Interview: Cloudberry Kingdom’s Pwnee Studios

"It is pretty hard to do any coding when you don’t have any electricity"

Pwnee Studios (Pronounced “Poh-nee” Studios) is an indie gaming compnay founded by best friends TJ Lutz and Michael Suswal.

Together, they have formed a versatile team of people and are currently working on upcoming platformer Cloudberry Kingdom for multiple platforms including Nintendo Wii U.

Aussie-Gamer recently caught up with TJ Lutz about Cloudberry Kingdom, the team’s design philosophies, Hurricane Sandy and much more.

Aussie-Gamer – First of all, could you tell our readers a little bit about Pwnee studios?

TJ Lutz: Absolutely!

Pwnee Studios is a group of guys that were brought up playing the NES, so we don’t really know what beating a game feels like – but we’re addicted to the challenge of a fun, tough game. We’ve been working on our current game, Cloudberry Kingdom, for about 4 years in total.

We’re a group of perfectionists who are very susceptible to constantly adding more new, fun features to our game (this is why it has taken us 4 years). At the core of Pwnee are two guys who have been best friends since we were 6 years old, and who have been playing video games together all their lives.

Cloudberry Kingdom is a “procedurally generated platformer”, can you explain what that is exactly and how it works?

TJ Lutz: A “procedurally generated platformer” is a game, much like Super Mario Bros. 3, that has levels that are made by an AI rather than people.

Essentially, we created an AI that knows how to make fun platformer levels, and imprisoned it inside of Cloudberry Kingdom, forcing it to make an infinite number of awesome levels for you to play. And in case you think the AI is out to get you, and is making impossible levels – you can force it to play the level for you, so that you can observe and realize that it is indeed possible.

So it is essentially having you own personal level maker so that you can play Cloudberry Kingdom forever without having to worry about getting bored or running out of interesting levels to beat.

Hero-A-Hats

The trailers for the game look insane! The game reminds me of those Super Mario World level hacks that turned the game into a nightmare (in a good way!), did you get any inspiration from those sorts of mods when making Cloudberry Kingdom?

TJ Lutz: While we did watch a few of those videos (and laugh heartily) that wasn’t really our inspiration for Cloudberry.

We were really inspired by Super Mario Bros. 3.

Essentially, we created an AI that knows how to make fun platformer levels, and imprisoned it inside of Cloudberry Kingdom…

When Jordan and I were playing Mario 3 as kids, we were both really disappointed when we beat the game. We absolutely loved playing it, but after it was beat, we knew there wouldn’t be any more fun levels for us to play. The entire Cloudberry Kingdom experiment came about after Jordan got his PhD in Math, and designed an algorithm to finally give us all of the levels we ever wanted.

The first few iterations were pretty raggedy, but over time we kept adjusting the algorithm and making it better and better. At this point, we are very happy with the way the levels are designed, and are continually surprised at some of the interesting levels that are thrown our way.

So in May of last year you successfully raised funds through your Kickstarter campaign, what was the campaign for and how did it help Pwnee out in its time of need?

TJ Lutz: Our Kickstarter campaign last year was to get us enough funding to give the game a “complete” feel by reworking the art.

We were very happy with where our gameplay was, but we knew that our art at the time wasn’t really quite where we wanted it to be. The successful campaign helped us to sign on Tigar Hare studios to re-work our art, and even add cinematics to our Story Mode! I feel like their work really brought the game together, and we are very happy about the look and the feel of the game now.

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Currently, the game is being developed for all consoles and PC. Will there be versions made for any handhelds at this stage such as the Nintendo 3DS or the PlayStation Vita?

TJ Lutz: We’re definitely looking to release Cloudberry Kingdom on handhelds, but right now our main focus is getting it out on the major consoles and PC.

All of us are pretty excited by the idea of being able to play Cloudberry on the subway (we live in NYC) so we’re really looking forward to potentially releasing on handhelds as well.

Will there be any differences between any of the console or PC versions?

TJ Lutz: There are only minor differences between the console and PC versions, but it is only in simple things like the menu options. The features for Cloudberry will be basically the same across all platforms and PC.

What are your thoughts on developing for the Wii U? There has been a lot of mixed reactions from different developers, how have Nintendo helped the process of getting the game onto the eShop?

TJ Lutz: Nintendo has been great to work with so far!

We were raised playing the NES and SNES, so when we got the chance to develop our game for the Wii U, we were pumped! We really haven’t had many issues with Nintendo, and they have been very helpful whenever we have had a problem.

In terms of getting the game onto the eShop, it has gone pretty smoothly. We presented the game to Nintendo, they liked it, and they said we should go onto the eShop. All we had to do was agree!

Hurricane Sandy did a number on Pwnee Studios, how did that impact on development?

TJ Lutz: It definitely put us further behind schedule than we were predicting.

It is pretty hard to do any coding when you don’t have any electricity. It put us a few weeks behind from just not having power, and then our hygiene dropped a bit since all the water was cold. We ate canned food for a while, and then when the power came back – it was immediately back to work!

The subway was still down for a while after the power came back though, so we lost out on about 4 hours of work per day walking to where we needed to work rather than taking the train. All in all, it really hurt our development time, but we’re all still alive and well -– that is what’s most important.

When is Pwnee expecting to release Cloudberry Kingdom to the masses?

TJ Lutz: We’re expecting to make an official announcement for our release date in the near future!

Finally, do any of the Pwnee peeps have any words for your new Australian fans, our readers?

TJ Lutz: We really look forward to having you all play Cloudberry Kingdom!

And no matter what system you are on, we’re going to be doing our best to have a better score than you on the leaderboards! Also, we would love to go to Australia sometime… if any of you have a spare couch or something…

Aussie-Gamer would like to thank Pwnee Studios for their precious time. Cloudberry Kingdom is due in 2013 for the Wii U eShop, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Steam.

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