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Neko Entertainment

Game Info
Puddle

Wii U | Neko Entertainment | 1 Player | Coming Late 2012


Interview
17th October 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

The increasing interest in independent game development has made it less of a rare sight for pet projects to experience a considerable measure of exaltation from the community and press alike. But preceding their honourable ascension is often a tale of risk and passion-fueled creativity -- stories I'm always eager to learn more about. Puddle is one such project-turned-game that sees fans of physics-based puzzles exercising command over a liquid substance, guiding it through courses that speak to a scientific mindset. With recent announcements confirming Puddle's induction into the Wii U's lineup of initial downloadable offerings, I looked to the developers to disclose further details on its origins and the design philosophy at work. Supplying answers to the questions below are Laurent Lichnewsky (Managing Director), Cédric Bache (Business Development Manager) and Sébastien Chipot (QA Manager) of Neko Entertainment; as well as Martial Potron, Rémi Gillig, Pierre Lemasson, Antoine Guerchais, Hoël Jacq and Arnaud Noble from the original design team.


Wiiloveit: Really, this is a concept that could've gone any number of directions -- a humor-filled story (the jokes could write themselves!), a serious journey of self-discovery, or even an artistic expression of some kind. When deciding on an overall vision, what sort of thoughts went through the minds of the original design team?

Puddle Team: We were inspired at first by Rube Goldberg machines, these incredibly complex constructions that nearly do nothing useful but are quite fascinating to watch. We tried to combine with our primary goal of playing with fluids, we struggled between a pure puzzle game and a racing game. In the end, we tried to keep some key elements from both these gameplay without imposing too much of the hassle that could go with the dynamic nature of fluids.

So what was it about the game in its original form that motivated you and your team to get behind it? And why do you now feel Puddle should be brought to the Wii U?

We found the game really original, and the simplicity of the gameplay: tilt the world on the right or on the left to make your puddle progress through the levels. Moreover we had a very good feeling/alchemy with the original team so that’s why we decided to get behind it!

On one hand, The Wii U can offer very good performances, (Full HD/60FPS), which is a "must-have" for our game especially because there is a lot of physics. On the other hand, the Wii U Gamepad is really interesting as it fits perfectly with the way you would like to play the game: with the accelerometer! So basically it is the perfect compromise between the two important things in Puddle: graphics/physics and controls.

Given its nature, I imagine the GamePad will predominantly be used to drive the tilt mechanic, but on a broader scale, how will the controller add a new dimension to the existing gameplay?

The really interesting thing coming out from the Wii U GamePad is the fact that you are able to play on your console at home without forcing all the people around you to "support" the fact you are playing the game (and so monopolizing the TV). Here, as you can play the game on your TV and/or on your Wii U GamePad, you are free to say "you can watch whatever you want on TV, I can still continue to play Puddle on my Wii U GamePad and still with 60 FPS and the same quality!!"

How would you define the market you're hoping to cater to with this version of the game?

As we want everybody to be able to play Puddle from the beginning till the end, we mainly focused on the frustration of the player. With this brand new version of the game, every level has been improved to allow everyone to reach the end of every level. Not getting the gold medal, of course, has we want to keep the "gamer side" of the game, with the Leaderboard, but now, everyone should be able to complete the game (with the help of the loading screen, where lot of tips are displayed, for example).

Will there be any features exclusive to this version? Do you think taking advantage of Miiverse would work well for this sort of experience?

The Miiverse is really a nice support for the players from all over the world. Now, for every game on Wii U, all the players will have the opportunity to talk about the game, share their feelings, and tips...and I guess it is a real good thing for Puddle, as some players will always play better than others, and will be able to help each other. The game will become obviously easier for the casual gamers, and competitive for the ones who try to get the best score in each level.

Has feedback received across other versions of the game prepared you at all for this new iteration? Are there additional refinements you hope to make this time around?

First of all, the reviews from every websites gave us a lot of important feelings! Neko Entertainment is working hard on Puddle since a long time, and so, sometimes we could miss some important things  just because we are used to them. So, with all the reviews we read everywhere, we could understand the main problems of the game.

Then, after some focus tests with people who never played Puddle, we realized that, there are many ways to complete or even progress in a level. So we played again and again trying to understand how every player would pass each section of the game.

Something is sure now, the Wii U version of Puddle is the best one, and even if the difficulty has been smoothed, it is still a hard challenge for the ones who want to collect every gold medal or reach the top 10 on the Leaderboard!

I'm sure everyone on the team plays and has played Puddle to different lengths and a variable pace. Based on that and what you've discerned from how other players have reacted, what insights have you gained respecting the different ways in which new players will respond to the gameplay?

We were happy to realize we propose a lot of way to control the liquid and that players were happy to be able to test them and choose the one they prefer. We kept three ways to control the World, so we are sure everyone will be able to play the game without being frustrated due to the controls. Even if the ZL-ZR Buttons are the best ones to be more reactive, the Left Stick is the easiest way to tilt the world, as you just need to push it left or right; whereas the accelerometer is more immersive... Everyone is free to chose how they want to "live" Puddle!

Perceivably, one thing that works for Puddle is that there's little required in terms of communication. Even if you had a few seconds to sell the concept to someone, it wouldn't be difficult to explain it in a few words. I suppose that's the benefit of working with a sense of purity, which is certainly appropriate for a game like this. But then there's this risk where, in the absence of a comprehension barrier, it's a matter of difficulty and progression (or lack thereof) posing a possible threat to the player's willingness to engage. How do you go about gauging what you believe to be the sweet spot in terms of balance? What signals do you look for when testing the game's design?

When making changes in the levels, it is quite hard to find a logical balance.

Let’s take an example: in the second level of the game, there is a door blocking the way. After a while this door opens and the player is able to progress further in the level. Just behind that door, there is a fire. Most of players would wait, step back and then jump fast to jump over the fire. Some players don’t even understand why the door is opening, thinking it is just because of their liquid touching the door. They did not step back and so fall in the fire. We just decided to create a "jump" with that door. So even if you are not gaining momentum, you can cross this fire and continue to progress through the level.

The main idea was not to change the "hits" on the puddle, when you were on a fire for example, because it would have been a nonsense, but just to find the balance between passing through this fire and get killed instantly and pass through this fire without getting any damage.

Tell me more about the design process as it's manifested in the conceptual stages. When drafting the different obstacles for the individual puzzles, where does it all begin? An inspiration? A structure? Something else? And how do you map out how long and involved these individual puzzles are?

The process throughout the production changed a bit. At first, we tried to identify which key platform elements would be fun to do and to incorporate in the levels. You can have a lot of different parts that could be reused between levels and use them to adjust difficulty quite easily. However, we felt like it would be a bit generic and did not fit well with the different environments we wanted. It was more like a skin of other levels sometimes. So the process we kept is that we design a rough playable in the level editor, if we find it fun, we keep it, everyone tries it, and with this feedback we can try to mix some of these experimental levels together to get a bigger one. The environment associated is decided according to some of the shapes of the puzzles, or the general feeling of the fluid in it. Apart from this quite informal design process, it was mainly a matter of doing what we liked and what we felt was fun.

How do you feel about Puddle being in the same conceptual sphere as other science-focused games like Splice? Would you say there are qualities to the game that touch on similar techniques employed by these other concepts?

Well, we like science, we like games, we tried to mix both of these in one game. So yes, there are of course similarities. There are quite quite a lot of fluid-based games (Fluidity, Confetti Carnival, Vessel, LiquidSketch), but when we first imagined this concept this was not the case. It's hard nowadays to not be compared to all these games in one way or another but are proud of what we have done and feel like we achieved exactly what we wanted without too much compromise.

Puddle
built a name for itself even before Curve Studios came with their own liquid-focused puzzler, but are you concerned that comparisons might be made between Puddle and Fluidity leading up to and even after its arrival on the Wii U? You could look at it another way and say -- just extrapolating from its success on WiiWare -- Fluidity has, to some extent, shown that there is a market for a game like Puddle on the system.

We are not scared of Fluidity, as you named this game. Both game are very often compared but we don’t think they are so similar. In Puddle game we tilt the world, not the fluid. Both game contain water, but that’s all. We are not sharing the same "spirit". Puddle is really simple, original, and vary according to the environment. We control a lot of different liquid with their own specificity, it brings a new challenge, new feeling every time. Graphically, the game is more mature, more adult and that is also something that brings more reality!

Distribution-wise, it's understood that Puddle will be made available through the Wii U's online store, which leads me to wonder...are you currently working on or planning other projects for the platform besides just this one?

Yes, we are working on other projects for the Wii U, but it is still far too early to talk about this!

With regards to your past support for Nintendo's download platforms, what have you learned from developing for WiiWare and DSiWare that will be of benefit now, and what's your general feeling toward working with this new platform?

We especially enjoyed the Miiverse feature, because it connects you to a lot people, and moreover with players who enjoyed the same game as you, and who want to share their feelings!

To conclude, how about a few words for those looking to try Puddle for the first time on the Wii U?

We highly recommend to every person planning to buy a Wii U to get Puddle on the eShop. We always get nice reviews for this game. We worked hard to improve the game for them! We investigate to understand where exactly players used their whine and skip options, where the lose too many times, and on what specific spots they lost. We smoothed the difficulty to allow the player to progress and increase their skills to be able to face every danger without getting frustrated. And to make them feel they can beat every level, just by learning how to play each part of the game. We added these features a while  ago -- loading screens teaching every specificity of the liquid, what is the way to reach the end of the level, and with images of the hot spots of every level.



Even with the comparisons that could be formed on a conceptual level, the diverse, attention-grabbing landscapes (those featured in earlier screenshots and what's perhaps yet to be seen in your case) should leave little doubt as to the creative depth being explored in this title. And with the Wii U GamePad allowing the team to translate their vision to a new audience, they've now given soon-to-be Wii U owners added reason to take notice of the eShop from day one. Puddle is definitely one to add to your radar leading up to the system's launch.

To learn more about Neko Entertainment, head over to their website.


Interview by KnucklesSonic8