When I hear the words “Paris” and “companionship,” I don’t think of videogames: I think of the woman I met in Charles de Gaulle whom I would follow to Poland and lose my virginity to in a converted occupation-era Soviet bunker.
But you know what, that’s probably just me.
For indie developer Marc Legeune, “Paris” and “companionship” mean Nioki Adventure, the first game from the Paris-based Bidogames, due this winter on XBLA and Steam. Touted as Terraria meets Castle Crashers, the game has a lot to live up to. Marc Lejeune seems to have his head on straight about the whole thing though–at least so far as I could tell in our interview this morning. At the very least I know that he cuts to the chase:
ERIC: So…Here’s a question: Have you ever been to Reddit.com and typed in NSFW, or just browsed the unmoderated pics? I ask because that’s what I was doing while waiting for our interview, but not looking for porn really. I like to see what the average person finds “sexy” or “thrilling”…because usually it’s pretty un-artistic. And the reason I ask is because I think that’s the problem I have with people saying Minecraft and Terraria should be the models for games because they don’t force you to follow someone else’s story…In my experience, most people, when given the opportunity to tell their own story, will tell crap. Because they don’t challenge themselves, they only ever know what they already knew.
MARC: regarding Reddit.com
MARC: It’s not really popular in France
* * *
Ah but Marc and I soon manage to get things running smoothly. I only needed to make a fool of myself first.
ERIC: …The point was, I suppose, that Nioki Adventure has an actual END to it, right?
MARC: Nioki Adventure is a sandbox game but with a story mode (solo & multiplayer). The game has an end, but players will be able to replay and continue exploring each planet already visited, and to finish any quests left over. Additionally, each planet will maintain the structures and items created by the player. And since each one is randomly generated upon starting a quest, players will be allowed to have stories which are unique to their playthrough. We envisioned Nioki Adventure to accommodate several types of players at once: Minecraft and Terraria fans will get their construction and multiplayer exploration; fans of more linear games will get to have the objective, RPG, questing aspect. Our aim is to mix the two types of players into one game.
ERIC: Great! So the planets are procedurally generated. How many can we expect to see? And will all of them be procedurally generated?
MARC: You can expect six different worlds, each generated with their own gameplay, innovative materials, biomes, enemies, etc. including variations of the day/night cycles.
ERIC: Can you tease us with one of these “innovative materials”? Will one of them happen to defy gravity…?
MARC: Well, just to tease a little bit, one of the planets will be inside the throat of a creature, so you can just imagine what you’ll find. Each planet will have its own specific gameplay–and yes, one of them will involve gravity, but I can’t say more at the moment.
ERIC: I like the idea of players being gently guided by a narrative, but with the room to still be creative. So what are your feelings on narratives in games? A lot of people argue that players shouldn’t have to be burdened by the developer’s narrative, even though some developers just want to tell their own stories. Nioki Adventure seems like a nice balance. What are your thoughts on narrative control in games?
MARC: It’s a complex question. A lot of player are not interested in narrative…They will spam START on every cinematic and during all dialogue. Others can’t imagine a game without a story. Our goal, however, is not to provide an overly complex story, like Metal Gear or something like that. We just want to add a basic storyline to push some players forward. I suppose if we had to have one, that would be one of the negative points about games like Terraria and Minecraft–you can make our own story but sometime it’s nice to have a set objective or some other challenges to offer to the player. For that, we made the game a little like a Western RPG, letting players go where they like, but with additional quests alongside a main quest to pursue should they get the urge to.
ERIC: So you and Gregory have taken the totally-open model of previous world-building games and added in some more “traditional” constraints that don’t FORCE the player down a path but ALLOW for one. Personally, I think that’s where the Minecraft/Terraria model will inevitably go.
MARC: Yes. In addition, we have an RPG system based on three types of gameplay: (1) Building, by way of recipes that will allow players to create newer and more advanced objects; (2) fighting, which plays a lot like Castle Crashers; and (3) exploration. Each type allows the player to evolve and improve his character in different ways. It’s why we think the game will be really exciting…it’s a melting pot of many good recipes.
ERIC: Speaking of evolving characters and melting pots: I want to know more about you and Gregory as developers. First off, I suppose, why do YOU want to make games? How did you find yourself in this position?
MARC: Greg and I have been gamers for a long time now. I started when I was really young. I think a lot of gamers just one day say, “I want to create a video game.” And some of us go on to study it and to work at big companies, which I do now. And then some of those go on to decide to make their own company, which Greg and I did. He and I met two years ago on an amateur game development forum, and since worked together for fun on a little game for iOS (Match-3 games). We kept in contact with one another and last year we decided to work together on something a little more ambitious. Working at a major studio allows for a lot of experience, but making our own game, well, that’s a really incredible experience.
ERIC: I have a question. Do you think the reason these “make what you want” games are so popular is because many of us have been playing games our whole lives and wanting to make them, but not wanting to take the time to learn how…so these games allow us to express our creativity in videogames without having to learn how to actually MAKE videogames. Do you think there’s anything to that?
MARC: Makes sense. Sandbox games permit players to show their creativity, because everyone has ideas. That’s why, for instance, Trackmania has so many fans. You can put your own ideas into a game and show it to your friends.
ERIC: I like that. It’s kind of like what happened to film in second half of the 20th century. A lot of fans said, “You know what…do we really need Hollywood? We’ll just go out and shoot The Texas Chainsaw Massacre…do our own thing.” Except in games the indie “filmmakers” have made “films” that allow others to be indie too. That’s kind of cool.
MARC: Indie is interesting in all fields, especially in the era of the internet.
ERIC: Okay. So one last question, and it’s kind of a difficult one. Feel free to take your time on it: It seems to me that good games take some process of our real world and transform them into gameplay. Sometimes this is done in a concrete way, like how Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain handled physically doing things. But often it’s done in an abstracted way–like, for instance, how Braid takes the “process” of dwelling on the past and makes it part of the gameplay (i.e. reversing time). So what I like to ask developers is this: What real world “process” (companionship; love; sensuality; envy, etc.) would you like to see turned into a gameplay mechanic…and how would you do it?
MARC: Is this a general question about video games or specifically on Nioki Adventure?
ERIC: Either one. If you believe your game “proceduralizes” (to use the terminology) a certain real world process (the importance/perils of companionship, for instance), then please, by all means.
MARC: I think one of the best real world processes already used in a game is “companionship/cooperation.” The best example I can give is the Left 4 Dead series: The decisions you make are often very similar to way the way we cooperate in real life–just with zombies. You can help or not help and do both in different ways, and you can choose to sacrifice yourself for someone.
ERIC: Hmm. Will this element of sacrifice find its way into Nioki Adventure…?
MARC: Not really. But Nioki Adventure is not intended to reflect sacrifice like L4D. I think the emotional aspect of companionship is used well in the Mass Effect series as well.
ERIC: Spend enough hours with a person and you’re bound to get attached. Journey did just this recently to wonderful effect. Which brings us to our final FINAL question: did you get a chance to play Journey yet?
MARC: Journey is looking very good. I haven’t had the opportunity yet to play it (I have already bought it!). I played their previous game, Flower, and it was pretty innovative. If it is as an intense emotional experience as Flower, I will play it as soon as I get home tonight.
ERIC: You should. I’ll hop on this evening too and maybe we’ll see each other..though we’ll never know. Otherwise, thank you for answering some questions, Marc. Castle Crashers meets Terraria…I look forward to it this fall.
MARC: Many thanks for your time, Eric!