The indie crowd has had more than enough to love this year, even this early. Out of them all, though, easily one of the most standout releases has been Super House of Dead Ninjas, a glorious semi-roguelike action game by the folks at Megadev, and published by hip indiecore publisher Adult Swim Games. While it’s simple in premise, it works gloriously as an antithesis for long winded AAA games, a staple of recent indie gems of it’s type. It’s fast paced, addicting, and viciously cool.
I sat down with my good friends at Megadev: Nick Parton, Mike Tucker, and Jon Davies, and we discussed their game.
KS) First off, what is the deal with that name? How did you guys come up with it? Were there any other names you considered?
Nick Parton, Audio: The original name for House of Dead Ninjas, before we took it to Adult Swim, was ‘Ninjinity’.
Mike Tucker, Code: The announcer says it in the game, actually. Someone’s probably pinched it by now! Adult Swim came up with a shitload of names – it was called ‘Ninja Drop’ for a few days…
Jon Davies, Art: Yeah, but we found another game called ‘Ninja Drop’ just before launch, and it became ‘House of Dead Ninjas’.
MT: Then we whacked ‘Super’ in front of it, and that was the sequel.
JD: That’s that! A nice little nod to ‘Super Street Fighter’ there.
KS) Super House of Dead Ninjas is an ambitious step-up from the previous House of Dead Ninjas game. What was the biggest hurdle the team faced in putting it together? What aspect did you find most important to make sure you had to include?
JD: For me, bosses would be the most important thing.
NP: A lot of people didn’t like the fact the tower was infinite, so we tried to accomodate both parties by putting in a finite tower, structured with bosses and a story that ends. After that, Abarghus’ Lair is infinite. You know, for the lunatics.
MT: New weapons, upgrades, enemies…that sort of thing. Biggest hurdle? Tweaking all the weapons and enemies for balance, I suppose. That wasn’t really so much the tricky bit – it was the map editor! Also, the lodge interface was more painful to write than the actual game!
NP: I know you spent a lot of time on controls in the original, Mike. It being our first platformer, getting the feel right was pretty important.
KS) I’ve heard comparisons to Spelunky, old school Ninja Gaiden, and more in abundance. Which game(s) do you feel played the biggest role in influencing SHoDN?
NP: Was there some Elevator Action in there, Mike?
MT: Yeah, definitely. You start at the top of a tower, and work your way down. Daredevil Dennis was another old favourite of mine that influenced it. Also, Shaolin’s Road, Impossible Mission, Saboteur 2, Shinobi, Rolling Thunder, and yes, Ninja Gaiden.
NP: A lot of games, basically! How about addressing the Spelunky comparisons?
MT: I dunno, because the game came about from an old, old title called ‘Balloon Pig’ we made in a previous company that never got released. You progressed upwards rather than downwards, the level was randomly generated, and we’ve even of some of the traps from it, like the spiked pendulums. SHODN is Balloon Pig in reverse, in some ways!
I did read up on Derek Yu making a procedurally-generated platformer before we made House of Dead Ninjas, though – I don’t know if that’s why I did the levels like that, or just because I couldn’t be arsed to design hundreds of rooms! I don’t think I got to play it during that time, but reading about it might’ve played a part, yeah.
KS) One of the most mesmerizing parts of the game for me was the overarching style the game had. What most inspired the art and design choices you guys made?
JD: One of the constraints I put on myself was to keep the look strictly Megadrive/Genesis in terms of palette choices, and keep in theme with certain classic titles of the time. As for any particular game, there’s a bit of Castlevania and Megaman in there, but really, I kind of do something, and then people tell me what it reminds them of, pixelart-wise!
MT: Yeah, we were going for a 16bit look and feel with SHODN, but without the technical limitations of that era.
NP: That’s what I liked about doing the soundtrack – I could use lots of sounds of that era, but bring it into a modern production environment, with reverb and effects and suchlike, rather than worry about dead-on fidelity. I like the idea of retro in a contemporary context, as then it’s just another style to play with, rather than a nostalgia trip.
KS) Will you continue to support SHoDN with updates? If so, what kind of additional features could we see in tweaks to the game?
NP: Ah, on this score, we’ve been asked to say that while Adult Swim are enthusiastic about the possibility of further updates, there is nothing specific to announce right now. Sorry!
KS) Were you guys surprised by the positive reception of SHoDN? Did you expect it to gain such a cult following?
MT: Has it got a cult following? It’s not been out long!
JD: We haven’t seen the SHODN memes yet – we’ll know it’s cult if that happens! There’s already Rule 34s…But nope, we weren’t expecting it at all.
NP: I was certainly nervous that it was Adult Swim’s first title on Steam – if people had hated it, that would’ve been awful! I was just quite relieved when we saw people being enthusiastic about it on the forums.
KS) Most fun part of the development process? Most stressful?
NP: Screaming into a mic for the SFX sourcing! Other than the audio in general, being periodically involved in design when Mike pulled together an early version of the editor was great. Some of the more evil rooms you can probably blame me for.
MT: Getting new weapons and enemies in there. Most stressful was getting it finished and ready for release. And the first update!
JD: Most fun part for me was the final boss. It took me a week just to draw the sprites for that! The part that’s less fun is the tween frames for the weapons, just getting them working.
KS) Fun question, what are your favorite items? What do you use when you play?
MT: X-ray Specs and the Crystal Ball are damn handy.
NP: Turning all the enemies into ducks is fun.
JD: Yep, gotta do a bit of duck-juggling.
NP: Weapons-wise, I’m fairly conventional – The upgraded Katana or Kusarigama, upgraded Shuriken and the Shrapnel Bomb. Just nicely efficient weapons, those.
JD: I love the upgraded Kusarigama too, but I go for regular axes, and while I hardly use bombs, if I want a bit of a laugh, I pick the jelly bombs. They’re just so manic and destructive.
MT: Probably the upgraded Katana – it’s not the best weapon, but I just like beheading things and watching the blood drip everywhere!
NP: The baseball bat is quite funny and satisfying.
MT: Yeah, the RPG is quite good. The upgraded bombs you can detonate any time you like are good for Abarghus. The fire or lightning magic is great.
JD: No sensible person should ever use the Kamikaze magic.
MT: It can be useful if there’s a life onscreen, and you’ve got max lives yourself…ok, it’s not that handy.
KS) What do you guys feel you have learned the most from this entire experience? Do you wish to continue to pursue even more ambitious projects?
MT: No, I’ve had enough. (laughs)
NP: It’s certainly been an experience in handling a larger amount of press interest. Obviously, being in the indie market, especially if you self-publish, one of the biggest problems is visibility. There’s so much stuff out there. Being in the position we are with Adult Swim has been tremendously helpful in just getting the game seen.
JD: The increased attention is both great, and a bit scary…
NP: Yeah, I really hate reading the first reviews when a game goes out. I’m sure every dev goes through the same thing, mind you.
JD: It makes me cry into my cornflakes.
NP: As for more ambitious projects, I kind of feel like the amount we put into our games and the size they are is quite comfortable, really. With any project that’s bigger in scope, the risk increases, and we’re still a very small company. The relatively short dev times keep us quite nimble, I think. I see companies trying to break into AAA development, doing 4 years with 50 people on a game, and if it doesn’t find an audience, the whole outfit sinks like a stone. At the very least, if one of our games hasn’t done so well, we can just about ride it out. So…cautiously.
JD: We need a holiday first.
KS) Lastly, I must ask, Super House of Dead Ninjas 3? Eh?
NP: That’d be strictly up to Adult Swim…
Are you playing Super House of Dead Ninjas? Leave your opinion on the game in the comments below. Also, follow Megadev on Twitter, and check out the game on Steam, or try it out on Adult Swim’s website. Lastly, don’t forget to check out our review of the game!
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