9 Lives: Casey and Sphynx combines strategic deaths with humor and whimsy on Android [Interview]

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Hungry Moose Games has launched its first app on Android, a side-scrolling platformer called 9 Lives: Casey and Sphynx, which combines puzzles and cooperative play into a whimsical new experience.

The game follows museum guard Casey and a temple cat named Sphynx through a gameplay setup that encourages dying in strategic ways to progress. 9 Lives features four large levels, along with a Jewel system for upgrades to each character’s abilities. Casey can be upgraded with crowbars and flares to reach otherwise inaccessible areas, for instance, while Sphynx can be upgraded to cling to ceilings and walls.

Throughout it all, players can use Green Throttle’s Atlas Controller for console-style play on the TV, but each control scheme leads to the same overall goal: to collect enough pieces of the broken relic of Bestet before our heroes’ luck, and lives, run out.

We had a chance to chat with Ric Williams, Co-Founder and President of Hungry Moose Games, a team comprised of ex-Bioware developers. Williams shed some light on the game’s design, and when users can expect the game to branch out to iOS.

Inside Social Games: How has the team’s experience at BioWare  translated into the world of Android and iOS game development?

Ric Williams: Our roots in BioWare Edmonton has given the team industry experience in bringing big games to market and ensuring a quality story driven experience is delivered to the player. We wanted to translate that story & character driven gameplay to the mobile device and the partnership with Green Throttle was a great way to do that.

ISG:  The concept of purposefully dying to make progress is an interesting one. How did the team come up with that, and how does the game make sure to encourage such deaths, rather than allowing players to become overwhelmed, thinking they’ve failed?

RW: Sacrificing your character to progress as a mechanic has been used in a few games that we liked, Lemmings, Battle Block Theatre to name a couple. We wanted to take that concept and put it in a fiction where the 9 lives of a cat could be incorporated and Sphynx was born.

The initial gameplay research was interesting as players were reticent to sacrifice Casey to move forward. Recognizing that, we placed a tutorial in the first few minutes of the game to encourage players to use their 9 lives as a way to solve puzzles. We utilize dialogue and achievements as a way to show that it is OK to use the Casey as a platform to move forward. Once players get over that stigma the physics engine kicks in and it actually becomes quite enjoyable!

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ISG:  Can you explain more about the game’s two-player capabilities?

RW: Sure! When we initially talked to the Green Throttle team they wanted to show off the capabilities of the Arena application and the fact you could play on the couch with your friends, in the same game that you play alone on the move. I had been part of Eidos when Lego Star Wars was being developed and I love that gameplay mechanic of having different characters having different abilities and thus having a co-op game with this type of design was our initial thought.

So when two of us sit down to play together we choose which character we wish to play and whether we are using two controllers or with one controller and the touch screen of the device. Designing puzzles that incorporate different character abilities and where you need to work together was our biggest challenge and we think we have succeeded in delivering on that.

ISG:  How has the game been designed so that “Player 2” doesn’t feel less important or left out as is the case with many side-scrolling platformers?

RW: Good question – Casey is not only different physically but also in his overall abilities through his inventory. Sphynx is smaller and thus more agile and can reach places Casey can not, and together they work really well to balance the equation. We designed particular segments of levels for each of the characters to traverse as well as areas that can only be accessed by Sphynx once Casey has made progress through to a certain area.

An example might be where a key is needed to open a door, but the key has managed to get stuck in a small area only Sphynx can reach that is beyond an area of water. Casey must be used to get both characters over the water to allow Sphynx to access the area, thus making the characters work together is paramount to success (we really love what Double Fine did in “The Cave” as an influence). There are also sections where the characters must split up to solve problems thus keeping both players active.

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ISG:  Is Hungry Moose going to immediately move onto new game development, or will 9 Lives be updated in the future with additional levels and content?

RW: We really feel like there is so much more room to move in the 9 Lives IP that we want to develop more content for people to play in this universe. We have at least 5 more levels and 2 more games in our heads for the franchise. There is so much potential!

ISG:  What’s the expected timeline for launch on iOS? Will the game come to other platforms as well?

RW: iOS isn’t far away! We would really like to see 9 Lives on lots of other platforms which all bring their own challenges for distribution and development.

9 Lives: Casey and Sphynx is now available to download on Android for $2.99.

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