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Interview with Jay Kidd of Wraith Games

Written by Tanner Banks, August 16, 2016, at 12:48 p.m.


Every project is a passion project if you do what you love. The team behind Collapsus, a project we saw at Indy PopCon, and the 3D puzzle game Physix, Wraith Games, has turned passion into a profession. The passion that one team member, Jay Kidd, was kind enough to give us an interview on upcoming projects.

Interview With Jay Kidd

Slickster: What was the inspiration for these games?

Jay Kidd: I personally started working on Collapsus back in 2006, before I brought the rest of the team on board. It was this sort of tiny prototype I had made for my mom because she was really into puzzle games at that time.

Its biggest influence would actually have to be Bejeweled, though not in the way you might think. I knew Bejeweled was a game that my mom liked, but I’d never actually played it. This was right when YouTube first started, so it wasn’t like I could just look up a video of it. All I had was screenshots at the time; I had to think of how it looked like it played.

I never even thought of “swapping” blocks, I was too much of a Tetris player. So really, Collapsus is Bejeweled through the lense of Tetris, with a healthy dose of Puzzle League thrown in for good measure. As for the look of the game, after it got revived, I took a lot of inspiration form the Rubik’s Cube and pop-art. You never really know what’ll inspire you!

As for Physx, it’d be really easy just to say, “Portal.” It’s not that simple, however. We were working on a 1st person, point-and-click adventure game at the time. I had gotten so bored working on it that I started messing around with the physics engine and just started making these, like, little puzzles around it. It was my brother that suggested anti-gravity after playing what I had built.

This was only a couple months after Portal came out, so maybe we had a bit too much of that in our system, but it did end up having a Portal-vibe to it. Well, the prototype did at least. The version we’re working on now is really its own animal. Artistically, our Creative Director, Steve Dorgan, is working with some wonderful assets that are somewhere between Borderlands and Mirror’s Edge… IN SPACE!

How long have they been in development?

Collapsus started development as a prototype in 2006. We did end up partly resurrecting the project in 2011, but the version that most people are used to seeing now started being worked on last year.

As for Physix, the prototype that was picked up by GamePro Labs was started in 2008, but like with Collapsus, we started working on the “real” Physix in 2015, after we gained our studio space.

What features (if any) do you hope to add as the games progress in development?

Oh wow. With Collapsus, there’s already so much content. We have three standard difficulties, two unlockable difficulties, 20 challenge modes, special “plus” versions of each of those, 200 built in puzzles, daily puzzles, and online puzzle creator, too! We really tried to make as much content as possible right out of the gate.

Since we’re so close to launch right now, I guess I’d say the two features we’re really trying to get in right now are some sort of Wiimote multiplayer mode for the Wii U version, and a slider that allows you to change the color pallet based off what kind of colorblindness you may have (to accent our other colorblindness accessibility features). Really, other than that we do have planned an eight-player online multiplayer mode, but that may have to be a piece of free DLC.

For Physix, right now we’re mainly focusing on the single player and getting the VR end of things smoothed out. The coolest thing that we all want to see be added would be some sort of co-op mode. Playing these sort of gravity puzzles with a friend (in VR no less) would just be a blast!

What features are you most excited for?

With Collapsus, personally I’d have to say just the unique risk-reward, resource management mechanic use in breaking and matching blocks. It seems I’m pretty boring, however, since every member of our team, our friends and family, and pretty much everyone who’s played the game are far more jazzed about the “Gravity Rush” setting.

With Gravity Rush turned on, you can rotate your device in any direction and the blocks fall based on the direction you rotate. If you turn it to its side, then they fall to the side, if you flip it upside down, they fall upside down. It really puts a big “twist” on things. No, I’m not sorry for that one.

For Physix, while being in VR is the cherry on top of everything, just being able to turn gravity off of objects and watch as they float about is just stunning. I can spend hours just in a big room floating crates around it. When you have a core mechanic that fun, everything else is just extra. Oh boy, are there a lot of “extras” though!

Will there be a story in the game?

Not for Collapsus, no. If the multiplayer DLC turns out as we’re hoping it does, we have thought about making a Collapsus RPG, where you wander around an SNES-inspired world, fighting people in the multiplayer style for some sort of sequel. That may just be a pipe dream, though.

Physix is another story, though! It’s heavily narrative based. I really can’t say much, but it involves an extra-planetary mining operation gone bad, theoretical physics, corporate espionage in the near future, clashing ideologies, and, of course, robots! We’re trying to make Physix more than just an “enter the room, solve the puzzle” type of experience. Our audience deserves more than that.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Well, communication can certainly be a challenge sometimes. There are 12 of us, and making sure we’re all on the same page can sometimes be a bit of an issue. On the broadest level, that’s probably the biggest recurring challenge we’ve faced. The biggest challenge we’ve had in general, though, that’s a bit more personal.

A while back, when we had done our big rebrand, just got into our studio space, and became an LLC, we actually had four of our five programmers leave us. It wasn’t because of bad blood or anything, they just all found higher paying jobs outside of game development around the same time.

It was a pretty scary time, though. We had three projects being worked on and several more lined up. Heck, that’s the main reason for some of the delays we faced at that point. We recovered, though! We found replacements for them and we all wish them well, it was just that uncertainty, you know? That was our biggest challenge.

What made you want to develop these games in particular?

Like I’d said before, Collapsus had started as a project for my mom. It wasn’t much to write home about, if I’m being honest. When Kristy and I had first met (and the team was significantly smaller than it is now), I tried to impress her with the whole “I make games” bit, since she was a huge gamer. I ended up showing her the old Collapsus prototype and she pretty much fell in love with it.

A few months later, when we were trying to port the Physix prototype over to Unity, Geoff (our programmer at the time), suggested that we make a smaller game to get a feel for the engine. Despite my embarrassment, Kristy introduced Geoff to that old build of Collapsus. After that, we re-worked it into a real game. Really fleshed out the concept, you know? Kristy would later go on to actually working on it when she joined the team after becoming a programmer.

As for Physix, what started out as a bit of a side project from that old first-person point-and-click we worked on, just sort of grew into its own thing. The reason we chose to do gravity the way we did, though, is because nearly every time you hear about gravity manipulation in games, it’s all about walking on walls or ceilings. It’s played out. You never see how zero-g works in games. Having the player stay grounded through all of that just opened up all sorts of puzzle opportunities. It all came together pretty smoothly.

Is there a demo available now?

No, not yet. While we have been showing off a Collapsus demo at various gaming conventions this year (about 10, when the year’s out), we don’t have one publicly available yet. We’re having a Kickstarter to help finish it up in about five weeks, and building up to that (and until the game is complete) we’re doing free, weekly builds on web. Those will be out pretty shortly. Now, that old prototype was available on Geocities back in the day, but it’s long gone now.

Physix is in much the same boat. We did have the old GamePro Labs demo that we toured around up for a while, but after the project changed engines, we took it down. We are hoping to get a demo out here pretty soon that we can bring to festivals. That one will be publicly available, so you’ll just have to keep an ear out for it.

What brought you into game development in the first place?

I can’t truly speak for the rest of the team, though if you’d ask them they’d all probably have very similar stories. For me, I’ve been wanting to make games since I was nine years old. It was pretty much the first “career” I’d thought about. Every little kid wants to be a firefighter or astronaut, I mean, so did I, but this was different.

I remember playing on my SNES and Windows 3.1 after school at this time wondering how to make games. I’d also go to the arcade whenever I got the chance, albeit rarely. I just somehow knew that this was something I needed to do, even if no one thought I’d ever get that far.

It was in high school when not only did I found the little club that would later become the company, Wraith Games, but I also picked up a game programming book from the library. Shortly after that, I asked my school counselor to put me in every class with the word “computer” in the description.

I ended up taking programming, web design, graphic design, and CAD. After taking some business classes, I think that’s when everything was sort of set for me. I knew that this was what I was going to do with my life; and there was no turning back!

How do you intend to separate your games from the others?

Collapsus is a puzzle game the way all good block-breaking puzzle games should be; it’s different. You see so many games nowadays just trying to be Candy Crush. Whatever happened to the Puzzle League, or Columns, or Puyo Pop, or Lumines? There are certainly some out there that break the mold, but most of the time people just seem satisfied making clone games hoping to make a quick buck. A lot of more serious developers won’t even touch puzzle games at all now.

Collapsus plays differently and we like to think that’s refreshing. Couple that with the sheer amount of content, the fact that we’re releasing it on so many platforms, and then the fact that it’s both ad and microtransaction free; and I think that it’s going to be hard to compare it to anything else out there.

With Physix, just having the unique gravity mechanics should set it apart enough, but it’s also a puzzle game focusing on story with a clean, crisp, cel shaded art style… in VR. You’re just not going to play anything quite like Physix!

What do you believe is the biggest key factor for success for these games?

Other than Collapsus’ uniqueness and price point, we’ve really been pushing the convention scene hard and heavy. Just telling people that it’s not like Candy Crush isn’t enough, and trailers don’t really do it justice.

Having people play at conventions is what really does it. You get tons of people who come up and think they know what it’s about, and after losing a few times they realize that it’s not what they thought it was. After that we’ve always gotten tons of people saying how much they like it and how different it is.

It seems to be paying off. Nintendo picked us up as licensed developers so it’ll hit Wii U and 3DS, it was nominated for Slide DB’s App of the Year award last year (and made it into the Top 50), and we got invited to show it off at the internationally traveling, Game Masters – The Exhibition.

That kind of exposure is something money can’t buy; and not enough indie games are able to get the exposure they need. Luckily we’ve been able to get Collapsus into the hands of thousands of players already, and the weekly builds are only going to help us more. That’s what we need for it to succeed.

Physix, though, is a bit different. It was always the more popular of the two. While there is a distinctive “feel” to throwing things around in zero-g, for the most part, trailers do a pretty good job of showing that off. Really, the concept of Physix is something that people easily latch on to.

So, the best way to make sure Physix can be a success is to keep doing what we’re doing (going to events), and make sure Collapsus is as successful as we can so we can devote all our time to make Physix the best it can be.

End of Interview

If you want to see what they’re working on check out Wraith Games’ website.

If you want to check out Collapsus, here’s a trailer of the game.

 

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