Interview with Twisted Pixel Games
- Twisted Pixel Games
Ms. Splosion Man was released into the wilds of Xbox Live Arcade last month and it rocked our knee high socks with its marriage of brilliant old school design, quirky references and oddball humour, proving once again that Twisted Pixel Games are one of modern gaming’s best studios. (You can read our Ms. Splosion Man review here.)
We wanted to know what made Ms ‘Splosion Man tick. Or ‘Splode, whichever the case may be. So we caught up with Lead Programmer Mike Henry and threw a selection of questions his way, tackling everything from starting the project and what was left on the cutting room floor to ziplines and even Willow Smith.
First of all we were interested in just how difficult it was to begin work on a follow-up to the first ‘Splosion Man. Not as hard as we were expecting it seems, as Mike explains. “We had so much stuff that we wanted to do and didn’t have time for in ‘Splosion Man that we were able to hit the ground running for Ms. ’Splosion Man.
“Similarly, coming up with Ms’s look wasn’t as tough as the original because we had already tried a whole bunch of designs and knew mostly what worked and what didn’t... plus, part of the joke was that she was basically SM with a bow and boobs.
“I think our biggest challenge was getting the level art to look as “new and improved” as we wanted without going overboard on the schedule.”
The development was a simple, smooth, and effortless project then. We assume. But we also wanted to know just what it was Mike Henry was most happy with in the finished version of Ms. Splosion Man.
“As a programmer, I get proud of pretty nerdy things, like the ghost replay system. We were able to get decent-looking replays that lasted over 30 minutes and packed in under 100KB, so we could make ghosts available for the top 50 spots on each leaderboard (there’s a 1GB limit for a title’s “game clips” on Xbox Live).”
Er, okay. In more general terms? “Overall, though, I think I can objectively say that Ms. ‘Splosion Man is the most fun and polished title we’ve released so far, so I’m definitely proud of that.”
One of our favourite things about Ms. Splosion Man was definitely its ziplines, and it appears Mike agrees, “I bet you couldn’t name a single game that wouldn’t be better if it had ziplines in it.”
Naturally, Twisted Pixel can always see the bigger picture, “I’m pretty excited to see that Irrational has finally seen the light. After years of making lame games like BioShock that nobody likes, they have embraced the awesomeness of ziplines for BioShock Infinite. It will easily be 384% better than the previous two put together.” Pretty much our thoughts exactly.
But as great as the ziplines are we were more interested in just how much testing a single Ms. ‘Splosion Man puzzle would go through, considering they are often designed with a hair’s breath between success and failure,
“Yeah, towards the end of the project, we had 4-6 internal testers hammering on levels at any given time, in addition to the platoon of testers at Microsoft. The designers only have an average of about 2 days to work on each level, so it’s important to get as much testing coverage as possible.” We tip our hats to such speedily produced genius.
But as great as the finished product is there’s always regrets and a cutting room floor, so what would Twisted Pixel have changed about Ms. ‘Splosion Man?
“We changed the end-of-level sequence from the original ‘Splosion Man so that there is only one Ms. ‘Splosion Man standing at the finish line when you cross it in multiplayer.
“That was just an aesthetic choice, but when we started working on network bugs, we found that it was really fun to try to sabotage the other players at the last second so you could be the one to cross the finish line. I wish we would have had time to make a bigger deal out of that, and maybe keep a running tally of how many finishes each player has.” This would have certainly been fun in a Castle Crashers ‘I wanna be the one to kiss the princess’ kind of way.
Speaking of demoralizing elements, Ms. Splosion Man’s Hardcore difficulty is certainly a devastating slice of dog-punt inducing torture gaming, so we felt a need to ask Twisted Pixel just how do-able they thought it was. Not very as it turns out.
“I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to handle it either, but I know for a fact that Chainsaw, our audio engineer, has done it. Although I won’t swear he didn’t punt any dogs while trying.”
One element of Ms. Splosion Man that stands out is her unrestrained and entertainingly stereotyped femininity, which we found highly endearing but many outlets thought was a bit demeaning and Mike Henry doesn’t see why, “It’s funny … as stupid and ridiculous as all of her animations and quotes are, there were still some people out there that didn’t ‘get it’.“
But forgetting the critics for a second we had to ask about the team at Twisted Pixel. We wanted to know if Mike Henry had noticed any effect on the Texan developer after this over-exposure to pure, unfettered ‘girl’,
“Well, our lead designer has started a shoe collection, and our art director goes to see a romantic comedy at the theatre every weekend now, but other than that, we’re still the same hairy, smelly, beer-swilling group we’ve always been.” Good to hear.
So what about the future of ‘Splosion? When quizzed about DLC Mr. Henry replied, “We haven’t ruled out the possibility, but we’re also pretty excited about the next projects we’ll be working on, so I can’t promise anything right away.”
Though as exciting as DLC would be, we were more interested in whether or not we’ll be seeing a ‘Splosion Man 3 any time soon,
“It’s too early to say for sure. We would definitely want to keep taking things in new directions if we make more, though. If I had to guess, I’d say the designers probably have some gas left in the tank, so to speak.”
Promising words, but it won’t be coming anytime soon. Oh and while they shouldn’t be written off, nor will Captain Smiley 2 or Maw 2 if Mike Henry is to believed, as post Gunstringer Twisted Pixel have something original.
“Our next project is going to be something new and awesome, but I don’t think we’d ever rule out coming back to old favourites if we have good ideas for them.”
While we would love some more from Twisted Pixel’s established cirque de freaks, seeing a new attraction added to the growing family is equally as tantalising.
So here we were at the end of our interview time but we couldn’t leave Twisted Pixel without two more quick questions, first we wanted to know just how many movies they had seen?
“All of them. Twice.” That’s a lot of film; we tip our hats for the second time this interview and consider inviting a few of the developers to our local pub quiz sometime.
Finally, for all the references and quotes in Ms. Splosion Man the ‘I whip my hair back and forth’ line from that Willow Smith ‘classic’ song still irks us so we just had to know. Willow Smith? Really?
“We felt Will Smith’s kids weren’t getting enough public exposure. Won’t someone think of the children??” joked Mr Mike Henry.
Words: James Bowden (Twitter: @Dalagonash)
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