Just last week, I had the opportunity to play and review Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet for this here publication. This arcade title blends multiple game types together while still feeling fresh and new. It’s the perfect example of what a good XBLA title should look like and how it should play: dynamic and challenging.
Recently, Joe Olson of Fuelcell Games was kind enough to field some questions that I had about the game. Read on to learn about the origin of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, its inspiration, and the decisions behind its challenging difficulty.
CraveOnline: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet felt like a breath of fresh air when I first picked up the controller. What were your inspiration and aspirations when crafting this game?
Joe Olson: Initial inspiration came in the form of a series of interstitials Michel Gagne created in 2005 for Nickelodeon called Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets. When Michel and I decided to make a game together, this was the source material we went to for style and tone. Our aspiration on the gameplay side was to bring back the classic arcade and 8-bit console style of gameplay while using modern console power to drive the high quality visuals. It’s this unique combination that’s made ITSP a perfect fit for the Summer of Arcade line-up.
CraveOnline: After playing the game I feel that it’s fair to say that game is not exactly easy. And yet, it wasn’t so hard that I wanted quit. How did you manage to balance between challenging gamers without turning them away?
Joe Olson: We spent a good amount of time play-testing and tuning the difficultly levels trying to find the right balance. A lot of credit here goes to our scripters for creating systems and scenarios that were easily dialed up or down once the initial gameplay was blocked in.
CraveOnline: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet has the most epic soundtrack I’ve ever heard in an arcade title. Talk about the inspiration behind your music selections. What kind of moods are you trying to create and who were the artists you worked with?
Joe Olson: ITSP's soundtrack is actually three separate composers. For the cinematics, we were very fortunate to get a couple of licensed tracks from Dimmu Borgir, a Norwegian Black Metal band that writes some amazing symphonic compositions. The tone and mood just fit our game like a glove. For the in-game music in the Single Player campaign, we were lucky again to get Andrew Scott who created the sound design for the original Nickelodeon interstitials. That system is dynamic and chooses a different track that Andrew composed depending on the environment, enemy density, and player status. Lastly, for the Lantern Run lobby and end screen music, Troy Lawlor, one of our engineers actually composed those tracks in his spare time.
CraveOnline: At times I found the lack of HELP text to a bit frustrating. It’s quite a risk to only give instruction pictographically. Can you talk about the risk that you took and why you made this aesthetic choice?
Joe Olson: We avoided text as a stylistic choice, but also to try and make the game accessible to the widest audience possible. Oftentimes things are lost in translation, but pictures are universal. It also didn't hurt that it made the localization process just that much easier.
CraveOnline: What is your favorite part of the game that gamers may miss if they aren’t paying attention?
Joe Olson: I've been noticing a good number of reviewers are missing the depth in the Lantern Run mode, or even skipping over it all together. We worked hard to come up with a co-op mode that would have lasting re-play value, whether you are challenging your best score or just want to hoot and holler on the couch with your friends. For 1200 Microsoft points, we wanted to pack in as much value and extended gameplay as long possible.
CraveOnline: Were there other variations of the spaceship other than the final version used in the game? How did they look differently or function differently?
Joe Olson: The UFO was actually one of the only aspects that didn't change much other than some refinement in the tool attachments that we ended up with. It came directly from two of the original interstitials. It was also the very first thing that Michel concepted, and that first concept even included the grabber arm. The alien scientist that pilots the UFO however did go through a good deal of designs and revisions to find something that was human enough to identify with while still appearing alien and mysterious.
CraveOnline: Were there other tools that you designed that you abandoned or had to be cut from the game?
Joe Olson: We had several ideas for tools that didn't make the final cut. Even the tools that did make it into the release had alternate modes of use. We decided that it was better to simplify and solidify the tools that we found to be interesting and fun to play with in the end in order to ensure a more focused and tight experience.
CraveOnline: Are there plans for taking this game to other platforms (iPad, PSN, etc.)?
Joe Olson: There are no current plans past the XBLA version for Summer of Arcade, but it's highly possible we'll expand on the universe of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet in the future. With so many cool devices with new ways to interface with them, it's a pretty exciting time to be a game developer. Right now, we’re just excited to be able to provide one of the biggest downloadable games of the season through Summer of Arcade.
CraveOnline: We greatly appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with us, Joe. Best of luck to you and Fuelcell.
Joe Olson: Thanks, man!