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Metroidvania interview: Jools Watsham (Xeodrifter)

Another of my Metroidvania source interviews -- this time with Jools Watsham of Renegade Kid, developers of Xeodrifter.

To prepare for writing my look at the Metroidvania genre, I interviewed a number of developers who currently work in the genre -- and while I did my best to include the most interesting quotes and organize them in a way that provides an interesting overview, sometimes you just want to read the original text unabridged.

The interview that follows is with Jools Watsham of Renegade Kid, developers of Xeodrifter

I previously published my interview with Axiom Verge developer Tom Happ. If you want to know more about Xeodrifter, you can read Jools' postmortem of the game

Why is the the Metroidvania genre so enduring?

I believe the Metroidvania genre is so enduring because it is a very pure and effective method of experiencing an adventure first-hand without the game force-feeding it to the player via cinematics and such. You are the story. You are the adventure. It is up to you to discover where to go and unearth the mysteries of the world you're stuck in.

Why THIS genre, of all, for you?

The child-like sense of wonder and exploration is something that can be very magical. That is what draws me to the Metroidvania genre. It can be exciting, scary, thrilling, and extremely rewarding. It's you against the odds, and when done right, it can feel more real than many other genres due to the mysteries and challenges you overcome with your own personal growth and progression made over the course of the game. The Metroidvania genre is a microcosm of life's journey itself.

Is there a lot more design space to be pulled from it?

Yes and no? I think there is always many new twists and additions that can be made to a genre, but then you start asking yourself if those new elements add or detract from the original magic of the genre. There's a certain comfort from experiencing something very familiar with a twist as opposed to something that redefines a genre - at which point, hasn't it created a new or sub-genre?

I think it is possible to continue making new experiences in the Metroidvania genre that stay true to its roots while providing something fresh, and I also think there are even more possibilities for the strengths of the genre to be combined with other genres to create interesting and exciting experiences.

What are you hoping to add to it?

What I hope Xeodrifter offers to the genre is a bite-sized Metroidvania experience that puts an emphasis on exploration and freedom. From the moment you start Xeodrifter, you are free to visit any of the four planets in the sector. Only one planet will provide what you need to progress, and it is my hope this sense of guided mystery offers a sense challenge and reward that continues throughout the player's journey.

'Figure it out yourself', is a tone we embraced with every aspect of the game. The player's gun offers a tremendous amount of flexibility and customization in regards to shot speed, strength, rate of fire, spread, and wave trajectories. It is up to the player to experiment and determine which settings work best in certain encounters. I feel as though this hands-off approach strengthens the player's bond with the player character, their situation, and their journey.

How do you manage to look forward, not backward, for inspiration?

We try to think of ideas and implement features that excite us in the hope that players like the result as much as we do. For me it is not as much a case of looking forward as much as it is looking inside and seeing what my inner child wants.

What's the appeal of the Metroidvania...

- As a set of mechanics you can apply to your game design?

Exploration, freedom, self-improvement, and overcoming previously impossible challenges.

- For players?

Nostalgia for the Metroid games is surely an important aspect for many players, and beyond that I think it is one of the sub-genres of platformers that provides a specific and understandable desirable experience - when done right.

- As a label, brand, or movement?

Metroidvania is a much-loved genre, albeit seeming to be a little overcrowded as of late, and that is a helpful aspect when trying to describe the experience you are offering. Being able to explain your game in as fewer words as possible can be very powerful.

Remember, the full feature includes a lot more, including new quotes from Symphony of the Night maestro Koji "IGA" Igarashi. 

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