Just about everyone who played innovative NES platformer A Boy and his Blob fell in Nintendo-Love with the game. Feeding magical jellybeans to a shape-shifting, alien, jellied companion to solve puzzles is just somehow so right. So when I heard the franchise was being revived for a new generation, I had to contact developer WayForward and get the skinny, so WayForward's self-proclaimed Tyrannical Overlord Voldi Way, Director Sean Velasco, Producer Robb Alvey and I chopped it up about the Blob, the industry, and how it can be possible that WayForward developed both Barbie: The 12 Dancing Princesses and Contra 4.
Stephen Johnson: Why A Boy and his Blob now, 20 years after the original game was released?
Sean: Why not!? A Boy and His Blob is due for another go! There are two decades worth of potential! With the power of modern platforms we can bring the gameplay and characters to life as never before. Behold the 2D revolution!
Robb: Agreed! The original game had such a great concept behind it, and doesn’t everyone love an alien Blob?
Sean: This is a full, complete disc game. It’s huge! That being said, WayForward is a big fan of WiiWare and digital distribution.
Robb: This was a full game from its inception and we are going to pack a LOT onto that disc.
Voldi: With the incredible number of feature-quality animation frames and high-color backgrounds, our biggest challenge may be squeezing it onto a single disc.
Steve: In what ways will we see Wii control incorporated into controlling the blob?
Sean: This game uses the Wii Remote + Nunchuk combo, or you can use the classic controller and hopefully the Gamecube controller. It features no IR or motion controls of any kind, which is ideal because it affords the player precise and intuitive control.
Steve: Is the new Blob a platformer like the original?
Sean: Yes, the genre is platform puzzler. There is an excellent mix of brain-bending puzzles and action. Keep in mind, though, that the Boy is not a superhero. He is relatively weak, as is the Blob. The pair needs to really depend on each other to get through the world.
Steve: Tell me about the game's unique visual style. Is it 3D?
Sean: Our game engine uses 3D technology, but the gameplay and visuals are rendered in beautiful, hand-drawn 2D.
Voldi: We felt that hand-drawn animation was the only way to convey the emotional subtleties we wanted to achieve. There are some interactions between the boy and his blob that will make people say “aw… that’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen in a video game.”
Steve: Any plans to bring the game to other platforms? How about a DS version? Gamers have been waiting for that since it was announced by Majesco in 2005!
Sean: This is the only version currently in production. However, WayForward would love to bring more Boy and his Blob games to more platforms. Just let us finish this one first!
Steve: Boy and His Blob is greatly beloved by almost everyone who played it on the NES. Can you give us some assurance that the new Blob won’t ruin the franchise?
Sean: Yes. Ahem: You have my personal assurance that this game will be orders of magnitude more fun than the original version. The proof is in the pudding; once you spend a little time with the game you will love this game.
Steve: Do you know of any plans to release the original game? Maybe as a Wii download?
Sean: Well, the VC is definitely fertile ground; I wouldn’t be surprised to see the game come out there. However, that’s in Majesco’s hands.
Steve: So, Voldi, How does one take a company from making Barbie and Spongebob games to Contra 4?
Voldi: We learned a long time ago that sometimes it’s worth it to turn down projects, just because no one wants to work on them. We’ve actually turned down a lot more projects than we’ve taken on because they just didn’t fit. Surprisingly, some of the guys, especially the ones who have daughters, seem to gravitate towards Barbie. Things like Barbie and Spongebob are actually pretty fun. Contra 4 was definitely a passion project for everyone at WayForward. That doesn’t require much explanation for why we wanted to do that!
LIT, our recent WiiWare title is pretty dark. Adam Tierney, who directed LIT, his previous product was Shrek, and before that it was Barbie, so he was like, “I gotta do something dark! I gotta get all this pleasantness out of my system!” So he did LIT, teenagers being pulled into darkness by demons!
Our next game is a DSi title that’s going to be another dark title.
Steve: Along the same lines as LIT?
Voldi: No… Well, in that there are teenagers dieing and serials killers in it, it’s like LIT. It’s dark. It’s definitely dark.
Steve: Will your new games take advantages of the new DSi features?
Voldi: We’re trying. The first one probably won’t, just because we’re trying to get it done quickly. But we’d love to do something with the camera, but the first thing we’ll take advantage of is the faster CPU. We’re doing some physics based stuff. I don’t have the specifics yet or anything. We’re in the early stages now..
Steve: So why release LIT on WiiWare?
Voldi: One thing we liked about WiiWare was…we’ve had a lot of original stuff that we couldn’t get out the door, because the barrier to entry is pretty big, but with download games, we can actually self-fund. But we could put out LIT, which is actually selling better than I thought it would. The DSi games we’re coming out with are things that probably wouldn't ever see a retail shelf, but they’re something that we can put together pretty quickly because we’ve done so many DS titles.
Steve: How is WiiWare working for you, saleswise?
Voldi: I was thrilled with it. But I didn’t know what to expect, because we’ve never released a game like that before. I love that we can go online every day and see the sales every day. That’s something we’re sheltered from by publishers. Sometimes they’ll tell us our sales, most of the times they won’t. Now we can see it.
It’s not stellar, most publishers would probably feel it wasn’t worth it, but for us, if we can come up with something… if we put as much money as Squaresoft put into My Life as King, we’d probably be sad. In the old days, LIT would have been a demo, and no one would have seen it.
Steve: Any other games planned that you want to talk about?
Voldi: We have [two unannounced] Wii games in the works. I don’t think I can talk about them yet, they’re with publishers. We'll probably attempt a 360 or PS3 game to see how they compare. We bought a PS3 dev kit just for fun and we put together a demo on that, but unfortunately with back burner projects, when paying jobs come up, they often get pushed further onto the back burner. But our goal is to eventually come up with 360 and PS3 games, at least downloads.
Steve: When I scheduled this interview, I opened the questions up to our readers, so this comes from our comment section: What are the advantages of being a smaller game developer as opposed to a big company?
Voldi: You get to work on a lot more aspects of the game. I know people who work for big developers who spent a year just working on dirt and rock textures or something. But with us, some of our artists can work on every aspect from animation to backgrounds to even doing voice overs sometimes; so you get to have a much broader experience. A lot of our animators came from film and television where they felt pigeon-holed. They didn’t want to spend all day animating rain or something.
Another advantage is that your ideas get heard. Like Adam came up with LIT and Matt came up with Shantae, and now that we have download, a couple DSi titles were designers who just said, “hey, I want to do this!” If they can get at least a programmer and maybe another artist on board with them, we’ll greenlight it because, who are we to suppress innovation?
Also, in a small studio you can go from an entry level junior position to lead programmer as quickly as you show promise. Sometimes in a few months if you’re a smart guy. I think in big studios there are probably more hierarchies and ranks, but I’ve never worked for a big studio, so I can’t compare.
Here's another one from our readers: What’s the worst game you ever developed?
Voldi: Ha! Sportsman’s Arcade. Horrible! We did it as a favor for this producer who we had a done a number of other titles for. It was a hunting game that came out right after Deer Hunter was a success. This was around 14 years ago. He said, “We want to capitalize on that, so we’re coming out with Sportsman’s Arcade, it’s a hunting game, but if you spend more than a weekend, you’ve put too much work into it.” That’s not the kind of game we want to work on. But as a favor we did it.
It was total guerrilla development. We took photos of animals and basically pasted them in, and threw the whole thing together in a weekend. We might have taken our name off it. It’s not good to be a budget developer. We used to try to compete on speed and price, like, “oh, we can get it done for the lowest budget," but after awhile, we couldn’t compete with overseas studios. Now we can, because the dollar’s so beat up, but for awhile, there was no way we could compete with someone in Hungary. So we had to compete on quality. Then we began to get a little more picky on what we would take on. We still do a lot of licensed stuff, but the guys are really into a lot of that stuff.
Steve: Thanks for taking the time to talk and thanks for making so many awesome games!