If ever there was a game that seemed to be made for Nintendo Wii, then it was, er, Super Monkey Ball. But second in line would surely be Mercury Meltdown, Ignition Banbury's brilliant PSP and PS2 puzzler, where the idea is to tilt levels to manoeuvre a blob of liquid mercury through a maze without letting too much slip off the edge. Not only does it sound like the sort of thing that would make good use of the Wiimote's motion sensor, it even had form in this area - early versions having supported a prototype motion-sensing add-on device for PSP, later abandoned in favour of analogue controls.
Having watched Monkey Ball's first Wii effort struggle though, we were anxious when we heard about Mercury Meltdown Revolution - announced just after the console's UK launch. Would Ignition be able to tame the Wii's unique control system, and provide the sort of feedback necessary to balance the experience? And how were they finding the Wii in general? With the game due out in March, we tracked down studio manager Ed Bradley in search of answers.
Eurogamer: First things first, how does the Mercury control scheme, including the camera controls, translate to the Wiimote? And will you be using the nunchuk at all?
Ed Bradley: We aren't supporting the nunchuk but for those who really prefer the joystick experience the game does support the classic controller. The Wiimote controls are pretty simple: you hold the Wiimote sideways with the d-pad to your left and simply tilt it in the direction you wish to tilt the tray. The d-pad rotates the camera and the 1 and 2 buttons control the zoom.
Eurogamer: The Wii's been marked out as a system ideal for games like Mercury and Monkey Ball, and on the surface it does seem a logical match. Did you find yourself sitting there when the Wiimote was first unveiled thinking, "hang on, this is made for us"?
Ed Bradley: Oh absolutely. I believe some of the gentlemen of Eurogamer got hands-on experience of our experimental tilt-controller back in days of yore [we did indeed], so we felt it was a case of someone finally catching up with us!
Eurogamer: At what point did this "Revolution" version first come about? Did Nintendo express an interest, or was it something you came up with independently?
Ed Bradley: Well it was still called the “Revolution” when we decided we wanted to do a version on the new Nintendo machine. The idea came from us and we pitched it to Nintendo at E3 '06. Being eminently sensible people they liked what they saw!
Eurogamer: Mercury and Mercury Meltdown were very tactile games, where you had to really understand the importance of every minute thumb motion, and where being able to feel the nub's position was crucial. What sort of difficulties have you faced translating that kind of subtle control to the Wiimote, and how have you tackled them?
Ed Bradley: This was something we earmarked a lot of time for as it's vital that it's done properly. Then to our surprise it ended up being more straightforward than we anticipated. It's surprisingly natural and easy to make the transition to the new control method. We've spent a lot of time tweaking dead-zones and acceleration and stuff like that but I'd say the control method worked 90 percent perfectly the first time we tried it.
Eurogamer: Interestingly, you've chosen to offer support for the Wii classic and GameCube controllers in addition to the tilt sensor. Is that because you think it's trickier to control with the Wiimote, or are you just trying to avoid pigeonholing yourselves?
Ed Bradley: We've had to drop support for the GameCube controller as it's a very much "at developers own risk" proposition and we're not masochists! We just like to give players as much freedom of choice as possible. Coz we're nice like that.
Eurogamer: Will you be taking advantage of the online elements of the console at all - Miis, WiiConnect24 and whatnot - for multiplayer, leaderboards or anything like that?
Ed Bradley: Not in this first iteration, no. Partly because we'd like the game out on the streets in a timely fashion and partly because the online systems haven't really "bedded in" yet.
Eurogamer: What's the Wii been like to develop for generally?
Ed Bradley: Pretty straightforward for us as we worked on the GameCube previously. Although there have been the usual early-adopter issues such as comedy compilers that are still not really finished. You should hear the language around here sometimes...
Eurogamer: Mini-games have been a big thing for a lot of early Wii titles, from Wii Play and Monkey Ball to Wario Ware, which is out now. Mercury Meltdown introduced a few - are they all intact for Revolution, and how do they work with the Wiimote?
Ed Bradley: All of the mini-games are in place. Some use the Wiimote in cunning ways and some use a more traditional d-pad-and-buttons scheme.
Eurogamer: Are there any new mini-game additions?
Ed Bradley: Alas no.
Eurogamer: There's been a lot of debate since the Wii launched about just how clever the tilt sensor technology really is. Some people have argued that Wii Sports, for example, isn't actually measuring very much, with Nintendo forced to rely on timing more than actual gesture recognition. What's been your experience, working with the controller? Is it capable of more than we're seeing now?
Ed Bradley: It can certainly spew out a lot of useful info. The tricky bit is making meaningful use of it all. At the end of the day developers want players to have fun rather than impose clever mathematics on them, so if it turns out to be fun only using a simple subset of the controller's gizmos then why worry about how "proper" it is?
Personally I think the controller is capable of translating actions far more complex and energetic than most players are interested in performing even in the privacy of their own homes. Sort of a "just because we can it doesn't mean we should" situation.
Mercury Meltdown Revolution is due out on Wii in March. PSP and PS2 versions of Mercury Meltdown are out now.