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Interview: Shibuya's Frantic And Stylish Take On The Arcade Puzzle Game

Nevercenter's John Plewe tells Gamasutra about his team's experience developing iOS-based Shibuya, and how the gap in quality between indie and studio developed games is "becoming a thing of the past."
Recently released independent game, Nevercenter's Shibuya is a challenging and fast-paced color matching puzzle game that features a vibrant art style that draws influence from its visually-striking namesake, Tokyo's Shibuya district. The iOS title tasks players with matching colored blocks within a single column, and players must focus on combos and chain reactions if they hope to succeed. Shibuya is the first game from Nevercenter, a team who had previously only released 3D modeling and photo-manipulation software. The game was recently featured in the Penny Arcade Expo's indie showcase, the PAX 10, alongside titles including Bastion and Super Meat Boy. Gamasutra spoke with Shibuya's lead developer, John Plewe, to discuss the game's mechanics and and platform of choice, the team's experience with indie development, and the shrinking gap between the quality of indie and studio developed games. You had the only iOS game out for the PAX 10. How do you feel about the platform and the distribution channel being inextricably linked? John Plewe: It actually works pretty well. We'd love to see some changes to the app store and the ways people can find new games, but for us it's great to have a situation where anyone with the device can instantly see and purchase our game. We are considering a port to Android so our fortunes are not too closely tied to one platform. Shibuya works really well as a multi-touch title. Do you feel it could have worked as well with a gamepad or mouse and keyboard implementation? JP: Well, that was one of the things we wanted to be very careful about. We've played a lot of iPhone games -- and I think the same thing happens on the Wii -- where they're ports or knockoffs of a game designed for a different control mechanism. We wanted to design something that felt native and unique and really had a reason to be on that specific platform. Having said all that, we would love to do a port to PC or consoles if the opportunity arose and if we could nail down a control scheme that works on a gamepad. What are your favorite things about independent development? JP: A lot of our best decisions have been spur-of-the-moment choices, the kind of thing where you need the freedom of being independent to drop a project if it's not working, or take some time to explore an entirely different idea. That's how we ended up with such an odd collection of products - a full-scale 3D modeler, several photography applications, and now games. We're always working on the thing we're most interested in, and we hope that shows in the final product. What are the worst things? JP: There's a lot of risk involved. None of our team members have families yet, which gives us a little more room to make mistakes. It's also the kind of job that is flexible but you never leave behind, which can be good or bad depending on your personality. Have you, or any other members of the team, had to keep any part time work going while you fund this game? JP: Not since the very beginning, when Tom Plewe, Nevercenter's President, was making the first version of our first program, Silo. We've always been careful to make sure we choose a project we can afford to work on, and have never gone into debt or taken out a loan because once you do, it feels like you're working for someone again. How did you originally imagine the game and development would be, and how did it actually turn out? JP: I think the main thing, which manages to surprise me every time, is that there's always something unexpected which will take up a ton of development time. I have no idea how people make games under strict deadlines. You also really need to iterate and try new things as you go. Shibuya turned into a very different game from the original design, and is hopefully better for it. Is there anything about your game that you feel makes you inherently indie, something that means it never would have come out of a larger studio? JP: Not necessarily. There are certainly areas where we could have done a lot more with those kinds of resources, but I think the most indie thing about it is simply that it's an unproven game design. We also had to focus on making a very small game, because of our team size. In general, though, I thought the indie games in the PAX 10 were some of the best games at the show, and several of them, like Bastion and Super Meat Boy, were studio quality. I think any perceived gap in quality is quickly becoming a thing of the past. How has being a part of the PAX 10 impacted you guys? JP: The PAX 10 was an amazing experience. We've ended up having a lot of contact with Penny Arcade because the game became a source of competition in their office, and they're just fantastic people. PAX itself was also wonderful, meeting all the other developers, and of course all of the gamers who really make the show their own. It was just the kind of thing you need when launching a new iOS app in particular -- a way to attract attention. We were lucky enough to have Shibuya approved for sale on the first day of PAX, so people could download it right there if they liked it, and I guess it spread quite a bit among attendees. The only game that immediately comes to mind as a touch point for Shibuya is Klax. Do you have any other big influences? JP: I'm actually not familiar with Klax, though I have heard that comparison before. I think our most direct influence is probably the original Lumines, particularly in terms of style. We also took a lot of inspiration from the area of Tokyo called Shibuya, which has a really vibrant atmosphere and all these kids in arcades playing bright, colorful games and getting insane high scores.

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