Nnooo is a local indie developer based out of Sydney, Australia since 2006, making a string of original titles such as Pop (2008), escapeVektor (2011) and last year’s Spirit Hunters (2012) for WiiWare.
Their latest title Blast ‘Em Bunnies caught the attention of many during this year’s EB Expo, even featuring at the Sony PlayStation booth. I had the chance to catch up with Nnooo’s Creative Director Nic Watt to learn more about their endless fuzzy shooter.
Hangie: Tell us a little about yourself and Blast ‘Em Bunnies.
Nic: So my name is Nic Watt and I’m the Creative Director at Nnooo, which is an ‘indie’ studio based in Sydney. We’re quite a small team, there’s three of us at the moment, full time. We’ve been developing games since 2006. Our first release was Pop on WiiWare and since then we’re done a lot of digital titles mainly on Nintendo platforms, and last year we branched out to PlayStation platforms as well.
Blast ‘Em Bunnies is our first new game to come out on multiple platforms. You’re a cute little bunny and you’re defending your rabbit burrow against an onslaught of evil cute bunnies, and to do that you’ve got to use your carrot rifle, your watermelon machine-gun, your turnip mortar, or your runner bean rail-gun. You can upgrade each weapon by shooting coins that you collect in each of the levels.
Hangie: What inspired you to make Blast ‘Em Bunnies?
Nic: It was really interesting with the last few games we made as Spirit Hunters had a lot of characters in it whereas escapeVektor was a very abstract game.
Spirit Hunters was augmented reality so while the characters were really appealing to kids, it was difficult for us to market it and advertise it because everything happens in the augmented reality and to convey what we were doing was really difficult.
With escapeVektor we had a kind of similar problem in that it is quite an abstract game to look at, it again was quite difficult to look at video and go, I get what’s going on there.
So the big thing we wanted to do was try and take all the cutesy characters that we had in Spirit Hunters and that sort of idea, and the great controls we had to find a game that we could make that was much more pick-up and play which people would kind of ‘get’ just by watching the video.
Over Christmas last year, my brain was firing on what we could do, and looking at motion-controls, we really wanted to do something with that. The idea of controlling a gun turret, just turning and firing came up and I thought we could have just endless waves of things attacking you.
Originally I was going to set it in space, then you would be defending against alien attacks from all directions but I thought that would push it too much into a boy-only niche because it’s space and not necessarily mass market. Then the idea of bunnies popping up, kind of like that whack-a-mole idea almost with bunnies popping up and then shooting them. That sort of starting going around in my head and I took it from there.
Hangie: What’s the response been to Blast ‘Em Bunnies so far?
Nic: Really good actually, yeah. We had a great concept artist who did some really good character sketches and we wanted to make it look as much as a sort of Pixar-style graphics as we could. Obviously we’re quite small so we’ve done the best we can, and the response has been brilliant this weekend.
People seem to really get the motion-control and really like feeling they are controlling a gun turret. So yeah, it’s been brilliant! There’s things we need to adjust which is the great thing about coming here (to EB Expo). The controls are not quite there yet, they need some finessing but that’s the brilliant thing about player feedback.
Hangie: In Blast ‘Em Bunnies you shoot bunnies, or evil bunnies. So umm… what do you have against bunnies?
Nic: *laughs* I don’t have anything against bunnies. I think because of the mechanics associated with them popping out of the ground or burrow, it just created a whole host of things that we could do with the bunnies.
We’re going to have a burrow one where he’ll pop up, look around for a little while and dive back in to the burrow and out another one where you’ll see the trail as he moves underground so there’s loads of little cool things we could do there.
What I liked was they’re gender neutral, so you’re not necessarily shooting man or woman, it can kind of be either and you can make bunnies look very cute and colourful very easily. I suppose there are things we associate with being vermin and they can overrun. There are people that do shoot them I suppose.
I really liked the fact that you could make them cutesy. I suppose you could make them dogs but some people don’t like dogs so they wouldn’t buy it and if you made them cats there are people that don’t cats whereas bunnies, everyone likes.
Hangie: Maybe moles?
Nic: Yeah, I suppose but moles don’t have the same kind of appeal. The whole ears popping up and you can make them really cute. Something about buck teeth can make things look really cute as well so…
Hangie: *laughs* When you’re making a game, what kind of experiences are you trying to convey to a player?
Nic: It obviously changes from game to game. I’m really influenced by Nintendo, I really love the way they manage to make games that transcend age and genre, so we try to do things like that in our games, and I think with Spirit Hunters and Blast ‘Em Bunnies definitely do that.
So it’s mostly fun. The games that I loved playing as a kid at the arcade were the SEGA racing games and the fighting games. I’m a big fan of Street Fighter and I really like that whole pick-up and play mechanic, but I also like the deeper experience like Zelda or Pokemon, or Mario and things like that as well.
We’re not a company that will necessarily go down the whole emotion and film road, make you feel like you’re crying or resonating with a character; and I love those sort of games, but I can’t make those games unfortunately. We’re more about family fun, something a bit over-the-top and wacky where you can chill out and have fun with.
Hangie: What are your favourite titles?
Nic: I’ve played way too much World of Warcraft so I’ll have to list that as a favourite. I’ve played that since 2004 and still play it so it probably has to be a favourite there.
Nintendo games generally, I really love Pikmin and the way they get so much character into those little guys. Every time I set one on fire or blow them up, I really feel for them, such a great game.
Zelda, particularly Wind Waker and that’s a large influence on where we want to go in graphical style with Blast ‘Em Bunnies. I just fell in love with that world. It’s one of the first Zelda where I really enjoyed exploring the whole world and annotating everything, just remembering where everything was.
But I also like games that give you emotion and experiences as well, as long as it fits well within the context. So Heavy Rain, and I’m really looking forward to BEYOND: Two Souls, I really like what they are trying to do and ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. They are like adult Nintendo games.
They’ve taken all the great stuff of Nintendo games and made them really fit well on the PlayStation platform. They are such beautiful, beautiful games.
Hangie: With Blast ‘Em Bunnies, you kind of had an idea of where you wanted to go with the game, but once you started to put things together from concept to an alpha build, did you notice things that weren’t working and if so, what did you need to address to get it to the point that it is now?
Nic: With our process, we start with quite a wide framework and knowledge of what we want to do, and then we iterate as we go forward. We try and get the controls working quite quickly, we try and get the bunnies in quite quickly and be able to shoot them, then we’ll work out what’s fun from there and we’ll be constantly tweaking and adjusting.
Blast ‘Em Bunnies so far, we’ve not reached that point where we’ve gone, “Oh crap! None of this works” or “We have to start again”. Generally with our games, it doesn’t happen too much because we go through that process of iteration and refining things.
I suppose if you come in on day one and at the end, it changes a lot but it’s just constantly changing in little bits. It’s hard. There are areas where the bunnies are moving over terrain, that’s been quite hard. We thought it was going to be a really easy thing and we’ve had to change that a couple of times.
Some of the collisions when we were first hitting the bunny, we were putting a sort of box around them, an invisible box, but now we actually detect them on where you’re hitting them on their body, so that took a little bit of re-write.
Hangie: When you say collisions, you’re talking about the bullets actually impacting on them?
Nic: Yeah, yeah exactly. What we want to do is, when a bunny lifts its arm, we want you to be able to miss by shooting between it’s arm so you have the mesh that forms the skin of the bunny, and we’re trying to detect whether you hit it or don’t.
We were originally just doing a big box so when you fired through it’s arm, it would still kind of count as a hit where as now it should be more accurate.
Hangie: With Blast ‘Em Bunnies being as endless shooter, you collect better equipment as you move up. Being a shooter like that, how to ensure the game doesn’t abruptly come to an end and is a smooth process where players can enjoy the actual shooting aspect?
Nic: That’s probably going to be one of the harder tasks which we’ll probably start in the next couple of weeks. Obviously the fine balance is we want to make it easy enough that you enjoy the game to begin with and you get enough coins so you can buy upgrades to make your more powerful weapons.
Then it gets to a certain plateau almost where it gets hard and you maybe fail at that point for awhile, but still collecting more coins to become more powerful, then you can break through that plateau and feel like you’re doing really well for awhile before you reach another plateau further on.
That’s what we’re aiming for and there’s going to be a lot of constant adjustment. One thing we’ve learnt from our previous games is we ire on the side of making it easy to begin with. It’s really easy to make a game too difficult, particularly when you’re trying to make a game family-friendly, you want the kids to be able to pick up and have fun right off-the-bat.
Hangie: Being an endless shooter, was that always the intention or did you have a larger scope and scaled it back down?
Nic: So I came up with about four ideas and I know from experience, the biggest idea are always the hardest so we went with the simpler one to get the concept working. We do have other ideas for other molds that we would like to look at, and if the game is successful we would probably add them on as DLC.
But if the game works like that and the genre looks successful, we would like to do one more like ‘House of the Dead’ I suppose, where you at one point you shoot in 360 degrees for awhile before moving on to another point in space, and then you get waves coming from a different direction.
You could imagine an abandoned town and you go from area, to area, to area. That’s kind of what we would like to do next if successful but just depends what happens next.
Hangie: How long would you say an average game is for Blast ‘Em Bunnies for most people?
Nic: It’s really interesting because the demo we’ve got today, you do the tutorial and then there’s about ten waves which lasts about three minutes. It kind of ramps up towards the end but most people are able to last easily more than two minutes.
So I think for this time, your first couple of games will probably be about that length and I don’t expect a player to be playing much more than 10 to 15 minutes at any one session. It’s kind of like Fruit Ninja, you want to go in and have fun but if you’re still there after an hour, you maybe getting slice RSI or something like that.
Hangie: *laughs* What has feedback been like from people that have played Blast ‘Em Bunnies so far?
Nic: It’s been overwhelmingly positive, it’s been really, really good! I mean the fact that we were up on the PlayStation booth as well is just incredible. It’s a first for us and we’re just so happy with that.
The Australian did such a great write-up for us as well which has blown us away, so yeah it’s been really good. The hardest thing with making games, and I imagine film and TV is the same, is you’re doing it in your own office and you see it everyday that you become jaded by it, you become a little bored by it.
You go through bits of like, “This is great!” and other bits going “Oh my god! I hate this, no one is going to like this”. But the last week we got loads of stuff in like the machine-gun where we got to a point that everyone in the office was going, “This is awesome!”.
Hopefully once people start firing the machine-gun, they’ll think the game is fun. We had a kid the other day who was playing the game with his dad watching and going, “This is great! This is great!”. He walks away and comes back ten minutes asking if he can play again, saying “This is the best game ever.”
I’m like, “You’re the best kid ever!”. When kids say that, this is why I do this job.
Hangie: Being on PS Vita and being on PS4, will it be cross-platform compatible?
Nic: Yeah, so that’s what we’re looking at. Ideally, we want to do cross-buy where you buy one and get the other one for free. We want to do cross-save so you can share the same save data, and we’re looking at doing cross-platform as well.
So for the PS4 version, the idea is you can turn your PS Vita on and stream the PS4 one to your PS Vita and then you’ll be able to control in a full 360 degrees, and obviously you can play the game itself on the PS Vita as well.
We’re also looking; and we’re not sure if we can get the technology from Sony in time, but using the PS Vita as a second screen. So if you’re playing on the PS Vita, you see the standard view and see a different viewpoint on the ‘telly’, giving a more of a third-person perspective so family members can watch and cheer you up, or back-seat shoot.
Hangie: What kind of content do you have planned for Blast ‘Em Bunnies? Have you thought about that yet?
Nic: The game is going to be a sort of low price point, we’re thinking around $5 US dollars. That will come with the one arena and you’ll get all the bunnies in a standard skin, plus be able to unlock all the weapons and bullet types.
For DLC, we’d like to have different themed arenas, like maybe a fair ground, or a shogun-style castle in the background, or a derelict ‘Walking Dead’ style zombie highway. We also want to do different bunny skins like clown bunnies, ninja bunnies, zombie bunnies.
We want to keep the cute theme and one of the styles we’re going for is that kind of vinyl toy look, so everything we do, we still want to retain that kind of vinyl toy style rather than making them disgusting zombies or anything like that.
Hangie: When can we expect to see Blast ‘Em Bunnies hit PS4 and PS Vita?
Nic: We were hoping to get it out in time for launch but it’s such a big project even for us, so we’re hoping it to be early 2014, or towards the middle which I think they still call a launch window.
Hangie: Do you have any last comments or things you’d like to say to people that have already experienced Blast ‘Em Bunnies at EB Expo?
Nic: Anyone who played the game at EB Expo, thanks for coming along! We’re obviously a small indie developer and getting all the feedback and play-testing from everyone and their response is really, really good. It helps us makes the game better and hopefully everyone enjoys it.
I think we’re trying to do something quirky and unique, an after the pub style game you can snack in-between bigger games where you can jump in, have some fun, collect some coins and upgrade your weapons and hopefully everyone can enjoy that.
Hangie: Thanks for your time today.
Nic: No worries.
Thanks to Nic Watt for taking the time to chat with us, and Nnooo for making it all possible. Look out for Blast ‘Em Bunnies on 3DS, PS Vita and PlayStation 4 when it launches in early to mid 2014. You can learn more about Blast ‘Em Bunnies via the official website.