Explodemon! Interview – PSN 2011 Preview

February 2, 2011 Written by Sebastian Moss

2.5D action platformer, Explodemon!, mixes Mario with MegaMan into a crazy homage of old-school gaming, with a moderm, explosive twist. Guardian of the planet Nibia, Explodemon is locked in stasis because of his instability, but when the the Vortex destroys all of the other Guardians, Explodemon must stop them.

To learn more about Explodemon!, its incredibly bumpy development and their plans for further Explodemon! titles, PlayStation LifeStyle chatted to Jonathan Biddle, Design Director and Ed Fear, Production Associate & PR Manager at Curve Studios.

Hi, could you start by introducing yourself, and telling us about your work at Curve Studios?

JB: Hello, I’m Jonathan Biddle, but people just call me Bidds. I’m the Design Director at Curve and responsible for all of our games design and development of our new concepts. Explodemon was originally created by me as a fully-featured hobby project and then developed further over a number of years before finally becoming a self-funded PS3 title at Curve. I guess you could say that I looked after quite a lot of stuff on the project.

EF: Hello! I’m Ed Fear, and I’m all sorts of things, but on Explodemon I handle the PR, publishing and I also did a fair bit of the writing.

As the world becomes smaller and translation becomes easier, the frequency of badly translated action games is diminishing. Considering Explodemon! is an homage to such games, does this sadden you?

JB: Yeah, I think it’s sad that we don’t get that kind of unintentional humour in our games anymore. It used to be belly-hurting stuff. Now we have a fully developed globalised market everything’s so polished. Mind you, I only speak English, so perhaps other languages are still suffering, or benefiting, from poor translations. Maybe they also get some howlers. Meanwhile, there’s always the Internet if you need a quick fix!

The game missed its Q4 2010 release date, what was the reason for the delay?

JB: To be honest, it was for a number of reasons – some of which were our fault, and some of which were due to the inherent delays that come with publishing something around the Christmas holidays. It’s been tough, but it’s done now, and we’re really happy with the result!

Explodemon! has had quite a bumpy ride during its development phase – losing publisher support and financial backing on more than one occasion. Did you ever come close to giving up?

JB: There was a point where we really had to put up or shut up, which was when it became obvious that no publisher would ever sign Explodemon because of ‘Splosion Man. We could’ve stopped there really, written off everything we’d done and never let the world play the game. To be honest though, it wasn’t really discussed. Our thought process was just ‘How are we going to get this out, then?’ It’s just too good a game to stick in the trash. I guess we can be pretty obstinate when we put our minds to it too. Don’t cross us! 😉

Explodemon! lost its XBLA slot during the rocky development period, do you think that Microsoft will regret the decision, once the game releases exclusively on the PSN?

EF: I wouldn’t say they’ll regret it – they’ve got their portfolio and I’m sure they’re happy with that. We were certainly really disappointed at the time that we couldn’t do the game across Xbox 360 and PS3, but then given how brilliant Sony have been to us, perhaps it was a blessing. We’re certainly not sad to be PSN-exclusive now – it really feels like the right place for Explodemon and we’re thrilled to be amongst the frankly amazing catalogue. Sony is doing some really great stuff in helping smaller developers and it’s an honour to be a part of that.

Has the experience put you off publisher funded projects?

EF: Not at all – I think that publisher-funded projects will always be a part of Curve going forward. We’ve just finished our fifth PSP Buzz game for Sony – Buzz: The Ultimate Music Quiz – and our recent WiiWare project Fluidity/Hydroventure was published by Nintendo. We have some amazing publishing partners and are always on the lookout for more publishers who fit our creative-led development vision.

JB: Yeah, this is just the beginning for us. Our plans are to maintain our relationships with our friends at Nintendo and Sony, while capitalising on our now higher profile with other publishing partners. It’s been a long hard road just to get people to listen to us, but it looks like that battle has been won now. It’s down to us to continue to bring our fresh approach to new titles and platforms, whether publisher- or self-funded. Self-publishing video games is really, really hard, so our next title has to be very carefully planned.

Despite being rather different games that were developed independently without any knowledge of each other, Explodemon! and ‘Splosion Man were unfairly compared by both the press and publishers. How dangerous were such comparisons to the development game?

EF: In all honesty, it was really damaging in the beginning – so many people would simply disregard us as a rip-off, and that was really disheartening. They’d comment on our trailers without actually watching them – as soon as you engage them you find that out pretty quickly. But, at the same time, it’s understandable – if you don’t know the history then it’s an easy conclusion to jump to.

The difficulty for us was in how to approach this. Our initial direction was to simply not mention ‘Splosion Man at all – we really didn’t want to fuel the fire, and we didn’t want to be seen as causing trouble for Twisted Pixel, who are a (deservedly) well-loved studio. Unfortunately, that didn’t really work, which is why you’ve seen us highlight the history of the title slightly more as we get closer to launch. I think it’s working, but there will always be a certain segment of people that will be resistant to it.

JB: I feel we’ve turned a corner now in terms of awareness. If a commenter on a site claims rip-off, it’s usually not long before someone sets them straight, which used to be mine and Ed’s job. We truly, truly love those guys!

We’ve since had the MaXplosion situation too, which, well… we just couldn’t believe that either. We were worried that it would be harm our Explodemon press being so close to launch, but – and we’ll see if this is borne out – it looks like it might actually help us. MaXplosion has highlighted just how different our game is, and what a ‘Splosion Man rip-off really does look like. Now, will everyone please leave the exploding platform game genre alone for a short while? We’re trying to release a game. Thanks.

Do you think that the comparisons will impact your sales?

EF: It’s hard to say, but it’s certainly possible that it’ll have an effect on the initial sales. But then again, we’re on a different system, and a lot of the PS3 community seems to be behind us and receptive to the vast, vast differences in the titles.

We’ve always looked at Explodemon as being a long-term project for us, because that’s how digital publishing works: you’re not limited to a short shelf-space window, so sales happen over a longer period. So, by extension, we’re looking at our perception in that way too: some people may initially get put off, but once they see the reviews and the impressions from those people who do play it, the message will spread, and the misconceptions will continue to erode.

As one of the oldest gaming genres, platforming is a very competitive field – how will Explodemon! differentiate itself from other games?

JB: Explodemon is a pure gamer’s experience. It has a highly tuned control system that feels incredibly fluid and allows some amazing moves to be pulled off in seamless combination with each other. As your expertise with Explodemon grows, and as you upgrade his abilities, you’ll find yourself intuitively sliding in, exploding an enemy into the air, leaping up to hit it with a combo, dashing into a wall, sliding down it, dashing back out, exploding the enemy again, ducking under a projectile and then countering a nearby missile into a group of enemies, all without thinking about it.

What originally started as a simple concept has expanded into a very deep system reminiscent of many of the very best old school action games. I think that this idea of a control system that can be mastered, that keeps rewarding players the more they learn it, is rarely seen these days, so I feel that players who really try to push the game are in for a treat. We really want players not to just sprint through each level to get to the end, but rather delve into its complexities, attain S-Ranks or beat speed running times. It’s much like the difference between Halo on Normal and Legendary – you get out what you put in.

Explodemon! draws inspiration from SNES games, but this generation many gamers have become used to simpler puzzles in games. How hard are the puzzles in Explodemon!?

JB: While there were many classic games from previous generations, games design has progressed a lot since those days. Really, this is what Explodemon represents; its intent is to take all that is good about classic action games but update it with modern games design, smoothing out those rough edges and creating a more rounded experience. The puzzles have been designed with this approach too. Since Explodemon is an action game at heart, we’re careful not to confound anyone and therefore slow down the pace, so there aren’t any obscure, impossible-to-solve puzzles, but you may have to think laterally. We’ve also been careful to ensure that the more difficult puzzles are always optional. If you want to S-Rank a level though, get ready to be tested 😉

Explodemon, the character, seems like a loveable and quirky guardian, do you think he could become an iconic gaming character?

JB: I wouldn’t want to predict something like that, but we love the little guy. We really worked on making him a likeable character, so I really hope people do take to him.

Does the game delve into the world of the Nibians, or does the story only play a background role?

JB: The game is very strong on humour, and the characters and back story are a huge part of that, but really we were very careful not to impact on the player’s play experience too much. We didn’t really want people going around listening to audio logs, for example. While the game does have a lot of NPCs to interact with, the player can choose to totally ignore them if they want. Because they’ve all got great lines though, we’ve found that players do seek them out, if just for the humour, and learn a little about the back story in the process. We prefer this gentle approach to the telling of the story.

With publishers, you were always adamant about keeping the Explodemon! IP, does this mean that you are planning a sequel or a spin off?

EF: Absolutely, we definitely intend to support and expand Explodemon as an IP as time goes on. Exactly what form that takes – ports, DLC, sequels – will ultimately depend on how the game is received and if we see the demand. But whatever happens, this one release isn’t ‘it’ – we really believe that we have something unique with Explodemon and so our plans are definitely in the ‘long-term’ range.

Can you give us some hints about the other games you are working on?

EF: We are currently working on some other projects, and we’ll be continuing to support Explodemon down the line too. Aside from that, we can’t say – sorry!

JB: What we can say is that we’re a creative developer, and won’t do anything unless it brings something genuinely new to the table. While both Fluidity and Explodemon have only just been released, they were conceived in 2006 and 2005 respectively. You should see what we’ve come up with since!

When are you hoping to release Explodemon!?

EF: Explodemon will be releasing on February 8th in SCEA territories, and February 9th in SCEE stores, so keep an eye out for it!