We spoke to Floyd Bishop about his latest gaming project: The FEWW Kickstarter.
In a high tech science lab, scientists have been experimenting with the elements to learn about the building blocks of matter in order to exploit their secrets for profit. One night, during a freak thunderstorm, the lab is struck by lightning, and the elements become self aware. You play as one of four elements as you escape the lab and ultimately destroy the evil corporation. You must fuse together different elements as you fight your way to the head of the corporation to shut it down for good.
A new Kickstarter for a side-scrolling, arcade-style "beat-'em-up" game, The FEWW (Fire, Earth, Wind and Water), launched earlier this week. The game is a nod to the arcade scrollers of the past and is being worked on by an experienced team of former AAA developers. We had the chance to chat with founder and lead animator Floyd Bishop to get more details about his ambitious project. Floyd is most recently known in the MMO community for his work on Sony Online Entertainment titles such as EverQuest Next/Landmark and Free Realms, with his animation also landing in TV and movies such as Ice Age.
You’ve pulled together a stellar team, each with many years of experience in their fields. What about the project intrigued them, and what do they each hope to bring to the game?
Several of the team members are former co-workers from my time at Sony Online Entertainment. We’ve got a track record of working well together on games like Free Realms and Clone Wars Adventures. For much of the last few years of those projects, we had a very small, hard working team. After SOE had their layoffs in August of 2013, we were scattered, with some of the team members no longer working at the studio.
I left SOE in January of 2014 to pursue teaching and indie game development, and as soon as I was ready to start working on my first real game, I started trying to get the band back together so to speak. The FEWW was a way for us all to come together again on a project, and do what we do best: come up with wacky and fun things for players to experience. Honestly, it’s great to work with them again.
We’ve also got some non-SOE people on the team, including our musician Kevin Manthei. Kevin has done an incredible amount of work in not only games, but also film and television. You may know his music from the television show Invader Zim. I worked with Kevin on a short film project many years ago. When I approached him about this game, he was on board almost immediately. Hopefully The FEWW is successful enough that we can keep making games together far into the future.
The Wind Element
What made you choose to develop an arcade side-scrolling game?
The FEWW is a throwback to arcade games of the past (games like The Simpsons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The X-Men) where you could play with up to three other people to achieve a common goal. They were all action and wow factor. There aren’t a whole lot of games like this now. I’ve thought about making a game like this for a while, and how we could do things a little bit differently. We’re bringing some new gameplay mechanics to the genre with the fusing of characters. The Simpsons had some moves where Marge and Homer could pick up Lisa and Bart and throw them at enemies, but that’s nothing like what we have planned.
We also have a lot of funny moments and nods to other games we enjoyed in the past. Another way we will improve on those games is with today’s technology. We think that players will enjoy playing together in a room, or though online match making where they can invite friends to play or just get paired up in a pick up game from players in a lobby.
What audience are you hoping to reach out to with this game?
We’re making the game for us. This is the kind of game we want to play, and you do cool, fun stuff as a player that we think will be appealing to a lot of people. This is a general audience game. We’re not targeting teenage boys, though we hope they like it. Two of the four elements are female characters, so we think we may have something that female players will really enjoy as well. There’s no princess to rescue in this game, since two of the ladies in the game are the ones actually out there making things happen. Lauren Gillespie, our character designer, just happened to make Fire and Wind as females because it made sense in the design process.
Thirty-somethings who played the 4-player arcade games of the past will hopefully enjoy this game as well. If you’ve ever had one of your quarters lying on an arcade cabinet hoping to get next, then this game is for you.
How much time do you think a typical player would invest in playing through all eight levels of the game?
We’re still very early in the level design process, but we’re thinking several hours if you blast through it. If you watch the playthrough videos of the older arcade games we’re inspired by, they take somewhere between 30 minutes to an hour, but they don’t have as many levels as we are planning, and they don’t have the miniboss/boss fight combo for each level like we’re planning. We’re also planning on having achievements as well as some hidden things in the game (like level nine) that are only accessible through performing a very specific action at a specific time in the game. Those will probably take a while to find.
Can The FEWW be played single-player or is it limited to being 4-player only?
This is one of the most debated questions in the design process so far. A big part of the game is FEWWsing together with other elements to have increased powers. This isn’t possible with one player character on screen, and will put you at a disadvantage if your element choice is not well suited for [some of] the situations you find [throughout the levels]. We’re leaning toward allowing you to play as a single element, but you’re going to need a lot of luck to make it through the game. It might be a good time to make some friends, but hey, that’s what matchmaking servers are for.
An interesting gameplay feature the Kickstarter mentions is the elements combining to create more powerful forms. Can you tell us more about what benefits these forms would give? Since this is a multi-player experience, who would control the Super, Mega, or Ultra element in their temporary forms?
The short answer is both players will control the FEWWsed element. For example, with two players, one Earth and one Fire can FEWWse together to form Lava. You can only do this when your FEWWse meter is full. It is beneficial for both players to work together to eliminate enemies and not take damage as this FEWWsed element, since both players will be rewarded/penalized equally. Some puzzle elements of the level can only be solved by FEWWsing together the right combinations to make the correct Super, Mega or Ultra element needed in the situation.
In a Super FEWWse (2 players), the player who initiates the combination controls movement, while the second player controls the attacks. For a Mega FEWWse (3 players), the player who initiates the combination controls movement while the other two players control left handed attack and right handed attack. In an Ultra FEWWse, the player who initiates the combination controls movement, two players control left handed and right handed attack, and one player controls the element’s scream attack. This type of co-operative gameplay is something we’ve not really seen in a game like this. I think this will add a lot of fun to the game.
Which engine will you be using to design the game?
We are developing the game with Maya for all the 3D models and such, and the Unity engine to bring it all together.
Do you have any examples for what types of enemies, puzzles and obstacles may be encountered in the game?
The game starts out in a science lab, so a lot of enemies in the beginning will be scientists, lab robots, and things like that. You’ll also have to fight odd characters along the way, including a Janitor, an Intern and even the Intern’s Grandma. It’s wacky stuff. Some of the characters you’ll face are unknown to us at the moment. Some of the Kickstarter backer rewards include designing an NPC, mini boss or a boss for the game.
If you are interested in making games, this would be a great way to work with professionals to bring an idea of your own to life and be an active part of the game development process. Most of the puzzles and obstacles are environment based. We’re planning a snowy, freezing temperature outdoor level. There’s a dark sewer level with no lights at all. Many of the situations that players find themselves in will reveal that some elements are at an advantage, while others are at a disadvantage. Teamwork is important.
The Kickstarter mentions several stretch goals, such as console support, sequels, and additional game modes. Do you have a chart/plan for what level of funding would be able to support these goals?
Some of this is still up in the air, as we’re in talks with a couple of different people about developing for their platform. As it stands now, we’re working out the costs of dev kits and such with the different manufacturers. The plan is to use the revenue generated from The FEWW to go right back at it and start in on the sequels FEWWER and FEWWEST. I can’t talk about those too much now, but they add in additional elements and gameplay styles. Their future depends entirely upon the fate of this first game. We’ve got a meeting in mid May that will lock down a lot of the unknowns. We’ll probably be adding a funding chart to the Kickstarter then.
Do you have an estimate for when you’ll be able to show off a bit of gameplay?
One of the things we want to do with gameplay is not just show a video, but to allow people to play a bit of it for themselves. We’re working on a gameplay demo we’re hoping to have ready for public play by mid May. We already have some prototype stuff we’re running, but it’s mostly stand-in models and such, not really ready for the public to experience.
Where can fans go to keep in touch with development news and updates?
Is there any other information you’d like to share with our readers?
We’re making The FEWW on our own dime right now. We’re not funded in any way, which is why we have the Kickstarter going in the first place. If you’ve ever played any of our games, watched any of our shows or films, or just want to help some former AAA developers who are trying to go the indie route, please consider backing The FEWW and helping to spread the word. Thank you.
Thanks to Floyd Bishop for taking the time to answer our questions! Make sure you check out The FEWW Kickstarter—there are several tiers to choose from and a $15 pledge lands you a copy of the game. Floyd also sent over an exclusive early look at the full CG version of Earth as he'll appear in game!
Ann "Cyliena" Hosler, Managing Editor