Interview With XperimentalZ Games

Introduce us to the people who work behind the XperimentalZ logo. Why did you decide to get into the iOS videogame industry, and what kind of experiences would you like to bring to the iOS gamer audience?

We’re a small group of people coming from various game studios (or related domains) around Montreal who teamed up to form XperimentalZ Games, which is now almost two years old. We came to the iOS videogame industry, especially the indie side, because of the rebirth of videogames. We still remember what videogames were about at the beginning: originality and fun. The large amount of new gamers and developers flocking to smartphone platforms brought such a fresh wave of ideas that it gave the impression of seeing the industry going back to its roots. We simply had to be part of that.

There is nothing wrong with having multi-million game franchises in the industry, but the business risks involved push toward a crystallization of videogames in general. With the explosion of the indie movement, it is easy to see that there’s still a whole world of gaming possibilities left to explore.

The arrival of so many new players to the market demonstrated the importance of making games that are simple to learn and use. So on one side there are casual players, and on the other side there are hardcore players. We’d like to position ourselves exactly in between those two groups by making games simple enough to be enjoyed by casual players, but deep, fun and innovative enough to satisfy more experienced gamers.

Have your experiences with Gravitation Defense and Repulse-O impacted your approach to Don’t Run With a Plasma Sword in any way? I.e., in terms of game design principles, time management, or building attention?

All three projects are totally different, both in style and scope. Gravitation Defense is a simple casual game where the player has to defend the Earth by flicking away incoming asteroids. Repulse-O is a match-three puzzle set on a rotating board. DRWAPS is slightly more in the mainstream but has a much larger scale.

However, there are similarities in their design. They are all built to be played in short sessions of one to five minutes, which is a characteristic that we often see with mobile games. They all include a fixed progression mode (challenges or story). Each also includes an endless mode, which starts slowly but ends up being frantic. So we could say that those previous projects helped us establish the rhythm and progression for DRWAPS.

What was the most difficult part of transitioning to the side-scrolling genre? Were you able to stick with the same programming language(s) and libraries you used in Gravitation Defense and Repulse-O, or did you find that you had to learn a ton of new stuff to implement everything you needed in DRWAPS?

For GD and Repulse-O, we were using our own little 2D engine which, if not elegant, was simple to use and tweak. On DRWAPS, we tried to improve our engine by including functionalities like Retina support, universal app support, animations, level design built with our own editor, etc. But since the scope of the project grew bigger and bigger, we decided to make a transition to a more complete engine: cocos2d. Since it is open source and supported by a large and friendly community of developers, it’s grown nicely over time and represents an interesting option for developers.

That experience was beneficial to us. The most significant impact was probably on level design. By using tools like Tiled Map Editor, we managed to construct hundreds of small gameplay maps without too much hassle. Those maps became the core foundation of the game. We use fixed sequences of those small maps to create a story level and we spawn them randomly, according to their level of difficulty, to obtain an endless mode.

Would you say that any particular media influenced the aesthetic and game design choices you made while developing DRWAPS?

It all started with a single thought: having a combat game featuring a cool plasma-sword-type of weapon. We were playing a few nice runners back then. Seeing how well they were adapted to smartphones, we decided to mix both ideas because there’s something intrinsically appealing in the idea of running with a plasma sword, slashing at things. It was also already clear at this stage that we wanted to have a humorous tone, so the ‘don’t run with scissors’ idea for the title came naturally.

That’s how we ended up with a three-button (jump, slide, attack) running game. At this point, the retro sci-fi ambiance dawned on us. We started to look for old sci-fi movie posters and retro-futuristic images describing how people were seeing the future in the 50s or 60s, and found them hilarious and fascinating; for instance, the fact that on most of these posters, the monster always holds a captive woman in his arms. All this helped set up the general retro-futuristic direction and the humorous tone. In turn, this influenced how the music got created.