If you read Part 1 of our Wraith Games interview, you’ll be able to get your Collapsus Masters degree, but due to focusing on that one particular game, the other games we asked and the answered we got back, went unused, until now!
We can’t get enough of Wraith Games right now, so this is Part 2 of our Wraith Games interview and this time around we’re discussing Physix, Lance Burster and getting schooled on the history of Wraith Games and its formation. Oh and you’ll want to pay attention, there will be an exam afterwards. Just kidding! Or am I? And while you’re contemplating that, once again it is time for another Wraith Games related Q&A:
The Nintendo Licensed Developers Process:
Miketendo64: “You are Nintendo Licensed Developers, for indie game companies wishing to go about doing the same thing, what is process to becoming a Nintendo Licensed Developer and just what exactly does it entail?”
Jay Kidd: “Sadly, the process has changed quite a lot since we joined up, so we can’t really speak with authority on how it all works now. Good news is that we’ve heard it’s a bit easier now.
When we joined, we had to fill out an online form, they vetted us pretty thoroughly (who we as both people and a company, what we were working on, how long we were in the industry, stuff like that), then after waiting several months they called us. After a brief interview (where they made pretty clear they already knew everything there was to know about us) we were accepted. We had to sign some digital paperwork (chief among them was an NDA) and then got to purchase our dev kits for a sum I’m not legally allowed to disclose. It was all pretty crazy.
We had to go through the application process (albeit a fast-tracked one) for each team member who would be in contact with the dev kits or who would need to know Nintendo specific business stuff. I know you could apply as an individual developer rather than as a company, but man I hope it was easier if you did.
Like I said, though, they’ve really revamped their application process this past year, so hopefully it’s a lot smoother now. ”
*NOTE: The below question was asked and answered a day before the Nintendo Switch reveal, hence why NX is said and not Nintendo Switch.
Wraith Games Other Works:
Miketendo64: “Now Collapsus isn’t the only game you aim to bring to Nintendo platforms, only their release won’t be for quite some time. With that in mind, is there any chance we could hope to see Physix and Burst Lancer release on the NX?”
Jay Kidd: “That’s certainly the plan! Now, we haven’t gotten to take a peek at the NX yet, but as soon as they let us, we’ll be getting that dev kit! There’s actually a possibility that you may be seeing Burst Lancer and a “real” version of our game-jam prototype Radarkanoid on the Wii U. We’re not 100% on it yet, but depending on when Nintendo launches the NX and when Burst Lancer and Radarkanoid are done, we may beat them to the punch!”
Miketendo64: “Fair enough!”
Burst Lancer Lowdown:
Miketendo64: “Now unlike Physix, the gravity-defying first-person puzzle game we have actually heard about, Burst Lancer is a game we’ve heard very little on. Is there anything at that time that you can say about Burst Lancer and how it compares to your other works?”
Jay Kidd: “Okay… picture this: you’re a knight with a giant, jet-propelled drill lance fighting other knights with giant, jet-propelled drill lances! Okay, yeah, it paints a pretty rad, but still pretty undescriptive picture. Let me try again:”
“Burst Lancer is a 2D fighting game (planned for up to 8 players) with a primary focus on couch multiplayer. You play as a knight with a massive drill-headed lance (called a Burst Lance). On the back end of this lance is an exhaust which allows you to streak several feet in a straight line (on the ground, in the air, up, down, back… whatever) whenever you make an attack. You can do this three times without having to land back on the ground first (you can use this to change directions mid-air, as well). This is called “bursting”. You also have a shield that can be pulled up that allows you to knock opponents away. Thing is, though, that you can’t use the shield while moving, and you can only guard in one direction at a time where your thumb stick is pushed.
Now, where it gets really interesting is that if you get hit once, that’s a life lost: there’s no health meter. So the game centers around brief iframes (invincibility frames) while you’re bursting and pain states (a frame or two where your opponent loses footing after their lance hits your shield where they become vulnerable to attack). It’s all very easy just to pick up and fool around with, but it takes a lot of skill to master the underlying systems.
All this is still very work in progress, but the final game will probably play much like that.
As for how it compares to the rest of our work, well, out of the games we’ve released (FlyGuy and Radarkanoid), the games we’ve publicly demoed (Collapsus and Physix), the games we’ve officially announced (Jet Pack Hero, “Cave Worm”, and Burst Lancer), and the unnamed planned projects we’ve just sort of let slip (as well as the awful, incomplete prototypes for our early days), you can probably tell that we don’t really like “repeat performances” (for lack of a better, presumably less pretentious phrase).
While themes emerge in any body of work (for us primarily our use of welltread genres in unusual ways with a large focus on system mastery and player experimentation), the types of genres and mechanics we do use tend to be all over the place. We just want to make games that force players to think differently, challenge themselves and have a good time while doing it. We’re basically just making the types of games we want to buy and hoping they strike a chord with people.”
A Life without Paper:
Miketendo64: “Moving on to your company itself, you’re actually a green company. Completely paperless. How have you found being paperless and does it affect development in anyway?”
Jay Kidd: “Oh, yeah: you bet it does! Our whole process from inception all the way through development has to be approached with a “digital first” mentality. When we do notes and sketches, it’s on tablets. When we do scripts, it’s on PC. When we do art and animation, it’s with Wacoms. We use things like Google Drive for our calendar, documents, communications, and the like. We use Wunderlist and Trillo for our task management, as well. Our paperwork, invoices, rent and insurance payments, contracts, payroll… all of it digital. It’s actually really liberating not being tethered to paper all the time; everything is on the cloud whenever and wherever you need it!
We do still have some paper concept art from the early days (before we got our process down completely), and I’d be lying if I said that on occasion some things didn’t get jotted down on paper here and there; but throughout our 11 years, less than 1 pack of printer paper worth of paper has been used for Wraith projects. Heck, we have a 2 drawer file cabinet that we just use for storing cords and things.
The only thing we can’t really control is that we get the occasional piece of unsolicited snail mail every so often. Still, it’s pretty rare and we’ve already opted out of all our actual mail in favor of emails.”
Miketendo64: “Well it is very impressive nonetheless.”
A History Lesson on Wraith Games:
Miketendo64: “I’ve always been a lover of origins stories. How did Wraith Games, formerly Mind’s Eye Games first come to be and how have you found the last 11 years spent pursuing your dreams?”
Jay Kidd: “This is a pretty long answer; I hope that’s alright. A lot happens over the course of 11 years!”
Miketendo64: “The longer the better!”
Jay Kidd: “Well for me, at least, it all started a little bit before that (and I know that some of this is pretty similar to how the rest of the team got started). I was 9 years old, playing with my Super Nintendo (it was a hand-me-down, but because of that it was mine and mine alone) playing games like Super Mario World and A Link to the Past when I decided that I wanted to make games for a living. Heck, not just any games, I wanted to make Nintendo games! Everyone around me (adults and kids alike) treated it like some sort of unattainable, pie-in-the-sky dream. It wasn’t until a few years later did I start to pick up the skills to really start down that path.
Things really clicked when I was about 15, a freshman in high school. A small group of friends and I decided that we should actually do something with our love of games and make our own. As you’d mentioned, we started calling ourselves “Mind’s Eye Games”. The plan at that time was just to learn all we could about game development and just make, like, little Flash games or something, though to be completely honest, none of us actually knew what we were doing at the time.
I was the one who really took initiative and picked up a few books on game programming. I didn’t know much about making games, but I “knew” that I had to be a programmer if I wanted to get into it. It was around that time when we started really getting into D&D for the first time. I remember in the 3.0 Monster Manual a really cool picture of a wraith. That’s when we decided to change our name to Wraith Games. We had a little Geocities page that we managed… we really tried to treat it like what we thought a company was; though it was really just a game making club. It was kind of an awful one, too, because for quite a while, I was the only one actually doing anything with it.
Well, the next year, I went to my school’s counselor and asked to take “every class with the word ‘computer’ somewhere in the description”. She was pretty floored by that request, but ended up letting me do it after I got my Mom’s permission. It was at this time that I picked up some more likeminded people, like my soon to be best friend (and our future financial director), Thorne Penn. I think my favorite class was probably the graphic design class, though the programming and web design classes really helped with things down the line. It was around this time that we (though, at this time, still mostly “I”) started working on a bunch of little prototypes, like the first builds of Collapsus and Flyguy (and literally dozens of other terrible little games). It was also where I came up with the idea for what would much later become Radarkanoid.
After that, I started attending the Butler Tech School for the Arts to try to hone the art side of things (since I had pretty much fallen in love with digital art at this point). This is around the time I first met Steve Dorgan (our creative director and brand manager). He was working with Flash at the time and made a really impressive game prototype. I’d asked him if he wanted to join up with us, but he declined. Luckily, we were able to grab him up a few years later.
Everything started getting really interesting after high school. In about 2008-2009, I was out on my own (soon to be joined by my then girlfriend, now fiancée and our lead programmer, Kristy Iwema). We’d managed to make several more terrible, crappy prototypes at this point. We were convinced that this one game we were working on (which I’m not going to name here) was going to be this big deal. I considered it my “magnum opus”. I was still just a dumb kid. It was being developed primarily for the Xbox 360’s XNA marketplace. This was at a point where modern indie games were just sort of becoming a thing, so we decided to approach a publisher with a demo. Well, they were very nice about it, but it was a rejection. I was devastated! I almost folded the team right there, but luckily they forced me to keep going.
Just a few months later, we were working on a kind of first person point-and-click adventure game, when out of boredom (I was coding a pretty indepth multiple-choice dialogue system), I chucked a chair at a placeholder model I was using. Maybe it was because I was so sleep deprived, but I thought that it was just the funniest thing! I started messing around with the physics engine and made little challenges and later puzzles. This was what we really needed!
We cobbled together a few levels, and took the prototype of what we dubbed “Physix” to a local gaming convention (A&G Ohio). After getting some really positive feedback, we made some tweaks and along with taking the suggestion to center gameplay around antigravity made by my brother (and one of our future designers) Cody Kidd, we had ourselves a solid, fun, prototype.
Around this time, GamePro Magazine was looking to harness some of that new indie game talent that started emerging around this time. They created an initiative called GamePro Labs, where they did this huge talent search (we’re talking thousands of entries), and the top 10 would be able to have their game published… Physix was one of the ones chosen! Now, keep in mind that GamePro would soon go bankrupt, leaving 8 of the 10 games unfinished and unpublished. It wasn’t the publishing deal that mattered to us, though; it was all about just being chosen… having them say that our game was actually, well, good. It was that burst of confidence that really made us stick with it, though! We had to see Physix through to completion.
After another move and picking up a few new people (including writer Eric Baxter and artist Rachel Saffell), we made the switch to Unity. Kristy suggested that we start smaller for our first Unity project. She suggested that we pick Collapsus back up (a game that I had shown her early in our relationship to try and impress her). Apparently she had really latched onto it. After playing the prototype for a while, the rest of the team did too. We knew that it needed a BUNCH of improvements, though.
This was in 2012, but the next couple years proved to be kind of rocky. It was still really hard to keep people motivated. Then I remembered a business development center that one of my art school teachers told me about. I called them up, they helped secure us some studio space, we became an LLC, and we got some other business resources to help get us going.
Sad to say, though, that it was around this time that the team took a big hit. See, over the lifespan of Wraith we’ve gained some people and lost some people. That’s natural, especially for something going on for about a decade at that point and doubly especially for something that was basically a hobby for a lot of the people involved. No, this was different, though (I kid you not) entirely unrelated reasons, 4 of our programmers all left at once! We could still carry on, but it would be tough without them.
This was when we decided that the old Wraith was dead. Since we were an LLC now and had some studio space (albeit really ugly studio space) we were going to completely rebrand. New logo (provided by Steve Dorgan, who finally joined up), a new website, and a huge focus on social media! We even went out of our way to start completely remodeling the studio with new paint, new floors, new furniture; we even started working on a mural centered around our IP.
Luckily, with that new social media attention, we started hitting conventions again in a big way and picked up 3 new programmers (and some other team members) to fill the gap left by the 4 who left (two of the newbies were already good friends of mine). With Collapsus about 75% feature complete, we applied to become Nintendo Licensed Developers (which was really our big dream from the start) and after completing Radarknaoid for a charity game jam/bundle and starting up some other long anticipated projects), the rest is history!
Now we just march forward! Looking back, it was a lot of ups and downs. We were always expecting to catch our “big break” any day now. It doesn’t really work like that in the real world. Over the course of it all we just had to learn. Learn to make games, learn to make better games, learn to be a real business, learn to market, and learn to work as an actual team. It’s all baby steps. Even our flops teach us things *cough* FlyGuy *cough*. While we do still have a long way to go, when we look back at where we were at any point throughout this wild ride, it’s pretty crazy: we’ve come this far and we’re only going farther every day!”
Miketendo64: “Thank you for sharing such an interesting and detailed account.”
“We’re Not Just a Company, We’re Friends who Get to Live out Our Childhood Dreams Together:”
Miketendo64: “You brought this question upon yourself. ‘For over a decade, we have set out to make high quality, open source, cross-platform games that make players challenge themselves, think outside of the box and most importantly: have fun!’ With fun being ever so important, what are you guys like behind closed doors? We want to hear those office antics!”
Jay Kidd: “All of us are pretty good friends around the studio. We kind of have to be. Our dynamic wouldn’t really work if not. Since 2006 (nearly as long as Wraith has been around), I’ve DM’d the same weekly D&D game, of which most of our team has been involved. We also play tons of video games together (so much Smash Bros.), Magic the Gathering, and board games. Heck, Kristy and I have a pretty big retro and arcade game collection, so at least one or two members (rotating) of the team are at our place every day of the week!
Luckily Kristy and I live just a block away from the studio at Artspace Hamilton (an apartment building exclusively for artists), so hanging out at our place after work isn’t hard. Oh. Did I forget to mention that the studio is literally right above a brewery? There’s that, too! None of us really drink a lot, but it does make for a great hangout place.
We’re really like one big family. Quite a few of us have been together since before we were even adults, so it’s hard to think of our lives without each other. We always have each other’s backs. That’s the cool thing, though, we’re not just a company: we’re friends who get to live out our childhood dreams together… nothing beats that!”
Miketendo64: “Now that’s living the life!”
Wraith Games Fun Facts:
Miketendo64: “Lastly, is there anything about your games and Wraith Games that you feel fans should know/what you want them to know?”
Jay Kidd: “Well, in addition to being around for 11 years, being a group of 12 friends who do awesome things together, and our passion for the environment, here are a few more facts about us:
- We’ve dedicated ourselves to games accessibility so that players of all ability can enjoy our projects (Collapsus is completely colorblind accessible, for instance)
- In addition to the honor of being picked up for GamePro Labs, we were nominated in 2015 for SlideDB’s “App of the Year” for Collapsus and we landed in the Top 50.
- We were also invited to showcase at the internationally traveling Game Masters – The Exhibition earlier this year.
- We make physical arcade cabinets of our games. We had a cabinet of Radarkanoid at the Fitton Center for the Creative Arts for their Hindsight exhibit this year, and a Collapsus cabinet will be at Arcade Legacy after launch!
- Nearly 50% of our team are LGBTQ, and nearly 50% are female.
- We’re all about workers’ rights: we work 6 hour days, 4 days a week and allow team members to work from home on their own schedules (even allowing unlimited PTO to handle parental leave, medical leave, or even just vacations).
- We try to make sure as many of our projects are as open source and cross platform as possible.”
Jay could have made his answers a lot shortly and he could have refused to answer a couple of our questions, but he didn’t. Instead he was through, specific and really opened the doors to the World of Wraith Games and allowed us all free entry and for that we are thankful, so thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us Jay. You really worked your fingers on the bone on this and we won’t forget that. We wish you the best of luck with your endeavours and because Jay has one last thing to say, here he is with a message for the Wraith Game fans:
“If you like what we’re about, feel free to follow us on Twitter and give our games a go! We’re pretty sure you’ll like them!”