Interview: WayForward's Voldi Way talks blobs, Shantae, and street cred

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Interview: WayForward's Voldi Way talks blobs, Shantae, and street cred
Voldi Way, president of WayForward -- or "Tyrannical Overlord" of the company, if his business card is to be believed -- gave us one of the company's first interviews as a "publisher," having recently self-published downloadable games on DS (Mighty Flip Champs) and WiiWare (LIT).

During this E3 interview, Way told us that the company has at least three new unannounced projects, two of which are coming this year on Wii, and one also headed for PC. He also addressed the purported Aliens vs. Predator DS game and discussed the company's licensed game strategy, about which we may have accidentally given him a complex.
WayForward typically does 2D games, but LIT was a 3D release. Is that a new direction?

Voldi Way, president, WayForward: Yeah. I think most people don't realize, though, that on DS we did about half and half. If you look at them, they were almost half 3D, half 2D. We've done so many pixel games over the years that most people don't think of us as a 3D shop. We've done a number of PC games that were 3D also, but since we have such a strong foundation in character animation, we're most known for our 2D. One of the Wii titles we're working on now is full 3D too.

We'll always do a mix of them. In fact, a new one we're working on now is 2D side-scrolling gameplay inside 3D environments, so there are 3D enemies or bosses that can leap out of the background, but the gameplay is still 2D.

This is one of the new unannounced games, right? Not a boy and his blob?

This is a different one. A longer one -- not one that's coming out this fall. There's Blob and two other Wii games that are coming out this fall, and then this one is a longer-term project.

We asked this in the last interview about the game, I believe (note: we did!) but was David Crane involved at all?

He wasn't part of it. I'd love to meet him one of these days! But no, he wasn't. I'm not sure what he's up to at the moment. He has a company, I forgot the name of it. None of us have actually met David Crane. He certainly wasn't involved in the design at all.

I wonder what he thinks!

That's a good question!

So, that one's 2D, and it's on the Wii.

That one's all 2D.

Is the Wii better for doing 2D games like that?

Actually, our tech runs on PS3, Xbox 360, PC, and Wii, and one of the other titles we're working on has a PC SKU. Initially, the PC version was only meant for us internally, because it's sometimes easier than hooking up the dev kit to just run it on the PC. But then, one of the projects we're working on said "hey, can we ship a PC version too?" We're polishing it to make it shippable. Our tech actually runs a simultaneous build across those four platforms. We've been looking forward to doing a PS3/Xbox 360 game. Probably like a download game -- XBLA, PSN. We just haven't yet.

But all the animation on Blob, since it was all hand-drawn, it's all high-res -- much higher than 1080p. Since we have to downsample it anyway, we could even downsample it to 1080p and do a high-res version.

Was it Majesco's call to put it on the Wii?

That was a Majesco decision, for making it a Wii game.

Where would you have wanted to see it?

Wii's good, I mean, we do a lot of Wii stuff. For us, it almost doesn't matter, because our tech is cross-platforrm, the art pipeline's identical -- that's really a marketing decision. In this particular case, it's traditional controller-style gameplay. LIT was the opposite approach -- we wanted to take advantage of every single feature of the Wii Remote, even play sound through the speaker, we wanted to explore all those options. But Blob, we wanted to focus on traditional side-scrolling gameplay.

Now that you've got a self-published downloadable title out on Wii and on DSi, are we going to see more self-published titles from WayForward?

Yeah, totally. We've got drawers full of ideas that could never see the light of day. Sometimes because they were just too small a concept -- they might make an interesting gameplay mechanic for one minigame in a larger retail title, but DSiWare and WiiWare lets us take those and say "Hey, we're going to make this a nice little nugget of a game and ship it." We fully intend to.

Are you looking into retail publishing?

No... (laughs) That seems like... a tough job. We don't know the first thing about publishing. In a sense, we're kind of self-publishing, but it's not the same. We don't have any marketing people, we don't have any sales, and ... no. We're not going to be a publisher.

Anything in the near future on the other services?

We don't have anything yet. We've got a few that we've started on, but our internal projects end up taking a backburner to our retail projects, so when we get busy those get put on hold. I don't know when exactly, but we would love to have a PSN and XBLA download game at some point -- and PSP, for that matter. We're licensed Sony and Microsoft developers, and we have a PS3 dev kit. Like I said, we have the tech running, so that's not much of a stretch.

Part of the WayForward business model has always been a lot of licenses and then a few original projects. Is that still the company operates into the future?

Yeah. I know, some people ask that. They say "once you get your own download games, are you going to do exclusively that?" No, I don't think we ever will, because doing the licensed titles, working with publishers, gives us the opportunity to work on cool brands and properties that otherwise we wouldn't get to work on, because they have the resources to afford those licenses and make a retail product. We always want to do that. And at the same time, it's fun to do our own original stuff too. I can't ever foresee a day when we won't do retail products.

Some of the licenses that WayForward works with are kind of the younger, nontraditional licenses

Barbie, SpongeBob ... We've done a lot of Nickelodeon, Shrek, X-Men, American Dragon was pretty young ... going back in time, like Wendy the Witch, Sabrina ... we've done a lot of children's titles. Going way back to the early '90s, we did Muppet Reading and Phonics on floppy disk. But that was like 17 years ago.

Is there ever a concern about your cred among the hardcore?

"From the makers of Contra, here comes Barbie."

Oh, right. I know, it is funny. "From the makers of Contra, here comes Barbie." Actually, it's equally fun. Every game has its own appeal. Honestly, there have been a lot of games we've turned down, just because we couldn't get anyone excited. But if there's someone at our company who's enthusiastic or passionate about our game. You'd be surprised. So many of us have kids -- daughters -- it's perfect.

As far as losing street cred, like ...

With, you know, the E3-type crowd ...

It's the same people. You know, Adam Tierney went from doing three Barbie titles in a row to doing LIT, which is the opposite end. He said it was to balance things out in his head.

You know, maybe we should be concerned about that. I never really thought about it. Should we? Is that something we need to worry about?

It hasn't seemed to --

It hasn't really affected us that I know of.

People seem to remember the original titles, and Contra 4. Shantae.

Yeah ... we haven't really worried about it. That's a good question. Now I'll wonder.

On original stuff, it doesn't really matter if we have the cred or not, because we can do it and kind of see how it goes. Now that you mention it, with Contra, before they showed video of it early on, there were a lot of people saying "Hey, these guys only do kids' titles, why are they doing Contra?" As soon as they saw the videos, it was fine, they changed their tune. I don't really think it affected us much, other than a few random posts, early in the history of it.

People have been waiting a long time for Shantae Advance. Last year at GDC, someone said you were working on a WiiWare Shantae game.

Well, that was me, and it was kind of random. It was accidental. We had just seen the keynote by Ray Kurzweil, and we were leaving the auditorium. Some guy commented on this action figure that I had, that I think I had gotten free from LucasArts, and he asked about Shantae. I casually told him that Shantae has run on everything. Shantae ran on Super Nintendo, PC, GBA -- we've had it run on hardware that never even shipped. We've had her on cell phones. Shantae has been on everything. It's how we prove our tech.

"If you ever come to our office, I'll be happy to show you Shantae running on a PS3 -- in full 1080p glory."

You take the GBC game and run it on everything?

We usually make new things. Who knows, maybe we'll get in trouble for saying this, but we even have Shantae running on an iPhone. It will probably never see the light of day, so you don't have to say it's coming out for iPhone, because it probably won't. We've experimented with Shantae tech on everything. She will reemerge one day. I don't know when or even what platform, but she will come back. The reason I can guarantee that now is because of downloads. We tried so hard to sell Shantae on GBA, and no one, not even Capcom, who published the original, would touch it. And it was great! Well, I'm biased, but I thought it was great. Shantae DS, similar things. I don't know if she'll emerge on the DS, or DSi download, or Wii, or PSN, XBLA -- we have Shantae running on a PS3, for god's sake. If you ever come to our office, I'll be happy to show you Shantae running on a PS3 -- in full 1080p glory.

The other problem with shipping it -- it's a stretch. It's definitely a stretch to publish Shantae. It's an original IP ... I can understand why publishers would be somewhat reluctant. Oh, and also since it's our own dime funding it, it's kind of a backburner project. We do work on it between the cracks. There's almost always some kind of Shantae development going on at some part of our company.

Do you ever think about taking the old Shantae Advance and just dumping it on DSi as a download?

We could, except we have a better DS version. There is a good chance it'll be a DSi download game at some point. A lot of that's up to Matt Bozon. Shantae's really his baby, and as much as I -- the GBA demo was like 2 hours. It was a pretty epic demo. As much as I think we could just ship it as is, Matt wants to make sure it's got his seal of approval, which I'm totally on board with, because Matt really has the creative genius for that.

Matt was the lead on Contra, right?

And Sean (Velasco) was the assistant director, and he's now directing Blob.

Have you seen the Contra ReBirth game on WiiWare that Konami put out?

I haven't yet, but I should.

Did you hear about it first?

No, we didn't even know it was in production. We had no inside knowledge about that at all.

Will there be more run and gun type games on the way?

Yeah, probably. I can say "pretty likely."

Speaking of which, there was a YouTube video a few weeks ago. It was an Aliens: Colonial Marines DS game. According to the video description, it was a WayForward title that had been cancelled by Sega.

I can tell you that that was nothing that we put out, and there was no project cancelled by Sega for any reason.

You can say that the video was not something you put out?

The video was definitely not something we put out.

Is Blob the next thing we can look forward to from WayForward?

Yeah, Blob, and actually the other titles are coming out the same time, they just haven't announced them yet for some reason -- they're all this fall. We're also working on a toy -- a plug and play game. We do those from time to time.

The branded ones that plug directly into the TV?

Yeah, like we did a couple of Ninja Turtles things a couple years ago, for example.

Thank you for talking to us!

It was my pleasure!
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