The lost art of balancing things in stacks is set to see a revival as popular developer Shin'en brings Art of Balance onto WiiWare sometime soon. I caught up with Manfred Linzner for a few questions.[PAGEJUMP]
WW: Hello, please introduce yourself and describe your role at Shin'en.
Manfred: My name is Manfred Linzner, I'm one of the founders of Shin'en in 1999. I'm involved in engine programming, gameplay programming, supervising audio, etc.
WW: Art of Balance is looking great, can you tell us about it?
Manfred: Thanks. We really tried hard to make it look lush and brilliant. The idea was to develop a "stand out" look for the game. Not only on WiiWare but for games in general.
Art of Balance was supposed to be really easy to pick up but hard to stop playing. We wanted that "just one more level" feeling. It took quite a lot of effort in polishing and general game play refinement to finally come to that point, but i think we really succeeded.
We wanted to give everything in the game a 'lounge' feeling. The graphics, the musics, in fact the whole package. You should really feel comfortable while playing the game and refreshed when you stop.
Another important aspect was multiplayer. We support coop and versus play. For coop you can drop in/out at any time of the game. When playing together in coop the whole experience deepens a lot. You may now play the levels completely different then alone. You could stack the shapes simultaneously, balance critical situations together or place just one shape after another. Its really up to the gamers. Its also perfect to play along with younger kids as the older ones can do the harder moves and the younger kids can do the easier ones.
In the versus mode you play on a split screen against each other. Its really a blast when trying to be faster then your opponent while still keeping everything in balance.
Art of Balance supports 16:9 and runs in super smooth 60fps.
WW: How do the controls work? Do you twist the Wiimote to turn pieces?
Manfred: One of the first ideas was of course to use motion control, but in the end there was a too much waggling just to make a basic move. We soon figured that motion controls would not make Art of Balance any better but just more cumbersome.
We use the Wii remote pointer for moving the shapes and the A button to drag & drop. Rotating the shapes can be done with the B button or with the control pad. That is pretty simple and works very nice. In fact you adopt very fast to that scheme and don't think about anymore while playing.
WW: What made you decide to go the WiiWare route, as opposed to a budget retail game?
Manfred: We did many retail games in the past. The problem with retail is that it really takes quite long to get something into the hand of the gamers. With Wii Ware you can develop a good idea much more quickly than with a disc based game.
Also we think the given Wii Ware size restrictions are really generous. We don't feel restricted by them. For DS we usually did marvelous looking games in just 4MB. On Wii Ware we have 40MB! The Wii uses very clever texture compression which in fact gives us even much more room to make everything good looking.
WW: Physics puzzlers now seem to be a popular genre, did you take inspiration from any other games?
Manfred: There are a lot of Physics based games on the iPhone and even as Flash games. People just love to play with something behaving like in the real world. So before developing Art of Balance we looked at many physics puzzlers. There are quite a number of games that use the idea of 'balancing', but we figured that a good idea is not always sufficient. You need really a lot of good content, many different kind of challenges, new game play ideas again and again. Putting then this content into a polished and nice feeling package makes the difference. Many other games just stop where the real fun begins.
WW: Were you worried people might confuse it for a Wii Balance Board game?
Manfred: We had a bit of worry about that, tho in the end we think that people won't have any problems to separate that. The title 'Art of Balance' was just perfect and so we decided to stick with it.
WW: Any idea when Art of Balance will be released? How long has it been in development?
Manfred: We don't have a release date yet but it will be pretty soon as development is as good as finished.
The development started right away after Fun Fun Minigolf in late 2008 with many new features for our internal game engine. Core development then started in Q2 2009.
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