Interviews: Twisted Pixel - The Gunstringer
Posted by James Newton
We talk to the master of puppets
Twisted Pixel's upcoming puppet-'em-up The Gunstringer is an interesting proposal, what with its combination of Rez and Crash Bandicoot and undead Wild West sheriff marionette lead, so we had to sit down with the team to figure out exactly what goes on in those heads of theirs.
KINECTaku: Firstly, please introduce yourself and your role on The Gunstringer.
Bill Muehl: Sure, I'm Bill Muehl and I'm the Game Director of The Gunstringer.
K: The most striking thing from the game’s reveal was the unique graphical style. What influences and sources of inspiration resulted in a skeletal Wild West sheriff puppet?
BM: Very cool that the graphical style grabbed your attention. The Gunstringer character is from the mind of Josh Bear, Twisted Pixel's Creative Director. He was having lunch with our publisher and he saw the profile of a skeleton cowboy marionette in his quesadilla, like some people see Jesus in their toast, and The Gunstringer was born. Most of that sentence is actually true. The western theme followed the whole cowboy idea and the skeleton marionette in a stage play led to the whole hand-crafted style of the props and characters.
K: The trailer looks like a mixture of shooter, platformer and sandbox – how would you describe the game’s genre?
BM: The foundation is a combination of the shooter & platformer genres but it has a strong action component too. We're big fans of platformers like Crash Bandicoot and shooters like Rez and those two were big influences on our game mechanics. That said, using Kinect gives it an extra twist, which contributes to several aspects of the game that don't fit neatly into either of those genres.
K: Obviously the game is playable completely hands-free using Kinect – how do you control the Gunstringer himself with nothing in your hands?
BM: One of the key goals during the prototype stage was to translate as much of the feel of controlling a puppet as possible. Kinect's interface allowed us to pursue that goal with hand and arm motions that relate moving a puppet in 3D space, something we couldn't have done with a traditional controller. The gestures basically translate to one hand controlling movement and the other controlling the combat. We're able to use these independently or simultaneously depending on the gameplay sequences. It also helped that we had several puppets around the office to learn how they're built and how they move. Some puppets were more useful than others. Josh has one in particular that was built wrong in the factory and it can't be fixed. I gave that puppet to our intern to learn on, now it's a tangled mess of strings, wooden limbs, and Cheetos stains.
K: Likewise, with the shooting element, how do you let loose a round with no button to press?
BM: Yeah, the "fire button" is one of the most deeply ingrained conventions in game design and controls. I remember sitting on the floor mashing the red button on my Atari 2600 controller a million times to shoot in Asteroids. Kinect requires some new ways of thinking about some of these core design elements. We spent a lot of time on the hand and arm gesture to unleash a round and we think we've found a good one that allows players to either use a large motion if they're feeling dramatic with their puppet mastery or a more subtle motion if they'd rather keep it low key.
K: At some points in the announcement video there are two coloured reticules on screen, presumably as the Gunstringer dual-wields guns. How does this work whilst controlling the puppet as well?
BM: You're right, the dual reticle part of the trailer is one of the sequences where The Gunstringer dual-wields his guns. This is one of the alternate mechanics where the player is still controlling the puppet, just in a modified way, like a puppeteer changing position on the handle or manipulating an individual string.
K: Are there any multiplayer modes planned for the game, either local or via Xbox Live?
BM: We’ll definitely have more info on game modes soon, so stay tuned.
K: How far along the road to completion is The Gunstringer?
BM: We started preproduction in June 2010. While there's still plenty of work left to wrap the game up, the look and feel of the game is making strides every day. The audio in the trailer is just a taste of what Chainsaw, our master of all audio, has been cooking up but he's been giving it the full treatment and it's sounding fantastic. We'll be spending the upcoming months bringing everything up to as high a quality as possible until our hands are pried from our keyboards.
K: What sort of release date are you shooting for with the game?
BM: At this point, I can say that it's coming out this year. We hope to have more specifics soon.
K: The game’s format hasn’t been announced, either Xbox Live Arcade or Xbox 360. What’s your gut feeling at the moment as to where the game will land?
BM: Oh man, this makes it three questions that I need to dodge. All I can say at this point is The Gunstringer is Kinect exclusive. More info on the format to come.
K: What do you make of Kinect in general – what are your favourite games for the device? How do you see its library developing in future – do you think we’ll see more of the same or truly new games emerge?
BM: As we've developed The Gunstringer, we've been playing a lot of the Kinect launch games to see what other devs were able to do. Dance Central probably stood out the most, even if it turned our game room into a sketchy dance club of a dozen devs who are normally sitting behind a computer all day. Kinect is a whole new beast for games and user interfaces in general, which creates a huge potential for new games to emerge and a lot of developers from big studios to indies like us are just starting to feel it out. We've also been following what the mod community has been doing with Kinect on their PCs, definitely some impressive stuff there, and I think it hints at what could be coming down the pipe.
K: Twisted Pixel is probably best known for ‘Splosion Man and Comic Jumper – would either of these games work well on Kinect? Any plans to bring them over?
BM: As far as I'm concerned, the holy trinity of gesture hardware is on the table for all our games. Kinect, Sega Activator, Power Glove. Mike, our CEO, doesn't agree about the last two but he will understand when he steps inside the plastic octagon and plays with power. So the short answer is we built The Gunstringer from the ground-up for Kinect, we'll see what happens down the road.
Thanks to Bill Muehl for his time. Stay tuned to KINECTaku for more coverage of The Gunstringer in the run-up to launch.