The Interview: Jonathan Biddle: Curve Studios

Explodemon Screenshot

Curve Studios

A few weeks ago, we told you about Explodemon, a classic gaming inspired platformer to be released on the Playstation Network, Xbox Live and WiiWare. Obsolete Gamer had a chance to talk with Jonathan Biddle, design direct at Curve about the game and his gaming background.

Can you tell us about your gaming background?

Jonathan Biddle: I was basically raised by games! They have far and away been the most prevalent form of entertainment in my life. I started gaming on the early black & white paddle-based tennis games, which we had as far back as I can remember, progressing through to the ZX Spectrum, and eventually to the Atari ST (unfortunately my dad didn’t buy an Amiga). I moved onto consoles at that point, owning every major home console from Mega Drive & SNES through to the PS3 and 360, and doing some especially heavy importing during the PS2 era.

I was also a frequent arcade visitor, most notably for Street Fighter II, around the time of SSFII Turbo and Alpha 1.  I did miss a large part of classic PC gaming because I didn’t own a home computer until about 1997. That meant I originally missed out on X-Com, Doom, Quake and so on. When I did get a PC, I focused mostly on emulators, playing as much stuff as I could on MAME, ZSNES/xSNES9x, Neo-RAGEx, ePSXe, Final Burn, Project 64, etc. I remember telling someone that I had access to a six-figure count of games at my flat at one point. Obviously this was before I was a father!

What was it like working on the game before bringing it to Curve?

Jonathan Biddle: It was amazingly enjoyable. I’d never been able to code before, so it was all a huge process of discovery. At every stage I just thought to myself ‘I wonder if I can do this?’ It seemed that the answer was always ‘Yes’ as long as I just kept at it, so that’s what I did. I pushed the game far beyond what I thought I was capable of. I could pick and choose various gameplay elements from the games I’d been inspired by and just try them out. It was really empowering.

 

Explodemon Screenshot 1

Can you expand more on what inspired you to create Explodemon?

Jonathan Biddle: I don’t know why, but I’m constantly driven to create. If I’m not making something, I get fidgety, agitated; ideas start to bubble over and I just have to get them out. When I started Explodemon, I was feeling particularly unfulfilled in my creative work, and so desperately had to seek some kind of outlet. That ended up being Game Maker, and Explodemon.

When did you begin working on Explodemon?

Jonathan Biddle: I started the prototype at the beginning of November 2005. There was then a long and complicated road to starting the PS3 version in November 2009.

How long was the development process?

Jonathan Biddle: I worked on the prototype over two main periods. The first chunk of work, which spanned from November 2005 to March 2006, was purely done in my spare time. By the end of that period the game was pretty much fully formed, but a bit rough around the edges and needing some features to flesh it out. I then did a couple of months more that summer – adding some features and kicking the game into a much more finished shape, based on feedback I was getting from players.

The PlayStation 3 version took about a year to finish, but Christmas slowed things up and we had a bumpy submission with a few tricky bugs, so we weren’t on the PlayStation Store until this Feb.

What makes a great platform game?

Jonathan Biddle: You could write thousands of words on this! There are many elements that go to make up a platform game, and these are shared across many game types. At a base gameplay level you could ask; what mechanics are at play? How many options does the player have? Are these options interesting? Do they complement each other? There are no right answers here, but a great platform game gets the balance right between the number of options open to the player, how they interact with each other, and how enjoyable the actions are to perform.

It goes without saying that great platform games have to have great controls. If you can’t trust that your intended input is going to result in your expected action, you’re going to get frustrated. However, it’s fine for controls to require a bit of practice before getting to this sweet spot. Mastery of a game’s controls can be its own reward, and can add an extra layer of depth to a game.

Finally, a great platform game is nothing without excellent level design. If you have lots of lovely mechanics, but the levels presented to the player don’t maximize the potential of those mechanics, then what’s the point in having them in the first place?

 

Explodemon Screenshot 2

Why do you think the classic platformer has not been used more in today’s games?

Jonathan Biddle: I think it’s been used just plenty! There’s definitely been a resurgence in the classic platformer in recent years. If we look at remakes or retro revivals such as Bionic Commando Rearmed, Rocket Knight, Mega Man 9 and 10 there’s a trend to bring back exactly those kinds of games experiences. Mario is still around in his classic 2D form as recently as last year in New Super Mario Bros Wii, Contra was recently released on the Wii, Hard Corps Uprising is a classic game in the same vein, the new Rush N Attack also leans heavily on the retro style. Indie platformers of the moment are also very much influenced by this period, such as Fez, VVVVVV, Braid, Limbo, Spelunky, and so on. If anything it might be overused!

What was your favorite platform game?

Jonathan Biddle: I have a very soft spot for Yoshi’s Island on the SNES. The game was stuffed full of great ideas, all made with great passion and polished to perfection. Nintendo have loomed large over the humble platformer, with some incredibly inspiring works. It was amazing to be able to work with them on a platformer of our own, Fluidity/Hydroventure for the Wii, and even greater for it to be the highest-rated Nintendo-published original game of 2010 (according to Metacritic at least!). Honestly, if I could’ve told my 20 year-old self that same fact while I was playing Yoshi’s Island the first time, I think the younger me might have done an Explodemon.

Can you tell us about working at Curve?

Jonathan Biddle: It’s a great working environment here. We’ve got some very talented people; some extremely experienced and others more fresh-faced. It’s a creatively-driven company; everyone has something creative to contribute, and it leads to a great atmosphere in the studio. We’re working on some very interesting stuff too, which certainly helps motivate us all!

Are most of the development staff gamers themselves?

Jonathan Biddle: Absolutely! Everyone has their own preferred genre or type of game, of course, but we’re all passionate about the medium, both as players and creators. The level of knowledge of gaming history you find here is sometimes astonishing. There’s always some heated discussion going on about the relative merits of new or old titles. It’s a great place to learn about games you’ve never played.

Explodemon is available now on the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii console systems.

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J.A. Laraque

J.A. Laraque is a freelance writer and novelist. His passion for writing mixed with a comedic style and intelligent commentary has brought him success in his various endeavors. Whatever the subject, J.A. has an opinion on it and will present it in writing with an insight and flair that is both refreshing and informative.