Interview With N++ Dev: "Inspiration, Graphics, New Features, PS4's GPGPU/RAM, Multiplayer And More"
N++, the last and final installment in popular video-game series N is all set to launch on Playstation 4 this year. We recently got in touch with Metanet Software's Raigan Burns to know more about what all new things N++ will offer, how it's different from previous two installments in the franchise, inspiration, 10 years of Journey, Playstation 4 and many more things. Read on to find out everything you need to know about N++.
Gamepur: First of all, congratulations for N++, it will be your first title for next-gen!
How is your experience different from the past, as now you are developing for a next-gen console?
Raigan Burns: Thanks! Yes, our last experience on console was prev-gen, N+ for XBLA.
One thing we decided to do is to spend some time making a very smooth vector renderer; this is something we had intended to do with N+, but we didn't have time. In hindsight, it probably wouldn't have run very well -- compositing things properly really needs a lot of fill-rate! Luckily GPUs are a lot faster now.
Spending the time has definitely been worth it -- the graphics are smooth as silk and very gorgeous, if we do say so ourselves :)
Gamepur: We have heard that the basic concept/idea for N series came to your mind during your University days. Can you go a bit into flashback and share the inspiration with us? Those moment i.e like how things fell into place and N series came into existence.
Raigan Burns: N was mostly a combination of several little experiments which we had lying around (tile-based collision, simple ragdoll, etc); we decided to try and make a game with all these pieces. As it turned out, we had way too many -- that helped us learn the importance of editing, and really paring down a concept to its most crucial bones.
The moment when it really clicked was when we added the ninja graphics/animation. To start, we had just been maneuvering a circle around the screen, which was fun and challenging, but after adding the animation things immediately felt a lot more exciting and dynamic. The game started to take shape, and suddenly was MUCH more fun (even without any enemies).
The main inspirations were different aspects of some of the freeware games we had been playing:
- Soldat had really great momentum-based movement and slapstick ragdoll deaths, which we really liked.
- Super Bubble Blob featured sliding/jumping on walls.
- Zone Runner proved that simple movement-based, combat-less gameplay could still be quite engaging.
- Puchiwara no Bouken had a wonderful zoomed-out aesthetic with a stick-figure character that had a bit of personality.
We sort of combined all of these things that we liked, plus our experiments, into a single game.
Gamepur: N++ is the last and the final chapter in N series. It has been in existence for 10 years (N released in 2004, N+ in 2008). How do you guys look at the whole journey of N series?
Raigan Burns: It has definitely been a journey; we've learned a *lot* about game design and development, level design, and what we think makes a good game.
N++ is the culmination of that learning.
It's really pretty humbling that something which we hastily threw together in a couple months has been able to blossom into something better; the support and encouragement of fans has been really important in driving us to keep working on it.
Gamepur: Any games that inspired you guys artistically and visually for N++?
Raigan Burns: The menus and intro animations of Wipeout 3 were definitely a big reference for the vector style we're pursuing; we are both huge fans of The Designers Republic, and their work in Wipeout 3 was our introduction to the world of graphic design. It was very inspiring.
We also really appreciate the simple, timeless and functional look of many older games, such as Pac-Man or Lode Runner: very iconic, and not really something that can be improved by adding more detail or fancy shaders.
We're aiming at a minimalist aesthetic, so the graphics will be clean, smooth and edited.
Gamepur: What new things can N series fans expect to see in N++ which were not present in N and N+?
Raigan Burns: We've added several new enemies and items which we're really excited about. (in N+ there were a few new things added, however we didn't really have time to properly use/explore/refine them as much as we would have liked, so we're really making a concerted effort to do that with N++)
This time, we didn't have such a strict deadline and we were able to discover a couple things which we feel are truly special and (speaking as level designers) add immensely to the range of what's possible in an N level. We're really excited about this because after ten years, we thought most of the possibilities had been exhausted!
We can't wait to reveal them.. however we're not ready to do that quite yet ;) Keep an eye on our blog for updates. We've also spent some time improving the multiplayer aspect of the game; when we made N+ we added multiplayer purely because it was mandated by Microsoft -- we didn't really think it would work, because the game was designed as a single-player experience. However, as soon as we started playing co-op and race, we realized that these modes actually did work quite well! Thanks, Microsoft!
Most of the new objects we've added to N++ were designed with the goal of organically increasing player interaction (as opposed to gimmicky "two players must stand on the switch" ways of forcing interaction).
We've spent a lot of time with N++ refining the rules and level design for race/co-op, and we've also added a new "deathmatch" mode which is inspired by a freeware classic called "Jump n Bump".
Finally, the new thing which has taken the most effort has been the level editor and online level-sharing.
This is something we have attempted in the past in various ways, but as this is the final version, we're taking special care to make sure we learn from all our past experiences and do it up right. We're excited to see what players come up with :)
Gamepur: Shall we say that we will definitely get to see some massive visual/graphics change in N++ for PS4? Can you give us some details on it?
Raigan Burns: The biggest change is that we've decided to explore colour a LOT more than in the past; we have been working with a graphic designer called MASA, who really helped to push us out of our "everything is grey" comfort zone and introduce some more vibrant hues.
One thing we're very focused on is making sure that the graphics remain functional and easy to read; the game is hard enough without being distracted or confused by the visuals! So, we've tried to refine things as much as possible and bring things to life without adding too much noise/clutter or other visual distraction.
It's hard to say whether people will notice our meticulously anti-aliased vector graphics; quite possibly most people won't appreciate it conciously, but we hope that they'll still be aware of it via the increased feeling of smoothness and awesomeness which it adds.
We have definitely tried to keep things as clean and minimal as possible, so that the focus is on the gameplay (which the graphics support and enhance), but are really trying to make sure the screenshots finally capture the exciting, beautiful game N++ is.
Gamepur: What do you think are the benefits of PS4 as a development platform? Are there any things which were not possible on other platforms?
Raigan Burns: We don't have a lot of first-hand experience since it's mostly our programmer Shawn McGrath (who you might know from the game Dyad) who is dealing with it on a daily basis. Certainly the anti-aliased vector graphics would not have been possible previously (at least, not at 60fps/1080p). It's definitely a relatively easy and friendly platform to work with compared to previous generations.
Gamepur: Tell us about the online multiplayer portion of N++?
Raigan Burns: No comment (we're still working out the details)
Gamepur: Can you tell us if N++ will use DualShock features such as the Touchpad or Light Bar?
Raigan Burns: The touchpad will be used in the level editor (which is perfect for it), but not in the game itself (which really needs the precise input afforded by buttons). We're also considering a silly multiplayer mode where you can hit the other players' touchpads to make them explode, inspired by physical-interaction games such as JSJoust/B.U.T.T.O.N
Gamepur: What was your experience working with Sony?
Raigan Burns: It has been great -- in fact, as mentioned on our blog, one of the main reasons that N++ is being made is that some of the people at Sony (Nick Suttner specifically) were fans of N+ and wanted us to work with Sony on something.
It's really been a wonderful experience to work with people who actually like our game.
Our only regret is that we weren't able to be ready for launch... making games is hard!
Gamepur: It is good to see indie developers getting so much attention nowadays, what you have to say about Sony's indie policy for PlayStation 4?
Raigan Burns: Sony are definitely leading the pack in terms of supporting unique and interesting stuff coming from smaller teams. We're friends with Jon Mak (who is also in Toronto), and seeing Sony support and believe in Jon's vision with Everyday Shooter and Sound Shapes has been pretty inspiring -- it's just amazing that a gigantic corporation actually has the vision to believe in somewhat left-field ideas from small teams. This is due completely to the people working at Sony, who somehow manage to champion and support these ideas.
Gamepur: Have you given a thought to port N++ to Xbox One? If no, why?
Raigan Burns: We're just trying to focus on getting it done for the PS4 right now :)
Gamepur: PS4 has been termed as a gaming beast by many developers, the hardware configuration is almost close to a modern day gaming PC. How much you have evaluated in development of N++?
Raigan Burns: While a simple mostly-solid-coloured 2d game might seem trivial from a graphics perspective, we are actually doing a lot of work on the GPU getting things properly anti-aliased. It's a difficult thing to do, and if done right, no one even notices it exists!
So far the PS4 has been able to handle it well; the unified memory definitely helps since it means we don't need to spend a lot of time sending things to the GPU. But honestly we only know what Shawn (our programmmer) tells us :)
Gamepur: What do you guys have to say about PS4's hardware: "PS4's GPGPU configuration, 8GB GDDR5 memory, Unified Architecture"? Does it limit you in anyway?
Raigan Burns: Not really. We're really excited to experiment with this for future games -- it should be possible to make a pretty large-scale 2d physics simulation now. Exciting!
Gamepur: A message you would like to convey to PS4 gamers for N++?
Raigan Burns: N++ will be worth the wait :)
Gamepur: It was really great to talk with you, we look forward for N++'s release and best of luck from Gamepur.com and our readers.
Raigan Burns: Thank you.