NovaStrike Interview

Here’s our exclusive interview with Kevin McCann, director at Tiki Games as he prepares to launch NovaStrike on the European PSN this Thursday.

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TSA: Hi Kevin. Firstly, can I say thanks for giving us the exclusive on the European launch of NOVASTRIKE. We’ve been following the game since it was announced and spoke to you at length about the game itself in the past, so this is really just a catch up to see where the game and the team are now. So, with the European release this Thursday, what can we look forward to?

Kevin: Hi TSA. Well, the European launch of NOVASTRIKE is the updated version we released in North America – subsequently Trophies, customizable controls, and so forth are definitely part of it. The update was part of the reason the European release of NOVASTRIKE was delayed from the initial North American release.

It seems like most of the changes in the update were in direct response to user feedback. You’ve taken community response to heart, giving players configurable controls, XMB music support, leaderboards and so on. How hard is it to find the time to build on top of the game once it’s out?

The most difficult part of initially doing the update was the financial end of it – we had just released the game, and now I was asking for three more months of funding to do a free update. Aside from that the actual work on the update was far smoother as all of our production processes were fully established from having already released NOVASTRIKE.

So how many of the changes were in response to feedback?

NOVASTRIKE admittedly had a pretty rough initial release in North America. So when I saw the response to the game’s difficulty (the majority saying it was really too hard) – well, I knew right away we had to address that. Still, putting an update together was going to take some time so I looked at what else we could include. But the response to the game’s difficulty was the biggest factor that made me want to do the update in the first place.

Did you have any features that you had to leave out of the initial launch for time reasons?

Well, customizable controls should have been something NOVASTRIKE had in its initial release – that’s probably the single biggest item that was something we simply didn’t have time to implement. So that was very high on the list to include in the update. Leaderboards actually were in the first release (some site said we added that – but we already had that in the first release). We did, however, add the last stage completed to Leaderboards in the update.

So where did Trophies come into the equation?

Since I had committed Tiki Games to doing an update I wanted to make sure we got as much in as possible. At first I had divided the update into two parts – the first was to address the difficulty and customizable controls, then a second one was going to add Trophies and such. But after a week of working on the update I decided that really wasn’t the best approach, and decided to merge everything into one update. Granted, that pushed the update’s release timeframe back a bit, but I feel it was the better move – it was simply more efficient.

And regarding Trophies and XMB music – while we were working on the update we soon found out those features were going to be implemented in the new firmware update, so it made sense to support them. From a personal standpoint it was nice to be able to have the opportunity to support those new features through the update (versus just mainly addressing the difficulty).

You tool considerable time to reply to most of the questions on your post on the U.S. Blog, was that an eye-opening experience, dealing directly with the gaming public and potential customers?

Honestly, I don’t know how many extra actual sales NOVASTRIKE received through responding to the comments on the official PLAYSTATION blog in the U.S. But I felt I should respond to the posts whether they’re positive or negative – after all, they spent money on the game, and even if they hated it I should respond to their posts.

I agree. How important is it to be at grass-roots level with the punters?

I do feel it’s important to respond to the gaming community – they were instrumental in having me decide to do the update in the first place. And I want to maintain that level of interaction.

You were involved in most stages of the game, and I think the community sees NOVASTRIKE as ‘your’ game, so they felt they were dealing with the top man and thus had a better chance of getting their wishlist made into reality. When you’re just dealing with a PR spokesperson it all gets filtered down, but you got the raw comments and I think people respected you for that.

Here’s the thing – I did work on everything except for directly coding NOVASTRIKE. So on the development side my responsibilities included all of the game design (documentation, game balance, level layouts, light storyline, etc.). On the business side I was the one working with SCEA and SCEE to get the game released and doing everything necessary there, as well as other business needs (legal and otherwise). It was a hugely taxing experience.

That said, Tiki Games is my company – so I felt the need to be accountable to customers. And to be perfectly straightforward – it takes very little time to respond to the comments. The bottom line is I feel obligated to respond – and I’m not saying that in a negative way. I want to respond. And it’s not always enjoyable.

We can imagine. Some of the comments were cutting, and some were great.

Sure, the “I love NOVASTRIKE!” or “I didn’t care for NOVASTRIKE before, but I like it a lot after the update” comments are nice and easy to write a response. But the “NOVASTRIKE sucks!” and “NOVASTRIKE still sucks after the update!” comments aren’t pleasant. However, I really didn’t have any “trolls” in the threads, and I do read every comment and try to respond to those that should have responses – so I think even those that didn’t like NOVASTRIKE appreciated that they weren’t simply ignored. I’m not saying my response converted them into liking NOVASTRIKE, but I think they at least were appreciative that I didn’t skip their posts.

Do you think a demo would have helped, will there be one on Thursday?

There won’t be a playable demo at release (sorry), but we have a demo in the works. Overall, I feel it’s really important to have a demo, but at the same time we’re a very small team.

But can you tell us the price?

7.99 Euros. And it will be converted accordingly for the countries that aren’t using Euros. And while that’s about one U.S. dollar higher than the North American price – we (Tiki Games) still receive less per sale in Europe than we do in North America.

How was dealing with SCEE, on that point, being that you’re on completely different timezones and so on?

Yeah, we’re in the U.S. and SCEA is in the same time zone with us, whereas SCEE naturally isn’t in the same time zone. So communication in terms of email and such – it’s not synched. That said, I constantly check my emails (when I’m at the office or home), and have my own personal schedule accommodate whatever’s necessary. For example, during the submission process if I was expecting feedback from SCEE in the morning their time, I’d just set my alarm for 1:30 am or so to make sure I could wake up and respond to any potential issues. It’s not that big of a deal overall.

I always try to be as helpful and responsive when dealing with Sony in general. I don’t take having NOVASTRIKE released in North America and Europe for granted.

Do you think games have a higher perceived value due to ‘new features’ such as Trophies and XMB music support?

I think Trophies add more perceived value versus XMB music support. Don’t get me wrong; I was happy we could add XMB music support too – but Trophies are accomplishments/rewards for a lot of players that they can share with their friends.

How easy is it to implement Trophies?

Trophies should have been a day-one feature for the PS3. That’s my opinion, but when your competition (the Xbox 360) already has Achievements before you release your platform – well, Achievements were already popular, so I’m kind of surprised Sony missed Trophies at the initial release.

As to the difficulty of implementing Trophies – it depends on the criteria for unlocking the Trophy. If a Trophy is simply unlocked based on getting a certain number of kills then that’s pretty fast to get up and running. If a Trophy has multiple requirements to unlock it then that respective Trophy will take more time to implement. But in general the actual implementation of Trophies doesn’t take very long.

I’ll bet testing can be a bitch.

In some respects the testing for the Trophies can take just as long as the implementation (or even longer). You need to repeatedly test unlocking the Trophies again and again to find out if there are situations where Trophies are erroneously awarded, or not awarded when they should be. And of course Sony has specific rules that you can’t break regarding Trophies as well.

Would you like to see them mandatory in the future?

They soon will be – but yeah, they should be. And I feel this is being handled well by Sony – they didn’t just say “Hey, your game isn’t out yet – INCLUDE TROPHIES OR DIE!” No, they gave a later date when trophies will be mandatory, and that allows developers the extra time to include them if the game is shipping after that respective date.

And how do you feel about them personally, as a gamer?

Personally? I’m not the type of player that’s really actively into hunting down Achievements on the Xbox 360, or Trophies on the PS3. I’m more of a casual gamer in that regard. But I do enjoy unlocking both Achievements and Trophies through simply playing games – they add to the experience. And more importantly there are a lot of gamers that do pursue Achievements and Trophies. So there’s real value in having Trophies.

So, to conclude, what does the future hold for Tiki Games now that NOVASTRIKE is out? Will we see a sequel, or perhaps an entirely new game?

If I could have it my way I’d finish the first game we worked on – Galaxy’s End, a real-time strategy game for the PSP. So much work went into that game that it’s extremely frustrating we didn’t have a chance to finish it. Eventually I’d very much like to do a sequel to NOVASTRIKE, but completing Galaxy’s End is at the top of my list.

And with that I’d like thank you and your site for taking the time to interview me again, and also thanks to those that read the entire interview.

Cheers, and good luck with the launch!

For exclusive screenshots of the European version of Novastrike, click here.

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