Today we have a Q&A session with Aaron Fothergill from Strange Flavour Games. In this Q&A Aaron gives us a little more detail about their recently released title TotemBall on the Xbox 360.
What follows an in-depth Q&A exclusive to XCN members with Aaron read on…
Give us an introduction to Strange Flavour Games.
I run the company with my brother Adam. We started out making games for Mac but console games were always in our plans – honest! Recently we’ve been mostly working on Xbox 360 with TotemBall and that’s our focus for the moment, but we’ll probably continue to do more Mac games.
How did TotemBall come into being then?
A few years ago we did a game called Toy Sight which used the Mac web camera. It received critical acclaim but there’s a fairly niche market for gaming on the Mac. When Microsoft were starting to look for games for the Live Vision Camera someone must have pointed them in our direction. We got a call at the start of last year asking if we wanted to work on Xbox 360, and it was a bit of a shocker but we thought, ‘definitely’! There was the usual red tape and Xbox dev kits were in short supply initially, but we eventually managed to get a hold of one. We started out working on something aimed at your typical hardcore 15-year-old gamer which was the target audience for the console in the beginning, but as the Vision Camera developed we all realised it was more about social and family-oriented gaming. Fortunately for us, we’d already been thinking about TotemBall.
So you were already working on the game?
Not really. It was more like one of these daft 3-in-the-morning ideas that you come up with. We wanted to do something with music and something that involved more running around, so we put everything else on hold and started work on TotemBall 3 weeks before E3 this year. We did get a demo together for the show but there wasn’t too much time to make a big noise. It was still great to see it there though! Since then we’ve been working very, very, very long hours to get it out!
Would you say TotemBall is aimed at kids?
Not really. We’ve tried to create a game that appeals to everyone from children to casual gamers to hardcore gamers. It has very broad appeal because of the simple control method, but I think we’ve put enough in there to satisfy even the most hardcore gamer in terms of replayability and Achievements. Most of the levels are pretty straight-forward too, but if you want to find all the secrets you’ll have to deal with some pretty tricky areas.
TotemBall is unusual for a gesture-based game in that it’s 3D.
Yes, TotemBall is the first full-on 3D platformer that’s gesture-based. We were a little worried before the Wii was officially announced that it would steal our thunder with something similar, but we’re still unique! We really wanted to try something different from the gesture-based games we’ve all seen before. The game was designed exclusively for Xbox 360 and we wanted to make sure we did something that was truly next-gen. We were also in a great position because TotemBall was always designed to be a free game, so we felt that we had the freedom to experiment. This kind of game hasn’t been done before because it was supposedly too difficult. Hopefully TotemBall won’t only show off what the Vision Camera can do, but also show developers the kinds of new games they can create. I like to think it gives us a whole extra genre of games.
How does the control system work?
Easy. You put your hands in the air and lock them into the controls on either side of the screen. As you move your hands up and down the sliders move up and down with them. If you push up on the right you’ll exert forward momentum on that side of your character, and vice versa. It’s a bit like driving a tank!
Don’t your arms get very tired?
Yes, but we do have rest break power-ups that let you rest your muscles for a limited amount of time.
What other pick-ups are there?
Just like any platform game there are loads of things to pick up. The main things though are the Totem pieces. As you pick these up you start to build up the soundtrack to the game and they actually stay with you on the Xbox Live Leaderboards, so every player has a bit of music associated with them!
Do you have any minigames?
We wanted to stay away from the usual minigames you associate with gesture-based gaming, but we do have a number of additional game modes in TotemBall. First up is the Free Play mode, which just lets you get into the game and have fun without any hassles. Then there’s Juggling, which is a two-player co-op mode. One player has to roll the TotemBall while your mate juggles Totem pieces by pressing button combos on the joypad. If he drops a piece you stall and waste time. Then there’s Pinball, which is just what it says on the tin except you have to wave your arms to control the flippers. Then for the real hardcore player there’s Super Challenge, which gives you one life and a time limit to complete the whole game. It’s really hard. I’ve done it, but only just!
I understand TotemBall also has another unique first – the first exercise-based Achievement in an Xbox 360 game?
Yes! The Fit Player Achievement challenges you to play the game for 20 minutes without using any of the rest power-ups or pausing the game. If you manage that you get yourself a nice Achievement – and sore arms!
What else are you working on for the Vision Camera?
We’re actually working on two other Vision Camera games. The first isn’t gesture-controlled but is more like UNO, using the camera to show other players. The other game is more along the lines of using gesture-control, although we’re looking at allowing players with cameras to play against players using the analogue stick on the joypad. That will be interesting from a balancing point of view, so we’ll have to make sure that you have certain advantages if you use the Vision Camera. In fact, when we started on TotemBall we though we might have to allow stick control, and we were terrified about the balancing issues, but we think we’ve got a handle on it for the new game. It’s a good challenge, and that’s what we like!
Can you share specific gameplay details for these new games?
I’m afraid not! I can’t say anything about them yet, but all will be revealed soon.
So do you see a bright future for the Live Vision Camera?
Absolutely. There are so many things that you can do when you add the camera to a game. For instance, we know one artist and games programmer who has devised a system where he sticks tape on a wall, takes a photo of it using the camera, then uses that photo as the level for a platform game. That’s the kind of interesting new thinking it allows, so we’re very excited to see where it takes us.
Thanks for your time Aaron!