Before getting to the actual subject of this post, we should point out that the latest installment of our IGN developer blog is up: http://blogs.ign.com/Metanet/
To make up for the lack of substance last time, we’ve packed 8 pages of Q&A into a single column! Aw yeah.
We’ve also updated the N/N+ website: http://www.thewayoftheninja.org/
We’re still in the process of digging through our webmail to find all of the N-related pics submitted over the past couple years; one of the best new ones is this halloween costume. Classic — inadvertently homicidal robots are definitely the new ghosts. Take that, Pac-Man!
Now for the actual blog post:
One thing that’s becoming increasingly obvious as we near the launch of N+ (and the interviews/marketing/etc. this entails) is that there is some confusion regarding what’s different between the various versions. In hindsight we should have simply used two different names to denote the two different projects.. perhaps N^X for the XBLA version, and.. well, part of the problem is that we could never figure out a better name than N+. Aside from N++ of course, but that was deemed too geeky even for a game where level numbers are counted from 0.
As a result, there are two totally different games being released called “N+”: one on XBLA (developed by Slick Entertainment), and one on DS/PSP (developed by Silverbirch). It’s actually more like 2.5 games, since the DS and PSP versions are the same in terms of the game itself (graphics/design/physics etc.) but differ in terms of content, each having completely different levels.
In order to reduce the confusion — and if we might be so incredibly bold as to analogize our game with one specific series of gaming masterpieces which influenced us — we’ve developed an explanation which we feel is both concise and easy to grasp intuitively, while working on many different levels to explain the sundry subtle differences between the various forms that N+ is taking:
If N was Super Mario Brothers 3, then N+ on XBLA would be Super Mario World, while N+ on DS/PSP would be The New Super Mario Brothers.
This can be taken in many ways, in terms of differences between the various platforms themselves, to differences between the art direction and gameplay of the titles, to differences in the lineage and development teams behind each title… it’s a remarkably apt metaphor (or simile or whatever, smart-ass).
Since our meaning may not be as obvious as we ourselves feel it is, here’s the long version:
The XBLA version is a super-improved evolution of the original: it supersedes the flash version in that the low-level movement and feel of the physics and control is identical, while many solid improvements and exciting new features have been made at higher levels. Multiplayer and augmented graphics and sound being the biggest ones, but there are tons of smaller ones such as modification to buggy enemy and object code, the addition of new enemies and objects, and the happy removal of the glitchy-collision-when-running-up-hills bug! Plus now we can sit on the couch rather than at our desks
Anyone who likes N will absolutely not be disappointed by N+ XBLA.
Of course, this cuts both ways — those who don’t like N will more than likely find that N+ doesn’t change that, though it is definitely much more friendly in terms of level progression and learning curve. Perhaps “less intimidating” would be a better way to put it…seeing your ninja’s corpse repeatedly savaged by robots may not be all that friendly. Anyway, since anyone who doesn’t like N more than likely has no soul, and/or really sucks at games, nuts to them.
The handheld versions, in contrast, are more of an alternate take on N than a revision of the original. The style/design in general, as well as the feeling of moving the ninja, are definitely more “influenced by” than “identical to” the flash version. We worked very hard with the developer to make sure that the movement and feeling of controlling the ninja are as close as possible, but in the end platform differences (such as screen resolution, lack of floating point, and many other factors) made it impossible to get it perfectly right. Running and jumping is still fun and fluid, and is definitely very close to the original, we just want to make sure that die-hard fans are prepared — the handhelds are definitely different-feeling than the flash version. Don’t get us wrong, this is not necessarily a bad thing, some people might prefer how the handheld versions feel.
In terms of design as a whole, we don’t agree with some of the decisions that were made with the handhelds; this seems to simply be a consequence of the unfortunate nature of licensing something and given the vague title “consultant” vs being in charge of production and able to more closely guide development. Mostly these are smaller things, which have been termed “nit-picky”, such as the choice of font, menu layout, interface, graphics etc., however we feel that these things do make a difference. David, the project’s producer at Atari, has been terrific and helped us shape things as much as we could, however at the end of the day the developer also had their own ideas about what N+ should be, which unfortunately didn’t always match ours. We should point out that the developer behind the XBLA version, Slick, also brought in ideas for N+, but we mostly agreed with them; they were in many cases additions we hadn’t considered but felt were perfectly suited.
As a result the handhelds are not the games we would have made, whereas the XBLA version is exactly what we wanted. The emphasis is important, because we realize that what we like and what everyone else likes aren’t always the same thing; we’ll have to see which version ends up being considered “the best” by everyone else. If it’s not completely obvious, we aren’t exactly experts when it comes to making games or predicting the reaction of the retail market. We know what we like, and our well-educated opinions in this regard are primarily what we go on.
As it stands now, we can say that the handheld version of N+ is among the best platformers we’ve ever played on DS/PSP. It’s a good game; we just don’t think it’s as good a rendition of the original flash game as the XBLA version is — and this may or may not matter to anyone else! It’s very hard for us to say sometimes whether the differences are “better” or “worse”.. we’re so close to the project that all we can see is all of the things we disagree with, and that makes it hard to objectively evaluate the project as a whole. Also, we’re not sure how many people will be buying N+ because they like platformers and/or ninjas, and how many will buy it because they know and like N; the former is probably far more likely.
So that basically covers the differences. Of course, there are also many similarities between the two versions of N+. Most notably (to us) is that the level design in all versions of N+ is much better than in the current flash version. This is probably just a product of us learning and improving over time; looking through the flash levels there are only about 200 out of 500 which we would consider “as good” as the levels in N+ (one caveat is that we didn’t make the multiplayer handheld levels).
The difficulty curve in N+ is much more gradual than in N — levels are still insanely hard at the end (especially some co-op levels on XBLA — yikes!), but the progression is much more gradual. To counterbalance this, we tried to made sure that the easier levels all have little tricks or dangerous alternate paths which expert players can use to get better scores — this way anyone who’s beaten the game won’t be bored by the “intro” episodes when they replay it. The game is definitely still very hard!
And of course, all versions of N+ feature the addition of various co-op and competitive modes of multiplayer, which might be the most exciting new feature. It can definitely get intense!
Anyway, hopefully some combination of our ingeniously concise analogy and the rather more verbose version following it has helped to, at long last, clear up exactly what the difference is between N+ and N+.
[Insert funny ending here]
p.s – AAAAAAAARRRRGGHHHH!!!!!!! We’ve just heard that the N+ XBLA launch has been delayed from “very very soon” to “very soon”.. damn it!!