We recently reviewed the new Xbox LIVE title Tentacles for Windows Phone and it met every expectation I had for the highly anticipated and exclusive title. So, I was eager when we were able to catch up with the Director and Lead Designer at Press Play, the developer for Tentacles and Max and the Magic Marker.
Ole Teglbjærg (Director and Lead Designer) was more than kind to interrupt his vacation and answer a few questions we had about the design, development and future of Press Play’s titles on the Windows Phone platform. Here is what he had to say:
Q. If you could, tell us a little bit about your company Press Play and how you came to develop for the Windows Phone platform.
A. Press play is a Copenhagen based studio currently employing 8 guys, and usually we have a few different projects running at any given moment.
We started Press Play 5 years ago, and in the beginning we focused on flash games for web. But since we Got the idea for Max & the Magic Marker we have focusing on larger games and lately we have found a love for mobile games. When I come to think of it there are quite a few similarities in doing flash games and doing mobile games. And what we learned in our early years comes to great use now in mobile market. It’s all about finding a simple and solid mechanic and making the best of it.
Q. I am a huge fan of Max and the Magic Marker, which is currently available for multiple platforms. What are your thoughts on the title’s reception in the Windows Phone Marketplace thus far?
A. Max got a fine reception on Windows Phone, and we are really happy about the game. That said, when we look at it now it is clear to us, that this was our first mobile game. There are a few things we probably would have done differently today. But that’s always how we feel about our games after a while.
Q. Tentacles has a unique and interesting storyline. Could you elaborate on the origin and development of the story?
A. Dr. Phluff is a classic mad scientist villain. Ever since he was little hé has been experimenting with making animals cuter. In the beginning it was mostly cosmetic surgery on a wide variety of pets, but later he switched to genetic engineering and that’s how Lemmy came to life.
Q. The gameplay and mechanics for Tentacles are excellent. Could you tell us more about devising the control scheme for Lemmy?
A. Tentacles is the result of some of the very earliest prototypes we did in Press Play. The movement mechanic has been tuned and tested in a number of different settings – from puzzle platformer to racing game. And while it was clear to us that the concept had potential, we never quite nailed it. As a puzzle game it was too slow, and the movement felt more like an obstacle, than an extension of the player, which should always be the goal. And as a racing game it just became mindless tapping or button-mashing.
Then on the plane home from GDC in San Fransisco 2010 Rune and I decided to give the concept one more go, and now Tentacles is the result.
Very early in the development we worked a lot with finding the right pacing. That has really been the key to how it ended up.
Q. In your opinion, what is your favorite aspect of Tentacles (controls, music, levels…)?
A. I’m really happy about many aspects of the game. The Music was done by my good friend Jens, who is a renowned electronic artist here in Denmark under the name Rumpistol.
As a game designer the levels are naturally dear to me, but to point at one specific thing it has to be the movement mechanic. To me it is satisfying simply to move Lemmy forward and i think is an achievement in itself.
On a side note i’m personally quite proud of the fact that we worked on this concept on and off for 4 years without getting it right, but still succeed in the end. Normally I would say that a project should either be completed or canned after 4 years of prototyping, but somehow this one survived.
Q. Along those same lines, what was, in your opinion, the most difficult area of development in Tentacles?
A. I Think the most difficult thing for me has been the ramping of difficulty throughout the 40 levels. But on a more general design note it has been a challenge to keep it simple. We’ve had some really great features and add-ons to the controls, but again and again we had to remind ourselves to keep it simple, and ended up cutting it.
Maybe it can still come to use in an update or a sequel.
Q. What do you feel are the advantages (if any) of programming for Windows Phone and especially Xbox LIVE-enabled titles compared to other platforms?
A. Actually the whole game is designed and built with the Unity engine, which doesn’t support Windows Phone, and from there ported to XNA. On The way we build an automated way of porting unity scripts to The XNA framework, so once that was in place there were no real trouble. Comparing to when we made max for Windows Phone, this time went a lot smoother. Both because we learned a lot from the first time around, but also because the platform has matured and there are now a set of standards to follow.
Q. What was it like working closely with Microsoft for Xbox LIVE integration?
A. It was fine. The people at MS have been nice to us.
Q. Are there any plans to bring Tentacles to the Xbox 360 console (I’m thinking along the lines of Kinect integration)?
A. We are not ruling anything out at this moment.
Q. Is there anything you can tell us about titles that Press Play might have planned for the future of Windows Phone?
A. Sorry no, not at this moment, once again we are not ruling anything out;-)
Developers are the real platforms drivers, so having the opportunity to hear how they make decisions and bring an excellent title like Tentacles to Windows Phone is always intriguing for me. I would again like to thank Ole for answering my questions and his entire team for bringing such a great, exclusive title to our platform.