Wales Interactive might be a name you might not be too familiar with, but as a team with over 20 years of game development exprience it’s time to sit up and pay attention as they plan to support the Wii U in a big way.
Based in Cardiff, Wales this BAFTA Cymru award winning studio already have three games confirmed for release on the Wii U including the imminent Gravity Badgers which releases this week. This will then be folllowed by Master Reboot and Infinity Runner. In order to find out more Nintendo Enthusiast spoke with Founder and Managing Director, David Banner.
Who are Wales Interactive and what is the ethos behind the studio?
Wales Interactive is a BAFTA Cymru Award-winning indie video game developer and publisher based in Pencoed, Wales. Over the last eighteen months, the company has transformed from a two-man operation into a prosperous, eighteen-strong games development and publishing team making video games for all the major next-generation gaming consoles. I co-founded Wales Interactive with my business partner and fellow games designer Richard Pring, Technical Director, back in July 2012. We pride ourselves in being an unshackled independent developer making our own ideas exclusively from our studio in Wales. This includes all writing, design, programming, art, music, marketing and we even publish our own titles. We are passionate about video games and our aim is to create original games that entertain the world, as well as put Wales on the video games map.
How experienced are the team and what can we expect from them?
All of our team are local graduate talent straight out of University that we’ve trained and upskilled over the last year with next-generation games development practices. This is their first game industry job and I’m glad to say they have matured into a dedicated team of games industry professionals who really know what it takes to make quality titles. The games we are making now are even more ambitious than our first titles and we are definitely ones to watch in 2014, with some our best titles to date coming out this year.
What games has Wales Interactive created so far?
For a small indie company we’ve created lots of games over the last eighteen months — sixteen titles, in fact, for a wide range of platforms, encompassing quite a few different genres. These include: Stride Files: The Square Murder — a murder mystery which actually won a BAFTA Cymru commendation for artistic achievement; Jack Vs Ninjas — a slide-scrolling arcade action game; DJ Space — a music creation game; Master Reboot — a 3D sci-fi adventure game and Gravity Badgers — our 2D physics-based title. We are currently working on a 3D sci-fi game called Infinity Runner and the sequel to Master Reboot. You can check out our full back catalogue here: http://www.walesinteractive.com/#!products/c1x9v
How long has the Wii U version of Master Reboot been in development and when will you submit it to Nintendo?
We’ve been working on Wii U version for the last four months and I’m pleased to say the game is complete now and currently in the Nintendo submission process.
Master Reboot is like nothing I’ve seen before. How would you explain it to our readers?
With Master Reboot, we have dared to be different and created a beautiful, stylistic game world which takes inspiration from games like The Day of the Tentacle and Tron. We mix mystery and intrigue through the narrative and convey it through a minimalist visual aesthetic. It was a big decision to create this bold, simple graphical look for the game because the games industry on the whole for this particular genre is geared to emulating reality and we knew it would split opinion. We wanted to create a style that would really stand out from the crowd and give us as the developers an identity and think we have achieved that with this game. It’s been described as “A gorgeous indie horror” by PC Gamer and “From concept to art style to the wonderful trailer, it’s a breath of fresh, creepy air” by RockPaperShotgun and “A Freakishly Cool Game Where You Invade The Memories Of Dead People” by Kotaku.
When you begin the game, your identity is unknown. You are simply a digital representation of who you once were when you were alive, transferred into an endless network of people’s memories called the Soul Cloud. Beginning your transfer into your new digital existence is simple: you sit on a monorail transporting you to your new home, a place where you can live out all your favorite memories for all time. But something is different — a feeling of anxiety comes over you and something strange happens, causing you to blackout. Waking up on a deserted beach without any knowledge of who you are or where you are, you bring yourself to your feet. Looking around you, everything you used to know has seemingly been wiped from your memory. Why did this happen? Did someone do this on purpose? If so, was it meant for you or someone else?
How large and varied is the game?
There is around five to eight hours of gameplay, depending on the player and how much you explore. It’s definitely a game you get more out of the longer you play and, to really understand the full story, you have to find all the “blue ducks.” Blue ducks in Master Reboot are very important and they are essentially hold clues to help unravel the story.
There are thirty-four levels in the game covering a wide variety of environments that will intrigue and inspire the player. There are some genuine jaw-dropping moments in the game and it is definitely a title that feeds the senses and needs to be experienced.
Does Master Reboot feature a co-op or multiplayer mode of any kind?
Master Reboot doesn’t have any co-op or multiplayer modes, but our future titles for Wii U will support these features. Our next title, Infinity Runner, boasts a multiplayer mode for up to thirty-two players!
What was the inspiration for such a unique idea for the game?
Master Reboot is a joint idea between myself and Sarah Crossman. I’ve known Sarah for years; in fact, I used to be her lecturer when I used to guest on the local games course in between making games professionally. The idea was spawned when a teary Sarah came to me for advice after one of the projects she was working on fell through (that’s nearly 2 years ago now!) and Master Reboot came out of that conversation. I’ve always thought that, in the future, it would be science fact rather than science fiction that we would be able save our personalities, consciousness and memories digitally and I’ve always wanted to make a game around that concept. So we took the premise, Sarah visualized it, we named it and began writing a script and designing the game, which evolved from a small demo into a full-blown adventure game. Richard Pring and I are the Game Directors with Sarah as Lead Designer and we had four scriptwriters — myself, Richard Pring, Sarah Crossman, and Sarah Millman. We drew on real-life experiences, which we incorporated into the narrative so there are quite a few parts of the story that we’re based on real life, which we’ve sensationalised.
What kind of experiences should players expect from the game?
With Master Reboot, we wanted to invoke an uneasiness for the gameplayer — a haunting quality as you journeyed through the game. There are certain levels where you catch glimpses of things, shadows, movement out of the corner of your eye and there are always undertones of something not quite being right. I think less is more in our game and we’ve taken the horror genre in a different direction and steered away from blood, guts and violence. We’ve tried to let the player project and amplify their current mood. If you’ve ever watched a scary movie at home on your own at night in the dark and then, after the movie, your house seems that little bit scarier and the slightest noise takes on a more sinister connotation — it’s really that feeling that we were trying to invoke. We wanted the occasional jump scare just to reinforce that something could happen anywhere when exploring. That way, the player’s mind frame starts to be be more cautious and more expectant and adds to their tension. We wanted the balance between the horror elements to complement the narrative and not just be a sideshow along the way.
We also wanted to create an intriguing game that drew the player deeper and deeper into the story and we didn’t want to spoon-feed the player the plot. The way we’ve implemented it with the blue ducks and memory cutscenes was experimental, but I’m pleased to say it worked out well, judging with the feedback we’ve been getting. If you don’t get all the blue ducks, you will not have all of the story, but I think it’s more rewarding when you form an idea of who you are and what’s happening only for you to re-evaluate after finding the latest blue duck clue, which changes your view (unpeeling another onion skin, so to speak). So giving the player the respect to do their own exploring and investigating, I think, is more rewarding, especially when you find that nugget of information which shines a lights on a new part of the story. The idea of you being able to access a wide variety of environments relating to the character’s many different memories lent itself more to individual puzzle tasks, each puzzle being influenced by that particular memory or environment and what was in your immediate surroundings. The fact that we’ve managed to keep the intrigue, atmosphere and entertainment levels throughout the game and kept the player consistently engaged is no mean feat and I think the decision to have isolated memories helped us achieved that.
Have you incorporated a soundtrack as grand as the art style for the game?
The sound track and sound design for Master Reboot really complements the strong art direction we’ve established and we put a lot of effort in to make sure it enhanced the experience. There are some levels which the sound design really sends a shiver down your spine or inspires the player when seeing one of the many beautiful locations in the game. Sound was key to our ethos of redefining the horror genre and I totally agree that, without the right sound design, then the game wouldn’t have as much impact.
How do you plan to make use of the Wii U’s unique capabilities?
The Wii U is deceptively powerful and it’s run everything we’ve thrown at so far it with ease. We love the GamePad concept and being able to connect to another display and have different gameplay elements working independently on both screens really adds a lot of scope for our future titles to exploit. As we are just getting know the console capabilities, we aim to be even more innovative with the hardware (and Miiverse) in our future titles.
I’ve heard enough. When can I get my hands on the Wii u version?
We are hoping for late June release for Master Reboot, pending Nintendo’s approving our first submission.
You’ve also announced plans to bring Gravity Badgers to Wii U. Can you tell us more?
Badgers in space! Need I say more? We always wanted to make a badger-based game and when we came up with an idea for a space-themed gravity mechanic, then we thought it would be funny to combine the two ideas. It makes for a memorable name and an awesome title song. We think of Gravity Badgers as a fictional 80s cartoon series which we’ve made a game about.
Essentially, you propel your badgers through space riding the gravity from the different planets to get to the wormholes to free your crew. At the end of each episode, there’s a boss fight, including the Giant Worm fight from within its stomach and the deadly Doomsphere space station. The game is supposed to make you laugh and this, combined with a highly polished look and addictive gameplay, hopefully makes for an entertaining experience.
How many levels and characters will feature in the game?
There are 130 action-packed puzzle levels with six characters and power-ups. Gravity Badgers is a casual game, but it does have a lot of content to unlock and a difficulty curve, which will keep you entertained for good amount of time. It has that addictive quality that not only makes you want to beat the next level but achieve the perfect score, which adds to the replay value. It was designed to be more of a casual pick-up-and-play experience, but it really depends on the player. We can track how long people play it in one session on Steam and it’s currently at 1hr 12mins on average per session, which is much more than short burst, so it shows that it has that gameplay hook and level progression to keep you playing.
The Wii U has had a hard time of late. Why did you decide to bring your games to the Wii U?
As an indie games developer, we want to work on the latest games consoles and we are huge Nintendo fans, so when the opportunity came to adapt our titles to Wii U, we jumped at the chance. Gravity Badgers is perfect for Wii U and the fact that we used Unity to develop it made the title easy to adapt.
How was the process of becoming an approved developer and would you change anything?
It’s amazing that we as an indie developer can get our products out on the eShop. We are massive Nintendo fans so it’s a huge privilege to be able to sell our products on their store. Nintendo have been great with us, the support is excellent and there is always someone on hand to troubleshoot. At this moment in time, I would say there’s nothing major I would change about the process.
Once development of these two games is complete, what’s on the cards next for Wales Interactive?
We’re just in the final stage of development of our next title, Infinity Runner, which is due out on Wii U at the end of the summer. Infinity Runner is a sci-fi action running game which has been described as Mirror’s Edge meets Mass Effect, but the team refer to it as the “Werewolves in Space!” game. As an unshackled indie developer, we are becoming known for a company that breathes new life and originality into well-trodden game genres and I can promise the same for the running game genre. You can expect our unique visual style combined with innovative slick action gameplay and a few unusual surprises along the way! You can find more about Infinity Runner and see the teaser trailer here: http://www.walesinteractive.com/#!infinity-runner/c1g7s .
We are confident that the Wii U eShop will be vital for are continued growth as an indie video games developer and we think Master Reboot and Gravity Badgers will have every chance of being a success on the store. There are no plans for us to make any 3DS titles, but we wouldn’t rule it out in the future. We love making games and always consider supporting as many platforms as we can, but I can confirm that we will be making more titles for Wii U. As well as Gravity Badgers and Master Reboot, we’ll be bringing our new title, Infinity Runner, to Wii U to towards the end of summer, as well as the spiritual sequel to Master Reboot.
Could there ever be a sequel to Master Reboot?
I’m pleased to say that we working on a spiritual successor to Master Reboot, which is called Soul Axiom. As an unshackled indie developer, we don’t really do sequels, as we find they stifle creativity, but we are building on the premise of digital life after death in this title. For Soul Axiom, expect the same beautiful art direction experienced in Master Reboot, as well as more unusual haunting adventure game action combined with another intriguing story within the digital soul realm. Soul Axiom is due out November 2014 on Steam for PC, Mac, Linux, with versions for PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox One and Wii U following a couple of months later.