Design and Production
From Freeware to WiiWare
Getting a Web-based Game Ready for the Wii in Just Six Months
hen we decided to build a re-imagined version of Defend Your Castle for WiiWare last November, we knew that we faced a few risks and challenges in offering our popular web-based franchise as a downloadable product. With a studio background in Flash and, to a lesser extent, Windows and XBox 360 development, no one at XGen had worked with the Wii SDK or Nintendo libraries before. Additionally, we knew that we wanted to launch alongside the platform debut in the Americas, giving us roughly six months to build a downloadable console title, obtain our software ratings, and pass the Nintendo QA process—all firsts for our studio. Our initial approach was to examine the option of building the title in Flash and making it available on Wii hardware using a third-party solution such as Scaleform GFx. Before long, however, we decided to build the game entirely in C++ with the Boost libraries for a number of reasons, including our desire to work closer to the hardware to achieve our vision of hundreds of invaders simultaneously on-screen. Not only were we able to better utilize the hardware in this way, but we also gained more direct access to the unique features of the Wii, such as accelerometer data from the Wii Remote. What Went Right • Air-Tight Scope Control: As mentioned previously, our goal was to launch alongside the WiiWare service in the uncomfortably nebulous date-range of “early 2008.” Because the exact launch date of the platform wasn’t available (even to developers) until just before launch, we needed to have the game in a ready-to-ship state from February onward. To address this challenge without interrupting development, we created a “feature wish-list” in Google Spreadsheets to serve as a dumping ground for any and all ideas—from the noteworthy to the asinine. (Example: Rumble support was a two-day task, while time-traveling birds with grappling hooks would have pushed launch to around 2012). This spreadsheet included time estimates for implementation, notes on Defend Your Castle shipped on related/affected systems, game balance considerations, and a field for general discussion. time with a core team of four The spreadsheet seemed to work pretty well: As new requests and ideas emerged, we’d and a budget under $200,000. throw them on the pile so that everyone could collaborate in discussing and ranking them. Of course, this approach wasn’t bullet-proof, and we lived in a state of constant apprehension during the final weeks of the project as we waited for the launch date announcement. During this phase, we couldn’t justify adding anything that would introduce a lot of risk or change the game dynamics much. When we got the call, however, Defend Your Castle was ready to ship. • Unique Audio-Visual Style: The stylized graphics and voice Foley for sound effects received a completely polarized response—and we couldn’t be happier. The artist on the project scanned in red cap rings for use in the bomber animations and ripped pieces of tissue paper for clouds (which hang from strands of yarn in the game). Most of the sound effects for the game were recorded with a microphone in a home-built sound-booth, where we emulated explosions, rain, and even background music with our mouths. The bulk of press coverage on Castle praised the game’s bold style, with many players seemingly appreciative of the fact that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. On the other hand, IGN rated the game a 7.9, but gave the graphics a score of 3, calling them “intentionally bad, but bad nonetheless.”Taking this approach to visuals spawned a war between Defend Your Castle evangelists and game graphic elitists, which certainly didn’t seem to hurt sales. • Careful Management of User Perception: Being in the unique position of developing a title based on a free web-based game, we had to emphasize the differences to our audience. We
By Skye Boyes and Jordan Dubuc Skye Boyes is the founder & CEO of Canadabased XGen Studios, developer and publisher of games on the Web and WiiWare™. Launched in 2003, XGenStudios.com is a thriving casual community with over 3-million monthly players. Skye’s experience includes design and production for Defend Your Castle, extensive web-based multiplayer and CIW development, and programming for Bioware’s Mass Effect. Skye can be reached at skye. firstname.lastname@example.org. Jordan Dubuc is Director of Operations at XGen Studios and is responsible for overseeing day-to-day studio operations. Jordan possesses over eight years of professional experience in the software industry and holds numerous industry certifications. Jordan’s game credits include BioWare’s Mass Effect on the XBox 360, Defend Your Castle for Nintendo’s WiiWare service, Motherload, Pillage the Village, and Stick Arena. Jordan can be reached at jordan. email@example.com.
Casual Connect Fall 2008