Nintendo eShop developer discussion: Exploring Affordable Space Adventures with KnapNok Games and Nifflas
"Space travel on a budget" is an unlikely theme for a video game, but that's exactly the heart of Affordable Space Adventures, coming soon exclusively to Nintendo eShop on Wii U. To find out more about its atmospheric exploration, Wii U GamePad implementation and unique asymmetric multiplayer, we spoke to Dajana Dimovska and Nicklas "Nifflas" Nygren.
Nintendo of Europe: Firstly, thanks very much for joining us! Please introduce yourselves and your roles on Affordable Space Adventures.
Dajana Dimovska: I’m Dajana Dimovska, one of the owners of KnapNok Games, and Nifflas here is responsible for the creative direction of the project. We’re actually two different companies collaborating together: we’re a 10- or 12-person company, and Nifflas is a one-man company! He’d never done console development by himself, and that’s one of the reasons we’re doing this; we’re the console developer, with a history of local multiplayer games, and he’s got the niche of atmospheric puzzles, and that’s why we’re doing this together.
We always want to work with novel interfaces, and we saw the two screens of Wii U as a novel interface, but Nifflas was the one who had the brilliant idea of putting all the controls on the Wii U GamePad touch screen and creating that dual-screen play. The essence behind designing the interface for the touch screen has also been one of our key tasks.
NoE: For those people who perhaps aren’t familiar with the game yet, what should they know?
Nifflas: I suppose you could say it’s kind of like a 2D scrolling spaceship-fighting game about just staying alive in a hostile world. You’ve got this really wonky spaceship, which… well, it can fly nicely if you configure it well, but if you configure it wrongly, you can blow it up. And sometimes the game forces you to try to configure it badly, so you have to maintain the balance of a bad configuration that temporarily gives you enough boost to go fast, but you want to conserve that so you don’t blow up.
DD: The “affordable” bit is a big part of the game: we really wanted you to feel that this spaceship is affordable.
NoE: It’s like you’re learning to drive, and you get your first car – it’s not great but you’ve got to love it anyway.
Nifflas: This is your first spaceship.
DD: Have you heard the sound of starting the spaceship? (laughs) It immediately gives you the same idea of what it’s about.
NoE: So you’ve got your first spaceship – what else can you tell us about the story behind the game?
Nifflas: Basically you’ve rented a spaceship from a company called Uexplore, which offers cheap space travel that’s actually a bit too cheap: their mothership crashes into this planet, so you end up on the planet you were not supposed to go to. And your main goal is to send a distress signal, but the problem is, when the game starts you don’t really have a connection to another ship to send a distress signal, so pretty much all you can do is explore.
DD: And stay alive as long as possible! (laughs)
NoE: And how is the Wii U GamePad used to control the ship?
DD: You’re inside the cockpit of your spacecraft – you’re the captain or whatever – and everything is on the GamePad screen: the engines and their properties, and all kinds of systems like landing gear. But then you also have a scanner, flashlight and a little flare; they help you out, like you can use the flashlight in dark areas, the scanner scans artifacts or enemies. Because it’s a stealth game, you always try to avoid enemies and being detected, so if you scan enemies you can see what they’re sensitive to and you can try to keep your sound or heat or electricity down so you avoid detection.
So everything really is about feeling like an engineer. You have to think that it’s not really skill-based about how well you’re moving, it’s more about thinking. And then what we really like is something that’s really inspired by TV shows and movies like Star Trek: the game supports up to three players, so we split up the controls in multiplayer. One person can be the engineer, one takes care of movement, and the third one can use the scanner and flares and so on. It really gives you that “space team” atmosphere.
NoE: It sounds like you can really communicate and work together while you play, or just have one person in charge issuing orders.
DD: It’s up to the players really, which is part of the fun.
Nifflas: But because of the game, the communication has to be two-way. If you play with two players, especially if the engineer hasn’t really played the game before, they won’t really know what the ship feels like, so they say, “Yes, I can lower the thruster!” and the other player would fly really slowly…
DD: And they wouldn’t know why! (laughs)
Nifflas: So the engineer will say, “I’m turning down the thrusters, now you can fly really carefully,” but the pilot will notice that the ship becomes really unstable and has to reply, “No, wait, you’re making it really unstable now,” so the two-way communication is really needed.
DD: But that doesn’t happen in the beginning. I just went to a local multiplayer event in Berlin before coming here, just to playtest the game with other developers who also make local multiplayer games, and the first time we played in three-player mode with three people who’d never played the game before, and one interesting part is that, of course… You collaborate, and that’s not the typical way to play local multiplayer: it’s usually competitive, or if you’re working together it’s in a shooter where you can do separate stuff, and in our game you just cannot survive without talking to each other. And what we see often is engineers just playing around, like a kid: “Oh my God, oh my God, I’m overheating the ship!” and the person controlling the ship is yelling, “What are you doing?! Stop it!” (laughs)
NoE: You can’t expect to give people the controls to their first spaceship and not have them experiment! And we have to ask: is there a big red button that someone shouldn’t touch?
Nifflas: Maybe we should add one! (laughs)
NoE: We’ve established the ship is rubbish at first: can you improve it at least?
Nifflas: Right, the ship is kind of broken when the game starts. So while you’re playing, the ship’s auto-repair system is working, so at some point in the game you will get new systems but it’s controlled so you get them in a particular order: it’s more of a surprise.
DD: It feels like upgrading, but you’re not. You’re definitely getting better and better, but it’s not the typical way you just buy or upgrade your systems; it happens naturally. And when you see the menu and all the systems are open, and give it to someone who’s never played the game… it’s a terrible idea. It’s too complicated at first, but if you play from the first level and progress, you really feel like you’re a specialist at flying this spaceship.
I also have one thing to add that we’re focusing on with the multiplayer but I didn’t mention yet. Because of the asymmetric play, whether you’re in two- or three-player, what works really well is playing with a mixture of experienced and non-experienced players, for example a parent and child. Because it’s asymmetric and you’re not on the same level, you can split up the controls and give some to the player who’s not so experienced.
NoE: Or if you are on the same level, “I’m the captain now,” and then you can take turns that way.
Nifflas: I would definitely say that the engineer, who uses the GamePad, has the most difficult job.
DD: Especially because that player has a lot of information that’s hidden from the other players, so they absolutely must talk and tell the others what’s going on. All the warnings are only visible in the ‘cockpit’ – they don’t show up on the TV screen. You really have to pay attention to the GamePad because that’s where all the information is, which is such a new approach. The GamePad is such an integral, indispensable part of the game, and we’re very proud of that part: that was a big idea, and a big part of the experience.
Affordable Space Adventures is coming soon, exclusively to Nintendo eShop on Wii U.