addition of bosses?
Sidhe: The addition of physics and complex brick interactions allows for a lot of different gameplay scenarios, but it took a long time and a lot of iteration to really learn to get the most out of what we had available and build compelling levels. We created hundreds, if not thousands, of levels throughout the course of the development, eventually whittling them down and honing them into the set we have in the game.
Bosses were an early addition to the game when we started experimenting with bricks with more complex and intelligent behavior. We then made the connection to more traditional SHMUP boss battles and immediately realized the potential. The bosses provide the gamer another way to use the skills they learn throughout the game, and definitely add a fun, narrative element.
MG: When creating Shatter, did you reference other games? If so, which titles and why?
Sidhe: We certainly looked at the classic “bat and ball” such as Pong, Breakout, and Arkanoid to get to the core of what makes these types of games compelling. SHMUPs such as R-Type and Xenon 2: Megablast were also referenced and a big influence on the inclusion of Boss Battles. In terms of looking at modern games that have been able to reinvigorate classic gameplay, we really admired the Geometry Wars titles as well as Pac-Man Championship Edition.
MG: From the trailer, it looks like players will not be restricted to one-directional shooting (not just shooting vertically, not just shooting left to right, etc). There were even levels that were circle shaped. Will each level feature a different direction to attack , or will the player be able to travel on the boarder of each stage at will?
Sidhe: Each level is horizontal, vertical, or circular with one edge designated as the “pit” where the balls can be lost along which the bat can travel. We experimented with more complex shapes such as hexagons and octagons but found they were too difficult to play given the complexity that adds to the ball bouncing off the walls.
MG: What about power-ups and bonus features?
Sidhe: There are various power-ups and special attacks in the game. These include anything from score multipliers, ball power-ups which make the balls smash through multiple bricks, a shield to protect the bat, and a devastating shooting attack.
In addition to the main Story Mode, there is also the Boss Rush mode which is a time attack of all the boss battles back to back, and a Bonus Game mode where you try to keep increasingly fast balls in play.
MG: Will there be multiplayer support? If so, will it be online? Co-Op? Leaderboards?
Sidhe: There is no multiplayer support, but we are supporting trophies, leaderboards and friends so that people will be able to compete against others via score and leaderboard ranking.
MG: The trailer featured some very cool music to match the unique gameplay. What can players expect from the soundtrack and can you give some insight as to how your tunes were produced?
Sidhe: The soundtrack is something we are really proud of. We worked with a local musician, Module, who produced an original score of over 90 minutes of great music. Initially, he just worked from concept art and early prototypes, but as the game evolved and was fleshed out he evolved the soundtrack also. It was a great collaborative process and a labor of love, the results of which we think gamers will really appreciate.
MG: Shatter is set to break free on the PSN on July 23, 2009. What is the price of the game and can we maybe expect to see some downloadable content in the future?
Sidhe: The game is priced at US$7.99 or €5.99 which we think will be very compelling for the quality and amount of content.
We have some ideas about DLC, but we haven’t committed any resource to developing anything yet. We want to see what resonates with consumers first, and have that help guide our approach.
MG: Most game design studios have employees working long, hard hours. Is there anything crazy or special your team does to stay motivated? Have a favorite caffeinated drink?
Sidhe: The team does work very hard, but there is great camaraderie that can help you through those times when the pressure is on. Keeping the weekends free, social club activities, and Friday drinks also help. And luckily, Wellington has some of the best coffee in the world too.
MG: Is Sidhe working on anything else? What can we expect to see from you in the future after Shatter? Anything in the hopper?
Sidhe: We are working on a number of different projects right now across iPhone, PSP, PS3, 360, Wii, and PC. These projects include licensed titles for retail such as Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 for Wii with Activision, as well as original titles for download. You’ll be hearing a lot more about what we are working on over the coming months and years.
MG: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Sidhe: Hopefully, your readers will enjoy Shatter and our future games. We really want to hear back from gamers what they do and don’t like about our titles, so your readers are welcome to get in touch at any time with their feedback.
MG: On behalf of the Mygamer staff and our readers, we thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions. We are looking forward to playing Shatter.