Witch Beam is a small development team located in Brisbane, Australia. The developer is preparing to release their twin-stick shooter “Assault Android Cactus” which has received positive impressions from gaming enthusiasts as well as the press. Dromble spoke to Sanatana Mishra, the co-founder of Witch Beam Games, about the design process behind the game, and the current indie policies of today’s console makers.
You can currently buy an “Early Access” version of “Assault Android Cactus” at Steam’s store.
The first thing most people will notice about the visuals is the endless amount of debris, environmental changes, and hordes of monsters that come in your direction. How were you able to keep the visuals running smoothly (60 frames per second) with so much action going on at one time?
We think framerate plays an important role in game feel that often gets misidentified, so running at 60 frames per second was always our goal and it’s something that influences a lot of our aesthetic and design decisions, elements like the camera distance were determined early on so that assets and effects would be optimised for it. On a purely technical level It’s all thanks to TimDawson, he is our sole programmer, artist, and animator, everything you see on the screen was created by one person!
The biggest hurdle when building a 60fps game is making sure everyone on the team values performance, you would be surprised at how many industry veterans just don’t think it’s important. I have a lot of respect for teams like Respawn when they highlight the effect framerate has on their game and if you look at the trend I think a lot of developers are starting to think that way, Battlefield/Killzone/Halo are all switching to 60 this generation.
The character designs give me a Jet Force Gemini vibe, and I have seen others make that same comparison too. Can you talk about the process that went into designing the characters? Also, do you have a favorite character?
Tim actually designed Cactus a decade ago and has been waiting for an opportunity to build her game ever since! She was originally drawn in a more traditional anime style but he adapted her proportions to make her top down silhouette a lot stronger, that’s the reason the characters have big heads.
The other characters were all specifically created for the game you see now so they are a lot more recent, they initially started out as alternate skins for co-op but the concept quickly evolved in to giving each character a unique personality, dialogue, and play style, something that was heavily influenced by Cave’s shoot ‘em ups. My personal favorite is Coral because the shotgun & plasma field combination create such a high precision & high potential play style, although she’s probably the worst Android for new players. How can you not like a character that quotes Bruce Lee when she beats the Embryo!
The game was developed around the Unity engine. What do you like about the Unity engine, and how did it help with development? Were there any limitations with the Unity engine that you had to work around?
The tools and workflow are really what make Unity shine, for starters everything is integrated seamlessly in to the game scene which makes building content and understanding your pipeline very simple, and the way that scripts link back to visual elements inside your scene is great for coding lightweights like myself. I’m also a big fan of the way Unity handles multiple platforms, it has made our Linux & OS X versions so much simpler than I had anticipated and I wouldn’t be surprised if one day you can single click to build for all console and PC platforms.
There have been a few things that we had to work around, like some issues with trigger inputs (Although that was solved in an update at one point) but overall I think It’s safe to say without Unity there would be no Cactus.
The music is woven into the action very well. Can you give some insight into music composition and sound design?
Well Jeff Van Dyck is the third and final member of our team and he’s handling all of the music in the game, his approach from the first day has been to integrate the audio design in to the action, so we developed a way to track the games intensity at any given moment and we use that to add and removed tracks in our dynamic music system. The result is something we’re all quite proud of and I think it helps keep the game varied and interesting.
The style itself is a bit retro sci-fi but Jeff plans to keep it varied by giving each zone its own style that compliments the aesthetic, each boss character also has its own unique escalating theme music.
In terms of aesthetic and dynamic elements, you said the Dreamcast/GameCube era of vibrant over the top graphics was very important to the experience you wanted to create. Can you describe what you enjoyed the most about that era, and what games from that era helped influence Assault Android Cactus?
That was the era right between 3D being fast enough that you weren’t limited in the styles of game you could create, and 3D being simple enough that most developers weren’t gravitating towards hyper-realistic games, the result of that was a ton of over the top arcade style experiences with bright colours that focus on clean and responsive mechanics. Games like Super Monkey Ball, Gauntlet Legends, Power Stone, Ikaruga, F-Zero GX, Skies of Arcadia, and Cannon Spike are all stylistic inspirations.
The media reported that Assault Android Cactus is heading to Wii U, PlayStation 4, and PS Vita. What differences can we expect between these three console versions?
Well the PlayStation versions will support cross-buy and cross-save, mostly because I loved those features in Sound Shapes and really want to support that initiative. We’re also thinking about how to use the light bar and touch pad beyond just reflecting your characters status and navigating menus. The Wii U version will support a variety of controller types like Wiimote & Nunchuck / Pro Pad / Game Pad, as well as additional UI on the Game Pad and an off-screen play option.
In a previous interview, you mention that there was a sizable performance delta between Ouya and moderate spec PC’s, and this is why you were not currently considering Ouya. With Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft becoming more indie friendly, it’s probably going to steal indies away from Ouya. Do you believe Ouya can still appeal to indie developers like yourself?
No, but not just because of what Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft are doing. Originally it was the logistics (both technical and financial) that made the Ouya a difficult platform to target, but recently they seem to be doing a good job of giving indies a reason to focus there efforts elsewhere.
Can you talk about the differences between Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft in terms of indie friendliness?
This is a tough question to answer because most of the specifics of our agreements with Nintendo and Sony are covered by NDA, I will say that I think both companies are very indie friendly and I honestly believe there has never been a better time to be a tiny developer. Of the two I think Nintendo’s approach is a little bit less involved and very hands off, but that’s not to say Sony are restrictive at all it’s just that their process feels a little bit more in depth and might require you to write a few more documents so they can offer (optional but helpful) advice.
In our case Sony has taken a much bigger interested in Cactus than we ever expected, they featuring us at stage at Gamescom and later on the PlayStation Blog despite the fact that we’re not even an exclusive game! Ultimately these massive corporations are run by people and I’m thrilled about the way both Sony and Nintendo are helping teams like ours create the games we’re passionate about, thanks Shahid, Lorenzo, and Guy!
As for Microsoft well I’ve made a few comments in the past about how they were not interested in Cactus and had no path for us to bring it to their platforms so my experience is limited to them being extremely unfriendly. Since then they’ve announced a new self publishing plan that they claim has been in the works for years despite telling studios like Pik-Pok that it was not going to be possible just 2-3 months ago, but with 6 confirmed platforms our three person team is too busy to even consider applying right now.
Was it challenging to take the already intense single player experience, and then try to make that fast paced style of gameplay work flawlessly as a 4 player co-op experience?
It was quite challenging and continues to play a big role in our level, enemy, and character designs. Part of what makes Cactus fun is the way that every weapon feels powerful but there are so many enemies you can still feel overwhelmed, so our approach to co-op has been to scale the enemy count with each new player and then try to tweak things so the on screen action doesn’t become too chaotic and unplayable.
Right now in 1 and 2 player modes the game is very clear and precise while 3 and 4 player modes are more like a hectic party game with so much chaos on screen, we’re still tweaking elements to improve the visibility in co-op of course but it’s always going to be a very different experience to single player Cactus.
You mentioned to me over an email how your team invested a lot of time and money into this project. Android Assault Cactus has received positive attention across the internet. Not just from big media outlets like IGN or Destructoid, but also from your average gamers on message boards like NeoGaf. Does it feel good knowing that everything seems to have paid off and people are genuinely happy with your game?
This might sound a bit fake or corny but I get such a thrill out of watching people enjoy something I created, it’s the reason I make games and will continue to do so until I just can’t afford to any more. I’m still not sure if sites like Twitch TV are good or bad for my motivation because I get such a kick out of seeing someone play Cactus but once I start I can’t stop watching!
As for our positive attention I’d say NeoGAF in particular has been a very supportive place for us, there’s actually a great indie developer community there that is full of intelligent & helpful people and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of their games turned out to be way bigger deals than Cactus, people just don’t know about them yet.
I think my favourite part of having our demo & early access release is seeing someone on the leaderboards who is legitimately better than me at my own game.