Last month, the North American Wii U eShop saw the release of Swap Fire, an indie Couch-multiplayer/Puzzle First Person Shooter, developed by Midnight Status and if you haven’t tried it out yet, you might want to reconsider that, because it is bizarre!
How Bizarre? Well it’s a game where “Shooting other players rips a hole in spacetime thus swapping your locations” and that’s just for starters. Some gamers may find the graphics a little hard to look at, but sometimes an insane game with peculiar graphics is exactly the type of game we should be playing. So naturally we got in touch with the guys behind the game and sent them a bunch of questions, and now we have the answers. Brace yourselves, for this is our Swap Fire Q&A with Jeremy Alessi:
The Team behind Swap Fire, Midnight Status:
Miketendo64: “First and foremost, who are you? What is your involvement with Swap Fire and can you tell us a bit about Midnight Status?”
Jeremy Alessi: “I am the founder of Midnight Status and the director of Swap Fire. Midnight Status is a small company based in Norfolk, Virginia, USA. We have two full-time people between myself and Henry Meredith as well as a number of flex workers who join us as needed. With Swap Fire we also had direct development help from Vince White, Eric Scott, and Adrian Tysoe.
I originally developed Swap Fire for the first 7 Day First Person Shooter (7DFPS) Game Jam back in 2012. The idea was to make a shooter where you did the opposite of most FPS games; so instead of ducking to cover to protect yourself before trying to shoot someone, you would have to jump toward something dangerous first. The jam game had spikes, spinning blades, as well as jumping off the side as ways of eliminating your opponents. The original style of gameplay is still present on Wii U with the Drop Zone mode. As we got onto developing the Wii U game though we found that we were able to do many things with the baseline mechanic. It’s susceptible to a high degree of emergence, which is good because there’s more we want to do with it!”
Swap Fire Fan Reaction:
Miketendo64: “Swap Fire has been out for almost a month now, how have you found fans reactions now that they’ve had plenty of time to play it?”
Jeremy Alessi: “So far we’re seeing and hearing good things. Review scores are coming in the 7-8 range and people are saying in general it’s a good game that’s worth a play due to the innovative mechanics.
The best quote so far has been: “It’s like Goldeneye met and fell in love with Portal, then they had a baby with a little bit of crazy Smash Bros-like unpredictability.” That quote alone might be worth the 20+ years I have spent being an indie game developer.”
Miketendo64: “High praise indeed!”
Swap Fire Will Release in Europe, but Not any time Soon:
Miketendo64: “Swap Fire is available on Wii U in North America, how is the European version of the game going and can we hope to see it any time soon?”
Jeremy Alessi: “We have now completed the e-manual for Europe and just need to debug the game build for the European version which is slightly different from the US version. Also, there are a few things about the game that we have only learned of since release that we may tweak. For example. in the lore of the Swap Fire universe purple objects such as the Swoccer Ball and the Shield are protected from being swapped by the Einros Cannon. However, we included purple cubes in our Jettison mode but it was only after release that we thought about how that might break the rules of our universe. There are other small details like that we need to think about. I imagine the game will be out in Europe by February.”
Miketendo64: “Something to look forwards to then. That’s good!”
Swap Fire on Nintendo Switch has been Discussed, but not likely:
Miketendo64: “As a Nintendo fan and an indie developer, what do you make of the Nintendo Switch and are there any plans to try and develop something for it? Or even port Swap Fire to it?”
Jeremy Alessi: “The Switch looks amazing to us. We’d love to bring a version of Swap Fire to the new platform and we have spoken to Nintendo about that. Without being a great selling title though, we won’t be going there anytime soon. Nintendo will be supporting proven commercial successes for the Switch first and foremost.”
Miketendo64: “Something to look forwards to then. That’s good!”
Swap Fire on Wii U is “Platform Specific:”
Miketendo64: “Was Swap Fire ever considered for any other platform, such as 3DS, or did you solely see it as a Wii U exclusive?”
Jeremy Alessi: “The original jam game was for Mac/PC on the WebPlayer. However, Swap Fire as it appears on the Wii U was built from the ground up for that platform. It is likely that this version of the game will never appear anywhere else because it is so platform specific.”
No DLC is planned for Swap Fire:
Miketendo64: “Was Dlc and updates are all the rage these days. Any chance of Swap Fire dlc later on down the line?”
Jeremy Alessi: “I don’t think Swap Fire 1 will have any DLC associated with it.”
Highs & Lows of Swap Fire Development”
Miketendo64: “Swap Fire has come a long way since the world got its first look at it back in June 2012, during the first 7 Day FPF Challenge (7DFPS Jam), what have been your most memorable highs and lows during development?”
Jeremy Alessi: The biggest highs were showing the game off at Maker Faire, GameStop, Hatch, That Game Store, PixelFest (an event we created so we’d have a place to show off), and Super Smash Con. Watching people play and enjoy the game is what fueled us to continue on. It also helped us to understand where we were going wrong and also where we were going right. I’ve never made a game played by so many people prior to release and I think it shows.”
(Jeremy Alessi playing Swap Fire with his son during PixelFest)
Jeremy Alessi: “The lows were definitely toward the end. This was a self-funded game and it took everything I had to ship it. Financially, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I’m a dad with two kids and another on the way so when we ran out of funds and I’m promising my wife we’ll buy a mini-van before the new baby arrives that’s a high pressure situation to be in.
In the beginning we kept 1:1 parity with the Wii U but after really getting into development this became unmanageable so we used a plugin that allowed Wii Controllers to be used with our PCs/MacBooks and developed the gameplay that way. When we went to port back to the Wii U hardware Unity had changed dramatically. During the last few months of development we had to re-write all input management and also redo our entire visual aesthetic because we jumped from Unity 4 to Unity 5 for a variety of other technical reasons. Furthermore, although I was quite careful to keep poly counts low, amongst other optimizations, there was a lot we had to do to get the game running a solid framerate in all display modes and all levels.
Then Nintendo was much more critical before approving a build than say Apple is on the mobile side. Apple is a piece of cake (even though many people complain about that platform). That said, the game turned out better for it. There were just some dark days at the end. And, of course beyond the technical hurdles Nintendo also announced that the Switch would be coming and that the Wii U would stop production during those last few weeks of development so it looked like 16 months of unpaid development down the tubes. Really scary stuff once you’ve got the responsibilities and obligations I have on my plate.”
Swap Fire’s Progression:
Miketendo64: “Shoot to swap? Teleportation and a game show? Swap Fire is quite the ride with some trippy graphics thrown in. What made you want to mash these ideas and gimmicks together and was there any idea you considered too ‘extreme?’”
Jeremy Alessi: “No, I don’t think any idea came across as too extreme with regard to the Wii U game. Basically, the first version of Swap Fire for the 7DFPS was very dark. It was about a society that played this game out of boredom because they had complete control of time and space; so they enjoyed risking life and limb because it was exciting. The art assets used for the jam game were more reminiscent of Mortal Kombat than anything else. I knew that Swap Fire had a great gameplay mechanic but that it needed a new aesthetic and theme because I wasn’t happy with the idea of putting something dark out there.
The Wii U game started as a control demo mostly. The version you can see people playing in our original YouTube video was a test for the Wii Remote controls. From that point on the game had a sci-fi aesthetic more reminiscent of Star Wars or Ender’s Game and so we took the story in that direction making it lighter and more fun.
Just after crafting the first Wii U demo the story concept came to me and I just wrote it down with Jeevis, Mags, and Justin almost word for word what you now hear in the game. So the banter just before you play the Quantum Cup was conceived at the beginning of the Wii U game’s development cycle. The rest was added once the rest of the gameplay became more solidified justifying more explanation. However, the whole concept that this company, RQI, was selling teleporters became the basis for everything else once we got the gameplay working for Wii U. We followed Nintendo’s philosophy in that regard, gameplay first and an explanation second.
We also really cheesed it up because I thought a lot of the fun in Video Games had been lost in the chase of cinema. Many game developers are wanna be movie producers and games have taken a very stark turn away from their comical roots as technology has progressed. But, to me, part of what made games so fun in the 80’s and 90’s was the seemingly unintentionally funny parts. As a developer now, I think most of the humor in games was not actually unintentional but was a result of cheeky humor in the background developers that had their hands tied by limited technology. At the end of the day though, that’s part of the culture. So, to that extent there’s some wackiness in Swap Fire and it’s very much an intentional attempt to capture the seemingly unintentional humor of older games.
In terms of the graphics. Our original idea was to just go sci-fi and some of the screen shots from 2015 did that very well (you used one for the recent press release). As we started getting deeper into the story though, Vince created a comic and we decided to add this gradient transition from his comic to our 3D scenes so that each step of the process became more detailed but maintained those comic book roots that Vince brings to the table. We actually had color comics but decided to go black and white because people just thought it was cool and it didn’t ruin our progression. So, you have the B&W comic, the slightly more colorful instruction screens (still sort of abstract looking), and then a cel-shaded 3D game.
As I mentioned earlier because Unity 5’s lighting system was so different from Unity 4’s though, we did take a turn at the end where you see some darker backdrops with a lot of emissive textures. So for example in Rally Point you have the glowing point values on the floor and also the characters’ suits themselves glow and emit light. This actually allowed us to capture the Ender’s Game look from the recent movie, or even if you will, a Tron type aesthetic. Overall, I think the game has a very unique look that can be simplified and improved upon in the future.”
(Rally Point, emissive points and suit)
The 9 Multiplayer Modes of Swap Fire:
Miketendo64: “There are 9 unique multiplayer modes, can you tell us about each one and which one is your favourite to play?”
Jeremy Alessi: “So in the order that you experience them we have King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, Swoccer, Control Point, Find Buddy, Rally Point, Drop Zone, Jettison, and Race.
My favorite to play varies from time to time. Right now, I think Race mode is a lot of fun. I’ve started playing for high scores just against the AI and it’s really interesting how you can link swaps and powers together to score more goals. Also, that mode seems to be equally intriguing for me with people or with AI.”
Jeremy Alessi: “I also really enjoy Swoccer and Drop Zone for the same reasons. My favorite modes are the really fast paced modes where your momentum comes into play as well as linking swaps and powers together to great effect.
That said, each mode has its own unique and fun spirit. Some of the other modes like Capture the Flag, Control Point, and Find Buddy have a more cat-and-mouse type appeal that I also like. Maybe Rally Point, Jettison, and King of the Hill are the most straight forward maps where sharp-shooting is really important and the powers and strategic swaps are less so. Of course, we’re still seeing the game evolve because it’s so new, various strategies are still emerging.”
Miketendo64: “While first and third party games are great, there are some indie games that wipe the floor with them. Have there been any indie games you’ve seen this year that you’ve liked the look of and played?”
Jeremy Alessi: “I’ve really enjoyed No Man’s Sky and Ice Station Z, which I know are not popular choices. I think the reason I like these games is because they allow the player to imprint their own imagination over top of the game very well. The games themselves don’t have particularly strong narratives and in Ice Station Z’s case the graphics are very old school and to me they are borderline impressionist which only aids it in the process of allowing my imagination to take over. It’s like that line from the movie Inception where they more or less state that the detail of the dream is not as important as the more subtle cues that allow the imagination to do its best work. I think that’s a forgotten art in the video game world. Old games used to ask quite a bit of our imaginations, which I think was more fun. New games are so detailed that there’s nothing left for the audience to imagine.”
Miketendo64: “Very true.”
Diaries of an Indie Gamer:
Miketendo64: “And since we’re talking gaming, as an indie developer, who when working spends a lot of their time beta-testing the game, how much time would you say you get to play videogames?”
Jeremy Alessi: “These days I usually don’t get to play much but if I do its 30 minutes before bed usually on the 3DS, which sits on my nightstand. Now that Super Mario Run is on my phone I’ve been putting in some time there too. I also play the Wii U because of the GamePad. My wife will watch a TV show and I can play virtual console games there or new games if they support off-TV play. Usually, if it’s a new big release game, I’ll put 3-4 nights into it before I have to return to my normal duties of working around the clock on my own software.”
An Ode to Wii U:
Miketendo64: “Personally speaking, I found the Nintendo Wii U to be a great piece of kit. Sure it had its faults, but what console doesn’t? But as a developer and a fan, what do you think of the Wii U and what is your all-time favourite Nintendo console/platform?”
Jeremy Alessi: “I fell in love with the Wii U from day one. I literally prayed to be able to make my first console game for it. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been popular with most people and I suppose it’s the least successful Nintendo console since the Virtual Boy. My favorite games in the grand scheme of things are couch multiplayer titles and the Wii U delivered on that in a big way though. So, my best gaming experiences since 2012 have been Nintendo Land, Mario Kart 8, Call of Duty: Black Ops II (loved the two-player TV/GamePad combo, which we also have in Swap Fire), Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Splatoon, Star Fox Zero, and also Super Mario Maker with my kids. Swap Fire is just another reason to gather friends and family together for something different that also adheres to the old adage, the more the merrier. The Wii U is up there as one of my favorites.
My other favorites are the SNES, N64, and 3DS. The SNES just had such powerful experiences for the time. It bridged the gap between the NES and the N64 covering both 2D and 3D experiences very well with fun games. The N64 I’ll always love for those 4 built-in controller ports. The 3DS is just super versatile. I love 3D even though I know many see it as a gimmick but its Virtual Console now contains SNES games and I love those Sega 3D remakes. All of that is on top of all the first party gems it’s had. Oh, and of course I get to carry all that around in my pocket anywhere I want to go. It’s brilliant, though if I was forced to pick, the SNES would probably get #1. Nostalgia’s just too powerful.”
Miketendo64: “Yes it is and the SNES was one heck of a console.”
By no Means Have we Seen the Last of Swap Fire:
Miketendo64: “Final question, when all is said and done with Swap Fire, what comes next for Midnight Status?”
Jeremy Alessi: “Right now our plan is to continue promoting and growing Swap Fire’s fanbase. It’s clear that promoting the game will be every bit as challenging as developing it was so we must be vigilant. Part of that is doing interviews like this, getting the game out to YouTubers/Reviewers, and doing big events like PixelFest or Super Smash Con. Beyond that though we are also working on a competitive eSports scene for the game with That Game Store. Henry in particular is a great commentator and we are aware of a mod shop in Akihabara that takes the Wii U GamePad and allows it to connect to an external display. So we will be hosting more tournaments and part of that will be the combination of great commentary and an external display for the GamePad commentator feature that we think really fosters the ultimate experience for Swap Fire and we plan to maximize that for all it’s worth over the next year to see if we can complete our goals for the original Swap Fire. After that we will surely look to the Switch for Swap Fire 2.”
(The rare occasion in which Jeremy Alessi commentates up by the stage while Henry Meredith takes a selfie)
Swap Fire 2 for Nintendo Switch would certainly be something, but were it to happen, it wouldn’t be for a long time, so instead of looking forwards, let’s focus on the now and enjoy the Swap Fire game we have got. And since I’ve said enough, it’s back to Jeremy for the final word, a message for the fans:
“We worked incredibly hard on Swap Fire and quite literally risked everything we have to bring it to life. Now, we realize not everyone is going to like the game. Our challenge is to find those that do though. So, if you play it but it’s not your cup of tea, please keep any friends in mind who you think would really get into it. We don’t need everyone to like Swap Fire, but we need all the help we can get finding those who will.
Also, this game is at its best with 5 players, an audience, and someone who’s good at commentary. If there’s any sort of tournament scene where you are, please make Swap Fire a part of that. We’ll love you forever and we also just might get that chance to make a sequel.
Be ever mindful of your Spacetime.”