GDC 2014: Developer Interview & Hands on with n++
Their tag lines sum up the game nicely: “Tough, but fair. But tough.” and “Those who love it, hate it.” Dying in a video game is generally to be expected but dying a thousand times in a short period of time, not so much. I sat down with the creators of this awesome game, Raigan Burns and Mare Sheppard, and discussed not only the games journey up to this point but also what the future may hold for this indie title.
The original game N was first published as a Flash game back in 2005 and created a decent following. They kept that fan base growing with a subsequent Xbox Live, Nintendo DS and PSP release with its N+ title in 2008 as well as extra DLC that kept the game new-ish. The game did have a level designer for XBLA but due to restrictions (even Raigan finally admitted that people out there would probably have created some crude or vulgar objects at some point), players didn’t have the ability to share these created levels with other players. The PS4 version won’t have those hand cuffs to deal with, but more on that later.
The game consists of you trying to navigate your trusty ninja character through a series of levels designed with a minimal amount of graphics. Your goal is to work your way to a switch, which in turn activates an exit door. Sounds easy enough, and for the first few levels it is. One thing I learned early on, falling can be deadly if the drop is too far. How far is too far? You’ll have to figure that one out yourself.
Level selection is presented in grid style with the top most level unlocked. As you complete each of those levels the one below it becomes available. The farther down the row you go, the harder the levels become. While you may fly right through one level, go two or three rows down and trial and error
may will lead to countless deaths. The level designs are so minimal that you would think that they would end up monotonous at some point, but from the many levels we saw, each level with its own ingenious and evil design felt unique in its own right.
After running through a few easy levels with nothing more than gold coins to collect, I started feeling like the game was a walk in the park. I noticed that on the preview image for the next level there were a few objects that I hadn’t seen before that were embedded into the path I needed to take. I asked Raigan if they were safe to approach and his response was, “When approaching an unknown object, assume death.” The objects in question turned out to be land mines, so death was a fair assumption.
The combinations of deadly objects, coupled with some really mind boggling levels, leads me to believe that the game will have a very efficient body count that will surpass several world wars and it will achieve this in record time. Land mines are just one of the many obstacles of death you’ll have to work your way through. There are also some circles that can be touched once safely, but turn into a land mine after that first touch. Let’s say you have a level where all you have to do is go across the level, hit the switch, and come back the way you came. Sounds simple enough, but add in these touch once mines and that easy level was just taken up a notch. You may even have to face these mean little ninja dudes that will ‘come at you bro’ and take you out with one hit. These guys are not only crazy and mean, but they are relentless. Really. They. Just. Wont. Quit.
The variety of objects, and the combinations of them, help to create levels that lack the monotony that can come with some of these puzzle types of games. While n++ takes some serious thought at times to work your way through a level, it’s also a platformer from the old school days of Super Mario. Just being smart enough to figure out what needs to be done doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll breeze right through a complicated level. You’ll still need some skills on that DualShock 4 to execute those moves.
Single player puzzle games can keep you busy for hours, but sometimes you want to spend time with a friend. n++ has some co-op levels that can help you, even though your friendship may end up being tested. Allow me to explain. These are co-op levels, so you’ll have to work together to get through them. The first co-op level I saw had Raigan throw his ninja onto a mine, sacrificing his own ninja life, in order to allow me to access the switch that activated the exit door. He made the ultimate sacrifice for me and I just met the guy. Pretty cool.
The next level was a little different. We each had our own identical path to traverse but we both had to successfully make it to the switch and back to where we started to complete the level. At first I was sending ninjas to their death at a rapid rate but once I figured out the timing of some moving objects, and the proper path I needed to take, I started getting near to the finishing line. I was literally two inches from completing my side of the goal when I slipped and died. I looked over at Raigan and luckily I didn’t finish because he had been dead for a few minutes at that point. Even if i had made it to the end, we still would have failed and my sense of accomplishment would have been quickly squashed by the agony of defeat. If you are going to play co-op levels with a friend, make sure you really like the person or you may end up throwing things (please not the controller) at them when you succeed and they fail.
As of right now online co-op is still on the outside of their plans looking in, but hasn’t been ruled out completely. This is a game where a pixel’s distance can be the difference between life and death, and even one dropped network packet could take someone out. With such an unforgiving game, it’s easy to understand why they are reluctant to add that in. They do understand that there will be gamers wanting this feature, so they are still open to the idea but the final decision will come at a later time.
When the PS4 version of the game releases it will come with a level designer that can create and share levels. You’ll be able to create levels with as much complexity as you can muster but, for those of you thinking about doing something vulgar or crude, keep in mind that there will be a built in grief report system and both Raigan and Mare promised to keep the game as family friendly as possible, and said they will spend as much time as needed, possibly bringing in outside help if they have, to keep the unfriendly stuff out.
All levels, whether user created or the ones that come with the game, will have global leaderboards that will keep track of who has the fastest time and a body count so you’ll know who is the deadliest creator. It is possible that the game will be released on other platforms in the near future and these global leaderboards would expand to encompass all platforms into one realm of stats. It would be cool to see how you rank against someone attempting these levels on say a PC or an Xbox One. One other note, if and when a PS Vita versions is released, cross save functionality would definitely be looked into.
One of the great things about indie developers is that most of them are gamers first, and developers second. n++ is clearly created by a team that knows how to make a game fun and fresh and not feel repetitive or monotonous. Big thanks to both Raigan and Mare to take the time to sit down with me and allow me to not only play the game with them, but to let me in on their own insights into this genre of gaming, and other genres as well.
If you enjoy puzzle games that require skill, thought and plenty of trial and error, this is a game you’ll want to keep on your radar.