Old School Gamer chats with Cat Nigiri co-founder, Caio Lopez, who breaks down the fun of their two-button Metroidvania adventure, “Necrosphere Deluxe.”
Old School Gamer Magazine: How was the game born?
Caio Lopez: After successfully attempting to make a mobile platformer without the dreaded virtual buttons I hate so much (Cat Nigiri’s Dream Swim, from 2014), I’ve challenged myself to add deeper progression, storytelling, gameplay and replayability to its basic, no-jump-button mechanics. As Cat Nigiri was already working on its new puzzler (Keen) and resources were scarce, I decided to make Necrosphere myself in my spare time.
Old School Gamer Magazine: The Metroidvania genre has been done to death, but the two-button layout is refreshing. How did this happen?
Lopez: I wanted to make gameplay that could be new to everybody — both the casual and the hardcore gamer would have to start from scratch and rewire their brains in order to learn and master Necrosphere.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How does this game further set itself apart from the competition?
Lopez: First, in being a one-hit-kill metroidvania with actual powerup-based progression. Second, by flooding the game with invisible checkpoints, drastically reducing the penalty for failing and allowing each micro-segment of the game to be way more challenging. Third, by offering a far more linear gameplay than the average metroidvania, so much that I could scrap the map functionality all along.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Any fun/interesting stories during the development cycle?
Lopez: Well, Necrosphere originally had 5 different vehicles, all operated using only two buttons. The big helicopter would, for instance, transport the plow to clear breakable blocks. Turns out, having to choose your current powerup, or even being able to forget where you left your “ability to fly” begot shitty gameplay.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What did you play as a kid and how did it influence this game?
Lopez: I was a die-hard Duke Nukem 3d level builder. That surely made me very interested in level design. I also loved Doom’s fractic action — and would abuse the quick-save functionality, making me a somewhat impatient player. On the platform-side, Mario and Sonic and Donkey Kong were extensively played during my childhood. And, finally, Super Metroid — which I first played when I was 24, is my all-time favorite game.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How did the game affect you as a developer?
Lopez: It surely made me way more self-confident about my capacity to teach players through gameplay, instead of boring them with text.
I also became well respected among the Brazilian developer community, and the fact that my work made it to the consoles is really a dream come true.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s your biggest regret about the game?
Lopez: The way we rushed and downplayed the work needed in order to thoroughly port the game to a different game engine than the one it was originally developed in (so Necrosphere could be ported to consoles). It ended up taking a lot more time than it should, and that really took a toll on me.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Anything you would have done differently?
Lopez: My camera implementation was atrocious. I’m pretty sure I spent near half of my level design time setting up camera triggers, rather than making more playable content.
On the gameplay side, I would have made the game far less challenging. I would also have made it easier for players to transport back to the main entrance, lest players get lost. I would have made the side story accessible only for players that managed to collect all DVDs. And I would have made different endings according to item collection rate.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Why do you think people should appreciate the game?
Lopez: I don’t expect Necrosphere to please everyone, but it definitely is, mainly on its level design side, a very solid game.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Did any of your prior experience in the industry help you for working on this game? How?
Lopez: Definitely. Working as a game designer for 10 years gave me the ability to base my decisions in what’s fun, rather than just trying to implement every cool idea that would cross my mind. Necrosphere shows that I finally learned that less is more.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Any other stories you can share that will help readers connect with what the development cycle was like?
Lopez: I think I was a bit stressed out at that time. Would work in my bedroom from 8 pm till 4 am on Necrosphere, most of the time just trying to learn very basic programming stuff. Eventually, I had to halt development because I could not get to sleep from this weird hissing noise that has suddenly appeared inside my head. I’m ok now. The perennial hiss is still here, but now we’re getting along well.
Also, my dog died during development, and that was a bummer.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What do you want people to take away from their experience of playing the game?
Lopez: That your brain can seamlessly adapt to wacky control schemes within a couple hours
Old School Gamer Magazine: Anything else you’d like to add?
Lopez: I’ve made several controllers with only two buttons, in order to show the game in events.
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the author of the book, “The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Video Game Developers,” from McFarland And Company. Featuring interviews with the creators of 36 popular video games–including Deus Ex, NHLPA 93, Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, Wasteland and NBA Jam–the book gives a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of some of the most influential and iconic (and sometimes forgotten) games of all time. Recounting endless hours of painstaking development, the challenges of working with mega-publishers and the uncertainties of public reception, the interviewees reveal the creative processes that produced some of gaming’s classic titles.