Last year, Vancouver-based Grubby Games released The Amazing Brain Train
, a collection of intellect-challenging mini-games for PC.
The game -- from the creators of Independent Games Festival finalists such as Professor Fizzwizzle
-- went on to become a finalist in Penny Arcade's PAX 10 indie competition.
In an interesting example of indie studios teaming up, a fellow independent, Utah-based NinjaBee (Cloning Clyde, Boingz
), has partnered with Grubby to bring The Amazing Brain Train
"It’s a departure from the minimalist brain games we’ve seen in the past," said Grubby co-founder Ryan Clark when the port was announced. "You can forget about goal-less gameplay: The Amazing Brain Train
is packed with quests, trophies and high scores that add an aspect of gameplay that other brain games just don’t have."
Following the announcement, Gamasutra got in touch with NinjaBee's Brent Fox to discuss the collaboration, the WiiWare platform, the state of "brain games," and the benefit of starting your game title with "A."
Why does this particular genre make sense on WiiWare? Does it fit in with the demographic?
Brent Fox: The Amazing Brain Train
is the kind of game that parents will buy for their kids and then they will end up fighting with their kids over who gets to play. While younger kids can play a lot of the modes there’s plenty of fun and challenge for everyone.
When Ryan Clark from Grubby Games first showed this game to us, we instantly thought it was a perfect fit for the Wii. The Grubby Games team made a great game that was getting a lot of praise and attention but they didn’t have any experience on the Wii.
Because we both saw the potential of this game, we worked together to make sure it found its way to the platform that seemed to be created just for a game like The Amazing Brain Train
What specific design and control changes did you end up having to make for WiiWare?
BF: Because the original game was, well, amazing, we worked hard to preserve as much of the game as possible. We use a lot of the same mouse functionality as in the PC version but we had to make sure that we didn’t require any of the fine movements that can quickly become annoying on the Wii. This led to big buttons and careful placement of selectable items, but it worked out well.
There is also a lot more that we had to do to get the game ready for WiiWare than just change a couple of controls. The PC game was set to run at much higher resolutions than standard-definition TV. We had to make sure the game not only looked good with fewer pixels but we had to change a lot of the layout also.
In addition, on a TV we also can’t put important things near the edge of the screen, because many TV’s don’t display that area. Because the game wasn’t originally created with the Wii in mind, these changes caused a lot of headaches and took a lot of time.
We also had to do things like reduce the size of the game to fit within both the memory limitations and the downloadable size restrictions. Again, this was not a simple fix. We were determined to do it right and committed a lot of effort to making sure the game runs smoothly on the Wii.
Text was also a big challenge. There are a lot of places in the PC game where the screen was full of text. In addition to the smaller screen size and the need to keep important information away from the edges, we also had to take into account the fact that Wii users don’t sit next to the screen. They need to be able to read the text from across the room.
We tried to cut some text by being more concise but we also added the ability to scroll in some cases and in other cases we divided the text into multiple screens. We took a careful look at each screen to determine the best solution.
A great example of this challenge was on a particular screen where you choose which area of the world you want to visit with your train. This screen is a large map with a lot of selectable areas that filled the entire screen on the PC version.
Just shrinking this screen down didn’t work smoothly. All of the locations changed and the train path needed to be adjusted. We had to carefully adjust each location and make sure it still interacted well with all of the other elements on the screen.
While we anticipate these type of changes it certainly took us a lot longer than we originally planned to make everything work great. We might have been able to take a lot more shortcuts but we really wanted the game to shine on the Wii so we spent the extra time to get it right. We are really proud of the game.
The press release seems to imply a slight beef with brain training games with no "metagame." Explain!
BF: I’ve always thought brain training games were really fun to play, but as a gamer, I find myself wanting something more. We found that in The Amazing Brain Train
The Amazing Brain Train
brings a whole extra level and depth to this genre. By adding a story element the level of fun jumps significantly. The story and metagame provide motivation to make progress, give a greater sense of accomplishment, and make it hard to put the controller down. Every time I get an award I want to keep going and earn more.
It's kind of that "just one more quest" mentality. All of this is on top of the fact that all of the 15 mind games themselves are really fun and surprising challenging.
How many staff ended up working on this conversion, roughly?
BF: We had two core programmers, Joey and Jared, working on the game for most of the time. We then had various artists, designers and testers working on the game at times throughout the project. In the end I would bet that about 7-10 people worked directly on the game but many of those people may have only spent a short time with the game.
This may seem like overkill when we already had a functioning PC game. However, we really wanted to a do a good job and were able to take advantage of a variety of skills. One thing many people forget is that there is a lot more work needed to take a PC game and make it ready for the Wii.
What's your overall view on price points for WiiWare? Are people price sensitive? World Of Goo was more expensive but has still sold well.
BF: I really wish we had the perfect answer to this question. We certainly aren’t experts in this area. It does appear that if a game is well-known before it ships, and if the end users are confident in the quality they will get, then price doesn’t seem to be a huge issue.
However, if we are releasing a game with a new IP or that isn’t well-known, it would be logical that lowering the price would also lower the gamers' risk in purchasing the game and therefore result in a lot more people playing the game.
This thinking provides us with a pretty big dilemma. We feel that The Amazing Brain Train
is a very deep, entertaining, and polished game. We feel that it would very easily justify a large price point. However, a low price might get people to give it a shot based on the description and a couple of screen shots. We should announce an official price soon that we hope everyone is happy with.
Having released games on Xbox Live Arcade and WiiWare, what do you think the advantages of WiiWare are, relatively speaking? Why not make this an XBLA title, for example?
BF: It is a little faster and easier to make a game for WiiWare than it is for other consoles. It’s certainly no cakewalk, but there are fewer requirements than on XBLA.
There’s also more room for games that may struggle to be approved on XBLA. While the big-selling downloadable games on other consoles certainly have much more success than even the best selling WiiWare games, less competition provides the opportunity to get more attention.
In this case, the choice was simple because the game was begging to be on the Wii and we just had the ability to help it get there.
Are you also excited about the game's title starting with A, because it will be first when searching alphabetically?
While it may appear that the name choice was made to manipulate the system it is more of a happy accident. There have certainly been some blatant cases of other developers using this type of thinking in the past. However, in this case, the game was named before the choice was made to create a Wii version.
This is another advantage for this game on WiiWare. For example, on XBLA, the alphabetical placement of a game has become much less important. I must admit that we thought about improving the name to 1 Amazing Brain Train
, but we realized that might be just a little too much.