Interview: Sidhe On Shatter

TheSixthAxis recently got the chance to chat with Mario Wynands, Managing Director of Sidhe, the developers behind Gripshift and this week’s PSN title: Shatter.  We chat about the game, the PlayStation 3, the PSPgo and what everyone else is talking about: digital downloads.  The full interview is below for your afternoon enjoyment.

TSA: Hi Mario.  So, how difficult was it to take on a very well known style of game and be confident that you could give it enough of a twist to make it relevant to a new market?

Mario: Hi.  Well, when we first decided to see if we could revamp the brick breaking genre, we weren’t at all sure that it could be done. Certainly we knew we could raise the presentation, graphics, and sound dramatically, but there have been hundreds of games in this genre over the decades, and you would expect that if the core gameplay of the genre could have been modernized then it already would have been done by now.

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Our approach was really to break the game down to its component parts, examine those elements and the issues independently, and then rebuild it for a modern audience. We isolated problems like the limited interactivity, static playfields, the “last brick issue” etc and experimented with possible solutions for each. It wasn’t really until we had undertaken a lot of prototyping that we knew we were really onto something.

TSA: So what inspired the move towards more “pick up and play” style mechanics from the more complicated Rugby League and, to a lesser extent, the Gripshift games?

Mario: We have worked on a lot of titles over the years including sports games, driving games, and action games. It has been really interesting to be able to have worked on such a broad range of titles and to have been successful in multiple genres. But after GripShift, we really wanted to create a title that was very focused so we could concentrate on accessibility and polish, and really test ourselves to see how far we could take a relatively simple concept.

It actually turned out to be quite a challenge because to be successful in creating a title with a limited scope you have to be absolutely on the money with those core mechanics. If your game doesn’t cut it in one area you can’t rely on other parts of the game to lift the experience because every area is core to the experience.

TSA: Why did you choose to develop Shatter exclusively for the PS3? As a multiplatform developer, how do you choose which platform to develop each game for?

Mario: Sony has been great at embracing independent developers and reducing the amount of red tape required to get the game up on the PSN Store. Sony and PSN were an easy fit for Shatter in that respect.

TSA: But was there any particular factor that made you decide to make a downloadable title over a fully fledged retail one?

Mario: In this case the answer was simple. We chose to make a downloadable title and self publish so there would be no insurmountable barriers for us in bringing the title to market. If you go down the retail route, you are reliant on partnering with publishers and retailers who aren’t always willing to take risks on or prioritize original IP.

TSA: How would you say the market for downloadable titles has changed over the generation?

Mario: What has been great is the rise in quality of downloadable titles that we have seen over the generation, and gamers are really responding to that. No longer are downloadable titles always considered the poor cousin to retail games because many now exhibit retail quality polish. More and more gamers are trying downloadable games and liking the fun, polished, and unique experiences they are finding. This is especially true of those games that would never otherwise make it to retail because of the risk averse nature of that channel which bring something new to the table.

TSA: So how do you feel about a DD only delivery method, like that for the PSPgo?

Mario: I think eventually download only distribution is inevitable, but the pace at which that happens is dependent on how consumers and content providers adapt. As consumers we are trained want the tangible feel and comfort of physical product and it can be quite disconcerting to purchase a download product which has no physical embodiment. Content providers need to come to grips with more variable pricing as well as looking to new business models in a world where IP is easy copied and shared. The possibilities are very exciting.

TSA: With New Zealand coming under the umbrella of SCEE do you work primarily with SCEE or one of the other SCE regions? If it is SCEE, with Sidhe being literally on the other side of the planet to most of the SCEE region are there any particular advantages or disadvantages to being such a great distance away?

Mario: In the past as just a developer we worked through SCEE, which was challenging as you could imagine. SCEE have great developer support resources, but timezones and location have made it difficult to maintain timely conversations. They have been committed to supporting us over the years though, and we have built some great relationships with very supportive individuals within the organization.

Now we are a PS3 publisher as well as working with larger US based publishers like Activision, we are working much more equally with both SCEA and SCEE.

TSA: Back to Shatter, then.  The game looks like something that may also appeal to PSP gamers. Are there any plans to port or remake this game to the PSP and PSPgo in the future?

Mario: We are looking at other platforms we can take the game to, and are actually working on something that would make a PSP version more viable. Hopefully, Shatter PSN is well received and sells well which would accelerate our plans in this area.

TSA: Hopefully.  What sets Shatter apart from other titles on the PSN right now?

Mario: As a complete package the gameplay, presentation, and music combine to create something unique on the platform and complementary to great titles already on the Store such as Super Stardust and Flower.

But if I had to choose one thing that really makes it stand out it would be the music. Shatter having over 90 minutes of original, high quality music created by a talented musician is really unprecedented for a download title, not only on PSN but on any download service. It really works in with the game so well and augments the experience greatly. We are really pleased about our collaboration with the artist, Module, and will have more news about the soundtrack soon.

TSA: Do you still get lots of people pronouncing your name “Sid-he” rather than “Shee”? And given that the Old Scots Gaelic equivalent of ‘sidhe’ is written ‘sith’ is there a hidden dark side to your games?

Mario: In hindsight choosing a company name that people can’t spell or pronounce could have been a misstep, but we have had a lot of fun with it. Now it’s like a big secret club, and we see people correcting each other on the pronunciation and telling the meaning behind the name. It makes it more sticky.

As for whether there is a dark side to Sidhe, while there is certainly a darker side to the ancient faerie folk after which the company is named, we prefer a more upbeat and fun interpretation. While the sidhe of olde may have cast spells out into the land from their underground lairs motivated by revenge and mischief, we prefer to just think we are making magic down under for the enjoyment of all.

TSA: Finally, what’s your dream development? If you have unlimited time and money, what game would you make?

Mario: We are working on much more ambitious original titles at the moment which are really starting to get towards what our dream development might be. All I can say is that they are titles you might not expect from us given our development history…

We thank Mario for his time, and look forward to the full game on Thursday.  You can read our preview of Shatter here which includes the trailer and some exclusive screenshots.

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