Interview: Nicalis's Tyrone Rodriguez on Cave Story, La-Mulana, and more

Nicalis, the developer of the anticipated Wii remake of the indie hit Cave Story, briefly noted in a Christmas Eve blog post that the WiiWare game had been delayed into 2010. It seemed like a good time to check in with Tyrone Rodriguez, head of Nicalis and producer on the title.

Rodriguez spoke to us a bit about the progress of the remake, as well as Nicalis's other projects, Nicklas "Nifflas" Nygren's physics-based platformer NightSky and another WiiWare remake of a retro-style cave exploration platformer, La-Mulana.
Joystiq: I'll start right away by asking about the game that everyone, myself included, is waiting for... Rose & Camellia. You're working with Nigoro on La-Mulana -- can we expect a WiiWare release of the Victorian slap-fight game?

Tyrone Rodriguez, Producer, Nicalis: Ha ha, that would be great on Wii.

We've joked about the idea of doing it. I think for NIGORO and for us bringing a title like that to Wii would depend on the type of support that we get from fans from La-Mulana. If the interest is there, I'm sure NIGORO will consider it.

I'd love to see it with motion controls. I should also ask about that other anticipated Nicalis WiiWare game. Cave Story was recently delayed into 2010. What caused this latest setback?

From the outset we decided to be pretty aggressive with the title and not just do a traditional port. As a big fan of Cave Story, I don't think it would have been the right way to go. A big part of what people perceive as the delays is my unyielding need to make sure we got everything right, but we also wanted to have an infrastructure that supports good add-on content in the future. Being our first title and being so aggressive with the feature set-- it's not just a simple port-- has caused some setbacks in schedule.

In November, you reported that it had been submitted to Nintendo. Were there specific bugs or issues that came up with that build? Or is that still the final build as of now?

The submission process across all console manufacturers is pretty well-masked for a reason. We've been quite upfront about when we submit and what happens because there are a lot of fans who want to know what's going. The short answer is that, yes, we did have some issues that required to be addressed prior to shipping the game.

I only ask because it seems like Nintendo occasionally holds onto downloadable titles for release on its own schedule.

I can't speak for other developers or publishers, but I know for Cave Story Nintendo has been 100 percent supportive and it isn't responsible for any of the delays.

Cave Story is one of the titles that Nintendo has promoted somewhat, mentioning it in press releases and promotional videos, and even showing it at E3. For most downloadable games, Nintendo's policy seems to be not to mention it at all until the release date. Did Nintendo approach you about pushing Cave Story early on?

We approached them as developers wanting to bring Cave Story to the Wii, but it was Dan Adelman at NOA who really ran with the game. He's a big fan of the game and I don't mean on the business level--I mean he really enjoys the game. Dan is really a gamer, like you or me.

I remember Nicklas [Nygren, Knytt creator] and I showing him a prototype of Saira when it still had a little blue bird as a main character. He was blasting through some of the more-challenging areas in the demo. Nicklas was impressed.

Would you say you have the same kind of attention available to you from Nintendo for your other WiiWare releases -- La-Mulana and Nicklas's NightSky?

I think of the three, being that Cave Story is the oldest, with La-Mulana right behind, that it's received the most attention as far as players. However, the interest in La-Mulana and NightSky has been great to see too. The official La-Mulana site gets a lot of fans commenting and communicating back and forth directly with [La-Mulana director]Mr. Naramura. Nicklas has a similar experience on his forums for NightSky and Saira.

How is NightSky coming along? I guess if Nicklas was able to make and release Saira, development must be in a good place.

NightSky is pretty far along. All the design has been frozen, the audio is done, it plays great on Wii. We're in the last part of the development fixing bugs and tweaking things. It's this last 10 percent that can really take the game from a decent experience to a great one.

Any kind of estimate for when we'll be able to see that?

It's not what fans want to hear, but they'll see and play it once we know it's ready. If it helps, all the hard work is behind us now.

With La-Mulana, what's the development situation? Is Nicalis working directly on the code like with Cave Story?

NIGORO is a licensed developer in Japan. With that said Mr. Naramura's team is handling the artwork, code, re-design and changes. On our end, we're handling localization, testing, marketing and other typical publisher duties. Being that NIGORO is a full team from a company, it made more sense to let the developers develop while with Cave Story, we sort of lent our staff to [Cave Story creator Daisuke] Amaya to realize his vision of the game for Wii.

So you've sort of gone from a developer to a publisher in the space of a year or so!

Heh heh, it would appear so. Mainly, I really enjoy being able to work with such a talent group of developers.

Is La-Mulana also in a "when it's ready" situation, or is there a target?

Mr. Naramura recently updated the official site at the break of the new year. NIGORO is working with a schedule in mind and the team is still trying to hit that goal. He'll probably make an announcement sometime soon.

Any other indies out there that you'd be dying to put on consoles if you could get hold of them?

Yeah, definitely. There is just so much talent and creativity that deserves a stage or opportunity to be seen. That's the main reason for the unique list of games we're helping bring to market. As far as specific developers, there are literally too many to list. I'm actually curious what Joystiq readers want to see, whose games they want to play on console instead of PC OR what they'd like to see from Nicklas, Mr. Amaya or NIGORO.

Have you looked into other consoles or handhelds for Nicalis projects? I know you personally have a background in mobile games.

Yes, and we're licensed to develop on Wii, PSP, iPhone as well as DSi. Mr. Amaya has a DSi and likes the idea of small mini-games such as the ones on DSiWare -- especially on the Japanese store. I'd like to get his other games, Guxt and Ikachan on DSiWare; they seem very appropriate for it.

Nicklas also has some solid ideas and thinks Knytt Stories would be great for DSi or PSP. There's actually a Knytt Stories prototype homebrew by a fan and it's enough proof-of-concept that the game would work well on DSi.

Mr. Amaya got a DSi? It was a big deal when he got a DS Lite a few years back.

We sent him a Japanese DSi when it was released in Japan so he could see the new console and DSiWare. He really loved the form factor and look of the DSi. I think it's black like the DS his fans sent him.

The last time we spoke, in October 2008, you said there was a small gameplay element of Cave Story you were considering changing. Do you remember what that was, and did you end up making the change?

It was actually that first spike in the first cave after the starting point. Watching so many players ram right was enough for me to ask him about the spike. [Amaya's] answer, of course, was what you'd expect from a design of his level. I'm paraphrasing, since it's been so long that he and I spoke about it, but he said that he wanted to give players a sense of anxiety or stress. He feels that the games of today are too easy and, mostly in the Famicom/NES era, actions had definitive consequences. After that it did make sense because you can't just blow through the first area and expect to survive.

We did add a bunch of little details that I wish I could mention, but they're for the fans and just hinting at some of them would be a spoiler.

Thank you so much for taking time out to speak with us. Anything you'd like to say to Joystiq readers while you have their ears (or eyes, or whatever)?

We all really appreciate the support and this isn't just a standard thing I need to say. We read the comments and see the threads. Mr. Amaya feels like this is a dream come true for him--to have Cave Story on a game console. And I know that Nicklas and NIGORO also share the same sentiments for their own games. As I said earlier, I think the community and fans have a fantastic grasp of what's good or what needs a new home. We're always listening.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.