Rare on Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise
Rare and THQ have teased us long enough over the DS version of Viva Piñata, the British game maker finally taking the wraps off 'Pocket Paradise' today. We've played the game, and recently sat down with Lead Designer Gary Richards and Software Engineer Joe Humfrey to learn more.
I was really pleased that the Viva Piñata experience is so complete on the DS. Was it a challenge including so much from the Xbox 360 version on the handheld? How did you strike an appropriate balance?
Joe Humfrey: So, we were kind of split into two camps. Half of us were saying: "We're doing a 360 game on the DS? No way!" Then, we broke it down, and we considering leaving off more complex parts, unnecessary parts on the DS - Squazzils running up trees, pirching on buildings, etc.
GR: So when we cut it down to its core elements we realised we probably could manage it.
Was it important to include the whole game?
Do you view Viva Piñata as a kids game?
GR: Yes... and no. I think kids are attracted to it. But there's so much depth to it that adults are entertained at the same time. The kiddie graphics are appealing... and they like messing around in the garden. This is why we included the Playground, so kids can play with previously unlocked Piñatas. I can set-up a garden, unlock the animals, then pass the game to my son so he can play with the Piñatas.
JH: I'd compare it with a Pixar movie. Its something designed from the outset for both adults and kids to enjoy. The game can be enjoyed on multiple levels.
GR: You'll need to speak with THQ about that, I think.
[All eyes turn to our friendly THQ PR lady, cue laughter]
GR: Fingers crossed the right people will find the game this time.
Visually, the game is suprisingly strong for a DS title. How challenging was this?
JH: Yes, the visuals were a major challenge, we spent a long time thinking about how to implement this side of the game. We really wanted to capture the beauty of the Xbox 360 version in this game, and get it on the DS. I was in charge of the engineering for the landscaping, and we could have used some tile-based system - had everything locked-on a grid. But we really wanted everything to be more free-form than that, so I'm really proud that players can literally draw on the screen; with the dirt and the grass, etc. You can also build ponds anywhere, of any shape.
Were the controls always conceived the way they are now from the outset?
GR: Kind of. They've sort of evolved through development. We originally thought the whole game would be played via the stylus. Then things evolved from there. Testers liked using the D-pad to scroll around the garden, so we added that.
The casual gamer will just use the stylus because its so easy to just point and click on everything.
As a left-hander, I was pleased that I could also use the right-side buttons to move around.
JH: Yes, we hoped there'd be a certain proportion who would appreciate that.
GR: There are, yes.
Can you tell us what they are?
GR: Absolutely not.
GR: We're not allowed to say what the new ones are yet, unfortunately.
Connectivity. I heard a rumour that some form of link with the Xbox 360 was once under consideration?
GR: I'm not sure we can talk about that.
JH: It was briefly discussed.
It only happened on one day. It was conceived, and partially developed on that day, but never went any further.
GR: We didn't really look into it in any depth.
So, there won't be such connectivity with Viva Piñata 2?
GR: No, there won't be.
How close are the two games?
JH: Because the DS version was completed back in October, we've never really overlapped. Our game was virtually done by the time they were starting off.
Our teams are completely separate, and although we spoke with them at the start of the project, to find out their ideas and problems; to discover what possible engineering problems might arise, we haven't really spoken to them.
Will the new species be in both versions?
GR: Yes. We've got seven of there's and they've got a lot more. I'm not sure on exact numbers but yes, a lot more.
I like the VP content sharing. How will this work?
GR: It'll use the local Wi-Fi sharing on the DS, so you can just pack your Piñatas and other items in a crate, or try your hand at sabotage by packing-up a sour Piñata, and you can send that to your friend and it'll run around his garden destroying everything.
Are there any further competitive applications of this?
GR: No, the game is really about creating your own space, your own garden, the sharing is so that you can give certain Piñatas to your friend who might not have them. This is a good way of helping beginners access higher level Piñatas earlier on in play.
You can't visit other peoples gardens, though?
GR: No, you can't.
How big are the gardens? I thought mine looked about four DS screens in size.
JH: Yeah, the large garden is four screens in size. But you start off with a smaller garden size.
I see.... did Viva Piñata's slow start on the 360 test your faith in the formula?
GR: No, because we'd all played the game, and loved it. We had faith that once people had played the game, they'd like it, that seems to be the case now.
JH: Yes, its done really well now.
Is VP a better fit on the DS?
GR: Its different. We're going for a younger audience, because of the DS market - hence the new tutorials and the Playground.
Is there a story element?
GR: Not really, no!
JH: There's a small TV selection from the TV series for kids.
GR: There's no real story leading you through the game.
Not like the 360 version?
GR: No, we didn't carry anything like that over.
A streamlined experience. Is there anything you couldn't squeeze in, but you'd have like to have done?
JH: We were talking about this. Because we pretty much completed the game back in October, apart from some tidying up, a few bug fixes, we did come back to the game a few months later. And we were really pleased by how much fun it is. We couldn't think of anything really. Nothing we would change.
GR: There's always small things, but nothing major, no.
How long has the game been in development?
JH: About eight months! We were prototyping features in January of 2007, and the game was completed in October.
GR: Everything went very smoothly for some reason.
If this is success are more DS releases planned?
GR: We're just focussing on translation work on Viva Piñata at the moment, so we can't really discuss what else we're working on.
Would you like to use the online Wi-Fi connection?
GR: We did discuss it at one point, but for the type of game this is, we're not sure the younger kids go online.
JH: For Diddy Kong Racing, online functionality was important, but with VP this wasn't so key.
GR: Also because we completed the game so quickly it would have taken a lot of extra time.
Has the artistic vision behind the game been modified in the move to the DS?
GR: We were very keen to keep the art style intact, really.
One thing I would have like to put in is the papery fur. That looked awesome on the 360. But the DS just can't do that kind of effect.
JH: Although we did keep it in the grass... sort of. Graphically, though, the game is very close to the 360 version.
What are your favourite Piñatas?
GR: Probably the Roario, once you get a little further in the Piñatas available get really impressive, as your garden grows.
Will players be quite limited by the number of Piñata their garden can contain?
JH: Actually, the limits are quite high on the DS. You're more likely to be limited by physical space in the garden itself, than by the limitations of the DS. The actual footprint of the garden is quite similar to the Xbox 360 version.
GR: It is a little smaller, but not much. To run out of space you'll really have to work quite hard!
How long due you think people will play before they reach 'capacity'?
No, the testers are really good at maxing out the garden. You can have 20 Piñatas in the garden. It'll take a long time to reach this stage.
JH: Because we got rid of the romancing mini-games, some things are a little faster, but generally the game is no faster than the 360 version.
GR: You're talking at least a week of solid play. The length is very comparable with the 360 version.
Are there fewer in-game objects to buy?
GR: No. Its about the same. We've merged a few of the categories to make navigation easier on the DS.
JH: We have limited some of the paving..
GR: That was a technical thing, to do with texturing.
Does the introduction of the romancing sweets present balancing problems?
JH: No, because you don't get them until level 5, and even then they're pretty rare.
GR: From watching people play the game, people seem to use the sweets to reach the Master Romancer level. They're using them for that... rather than to skip.
So, to conclude, this is a handheld version of the Xbox 360 game, and almost everything survived the cut?
GR: Yes. Its a fantastic game - the more people that play it the better.
Thanks for your time chaps.
Our hands-on preview of Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise is now online, and we'd also like to extend our thanks to Ed Bryan at Rare for crafting us the rather lovely splash art you could previously see adorning our homepage-cover.