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Note: Emily Rogers, the interviewer, was also an assistant game designer on Armillo.

After three years of development, Fuzzy Wuzzy Games will finally release “Armillo” as a temporary Wii U exclusive. This week, Fuzzy Wuzzy Games was nice enough to provide a playable PC demo of “Armillo” to the press. The game combines the level design of “Super Mario Galaxy” with the controls of “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Super Monkey Ball”.  Similar to Sonic, Armillo rolls across worlds at fast speeds while jumping over obstacles and dashing into enemies. There are elements of “Bomberman” where Armillo can consume a box of dynamite and explode near barriers and enemies.

Fuzzy Wuzzy Games was founded by James Saito and Yanni Fyssas who were former employees at Electronic Arts (EA Canada). James Saito is the main programmer of Armillo, and his previous work includes titles such as “Medal of Honor: Heroes 2” and the “EA Sports Active” series. At Electronic Arts, James Saito had developed libraries for the PS2, Xbox, Gamecube, and Xbox 360. Yanni Fyssas is the sound designer behind Armillo, and he had previously worked on EA titles such as the “NBA Live” series, “Need for Speed: Pro Street”, “EA Sports Active” series, and “EA Playground”

Dromble would like to thank James Saito and Yanni Fyssas for agreeing to do this interview.

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Tell us about Fuzzy Wuzzy Games.  How many artists and programmers make up the team?

Yanni: It’s a surprisingly small core team of 2.5 people! We started as 3 full time (Artist/Programer/Audio) and then we grew to about 6-7 part time. For the longest time it was down to 2, and now we have a few more people helping out on a part time basis.

James: In terms of the number of programmers, I’m actually the one who did almost all the coding.  We had another programmer help us a bit at the very beginning with some rendering engine work on the XNA build.  In terms of the number of artists, we had one person who was full time for a few months and had to leave that position – but he still helps us out from time to time as needed.  After that, we’ve had about a handful of artists help out to create models here and there part-time.  One of those part timers, Mex, has stuck around for a few months and still helps us out, so I’m very grateful for him.  And my brother, who worked at professional animation studios, helped out with the revamped dialog and logo animations.  A visual effects guy also helped us out recently to revamp our lighting system and that really helped with the look of the game.  I also took part in a bunch of art as well, doing the art for the front-end, 2D stages, and a few of the 3D planet models.

Yanni: In case you missed it we had a secret weapon in the making of Armillo. His name was Jaymz… 🙂

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Armillo is planned to be a timed-exclusive.  How long will the game be exclusive to the Wii U? Are you hoping that this temporary exclusivity will bring more attention to Nintendo’s new console?

James: It will be exclusive to the Wii U for at least 3 months before it hits the PC.  I’m not totally sure if we’d port this to other platforms, but we’ll consider it if there’s a demand.  I personally do not think it will have any noticeable impact towards bringing more attention to Nintendo’s new console as we’re a small not so known indie game company.  But what I do hope is that some other indie developers will see our actions in support of Nintendo and also want to develop for the Wii U because of Nintendo’s excellent support for Indies.

Yanni: It’s more of a thank you to Nintendo from us, than anything else.

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In terms of graphics, how does the Wii U version compare to the PC version?  Should we expect the Wii U version to be 1080p or 720p? Should we expect 30 frames per second or 60 frames per second?

James: I actually haven’t touched the Wii U build for a while as I’ve been focusing mainly on the game aspect, but I’d expect it to be somewhat identical in visual quality.  There may be some differences as Unity on the Wii U does have a small subset of features (mostly old features) that aren’t supported.  It’s been running at 720p. The last build wasn’t running at 60fps, but it’s close and I’m confident that we should be able to hit around 60 fps by release.

Yanni: Graphics… phhhhht (sticks tongue out)  – ask us some audio questions and *then* we’re talking. 🙂 Did I mention the game will be 5.1 surround?

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If the first Armillo is successful, would Fuzzy Wuzzy Games be interested in creating an “Armillo 2”? Can you see “Armillo” becoming a series of games? Also, if there was a sequel, what would your studio do differently from the first Armillo?

James: It’s a possibility, but I do have some ideas on original games that I want to work on before considering a sequel.  But if I were to make a sequel, I would first get rid of some custom limitations of the Armillo engine. One limitation is that the engine is sort of designed to work with a single main planet world with a moon.  I’d take that out and make the engine a lot more free-flowing, which means multiple planets and planet types.  I also might not make the entire game revolving around spherical worlds – one thing I found about working with spherical worlds is that it makes development a bit trickier – all that additional math computations that I have to be careful with and also trying to place objects in the world when Unity’s editing capabilities are done in the linear XYZ axis space.  Of course, I designed editor scripts to help me with this, but it’s still a bit more work getting the placements right.

Another thing I would change is to script the current custom physics engine and use a more mainstream physics engine like Unity’s built in PhysX engine.  Although the current custom physics engine is nice as it creates a nice bounding box for me to create a game around, but I feel that I could do so much more using a mainstream physics engine.

Of course, it’ll be a while before I get started on a sequel, that is if I do get started.  By that time, I might have a much better idea on what to do.

Yanni: I’d prefer to explore new ideas and come back to Armillo down the road… But I would really love to find a way to port Armillo to the 3DS as a next move… If anyone’s got any ideas, hit us up. 🙂

James: I personally don’t see Unity coming to the 3DS.  But I hope Unity can surprise me here.

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Does the Wii U version of Armillo support any controllers outside of the GamePad? For example, does it support the Wii U Pro controller?

James: Yes, it will support the Wii U Pro controller, but not the Wii Remote.

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What is the average length of the game? How many worlds are there to explore?

James: Estimation at this point is 5-7 hours, and more if you’re trying to get everything.  Over 20 worlds to play in addition to 20 2D platformer levels that are hidden around the worlds.  The final platformer level has Mario 3D World’s Champion’s Road as an inspiration!  Get ready to be challenged!

Yanni: If I’m playing it’s more like 9-12 hours. I spend a ridiculous amount of time wandering around the worlds and looking at art 🙂 And that’s for all games not just Armillo. he he he

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Nintendo has showcased Armillo at PAX, and then Indiecade.  What comments have Nintendo made about Armillo? What did they like about the game? Did they offer any suggestions?

Yanni: At Indiecade, I got a chance to chat with some very supportive Nintendo folks, and they had nothing but praise about the look and gameplay. They suggested we try to use the WiiU specific controls (hardware), but I don’t remember any other direct feedback…

James: Yeah, they’ve asked us to add in accelerometer support.  To be honest, I haven’t gotten around to adding that in yet, but soon.  It’s going to be an option not enabled by default.

Yanni: They liked the plushy Armillo …*contemplates*….. maybe we can do a Kickstarter for that…?

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You have received feedback from fans and the media on ways to improve the game’s controls and graphics.  What was the most common feedback that you received from gamers, and how did that feedback help improve the game?

James: Just watching people play really helps improve the game.  For example, at the most recent PAX, I noticed that a lot of people would twitch the analog stick a bit while doing a boost, causing the game to think the analog stick is pointing a different direction when doing the boost.  That made the controls feel a bit wonky at times.  So for Indiecade, I’ve buffered the controls to ignore that twitch and from what I heard (I wasn’t there, but Yanni was), people there loved how it controlled.  There’s also a lot of other feedback such as people getting stuck or not knowing where to go so I have to figure out ways around such as adding one-way blocks, camera angle changes, and arrows.  But I also try not to go overboard with them as it’ll get really annoying. Focus testing the game really helps flush out the polish.

Yanni: Story – most people wanted to know Armillo’s story…I know that’s not control or graphics, but I heard that a lot.

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What is the biggest challenge in developing a game like “Armillo”?  How did you overcome those challenges?

Yanni: Making a game like Armillo is like getting married with a few people for the duration of the dev cycle. Keeping the team together, consistently optimistic and healthy is the biggest challenge from my perspective. The highs were high and the lows were .. well quite low. We’re in a great place now and it’s a testament to how hard everyone worked to make it this way. Making games is hard work, it’s creative work and it challenges all your abilities and skillsets. The technical challenges are far easier to manage in my opinion…

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Back in October 2012, I reached out to you about the idea of bringing Armillo to Nintendo’s new Wii U console.  Do you believe that bringing Armillo to the Wii U helped bring more media attention to your game?  For example, IGN had recently mentioned your game in an article that listed Wii U’s most anticipated 2014 titles.  Kotaku had also recently mentioned your game earlier this week.  

James: Definitely!  Armillo feels right at home on the Wii U.  I think you’ve approached us at a perfect time there as that was right when Nintendo was about to get rid of the office space requirement – one of the only remaining obstacle for us to consider the Wii U.  I’m particularly surprised at IGN’s most anticipated titles list. I’d personally choose a number of other Wii U games before ours!

About being on the Wii U, it’s all about the market – what type of games are people who own the system willing to buy?  The reason Microsoft turned us down for publishing is because the Xbox doesn’t really have the market for our game.  But the reason why Nintendo is helping to promote our game is because our market is there.

Yanni: 100% Em. We are so lucky you suggested that!

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Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo was one of the first people in the mainstream gaming media to write an article about “Armillo”.  In fact, he has covered Armillo more than most people in the gaming media.  Does it feel good knowing that there are people like Totilo who see the potential in your game?

Yanni: Honestly, it’s impossible for me to gauge how well Armillo will be received. I’m just being honest that I no longer have any perspective on Armillo and comparing it with what’s currently hot at the moment. We see all the flaws and warts and push incredibly hard to make it all awesome, all the time. But if you ask me is Armillo a great game? I honestly cannot answer that… So when you email us and mention “ I spent 3 hours playing the demo last night. 🙂 I played those 4 levels multiple times and I loved every minute of it. Fantastic game!” then I start thinking … Hmmmm…maybe we have something?

James: Interestingly, our encounter with Stephen was actually quite lucky.  He mentioned in the article that he decided to check out our game only after he got handed our pamphlet by our full time artist Ron at that time and was impressed by how well Ron greeted him.  So I have to give props to Ron there!  It feels great having someone like Stephen Totilo seeing the potential in our game.  If it wasn’t for him, we’d probably get little to no press at that time, so I’m very thankful to him!

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