February 3, 2012 3:00 PM | John Polson
The browser-based, puzzle platforming Shift series has garnered millions of plays over at Armor Games. The game's iterations shifted successfully onto iOS devices in 2009 and 2010 and later to PlayStation Network in 2011.
After many digital leaps, Fishing Cactus feels ready to take the Shift series to retail. Shifting World is set to release on April 24 in North America at $29.99, thanks to the help of indie-friendly Aksys Games, who've also published Gaijin Games' Bit.Trip Saga for 3DS.
In this interview, lead game designer Guillaume Bouckaert speaks about Shifting World's transition from 2D to 3D and its sizable expansion. Bouckaert discusses how much could be ported from Shift's previous iterations to the 3DS version. He also hints about adding eShop content, though that content may end up being sold through the recently announced Nintendo Network.
The world's been playing Shift for a few years now. How much different is Shifting World compared to its last iteration, Shift Extended (PSP)?
A lot! From a technical and graphical point of view, we went from a 2D game to a full 3D game (without touching the 2D platform gameplay). We also added many new mechanics to the original game, some linked to the "shifting" ability, which is at the core of the Shift series, as most players know, and some new ones, entirely different, that ups to the puzzling elements of the game.
The levels of the game were also hugely expanded. We went from small levels limited to the size of the screen to huge labyrinth-like mazes. There is now scrolling, and that's a big improvement.
We also took a creative approach to the story of the game. While the original was a story about an experimental lab putting test subjects through vicious tests, we went in another direction entirely with Shifting World. We ended up creating a series of characters that really add their charm to the game and will tell the players a totally different story!
Was Shifting World built from the ground up for 3DS?
We used some parts from our previous Shift development experience on a console, Shift Extended, and more specifically our collision system. Apart from that specific part, it was entirely built from the ground-up using our proprietary in-house engine. The 3DS is technically a very different machine from, let's say, iOS or PSP. So we had to take that into consideration before diving into the programming side of things.
However the design team who worked on Shift 1 & 2 mobile, Shift Extended and now Shifting World is the same.
So, nothing else from the PS mini or Flash port helped?
When we made the mini version of the game, we build it entirely from the ground up as the ratio of the screen was totally different (16/9). We used nothing from the previous flash version of the game in terms of assets or code except maybe for the first iteration we did on iOS.
While we were working our levels directly in Flash for the mini and mobile versions, we had to come up with a custom tool to create the levels for this 3DS version. The Flash editor was handling levels with a limited area, and wasn't tailored to the huge levels we had in mind. For that purpose our team used plug-ins and modifications on top of the level editor Tiled.
In regard to the original game mechanics, some were kept and we added a few of our own. Finally, we discarded a few mechanics that proved irrelevant in the new 3D environment of the game.
The way the door worked in the original Shift wasn't consistent with our vision of the game. We had a mechanic in Shift Extended on PSP that switched the color of entire zones in the level. Again, it wasn't consistent with our vision of the game, and it proved difficult to integrate it with our layer-shifting mechanic.
Were the 3D features added especially for Shifting World?
Well, yes and no. When work started on Shifting World, we directed our design efforts in two directions. The first one was to take advantage of the fact that the game was going from a 2D environment to a 3D one. It was quite a change for the series, and we had a lot of back and forth. Eventually we wanted to take advantage of that 3D to introduce some new puzzle mechanics into the game and add a new layer of challenge. The other was, of course, to make use of the 3DS display. Eventually, we found an entirely new game mechanic that satisfied both needs.
Why not release Shifting World as an eShop title?
After having created the first version of Shift (Shift Extended) on console as a downloadable game, we felt with Armor Games (owner of the IP) that it was time to take the license to the next level: pimp-up the art, create a little more consistency in the story, introduce interesting and innovative mechanics and of course have it on the shelves as a boxed game.
Fortunately for us, Aksys helped us make that wish come true, and the boxed version made more sense than an eShop version. However, there are some discussions going on right now in the studio about creating some content for the eShop.
Can you elaborate on the eShop content?
Sorry, no hints at any eShop content at the moment.
Why 3DS over Vita?
While Vita is a very promising platform, right now we are focusing on 3DS. However, if the possibility arises to port Shifting World to Vita, we would be happy to work on it. There could be some really interesting ideas to be explored with the Shift series.
What more can Nintendo do to make 3DS and the upcoming WiiU indie-developer friendly?
The price of the Development kit is quite expensive, and for an indie-developer, it represents a huge investment (it also represents a challenge from the technical development POV).
I'm not sure if anything can be done in that regard, but when you compare the investment needed to have a game released on a platform such as the 3DS, and the same one to get on an iOS device, there is no comparison. Of course, the markets are different; players are different, as well. But still, as an indie developer, it gets you thinking before you dive in.
What's next for Fishing Cactus?
A big part of the company is working on the new Creatures game, Creatures 4. They've been hard at work on it and are doing an amazing job. Stay tuned, you won't be disappointed!
How many people are at Fishing Cactus?
26 people are currently working at Fishing Cactus. When work started on Shifting World, there were 3 people working on it in pre-production. It then climbed to 6 people for the production proper. We also used a few people from outside the company for specific tasks (sound design and character modeling). There was also input from the whole company throughout (we all work in a big open space, so it helps).
We also have some more shells in the barrel for the Shift series but nothing we can reveal now.