Novastrike Interview And Exclusive Screenshots

TheSixthAxis got the chance to talk with Kevin McCann today, President of Tiki Games Inc based over in San Diego in sunny California. With the game pretty much complete we thought it would be an ideal time to find out a little more about the game and what we can look forward to upon release. We’ve also got four exclusive new screenshots of the game down below in the images section.

Hi Kevin. Thanks for spending the time to chat with us today.
Let’s start with Novastrike. We’re all familiar with shooters like Super Stardust and Everyday Shooter – what sets Novastrike apart from the current PSN titles?

Just like the games you mentioned NOVASTRIKE is its own sub-genre in the already fairly crowded top-down shooter marketplace so if you’re developing a top-down shooter nowadays you need to make sure it’s different enough from the competition while still retaining the core shooter action appeal. I feel NOVASTRIKE has a lot of parts that as a whole make it work well. One of those selling points is that the maps are pretty large. And while the game is free-roaming there are always objectives guiding you. The objectives help set the game apart from current top-down shooters – there’s always a goal, and that goal isn’t just “stay alive as long as possible while killing as many enemies to rack up a high score.”

So it’s more mission based?

Yes. NOVASTRIKE is spread across seven stages and a stage can take around 15 minutes to complete provided the player isn’t dying a lot and restarting stages. This timeframe is also a bit variable as some objectives give you more freedom in accomplishing them (like destroying an enemy base isn’t generally timed). Another thing that’s a bit different is that enemies aren’t generally one-shot kills. Bombers take multiple hits to shoot down, and enemy fighters will also take a certain amount of damage before going down. In general the larger the enemy the more hits they take before dying. And while you’re shooting an enemy you’ll see the enemy ship start to catch on fire – so you’ll have an idea which enemies are damaged versus the healthy ones – but it’s typically not a “one shot equals one kill” game.

But there are weapon upgrades?

Of course – as you progress you pick up weapon components from certain destroyed enemies and these allow you to upgrade existing weapons over time as well as acquire new weapon systems. There are a total of nine weapon systems – each with three subsequent upgrade states. A player will feel a pretty good sense of power as they progress as enemies that once took a number of hits to destroy will now be blown away considerably faster with an upgraded weapon. Likewise the player’s ship is fairly tough. There are definitely enemy projectiles you don’t want to get hit by, but the player’s ship does have a shield that absorbs all damage until it’s depleted. Plus the shield slowly recharges when not taking damage. Under the shield is the ship’s armor/health which can take a number of standard hits before going down. And there are power-up drops that provide both ammo and health repair.

The player ship has an afterburner as well which is key to surviving and completing objectives. The afterburner isn’t unlimited, but like the shield it recharges its capacitor when not being used. It’s great for getting away from missiles, catching up to enemies, or quick escapes to try to get the shield to recharge some before returning to the fray. But because the afterburner’s capacitor does run out (and require recharging) it’s by no means something the player can always rely on to escape or such. If anything it’s best used judiciously.

What sort of enemies can we look forward to?

Enemies are both aerial and land based. Aerial opponents fall into enemy fighters, kamikazes (they try to ram you or their target and explode), bombers, aces (larger and deadlier opponents), carriers (these launch enemy fighters/bombers from their hangars until the hangars are destroyed or the carrier itself is shot down), and destroyers (large gunships). Enemy bases are defended by laser and missile turret batteries, ground hangars (launching fighters and even aces at times), and launch platforms (these have a ship in plain view that ‘warms up’ then takes off when the player is within proximity – you can try to bomb the ship before it gets airborne – especially if it’s an ace). Enemy structures also have proximity damage, so it’s very feasible to damage some buildings then destroy one and have all the nearby damaged buildings chain-react – it’s pretty satfisying to see a series of buildings explode in swift succession.

Friendly support also plays a role in the game. While there’s no doubt that the player deals the most destruction by far, the player is still supported by friendly fighters, bombers, and even destroyers at times. Friendly bases generally have machine gun turrets, too – so the player can use these as additional back-up when defending a base. Enemy bombers, however, target threats to themselves first and foremost so they’ll try to destroy machine gun turrets fairly quickly. The amount of friendly support is based on the difficulty level – the introductory difficulty mode offers the most friendly support, normal difficulty mode has reasonable support, and hard difficulty mode has the least amount of friendlies.

Are you using the classic twin-stick style control method?

Not entirely. The left stick controls the direction your ship flies in and most weapons are forward-firing. But there is a turn-speed to the ship so if you’re flying south and you push up on the stick the ship will turn (fairly quickly) to face north – but it’s not instant. For the most part you need to get enemies (air or ground) in front of you. Certain weapons like missiles don’t require absolute precision. The right stick controls a turret that you acquire early on, and it does shoot in the direction the stick is pushed. But this turret is more support-oriented, and a bit advanced in usage. An experienced player will be able to use the turret with a primary weapon system to deal a lot of damage.

And there are two weapon systems – the beam and electro-mine – that aren’t directly forward-firing. The beam will lash out a short distance in any direction when used. The electro-mine always falls behind the player’s ship and lashes enemy fighters that come within a set distance of the mine. When upgraded the beam will chain-link its attack across multiple enemies, and the electro-mine becomes invaluable at helping clear up swarming enemies.

The visuals look packed with plenty of ‘next-gen’ whizz and bang – what can you tell us about the graphics?

We’re doing a lot visually, and for an independent studio I feel we’ve done a pretty darned good job at developing NOVASTRIKE for the PS3 with a small team – the game runs at 720p at a steady 30fps.

And you’re proud of the team?

Of course I need to be able to take a step back and view our game more objectively because in the end the gamer isn’t going to say “Well, two guys and a ferret made this game, so it’s pretty good in that regard!” Yes, I genuinely feel our game is a solid title for the PS3, plays well, and has solid production values. Oh, and to be clear – more than “two guys and a ferret” worked on this game.

We gather the engine is entirely bespoke for Novastrike – does it lend itself to any other application?

The engine we’ve developed for the game is pretty flexible – it’s just that NOVASTRIKE is the first game we’re releasing that’s running on the engine. We’re hoping things work out on the PS3 so we can further optimize the engine to the PS3’s hardware specifications over time. One thing that we didn’t want to do was develop an engine and toolset that was only good for one genre. So o
ur engine and tools definitely support other genres.

So any hints of what we can expect after Novastrike?

Following NOVASTRIKE’s release we naturally want to support the game. Beyond that there’s another game we’d really like to finish – our first title we were developing – Galaxy’s End. If NOVASTRIKE does well enough that will make finishing Galaxy’s End much more feasible, and we would target a downloadable release as well.

About your plan to release additional download content for Novastrike post release. Assuming you plan to charge for such content, do you think this a good attitude for the PSN/Marketplace model because it secures additional finance with minimal development time?

In general I feel it’s a good approach provided the additional downloadable content really does add more gameplay value to the original release. Map packs are, in my opinion, among the best downloadable content releases currently available. Maybe a player pays $10 for four maps then ends up playing dozens to hundreds of hours on the new maps – that’s a pretty good value. Naturally the downloadable content has to make sense with the type of game you’ve released – I just used map packs as one example.

How is publishing via the PlayStation Network with regards to a start-up developer like yourselves?

Honestly, it’s not easy. Part of that is just getting familiar with the overall process of getting a game published on the PlayStation Network (as it would be with any online console marketplace) – we don’t have an established publisher taking care of all the necessary steps allowing us to just work on game development. So I need to focus on both game development and all the publishing requirements. Naturally future releases will be smoother as I’ll know all the steps and everything that’s required, but it’s definitely trial by fire at times.

So again, the biggest challenge overall was simply inexperience on my part. I always try to be proactive in knowing as much as I can in advance, but you need to be ready for surprises – and often not good surprises. So keeping a cool head no matter what happens is fairly pivotal in running an independent game development studio (like most businesses for that matter). Naturally I’ve learned a lot throughout this process, and I’m definitely pleased that we’re going the self-publishing route, but I don’t want to mislead any prospective independent developer that’s considering self-publishing their title – it’s a fair amount of work in addition to just the developing the game.

And how have Sony been with you?

They’ve definitely been helpful. I don’t want to deter independents from going the self-published route – I actually feel Sony is one of the better avenues right now for developing and self-publishing a downloadable game. I just want to make sure that if an independent does go the self-publishing route they understand that it’s not a cakewalk.

How much support have you had from Sony with the PS3 itself?

Overall we really like the hardware. There’s absolutely a learning curve (as with any console), but fortunately my lead programmer has extensive experience working on all major consoles in the past – so that’s helped a lot. The PS3 definitely presents its own challenges (no news flash there), and over time we really hope to have the opportunity to optimize our engine as well as possible for the PS3.

We’ve spoken to Jon Mak (Everyday Shooter) in the past about how open Sony are in terms of keeping the games exactly as the developers intend – is this the case with Novastrike or are you being forced to change any parts of the game?

Originally our game was designed to be a gardening simulator, but Sony told us they wanted us a top-down space shooter instead – because there are hardly any top-down shooters around. Joking aside, Sony has definitely been very good about not interfering with the overall game design. I really don’t have any complaints there. From a development standpoint I’d be perfectly happy to continue working on future games for Sony’s platforms.

Is there likely to be a PC release of Novastrike in addition to the PSN release?

I don’t know at this point. Our engine runs on both the PC and PS3 so it’s certainly feasible, but we would have to really do a lot more compatibility testing for a PC release. And traditionally top-down shooters aren’t a big draw on the PC. I’m not ruling out an eventual PC release, but right now we have no plans in that area.

So what’s the expected release date, and do you plan to launch simultaneously worldwide?

I know this isn’t specific, but we’re in the final stages right now. The game is done, and we’re just doing last-minute balance passes and going through SCEA’s remaining steps. It should be very soon, though.

And us in Europe?

Initially we’re just releasing through SCEA. We’re looking to address SCEE next.

Excellent. To round things off, what do you think of other top-down shooters on the PSN, such as Stardust and Everyday Shooter?

Super Stardust is my preferred game versus Everyday Shooter – that’s not me remotely knocking Everyday Shooter, either. It’s just a matter of personal preference. Both are very solid titles for PSN.

Any classic influences with Novastrike that you care to share – it reminds us of a free-roaming Silkwork or Xenon with the dual air and ground attacks.

I’ve always quick-referenced NOVASTRIKE as sort of a free-roaming Xevious type game – but then again each of my team members references different top-down shooters that had both air and ground targets. And there are elements from any top-down shooter where you have both aerial opponents and ground targets (Desert Strike series, etc). It’s a bit of a collage of existing mechanics that we tailored into our own game.

And we’re looking forward to it. Good luck with the game, Kevin.

Thanks. And thanks to TheSixthAxis and the readers for the interest in NOVASTRIKE.

For more information on NOVASTRIKE check out the official website and stay tuned to TheSixthAxis for all the latest news on the game.