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Rolling Right Along With The Makers of Armillo
Nintendo has been no stranger to indies in the past year, and that doesn’t seem to be changing with the pending release of one indie gem in the making. Shown off to eager fans of retro and contemporary platformers of all kinds at PAX11 and PAX13, “Armillo” has been the latest of a long line in Wii U eShop titles to hit this spring. The Nintendo section was privileged enough to snag a Q & A with two of the designers behind the magic at Fuzzy Wuzzy Games.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and experience before coming to Fuzzy Wuzzy Games?
James: I’m James Saito and I’m a huge Nintendo fan. My Nintendo roots come from a time when I visited Japan and played the Famicom. That was like about 31 years ago – now I feel old. On Armillo, I’m the programmer, lead game designer, and level designer. I’ve been programming for quite a long time – over 25 years now. Mostly doing hobby work, but spent a good chunk of that working at EA. While working for Armillo, I also did contract work for a game company called Nine Tail Studios and not long ago they released their first mobile game called Monsters Rising. Armillo is really a fun project for me as it’ll be the first commercial game where I’m heading the game design. That said, the whole team also contributes a lot to the design as well, which makes it very interesting as the team itself consists of a diverse set of gamers.
Yanni Fyssas: I’m the resident noise maker for Armillo (aka Sound Designer). I started playing guitar at 7 and recording audio at 14. Video games kicked in at 10 and I bought a Vectrex with paper route money at 13. The paper route paid barely anything so it took a looooong time to amass enough money for the Vectrex. By the time I was 19, I had recorded and mixed band demos on amateur equipment, built a small studio, and recorded at other local studios as a session guitarist. After 10 years of professional studio work as a recording/mixing engineer, I moved over to games and worked at Electronic Arts as a Sound Designer. Besides working on Armillo I also teach Interactive Audio at some of the local Game Design Schools in Vancouver, run www.hybridsoundworks.com (a local Indie-focused Sound Design Recording Studio) and volunteer/organize http://www.fullindie.com/ I’ve been working in audio professionaly for over 20 years now and look forward to pushing the boundaries of audio and emotional engagement in video games.
How long has Armillo been in development and what idea sparked its creation?
James: It’s been on development sInce 2011! It started as a simple 2D game that we wanted to release on mobile. It was a simple accelerometer controlled rotational puzzle game. From there, the scope and complexity of the game kept growing until it became a fully functional 3D puzzle platformer. Inspiration for this game comes from games such as Mario Galaxy, Marble Madness, Monkey Ball, and Sonic.
Yanni Fyssas: I haven’t played Sonic a whole lot but at PAX11/PAX13, people kept bringing it up. I wanted to create a frantic sense of speed at times, so I think that’s a definitely a common thread between Armillo and Sonic. Who doesn’t like rolling around and going mega fast? I think working on Need For Speed while at EA and chatting with Charles Deenen also instilled in me the importance of a sense of speed, and how it can drive gameplay, so that concept probably comes through somewhat in this game.
Armillo is described as the ultimate action, rolling puzzle game. What can fans expect from their experience with Armillo and what do you believe its primary appeal is?
James: Primary appeal would be the amount of gameplay variety in this game. You go from world to world and for each world, we try something a bit different. This sort of variety will hopefully give players an incentive to keep playing to look for something new.
Super Mario Galaxy and Marble Madness have both been cited as key influences behind Armillo’s design. Could you tell us how these influences have affected Armillo’s design?
Yanni Fyssas: There are a lot of similarities with Armillo and these two games. Sonic has a lot of similarities as well. How we got here is interesting though….. We had a 2D rolling mechanic and wanted to move to a 3D gaming environment. We like the idea exploring, of going from planet to planet rather than new levels or maps spawning in front of the camera (ie. the game Mercury). It wasn’t a decision to move to a Mario Galaxy type of game, we were trying to figure out how to make a 3D environment and this is what we came up with. Marble Madness is probably the first rolling game anyone played (or maybe Monkey ball) and it only makes sense to reference to that.
Besides the aforementioned, are there any other games that serve as influences for Armillo?
Yanni Fyssas: I’m a huge fan of anything Mario and the Resident Evil 4 game. Some of the scary moments and music in the parallel Universe is an ode to that game (from my perspective). Need For Speed has an amazing sense of speed instilled in the game audio, I tried to create that feeling when Armillo goes really fast – cause it’s so much fun!
Armillo supports the Wii U’s pro-controller and gamepad. What would you say are some of the gamepad’s best features and will any of them factor into the game’s local co-op?
Yanni Fyssas: I’m amazed at how well the tilt works to steer Armillo.
James Saito: Unfortunately, local co-op won’t make it for our first release. We’re still trying to see what works best for multiplayer, whether it’s co-op or competitive, but we’re definitely planning a free update that will include multiplayer. When doing split screen multiplayer, I’ll note here that it’ll be a waste if we don’t use the two screens.
Were the Wii-mote’s motion-controls ever put into consideration for Armillo?
James Saito: Not really. I haven’t really put much thought of including Wii Remote support at this point.
What made your team decide to take Armillo to the Wii U and what are a few of the system’s core strengths, especially from the standpoint of sound design?
James Saito: Coming from XNA, the Wii U was actually a pretty good upgrade over the 360, especially considering the amount of additional memory and GPU performance. Also, moving on to the Wii U, we switched over to Unity, which made development a lot easier.
What can you tell us about the game’s title character of Armillo? What was the inspiration behind the name and what thoughts came to mind in his design?
Yanni Fyssas: The creation of Armillo as a character was truly a team effort between everyone involved. We threw together a whack of ideas, images and concepts and were fortunate enough to work with Terry Chui – a super talented art director and all around great guy. Terry took our ideas and mashed them up adding his own unique flair. Ron (uber artist) then took Terry’s photoshop . pencil art concepts art and tweaked heavily (with more team input again) to create Armillo, a ton of art assets and the remaining characters. The game would not be what it is today if even one of our team members wasn’t there! There’s a really good video we put together about Character design here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5x0wPIosZeM
Is there anything you can say about the game’s alleged “parallel universe mystery?”
James Saito: The mystery is sort of revealed early on in the game, which is why that subtitle was removed some time in the game’s development. Not much else I’ll say other than play the game!
Tell us about your studio of Hybrid Soundworks. What are a few of the notable projects you’ve worked on in and outside of gaming?
Yanni Fyssas: Hybrid Sound Studios has been around since 1991 and in 2013 I rebranded to Hybrid SoundWorks as the focus is no longer just music production. I have a deep love and sensitivity for music composition and production and part of this is coming through on Armillo..My personal favourites and Indie albums we made right here in Vancouver that most people have never heard of. I was lucky enough to help out on some recordings by Dido and Avril Lavigne. Best to just visit the website and check out the portfolio section though!
What are some of the greatest challenges of indie development compared to working with larger companies like EA?
Yanni Fyssas: I think as an Indie, everything, absolutely everything is on the table for debate and execution, from marketing to game play, music, tradeshows, interviews, demos, infrastructure, tech, legal, advertising, taxes, etc. It becomes very hard to focus on what matters most and ignore the rest. All these things are important and we can’t ignore them, at the same time, if we don’t ignore them at some level, the game will not get built. If we do ignore them, the game will never be seen. Managing this process is a whole challenge in itself. With a bigger company like EA, I just focused on my job which is a miniscule subset of the above items.
Do you believe Nintendo’s eShop could become a new ally to indies?
Yanni Fyssas: I think it already is.
On a side note, are there any games you’re currently playing or looking forward to?
Yanni Fyssas: Mad Max, Scale, LIfeless Planet, Contrast, Pixel Boy, NeverEnding Nightmares, Teslagrad, Raindrop, Night In The Woods, Monsters Rising (and about two dozen more – in no particular order)
James Saito: Currently playing Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros Wii U, Shovel Knight, Scram Kitty, Ballpoint Universe, Ittle Dew, Batman: Arkham Knight, Watch Dogs, and NES Remix 2 are games that I’m currently looking forward to.
When and where else can gamers expect to play Armillo when it releases?
Yanni Fyssas: May 12 on a WiiU in NA and (hopefully) Europe.
Where do you see Fuzzy Wuzzy Games going in the future and are there any other projects it has on the horizon?
Yanni Fyssas: Like every other Indie Dev, we’d like to be able to make more games on our own, without being tied to a traditional publisher financial model. Right now we have a few other ideas for games, but we’ll focus on Armillo, a Multiplayer mode and other platforms. Nothing official yet though. 🙂
We’ll have just weeks to wait then for Armillo to round the corner and explore this “parallel universe mystery” for ourselves in style. In the meantime, check out Yanni Fyssas’s website of Hybrid Soundworks and Armillo when it hits the Wii U eShop.
But that’s not all folks!We here at the Nintendo section have put together a rather awesome contest. Our “Tales From the Game Shelf” series is now live and we’re talking about our favorite game stories, with our own Coty Sugg telling us the rather epic tale of Pandora’s Tower on Wii. Tell us yours in the comments to our articles and you’ll be entered to win a free game code for DoubleFine’s “The Cave” on PS3! Hop to it while the offer lasts and read more at Leviathyn!