Published on January 28th, 2016 | by Justin Tomann
Interview: Midnight Status talks Wii U First-Person Shooter Swap Fire
Midnight Status, who you may recognize from Mario Made, is a Wii U indie development team currently developing Swap Fire. Swap Fire is their first project for the Wii U, and we talked to Jeremy Alessi, the team’s founder, about their upcoming first-person shooter that is planned to release soon.
Midnight Status: The first time I realized that it needed to become a full game was during a summer game programming course I was teaching in 2012. I shared the game with the kids and they kept asking if we could play it every day. The whole group seemed to really enjoy the mechanic, which is slightly mind-bending but not so much so that they couldn’t pick it up and just play.
Sometime after that I experimented with a more hardcore crowd by setting up a PC based LAN with Xbox controllers at a midnight opening for Injustice: Gods Among Us at a local GameStop and the store clerks actually had to kick two guys out who were hooked on the game. That was step two.
Finally, I hired Henry Meredith this past summer. He was brought on initially to help with other aspects of the business but was interested in game development so I showed him a port of our mobile game Airspin for Wii U. We played a special 2-player mode I made for that (one player gets a Wiimote and the TV while the other is on the Gamepad). However, we just weren’t having that much fun. So I said, hold on a second, and I set up the Swap Fire LAN demo from the GameStop experiment. We were instantly having more fun and that sealed the deal, I dropped the Airspin port and started working on Swap Fire from scratch for Wii U.
8WN: The game’s website mentions a Story mode, what kind of a direction are you going towards with this mode?
MS: The Swap Fire story mode is more the training, puzzle, and narrative portion of the game. The basic premise is that Swap Fire is a sport based on this new teleportation technology. That’s the multiplayer element. So, in order to train players, get them thinking about how this swapping mechanic can be used, and to deliver the deeper backstory behind the sport we have a single player story mode. The story does unfold via a monologue during gameplay and the environment reacts dynamically to the voice so it looks like the level itself is talking to you and this is also used to guide the player’s gaze so they sort of sub-consciously look where the story is unfolding even if it’s ever so subtle.
8WN: The game’s website also mentions a soccer mode, which sounds like it’s going to be an arena multiplayer mode. Are there plans for any other arena multiplayer modes?
MS: Yes, we found that the mechanic lends itself to many situations and with soccer, it was this sort of late night experiment while we had some friends over testing. The first version was terrible. Henry actually said something to the effect of ‘that’s great but it’s not like we’d put our names on that and charge people money for it’. Thankfully, by that weekend I was able to whip it into some shape. We demo’d it at a local event here in Norfolk called NEON and people had a blast with it. That opened up some other modes that are similar although nothing else is actually a sport like soccer. However, some certainly come across more like a sport and others more like a traditional shooter. It’s an interesting mix.
8WN: Swap Fire’s motion controls are certainly not orthodox, and one of the more unique parts of Swap Fire. What made you decide to use non-traditional controls for the game? Will alternative controls be available for the Wii U’s various other controller options?
MS: The initial impetus for the control scheme was the headache of the Wii U’s controller fragmentation. The Pro Controller is wonderful but how many people have that, let alone 4 of them so everyone has a good and fair time with split-screen? I personally love the Gamepad and hate it when games don’t support off-TV play but of course you can’t do local multiplayer with Gamepads and also we had some other ideas in mind for that controller. That set me on a search to see if we could make it play well with the one thing everyone has lots of, regular old Wiimotes. It took quite a while to get the feel just right. However, during testing we noticed that people felt awkward initially but were compelled enough to stick with it for a few minutes, after which it starts to become pretty sublime. One friend was playing and he was looking up and down without even realizing how. He was instinctually tilting the Wiimote and just flowing. That said, I know how much people like those other controllers (myself included). If we can make the game play fair and it still feels like the same game then we will deliver those other control schemes. I always think about games that were ported from PC to consoles and vice versa. Halo for instance was rated by EGM (Electronic Gaming Monthly) as a 10 but PC Gamer ranked it as a 7X%. Half-Life 2, which was ported in reverse, from PC to console, was rated at nearly 100% by PC gamer but experienced a similar drop when it came to consoles. I think this is due to the very subtle differences in the way games play with different interfaces. Even more recently I found that FAST Racing NEO is much more playable with the Pro Controller than the Gamepad. The spacing of the buttons and size of the grip area literally impacts how you approach the tracks. Therefore, I can see how we might end up only supporting the Wiimote because the game is explicitly tuned for that.
8WN: Swap Fire’s website mentions couch multiplayer often, is multiplayer the main focus of the game? Will all modes be multiplayer?
MS: The multiplayer is all based on this notion that the Swap Fire is this futuristic sporting event, which of course usually means players or teams competing. The original 7DFPS game was online multiplayer. So, multiplayer was always the focus. We are toying with making the story mode multiplayer but we’ll have to see about that. It’s tough to tune a level to be just as enjoyable for one person and four people.
8WN: As seen from the game’s alpha footage, the game allows up to 4 players locally for multiplayer. Are there any plans for online multiplayer as well?
MS: We’re pushing couch multiplayer in a big way because we miss those days. Everyone uses so much of their time staring at mobile devices or in complex online games that force us into seclusion in reality. All of that seems like it’s sucking the life out of richer experiences like simultaneously interacting with friends in reality and in the game. We used to complain about screen watching, less than perfect graphics, and friends unplugging our controllers to win but in hindsight; it was those elements that often made video games fun. As an industry, our search for the perfect experience has cost us the tremendous reward found in the chaotic campiness of older couch multiplayer games. That said, we will be testing online multiplayer, like the original jam game, and if it comes across well then we will include it. For example though, one of our multiplayer modes actually incorporates screen watching to make things more fun and that would be lost in traditional online multiplayer. Then again, who knows, we could probably innovate around that. Time will tell.
8WN: You’ve developed some games and other apps on mobile, what made you decide to enter the console game market?
MS: I always wanted to make console games but I was one of the early indie developers that got rolling during the late 90’s and early 2000’s when the tools started to become accessible. So I made PC games like Aerial Antics, which was published by Garage Games way back when and then I took a chance on mobile and found some success with a handful of titles. However, in 2012-2013 the mobile market started to become commoditized to the point where it was very difficult to gain visibility. I made several #1 ranked games, including one in 2012 but I could tell that was coming to a close. There are plenty of articles on the indiepocalyspse, which is real, sort of. In truth, consoles weren’t initially inaccessible and mobile was. Now the reverse is true. Also, at the time that I applied, it was the first time I actually had a real office and there was a long-standing prerequisite that to be a Nintendo developer that you needed a real office with security etc. So, I had always kept an eye on Nintendo development and had finally reached a point where it was attainable. I applied 3 years ago and I think they’ve relaxed quite a bit over the years, even since then.
8WN: Why did you decide to develop for the Wii U?
MS: Nintendo has always been my favorite. I love everything they stand for and aspire to follow the principles set forth by the company. The Wii U seemed like a good fit for me to port Airspin to and like I stated above, I actually had an office when the system was released.
8WN: What was the process of becoming an approved Nintendo indie developer like?
MS: I applied in late 2012 or early 2013 and was finally contacted back in early 2014. There was an interview process. The interviewer asked about my motivations to develop for Nintendo and about my previous games (I think it was the Kishi Bashi game that Vince and I did which actually put us over the top). After developing for mobile where you have a lot if autonomy but so does the system, it was a breath of fresh air to actually talk to real people at the platform holder who deeply care about what you’re doing.
MS: Yes, it would be nice if we can be on the eShop by this summer as originally planned. We have the framework of the whole game but it’s still rough. We’re working on adding the secondary and tertiary details that really make a game feel great. It’s kind of daunting getting the opportunity to develop a game for a Nintendo platform. It’s the dream of my generation and I’m pretty terrified I’ll screw it up. We have to time it just perfect. If we rush too much the game will stink and if we toil away for too long we’ll miss the opportunity.
8WN: There are rumors of Nintendo releasing a new console, the NX, this year possibly. Do you foresee this affecting your plans for Swap Fire at all?
MS: No, we just want to get the game polished and into players’ hands before they forget about the Wii U.
8WN: Lastly, “be ever mindful of your spacetime” is stated on the game’s website a few times. Is there anything you can say about that phrase at this time?
MS: The original concept was that the shooter would swap directly to the target’s position but the target would be swapped into the shooter’s position one second into the future. So, the original tag line was actually ‘Be ever mindful of your future!’ but we adjusted it slightly to be a bit broader both in terms of the gameplay and the story behind it all. The gameplay is definitely about being very aware of the space around you and the timing of your actions and the story gets into some of the intricacies involved with Einstein-Rosen bridges, which are theoretical rips in spacetime.
Thanks to Jeremy Alessi for their time. You can check out more about Swap Fire on its website and by following its Twitter page. 8-Worlds News will continue coverage of Swap Fire as more info becomes available in the future.