Interviews

Max and Josh from Johnny Two Shoes explain everything about their anticipated Plunderland

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Max and Josh from Johnny Two Shoes explain everything about their anticipated Plunderland
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| Plunderland

One of my most anticipated summer iPhone games is Johnny Two Shoes's Pocket God meets Angry Birdsand The Horrible Vikings title Plunderland.

Based on the company's 2007 Flash game Pirates of JTS - which you can play here - it's a physics-based pirate game where your mission is to plunder, which you accomplish by sinking other ships and raiding islands.

We caught up with the two brothers behind the madcap caper, Max (right) and Josh Scott-Slade to find out more (photo credit: Thomas Farnetti). Much more.

Pocket Gamer: What was your original inspiration for Pirates of JTS? Max: We had this idea about a boat floating on a body of water and we thought it would be so much fun to try and balance objects on your boat and transport them between islands.

That original idea is actually a pretty big gameplay dynamic in Pirates of JTS. It was about transporting huge things, mad things like the Eiffel Tower, but that wasn't much fun to play so we scaled it back to be more realistic and it became a secondary feature.

Josh: The original design was very evolutionary. I think it started out as a physics experiment and then later we were inspired by the Wii - simple but natural controls. But it changed as we were testing it, as we tried to keep what made it fun and pursue the feel we love in games - having fun with something that feels like a new experience. What feedback did you get from that and how did that change your ideas for Plunderland? Max: Pirates of JTS was an experiment - a game entirely reliant on the mouse. Pushing wind through your sails and stuff like that is great, but in practice it was quite annoying after a while, especially since the game had no end and laptop trackpads are a total buzzkill.

Sometimes the pointer detection was crazy so your boat would flip over and you'd sink without doing anything wrong.

Since it was an experiment, PoJTS had no storyline and that's something we wanted to change in Plunderland. That's another reason why Plunderland is an entirely new game built from scratch. But you can see some things such as the islands and the ports made it into Plunderland in a much more defined way.

Josh: Also people wanted to upgrade their boat and have levels and campaign progression. People seemed to enjoy PoJTS but needed more variety and challenge.

This was something we were aware of but in the world of free online games and being the small company we were, there was no real way to support hugely ambitious ideas. Which is why we love the idea of the App Store which wasn't around back then.

What other changes did you have to make in terms of it being an iPhone game? Max: Since we're working on a small screen, we needed to make sure that you're not covering up the action with your fingers. That's why onscreen joypads didn't cut it for us, so the accelerometer plays a part in tilting, and we use multi-touch properly so you can aim your cannon while drowning an islander and collecting gold all at once.

It's been tweaked so things such as a pile of treasure floating in the water will lose focus compared to an enemy. Even if they appear behind the coins, we assume you want to deal with those guys before you collect gold.

Josh: It was important to us to design the game for the platform, so no onscreen joysticks or buttons. Through game design you can play to the device's strengths, which are very impressive.

Everything is directly interactive. A big part of making the game feel right was having a dynamic intelligent camera that frames everything on the fly, so you can see what's important and still feel in control.

We believe the end result is great considering the depth and sometimes frantic action that can happen (especially in survival mode).

What do you think are the key features of Plunderland? Max: Plunderland really focuses on interactivity. If you think you should interact with something, chances are you can. If it's an X marking hidden treasure, tap it a few times to dig and a chest pops out. Or if a guy jumps on your boat, you can let your crew deal with them or throw them far, far away. Josh: The idea is there will be surprise and excitement. You will discover new ways to interact with the world. I have always wanted an adventure in my pocket - something that is exciting and engaging but also perfect for more casual short gaming sessions. And every time you go back to the game, you can see what you have spent your time earning. How open is Plunderland in terms of different play styles and level replayability? Max: Plunderland really is a lot of fun to play over again. We've built in stuff such as target scores and secret codpieces to find in each level. So you can blast through, scraping the target score - that will give you a bronze coin. But then you have to go back and hunt for the codpiece. And then going back to old levels with monster boats feels like an entirely different game.

There are so many gameplay types that feature only in one level. That's because we built the engine so we can easily add new campaigns and levels. For example, there's a level called Invaders where the Empire have started invading the islands. You can choose to help the islanders and they will give you gold, or let the Empire win and then you're their next target.

Like I said, that's just in one level but we can expand upon that concept so you could leave your boat and fight people on land yourself or whatever else we come up with. Just playing the game you'll see a ton of unique experiences and they play out differently each time because the artificial intelligence adjusts itself based on certain factors and a level of randomness.

Josh: There are a lot of different ways to have fun with the game. Some people just throw things around and cause chaos without much thought and have a blast doing so. But if you want to plot and plan your ideas, be kind and then manipulate the situation to squeeze extra treasure out of a level, there are tons of ways to do that too.

Each level has a target amount of treasure which is needed to complete a level and then there is an expert target, so those wanting the challenge can go back and try and best it.

We've also worked hard to make sure every level feels distinctive and that there is special situations in each one. This means you will have favourite levels that you play again and again.

For me, there is a level which you get the Super Powerup which allows you to manipulate everything. A shark attacks you, but instead of shooting it or being scared, you can grab it, pull it out of the water and use it as a weapon against the enemies. If you have a taste for the dramatic, you can even tear it in half when you no longer require its services.

What's the score in terms of levels and total playtime? Max: There are three story campaigns. One of those is a tutorial and then you unlock a survival mode. So really, four campaigns. If you're a skilled player and just blast through the game, and don't care about collecting the codpieces or achieving the target scores, and aren't really into upgrading or exploring the intricacies of the game, you can probably do the whole thing in a few hours.

On the other hand, if you do care about getting absolutely everything then you can scale the playtime much higher. I couldn't give you an exact figure because while I have completed the game, I still play it all the time and really enjoy beating my old scores. I'm not done with it by any means.

What social features do you have in the game? Max: Right now our aim is polishing the game, and getting it submitted to Apple in a way that we're really proud of. A lot of games seem to start with the achievements and work their way backwards but since gameplay is so important to us, we see achievements as a secondary objective.

In the future we intend to let players sync their saves back to our site so if you lose your device, upgrade or explosions happen, there's a way to carry on from where you were. We'll also integrate Apple's Game Center.

Do you have any plans yet for updates and/or in-app purchases? Max: We do have plans for in-app purchases, but we also have plans for free updates. Every time we offer IAP, we want to also give some really cool stuff for free. Nobody will be left out, but those willing to invest in the game will be getting some pretty awesome new content. Gameplay changing stuff, it will evolve! Are you doing any specific features in terms of supporting iPhone 4 or iPad? Max: We designed all our artwork to be suitable for iPad. We knew we would bring the game to iPad so it was awesome when the iPhone 4 launched with its Retina display because we could instantly support it.

The entire game looks beautiful on the Retina display. The artwork is so crisp and the game is so fluid it makes us incredibly proud. We also hooked in stuff such as the ability to play Spotify or iPod in the background. The game detects you want to do that and gracefully scales back.

It handles multi-tasking as well, so if you get a call, the game pauses and when you return from your call you can just jump straight back into the game where you left off.

Josh: Playing with the game on iPad at the pub with friends, we have noticed the device is far more social. People tend to help throwing enemies off your boat or collecting treasure.

We really want to support this by adding unique twists in gameplay and maybe even new modes for local multiplayer. It is an exciting benefit of the iPad that we want to push and see what comes out of it.

Finally, what are you favourite bits of Plunderland? Max: Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with the shark. I love the dude, when it's jumping up at the Empire but I'm not so happy when I have to drag one of my guys from its teeth.

Shooting it with dual cannons and watching the physics take over with it flipping is pretty special everytime it happens. I'm also addicted to getting all the codpieces in each level. There's something about seeing the level list covered in gold that makes me feel like I've actually achieved something rather than being told I've achieved something.

Josh: For me it has to be finding new fun ways of playing the game. Most recently I noticed you could use a TNT barrel a boss throws at you to launch yourself on top of the flying contraption - giving you a unique vantage point to destroy it (as well as a sweet ride atop of a flying killing machine). We never planned for this but it just works because of the dynamic nature of the game. Thanks to Max and Josh for their time.

Plunderland has been submitted to Apple and should be released soon.