Mario Wynands is in an enviable position; as head of GripShift developer Sidhe Interactive, he's on the verge of having overseen the development and release of a game for both Sony PlayStation Network and Microsoft Xbox Live Arcade; he lives in fancy old New Zealand; and, most excitingly for him, he gets to read emails from yours truly. Amongst those he's sent back were some exclusive screenshots of GripShift XBLA and the answers to our niggly questions. With GripShift due out next month, now would be a good time to read them.
Eurogamer: How did the Xbox Live Arcade version come about? Given that your launch platform was PSP and your follow-up was PSN, we were getting the impression you were honour-bound to Sony, or perhaps beating off the New Zealand sun with one of their infamous money hats!
Mario Wynands: Sidhe has traditionally worked across multiple platforms, so while we have always enjoyed working on the PlayStation platforms, we have never been exclusive to them. In the case of GripShift for PSN, we had an existing relationship with Sony Online Entertainment via the PSP version so that made getting onto the PS3 a quick process.
An Xbox Live Arcade version has been planned for some time, and we are pleased for the game to be finally appearing on the platform.
Eurogamer: What new features does it have over and above the PSN version?
Mario Wynands: Only the Deathmatch mode has been revealed at this stage, but there are other numerous additions and changes. We'll be talking more about the new features closer to release.
Eurogamer: In terms of what was there before, have you made any changes or refinements that fans will want to know about? Presumably you can still do important things like instant restarts...
Mario Wynands: All the features and innovations remain from the PSN version, but we have continued to take a lot of feedback from fans and make further enhancements. This has meant some across the board tweaks including handling adjustments, level preview features, and improving the Race Mode along with a host of other enhancements. This is really the crux of why we are calling it the "definitive version", as it's the culmination of a lot of fan feedback and refinement.
Eurogamer: We thought that leaderboards were one of the most compelling things about the PSN version. Presumably they will be back for XBLA? For every track?
Mario Wynands: Leaderboards are back for the Challenge Mode, as well as for Race Mode and Deathmatch. They work a little differently to the PSN version due to technical differences in the Live infrastructure, but there are still leaderboards for every level which means the competition for the top slot will be as hot as ever.
Eurogamer: What sort of Achievements have you lined up? Anything particularly tricky or interesting? And what do you make of the Achievement system in general?
Mario Wynands: The diversity of gameplay has given us the opportunity to have fun with the achievements. We have been able to include achievements requiring mental prowess as well as dexterity so, as with the game itself, you'll need to master both in order to get all the achievements.
With achievements like "Big Air", "Mister Trigger", and "Indy 50" we think gamers will have a lot of fun attempting and collecting the full set.
Eurogamer: Something the PSP version had that got lost on the way to PSN was the level editor. We liked the level editor. Any chance we'll see it again?
Mario Wynands: We are big fans of user generated content, and were really excited to see some of the level creations fans came up with on the PSP version. For both PSN and XBLA, there are some infrastructure issues that need to be overcome first before the creation and exchange of levels can become a reality.
Also, we want to make sure that it's done properly from the outset, so a lot of planning and development needs to be undertaken for a successful execution. It is an investment we want to make.
Eurogamer: You're in the somewhat unusual position of having made a game for both PSN and XBLA. Could you tell us how the two services compare from a developer's perspective?
Mario Wynands: I think both services offer a great opportunity for independent developers to create and distribute games direct to consumers.
Eurogamer: Sony Europe boss David Reeves has spoken recently about his desire to see PSP games ported to PSN. Which is roughly what you did. Was it a simple process? Do you think more developers will go for it?
Mario Wynands: I wouldn't classify the process as simple, but there are similarities between handheld gaming and downloadable arcade gaming that make it easier. The pick up and play nature of gameplay as well as the limited scope of content suit both platforms well.
In taking GripShift from PSP to PSN, gameplay was kept relatively intact and the content conversion process wasn't overly painful. Trying to get the best out of the PS3 hardware in the timeframe we had available was certainly the most challenging aspect of the project.
All in all, it's a realistic path for developers to take. There are some great games on PSP that deserve the wider distribution and sales that a PSN version would generate.
Eurogamer: Are we likely to see GripShift appear on any more formats after XBLA?
Mario Wynands: From a console standpoint, the XBLA version will be the last. We think we have taken the current iteration as far as we can go, and we'd prefer to end on a high than let the concept get out of date and stale.
Eurogamer: Any plans for downloadable content after GripShift's XBLA release?
Mario Wynands: We will continue to support the game with new content and updates. The XBLA framework in particular allows us to easily expand the offering over time. Right now though we are concentrating on the base release and making sure that offers great bang for buck.
Eurogamer: Are you going to do a sequel once all this is out of the way, or do you have something different in mind?
Mario Wynands: A sequel is definitely on the cards, and we have a lot of great ideas on where we want to take the franchise. Strong sales of the XBLA version will help make that a reality, and we are confident that we will achieve our projected goals.
In addition to working on the GripShift franchise, we also have other new game concepts in pre-production. With the success that GripShift has had as an IP, we are excited about the potential for these new titles coming through.
Mario Wynands is managing director of Sidhe Interactive.