VGB Feature: Alien Spidy Interview with Enigma Software CEO Daniel Parente

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Quietly swinging onto digital download platforms (Steam, XBLA, PSN) some time early this year, Alien Spidy is one of those sleeper gems in the making that gamers abroad may not have heard a lot about but most definitely should not overlook. To help spread the word, Enigma Software CEO Daniel Parente set aside time to tell us more about the studio’s web-slinging platformer and its adorable-as-a-box-of-kittens arachnid hero. Come swing along for the ride!

VGBlogger: For those who may be hearing about it for the first time, what is Alien Spidy? Who is Spidy and what is his (I’m assuming it’s a he) mission in the game?

Daniel Parente: Alien Spidy is a new challenging and visually stunning platformer where you play as a spider from outerspace, who came to Earth to rescue a friend, Virgi. Virgi went missing during an exploration mission to Earth. Spidy, the leading character, must go on a rescue mission after crash landing onto Earth and will have to find what happened to Virgi and the broken parts of his ship in order to fly back to his home planet.

VGB: Spiders are generally viewed as being gross, creepy-crawly creatures in real life, but Alien Spidy is anything but. How challenging was it to create a cute and cuddly arachnid that players will root for rather than want to squash with a rolled up newspaper?

DP: It was an interesting challenge! It took us a lot of time and several iterations in order to try to find that look and feel that not only made the Spidy look nice and friendly, but also that would have enough charisma. We wanted the player to have control of a likeable character throughout the dazzling action of the 65 levels that build up the game. We took a lot influences from the cartoon world, and one of the first things that we were able to understand was that the eyes were the key. We spent a lot of time and dedicated a lot of effort in trying to have eyes very “human” that were able to act as an enabler of the cuteness of Spidy. Afterwards, we spent more time with the legs, and remaining parts of the body — such as the glowing effect on the head — or on discussions about whatever the character should have an antenna or not.

Finally, the animation set used for the character is very old school. We tried to make Spidy to be constantly moving and doing fun animations that were able to engage the player with the character; even if it is only standing there in idle mode doing fun animations.

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VGB: Alien Spidy was unveiled as a PlayStation Vita title but has since moved to Steam, PSN, and XBLA. What led to the switch to console/PC? Do you still intend to bring the adorable, six-legged little guy to Vita some day? (Or perhaps other platforms like Wii U or iOS?)

DP: Alien Spidy is a multiplatform game and our main idea is to have the game released on all major platforms. When we were pitching the game to different publishers, Sony, who was aware of the game being developed for the Vita too, asked us for the permission to use the materials of the game during the Gamescom 2011. Afterwards, we signed the publishing deal with Kalypso Media Digital – in short, the schedule of the releases becomes a decision of the publisher.

VGB: From the early preview build levels I’ve been able to sample so far, Alien Spidy strikes me as a skill and high score oriented speed platformer. How do the game’s boss battles fit in with this style of forward-momentum-based gameplay?

DP: Indeed! We have designed the game to be a continuous flow of movement and to be fast-paced. The bosses fall in this same category: they are moving at the same speed, which means that you have to be precise and fast in the decisions taken while fighting them. For example: one of the bosses is a group of alien fish that follows you through underwater tunnels and caves. Avoiding them is key and difficult, too, since you have to continue moving forward throughout the levels, which becomes an interesting challenge.

VGB: Seeing that web-swinging is the main method of navigation within the world of Alien Spidy, how challenging was it to implement the physics system to get the swinging momentum just right?

DP: It took us eight months of development to make it feel right. The first versions were slower and less depending on the web string. As we were moving through the game, we saw that we were missing something important. That component was the game was failing in being really fun to play – which should be the first goal of a game – so we decided to try to think about the direction that the game had taken during the development.

We reached the conclusion that we were not listening to the character. We were using it in mechanicals that were opposite to what the character was trying to tell us: “look at me, I am cute, I am fast, and ready to dash through the screen like Spider-man through the streets of New York,” and then it struck us very hard. A spider should be fast, and the string should be used in a fast way. So we shifted the focus and after a couple of weeks, everything made sense in the game.

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VGB: So far I’ve seen power-ups that allow Spidy to run at hyper speed and jump to incredible heights. What other special powers is Spidy capable of pulling off?

DP: We’d like the player to discover them on their own, but in order to pull out a little bit from under the hood, I probably could say, that probably going underwater or even fly.

VGB: How have you balanced the game to be accessible yet challenging enough for the true high score speed run masters?

DP: We basically played the game until we were able to play it with our closed eyes and were we were failing. We were putting in extra items to increase the difficulty. The game is well-balanced because a regular player will play and finish it without too many headaches, and the hardcore player will have a real hard time improving the skills of the webstring and its associated momentum to be able to reach all the dark corners of the level in the minimum amount of time as to maximize the score, but in Spidy everything counts; you have to train yourself as to be able to get as much orbs as possible with the minimum time frame.

VGB: Alien Spidy has a very unique, otherworldly visual style. What were some of the artistic influences behind the game’s cartoony design aesthetic?

DP: When we started developing the game three years ago, the main references were Limbo, Braid and Patapon. The look of Limbo was applied to our game but it was hard to detect the enemies or objects that could harm you, so we decided to make them colorful. Once we went this route, we saw that the colorful 2D parallax background could make the game become very singular from a visual point of view.

The objects in the foreground were developed in 3D as it gave us a better control over it and the transformation that we could have the need to implement.

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VGB: How many levels does Spidy have to swing through to complete his adventure?

DP: Alien Spidy has 65 levels full of adrenaline and tension.

VGB: Does the game offer any form of unlockable content, bonus levels, or other replay incentives beyond high scores and leaderboard bragging rights? If so, how do players go about unlocking such extras?

DP: The game has a few special maps that are locked, and that can only be unlocked by achieving five stars throughout the environments.

VGB: If I remember correctly, when the game was first announced it was going to have multiplayer modes and a map editor. Were these features planned and are they still intact, or have they been removed since the original concept? (If they don’t make the initial release, could they reappear in post-launch updates?)

DP: Yes, that is correct. The features are still planned but they will be released if the game is well-accepted by the players, and we feel that there is the need to increase the ecosystem of contents for the game.

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VGB: Has a release date been set yet? When can we expect Alien Spidy to crash land on digital download platforms and how much will it cost?

DP: Alien Spidy is targeted to be released early this year on Steam (PC, MAC), XBLA and PSN, for approximately $9.99.

VGB: Do you plan to offer a demo version across all platforms?

DP: Yes, each platform has its own demo, which offers a very good overview of the how fun the game is.

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!