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Joystiq presents

DS Fanboy Interview: Neopets Puzzle Adventure's Griptonite Games

The last time we spoke to Griptonite Games, they were adapting a huge franchise with massive expectations onto the DS. Now, with Neopets Puzzle Adventure, two big series are in their hands: Infinite Interactive's narrative puzzle game series (Puzzle Quest, etc.), and the Neopets franchise.

The version of Neopets Puzzle Adventure that they're making for the DS features mostly the same gameplay as the PC and Wii versions, has been tweaked by Griptonite for handheld play. We spoke to producer Sean Epperson about the process of adapting Infinite Interactive's Othello-based puzzle game to the small screens.

What other gameplay/mechanics ideas were considered, when looking for an idea for a Neopets game (e.g. collectible card game, pet sim, etc.)?

When Capcom came to us, a good portion of the PC and Wii game had already been designed. We ran with those core ideas, leveraged what would work well on the DS platform, and made some changes where things wouldn't have worked as well. This also allowed us to create a different experience on the DS, which gives players a real reason to try out all the versions of the game.

What design decisions were made to make sure that the mechanics would be simple enough for children to grasp?

That's always a tough thing. As a game developer, you want your game to be intuitive and playable for your target audience. However, you also want your game to be enjoyable to other gamers; for instance here, with those in the older and/or hardcore demographic. There were lots of decisions and design choices that were made in order to meet this goal. In this particular game, the core style of gameplay can be a bit difficult for a younger or inexperienced audience to grasp, as it is strategy-based. To address this, we have a fantastic tutorial that explains the gameplay step-by-step, while having you perform each action, so that you can see why and how something works.

During production, we also bring players the age of our target audience into the studio, and have them play test the game. This allows us to see where our younger audience struggles, and we come up with ways to address those issues. Once we had our target audience's feedback, we turned internally to our studio members to help us gain additional perspective on the game. Our studio, which has a lot of very skilled gamers, makes it a point to play the games that we are developing. In this case, their hardcore expertise helped point out areas in Neopets Puzzle Adventure DS that could have been unfairly exploited.

What will Puzzle Quest and hybrid-games fans love most about NPA?

The strategic elements of the game should be a big hit with those kinds of players. Learning the different ways that powers can be used, what combination of powers works best for their play style, the timing of when to use powers...there's a lot in the game, from a strategic standpoint, to dive into.

Another thing that fans will hopefully take note of is how we addressed some of the things they wanted to see in this genre. For example, skilled players disliked having the "move hint indicators" always on, as it made the game a bit easier. What we did was leave the move hint indicators on by default...but then we provide an option to turn them off. This allows players to customize the experience to match their level of skill.

What about this new game is going to drive players to the virtual world, other than the promise of unlocking content in the virtual world?

The Neopet universe is a draw itself. Once players get a taste of the fun artistic style, choosing a neopet, playing fun games, collecting Petpets, etc, they'll want to explore the Neopet universe further by going online. The fact that each game is offering 10 unique codes, which give the player some very cool items in the virtual world, is extra icing on the cake.

Is this game aimed more at bringing new players into Neopets, or bringing Neopets fans into console games?

The game actually offers something for both. There may be console, PC, and handheld gamers who haven't been to the Neopets site...and by playing these games they can get a taste of the goodies that are offered there. Equally, this is an opportunity for Neopets fans to experience the kinds of fun that they get in the virtual world, in the experience that is presented with the console, PC, and DS versions.

The Petpet attacks now come from a stock of five rather than depleting a pool of points. Character attributes are also determined differently. Can you explain the differences a bit, and what motivated the changes?

Gaming on a portable device is a different experience than gaming on a console or PC, and the story needs to be tailored for that. For the DS version of the game, we wanted to streamline and simplify that portion of the experience, while also giving players the opportunity to control it.

The power stock at your disposal actually comes from the Petpets you acquire in playing the story. Once you obtain your first Petpet, you are only able to use one in battle. There are 25 Petpets total -- which are obtained through playing the story -- and as you gain experience you unlock the ability to incrementally use more of them in each battle. Once you collect them all, you're a pretty powerful force ... but you still need to learn how to use them to your strongest advantage.

Are the Petpet spells identical in presentation and in-game result in Neopets DS? What are some of the cooler effects?

Petpet powers in the DS version are slightly different than in the console and PC version; this is a result of tailoring the game experience to each respective platform. Petpet powers still have a wide range of effects -- and with a focus on strategy, balance, and fun, there are some pretty sweet powers on the DS. Some powers let you shield your token from being flipped, some let you take extra turns, and some will let you change the placement of tokens that are already on the board. There are even a few powers with destructive force that let you remove existing tokens or destroy sections of the playing field!

Will the story in the DS game differ from the others? Who is responsible for the story: Infinite, Griptonite, or Neopets?

The stories are similar, though not entirely the same. We worked with Capcom and Neopets when developing the story, taking it in a slightly difference direction for our DS version. The Neopets folks then reviewed it to make sure that it fits within with the Neopian universe.

How involved is Infinite Interactive in the development of the DS version? Are there design guidelines? Is Griptonite free to make changes?

Because PC and Wii development takes longer than DS development, some of the game was already in place when we began production. So what we did at the beginning was evaluate what worked best for the DS-what style of gameplay, what kinds of programming, what control schemes, etc. We then designed around this information, making sure that the general flavor of the game was in tune with what Infinite Interactive was creating.

Each game version has unique unlockable codes for the Neopets website, so Capcom worked with us to provide a slightly alternate take on the game, giving players a fun new experience and a reason to try them all!

Have there been any proposed changes that Infinite rejected?

Designing games is a very organic experience; new ideas are discussed, tried out, redesigned, revised, and worked over until it's "just right". Being fans of puzzle games, Neopets, Capcom, and their high level of quality and fun, it was very important to us to keep at it until the game met our high expectations. In the end, everyone was very happy with the game that was made.

How about Neopets? How much oversight is there? Do they monitor the use of their characters and offer suggestions or rules?

The Neopets folks provided us with a lot of art, so that characters in the game would look like their Neopets website counter parts. It was very important that Neopets fans would immediately recognize the characters, and identify with the wonderfully creative world that Neopets has. Suffice to say, Neopets fans should be very happy with the game.

There is no online play in Neopets DS. Was this feature considered at some point?

Lots of ideas are considered at the start of production, and what everything boils down to is how many fun elements we can fit into the game during development. At Griptonite, we have high expectations to deliver the best game possible-and we pride ourselves for being able to achieve this. Given that Neopets Puzzle Adventure is also a Capcom game, we knew the fans' expectations would be just as high as ours. Needless to say, we were motivated to make an engaging, great-looking game that is exciting to play. We felt that we succeeded in doing this, and we hope that players agree.

That said, there is an incredibly fun wireless mode of play. As part of the design process, we held multiplayer tournaments within the Griptonite studio in order to make sure the gameplay was fun, balanced, and challenging. The level of strategy that people are able to utilize in the game is quite impressive, and we think people will really enjoy this feature.

Is the DS version different enough to motivate players to buy multiple versions?

Absolutely. Besides the variations of gameplay between the games that I mentioned earlier, each game has 10 unique codes which can be unlocked be completing certain requirements in the game. These codes can then be taken to the Neopets website and turned in for exclusive content! This is a feature we were very excited to offer, as it really rewards the Neopets fans. Trust me when I say Neopets fans are REALLY going to want them...and they're also a great gift for someone interested in the online Neopets experience.

Thanks to Sean and Griptonite Games for the time and consideration!

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