The Entrance of Collapsus to Puzzle Gaming – Interview with Jay Kidd

Collapsus

Oh no, not another block orientated puzzle game. Yes at first glance Collapsus may look like Candy Crush or one of the many knock off versions. However, developer Jay Kidd says Collapsus really is one of a kind. Jay is part of Wraith Games, an indie development company located in Hamilton, Ohio. The Wraith team started as a bunch of high school friends who just wanted to develop some video games. Now the friends manage a full-fledged indie game company, and have quite a few games lined up for release.

One of those games being Collapsus. The puzzle game has been in development for about as long as the Wraith team has been together. The on again off again development process really allowed the team to make a unique puzzle game. Every time they resurrected the idea they found ways to change tweak and transform aspects of the game, ensuring it will provide an experience far different from the puzzle games currently available.

So what makes Collapsus so different? In my interview with Jay he told me how the game works, what makes it different, and the reactions they have been getting so far.

 

You are in the works of releasing your puzzle game Collapsus. Can you tell me a little about the idea behind this game and what gameplay will be like?

Collapsus started as nothing more than a little project I made for my Mom back in 2006. I had just started making games and she was on a huge puzzle game streak at the time. I wanted to make something kind of like Bejeweled. But this was in the early days of pre-YouTube. So I’m embarrassed to say that I’d never actually seen Bejeweled being played. I was more of a Tetris guy myself. In hindsight, we were fortunate that Collapsus ended up playing nothing like Bejeweled. Seeing as how the market is now flooded with generic match-3 games.

After working on that prototype for a while I put it away. I only really brought it out again to impress my fiancée Kristy. She ended up falling in love with it. We often joke around saying that she wouldn’t have agreed to marry me if I hadn’t made it. So when the Wraith team was kicking around ideas for projects to do before we started jumping in to a bigger version of our other game, Physix, Kristy suggested that we revive Collapsus, but to develop Collapsus bigger and more polished. She actually ended up majoring in computer science to become part of the team. With the team breathing new life into Collapsus, we really tried to make something special.

Collapsus itself is pretty simple on its surface. You’re trying to match colored blocks in lines (either columns or rows) of 4 or more. Where it starts getting more complicated is that you’re not swapping blocks around. Players click on a block to break it. When you break a block it’s gone forever, and the blocks above it fall down and fill that hole. Every time you make a break, there’s a meter at the bottom that goes down. When the meter reaches the end, it’s game over. How you get these blocks back is by making the aforementioned lines. Bigger lines give you more blocks back!

That’s the central crux of the gameplay. It’s a puzzle game wrapped up in this easy-to-learn yet difficult-to-master, risk/reward resource-management mechanic. It’s really something that people haven’t seen before. When they first get their hands on it, they just try to play it like Candy Crush or something. That never ends well… Collapsus requires a different headspace. That’s before mentioning the tons of additional modes that shake things up!

 

That definitely sounds like some interesting gameplay. As you said most people probably approach it like Candy Crush at first glance. Has it been difficult to get people to see that this is a different type of puzzle game?

It’s a little of “yes” and “no”. One of the big approaches we’ve taken while demoing at events is to just let people get their fingers on the game and fail a few times. To be honest, It doesn’t take long. We’ll often have people strut over to the booth and whenever we “warn” them (for lack of a better word) that it’s not what they think it is; they still smugly grab the device like they know what’s up.

You can see the shift on their face where they realize they are in over their heads. That’s almost an icebreaker, in a sense. They’re a lot more willing to talk to you after they’ve gotten their butts kicked. It’s always worth a good laugh from both sides.

The full game has a pretty robust (though subtle) tutorial. Right from the beginning the entire UI teaches you how to play. For instance, the buttons on the menu look like longer versions of the block shapes. When you click on them, they make the same sound and animation as a broken block in the actual game. We even have these color changing blocks that rotate in a cycle, which are called Chameleons. They can be tough for beginning players, but the button arrangement and the gradient of the logo teach players the pattern before they even see the gameplay. That was a little trick we picked up from Megaman X.

The normal tutorial is also mandatory for any of the new modes (even standard gameplay at the start). It’s short, and launches you right into the game seamlessly after it’s over. Luckily after a few tries most people get the hang of it. We want our difficulty to come from a natural place, not just because the mechanics are new.

Collapsus

 

I saw on the Collapsus trailer that there will be and “online versus mode” will this be a head to head battle or just an overall leaderboard ranking?

The online versus mode is head to head and you can verse up to 8 players. There are a bunch of options that allow you to change how the standard VS gameplay works such as new power-ups that are exclusive to versus mode. The core of the VS gameplay is that the better you do, the more “junk” blocks spawn on your opponent’s screen.

We’ve still not decided if this will be a piece of the free DLC, or if it will ship with the rest of the game. Working on just this feature requires about nearly as much time as all of the other modes combined!

Now, there are leaderboards and achievements for each one of the main modes such as challenge modes and built-in single screen puzzles. But we don’t really consider that an active versus component.

We’re working on a cool little couch co-op mode for the Wii U version, where one player is on the gamepad and the other four players use Wiimotes. We’re still working with that though. But so far it’s really fun!

Speaking of the Wii U what other platforms do you hope to offer the game on?

Well, we’re Nintendo Licensed Developers and that Wii U port is a big priority for us. We’re working hard to make sure that the 3DS version will be out at the same time as the others. But it has some interesting hardware requirements, so we’ll see. Even if there were a delay, it wouldn’t be much.

Other than Wii U and 3DS, we are releasing on iOS, Android, Fire Tablet, Windows Phone, Mac, Linux, PC. We are hoping to hit Steam and GOG as well as Kongregate, itch.io, Newgrounds, and Game Jolt. If we have time, we are also messing around with an Xbox One port and a special Winnitron edition!

 

I know you started developing around 2005 and now about eleven years later Wraith Games has an LLC and a physical office. It is always impressive to see an indie game developer being able to stick around for that long. Where have you seen the biggest changes in your development and motivation from when you started out to now?

Well, for starters there are a lot more of us now than in 2005. You wouldn’t think that would be a big change, but it really is. There are 12 of us now, and that’s a lot of moving pieces you have to deal with.

Luckily, we’ve got a system worked out. Right now, we have just as many artists, as we have designers and programmers. We can work on many different projects at once. There’s a real flow to things now, rather than just making things up as we go.

Motivation wise, it would be taking the easy way out to say that we only saw it as a hobby before, and that now we see it as a career. That’s really only half true. We always wanted it to be a business. We all want to make money doing what we love and get to keep our artistic integrity in the process. Although now we have to deal balance all of that business stuff as we work on development. It’s that balance that can really sink a company if it’s mismanaged.

We have to pay studio rent and insurance, go to all these conventions, do taxes, deal with lawyers, and all the marketing! When we started out we were in high school. We survived that, college, and now we have to succeed at our dream in the real “adult world”. It’s inspiring in a way. But, scary too. Mostly, it’s just life.

It’s life now. That was the big shift in perspective.

Collapsus

 

In addition to Collapsus, Wraith Games is working on a few other titles. Can you tell me about Physix and Jet-pack Hero?

Certainly!

Physix is a narrative-focused, first person puzzle game. It’s based around gravity manipulation and is being developed for VR. Unlike most gravity-based games, you’re not walking on the walls or ceiling; you’re taking the objects around you and toggling their gravity off and on to solve environmental puzzles.

We’ve been working on Physix for nearly as long as we’ve been working on Collapsus. We started it in 2008 while working on a first-person point and click-style adventure game. We thought that game was a good idea, but it ended up being super boring to both work on and play. At the time I was testing a dialogue system, and I kid you not, I just got so bored I ended up throwing a chair at the character I was talking to. After taking said chair and throwing it onto things and down some stairs, I just made a map full of skeletons that would explode if you threw chairs at them. Then came the physics-based puzzles. Pressure switches, seesaws, stuff like that.

It was my brother Cody, a game design and multimedia arts student, who suggested the anti-gravity aspect. It took a while to make a solid demo. But then we showed it off at our first convention, Animation and Gaming Ohio, A&G Ohio.

It was a real blast and we got some great feedback! Shortly after that, we saw that GamePro Magazine [remember GamePro?] was looking to take up publishing indie games under the banner of GamePro Labs. Thousands of people submitted, but only 8 I believe were chosen. Physix was one of those games! Sadly, only 2 of the games actually got finished before GamePro filed for bankruptcy. Funny thing is, that we were in talks with Blitz1Up about picking up Physix before they folded too. We jokingly call it the “Wraith Games curse” around the studio.

Back then Physix looked a lot like Portal. We had been playing a lot of Portal at the time and it just sort of slipped in. It’s really more of its own animal now. We’ve switched to a focus on VR, and really started to make the narrative a priority. We gave it a slick new cel shaded, Mirror’s Edge meets Borderlands… IN SPACE! aesthetic thanks to our art director, Steve Dorgan. He’s really the driving force behind making Physix an experience.

We’re hoping to have a demo out at some point much later this year.

Jet Pack Hero is entirely on the other end. It’s a single screen, arcade-style action plat former… with a jet pack! It’s all about twitch reflexes and enemy pattern memorization. We’re working on making 200 levels of that, complete with boss battles! However, that’s probably going to take a while to work on.

In addition to those we have a few other games in various stages of development. A mobile freerunner called “AAAAH! A Giant Freakin’ Cave Worm, RUN!”, aVR horror project that I can’t talk much about right now. A retro-style mascot platformer, a small fighting game, and a re-make/re-imagining of our Kentucky Fried Pixels game jam game, Radarkanoid. That will be for PC and Wii U!

We keep all of the games we want to work on in this big document we dubbed “The Phone Book”. We have enough games planned to last the lifetime of the studio, or so we hope!

 

I’m curious how has it been developing a game that will be compatible with VR. What sort of unexpected challenges have popped up during development?

The biggest challenge that we’ve run into so far has been just creating an environment where people don’t get motion sick or disoriented. It’s a complex problem if you can believe it. Little things like depth of field, frame rate, even the need for a virtual nose on the character model…

Yeah. A virtual nose! Apparently, the human brain is so accustomed to seeing a nose and then ignoring it, that if one’s not there it can make you motion sick! You never think about stuff like that until you start working in VR.

A virtual nose!? That’s amazing hahaha – Ellie

 

So do you have a timeframe of when you will have Collapsus and Physix ready for release? 

We’re hoping to have the Kickstarter for Collapsus up in just a few weeks. To lead up to that, we’re trying to create free, online weekly builds so that people can get a feel for what Collapsus is, and what it isn’t. That way we can track its progress both leading up to the Kickstarter, during and at release. If all goes well Collapsus will be released for 4Q this year.

Physix on the other hand is a bit trickier to pin down. Right now, all we know for sure is that one of our biggest priorities is unveiling a demo for a few events we’re doing in the fall and winter. So, you can expect to see a lot more of Physix very soon. But we have no clue when it will actually be done. Whatever it takes to make the best game we can. It’ll be worth the wait!

 

Last question on your “About page” it says “AND NO WE ARE NOT INIGO MONTOYA”, What is that all about? 🙂

HAHA! Okay, that one is easy. When we got the studio space and became an LLC, we did this massive re-brand. Steve whipped up a spiffy new logo; we completely changed our brand colors, started redesigning our new studio space, lovingly called the “beige box” beforehand. We just overhauled our whole image. With that came a new site and blog. Something modern, you know?

Well, at the end of the day we’re still all pretty fun loving, despite deciding to look a bit more professional. So, when we added the new section headers we gave them all funny little sub headers. Like the Depeche Mode inspired “Reach out and touch Wraith” for our contact info. Or the utterly silly, “Mom’s breaking out the baby pictures again” for our timeline. The thing is, if you ask us who we are we knew right out of the gate that we weren’t Inigo Montoya. I mean, you can’t help but know who he is. He won’t shut up about it!

So, hello, our name is Wraith Games, you killed our mini boss… prepare to die! Don’t worry. You’ll respawn.

 

Without having hands on experience with the Collapsus, I can’t really say whether or not it brings something new to puzzle gaming. But from what I heard from Jay it seems like Collapsus will provide players with a unique experience. Personally, I think the 8 person versus mode will be really interesting to try out. If you want to keep up will the progress of Collapsus or Wraith Games be sure to follow them on their social media links: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Website.

Profile photo of Ellie Punn
According to my license I’m an adult… I think that means I can perform a citizen’s arrest now. When I’m not protecting civilians I enjoy indulging in sci-fi or martial art movies. I play videogames when I can’t fall asleep, and if that doesn't work I fistfight the ghosts in my basement. Nice to meet you.

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