If there’s one development studio that’s created some of the most varied gaming experiences, it’s Australian developer Nnooo. From the augmented reality of the DSi Ware title Spirit Hunters Inc, to the real-time strategy of Wii U’s Cubemen 2, and finally the puzzle game set inside of your platform of choice, escapeVektor, Nnooo has dabbled in many genres and styles of games.
Its latest title, Blast ‘Em Bunnies appears to be no exception to this, with the two man development team deciding to have a shot at the tower defense/ endless shooter genre. With the launch of Blast ‘Em Bunnies imminent, Analog Addiction had a chance to speak to one of the creative minds behind these games, Nnooo Creative Director and Founder Nic Watt.
Blast ‘Em Bunnies is a wave-based shooter that tasks the player with fighting off an army of evil bunnies using a range of weaponry like carrot rifles and watermelon machine guns.
“I first came up with an idea about looking around and shooting things and we wanted to include cute, colourful characters,” says Watt, speaking of how the premise for the game was formulated. “The first idea was a space defence shooter where you were some form of orbiting space station which could move in 360 degrees looking through its sights. I felt that shooting aliens in space might be a little too niche and alienating for some users so I tried to think of a character type that would appeal to all users.”
“This is where the ideas of bunnies came from. Once we had that, we started to think of all the cool things both the player could do in the form of crazy types of weapons (exploding, heat-seeking pepper bombs!), and enemies (burrowers, blockers, throatslitters for example)!”
My first experience with Blast ‘Em Bunnies was back in 2013, at the EB Games Expo in Sydney, Australia. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One had just been announced, and Blast ‘Em Bunnies was being used to showcase the gyroscope in the PlayStation 4 controller.
“At the EB Expo in 2013 we were showing an early build on PlayStation 4 and we actually hadn’t been approved for Xbox at that time,” reflected Watt. “We still had a lot to add in the form of different arenas, bunny skins and even weapon and enemy types. We also added refreshable missions which renew on completion and daily, as well as lots of medals to complete too.”
Blast ‘Em Bunnies will be a strictly single player experience. “There isn’t multiplayer as mainly it would have required online play. The game is designed to be a first person shooter and the gameplay we went for really suits single player,” comments Watt. “Multiplayer would be a very different mode and, on at least PSVita and Nintendo 3DS, would have had to support either local or online multiplayer. This was too big an undertaking and something we hadn’t done before so we decided to focus our efforts on making sure the single player was the best it could be.”
Nnooo has been focused on Blast ‘Em Bunnies for quite some time. It’s been a little over two years since I first saw Blast ‘Em Bunnies in action, and several factors have played a part in the long development time frame. Largely, Watt tells me, it was because of the number of platforms the game was being developed for.
“We were always planning on PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS and added PlayStation 4 when we received development approval. Xbox One we added when we got approval to develop. We mainly wanted to release on multiple devices to reach more people and make the game as successful as we can.”
“When we finally got Xbox One approval we decided we wanted to aim for a simultaneous release, so it took a fair bit of time adding all of the support for each platform’s idiosyncrasies.”
Not only is a simultaneous release on this many platforms something new for the small developer, it also made the quality assurance testing a much longer process. “Given that there are only 3 of us and we are supporting 4 platforms, it took a big chunk of time to get it all super polished and bug free. The EB Expo 2013 build had a lot of crashes and other issues we were quite skilled at hiding!”
Another challenge the team faced was utilising each platform’s unique features in the game. The PlayStation and 3DS versions of the game make use of each platform’s gyroscope as an alternative control method to move the gun turret, but the Xbox presented more of a challenge that could not be overcome.
“We would have loved to support Kinect but it is such a different user interface we were concerned about how well we could give the feeling of controlling a gun turret and how much code would be shared between [the different platforms].”
Having absolutely no knowledge of developing games for different platforms, I was intrigued as to which platform Watt preferred.
“I really enjoy making games full stop. I think Nintendo probably provide the most interesting hardware in terms of things you can do with it, but for me working on PSVita, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo 3DS is super exciting. It has been challenging trying to get the game working on such different hardware, particularly from the power of the PS4 and Xbox One down to the relatively lesser power of the Nintendo 3DS. Nevertheless, I think the game shines and has been tailored to work well on them all.”
“In terms of development ease I wouldn’t say any are much easier than the others, other than (because they are more recent) that the PS4 and Xbox One have got more modern tools and systems. Each generation the hardware manufacturers learn from the things they liked and disliked the generation before and make adjustments accordingly. With PS4 and Xbox One being the newest they have a lot more prior learnings to draw on.”
If you hadn’t picked it up by now, Nnooo has a development team of just two people. “The benefits are we can make the games we want, how we want and to the quality we want,” says Watt. “The challenges are we can only work so many hours and because we like to really polish our games they can end up taking a lot longer than we expect. Balancing the time, budget and quality is always very hard.”
It’s no secret that the current Australian government has not been very supportive of local video game development, but Screen Australia’s limited funding went a long way in helping the development of Nnooo’s latest title. “To be honest Blast ‘Em Bunnies would not have been completed without their support,” reflects Watt. “Screen NSW have been amazing, particularly given the tough times they have faced with their budgets being cut. They have really supported everything we have done and we are really glad they can still help out developers!”
Blast ‘Em Bunnies, the latest game from Nnooo, is available digitally this week for $4.99 USD (or regional equivalent). The PlayStation 4 and Vita versions of the game are available on March 8 in North America (March 9 in Europe, Australia and New Zealand). The Nintendo 3DS version launches on March 10 in the Americas, Europe and Australia and New Zealand, and the Xbox One version will be available on March 11 in the Americas, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.