Shifting World Interview: How A Flash Game Was Reimagined For 3DS

By Spencer . February 23, 2012 . 6:18pm

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Aksys Games and Fishing Cactus are giving the popular Flash game Shift a makeover. It’s coming to Nintendo 3DS as Shifting World with a new story and 2D to 3D world shifting. If you haven’t played Shift before – try it now! It’s a clever platfomer-puzzler you can play in your browser.

 

I learned about Shifting World from the Aksys announcement and played the Flash version right after posting the news. It reminded me of figure-ground illusion from a psychology text book. Was that the inspiration for the game or did something else spark the concept?

 

Guillaume Bouckaert, Lead Game Designer at Fishing Cactus: It was probably like that, but we’re not the people who should answer that question: the original Shift game was created by a Game Designer at Armor Games, named Anthony Lavelle. Fishing Cactus acquired the license of the original for the development on new platforms.

 

While we certainly added a lot to the original design since porting it to the iPhone, the PSP and now the 3DS, the original idea was his. From what he told us, there are a lot of inspirations including comic books, illusion but also Valve’s game Portal (which was still Narbacular Drop at the time).

 

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How did Fishing Cactus expand Shift for Nintendo 3DS?

 

We expanded it a lot! For starters, we went from a 2D game to a full 3D game but kept the 2D platform gameplay intact!

 

We added many new mechanics to the game that weren’t present in the previous versions of Shift: new ways to make use of the shift ability and new puzzle elements to twist your brain around. We also have a completely new 3D mechanic that I would call “layer shifting”.

 

We also expanded the levels of the game. Their sizes in the previous versions were limited to the size of the screen. They are now 5 to 6 times bigger, scrollable, and with maze-like environments.

 

Last but not least, we changed the story of the game and created an entirely new one, with a unique cast of characters and a new evil plot to uncover.

 

I liked how the Flash game surprised players with the pop up timer, that tricked me into thinking I spent longer with the game than I had! Will the 3DS version have time attack leaderboards and can you tell us about the story in adventure mode or gimmicks like the clock?

 

game_mode_2The 3DS version comes with an adventure mode and a time attack mode. Unfortunately, there won’t be any leaderboards in the game.

 

As for the story of the game, it follows an innocent person getting trapped in another dimension against his will. The story tells his attempt to escape that world, and the influence of the people living in this twisted space.

 

The original story of the game was quite inspired by Portal, and while we stayed true to it for the previous versions of Shift, this time we wanted to try a new direction and avoid the association players usually have between Shift and Portal.

 

What inspired the game’s new art direction? Was it difficult to come up with a style using a grayscale palette?

 

During development, we tried a few different art styles, some with a lot details, and some even ore minimalistic than what we have now.

 

In the end, what pushed our decision was the game readability: with the detailed art style, we saw that players got easily confused whenever they shifted and they really had a hard time finding the exit. It was not a very pleasant experience or challenge, so in order to make the levels readable with the shifting mechanic, we had to keep a minimalistic art style.

 

Are the 3D shifting levels similar to Crush/Crus3d from Zoe Mode?

 

It’s similar, but it’s also different: while in Crush you get to move around like in a normal 3D game, we keep true to our 2D platform roots.

 

Let me explain how the 3D mechanic works: by simply pressing a button, players get to squash the 3D environment into a 2D one (or the other way around). Using this ability might create new paths, but it might also create traps. You can use it whenever you want to go over obstacles in the game. But you have to use it carefully, because some mechanics in the game only affect you when you are in 3D.

 

Of course you can combine both “layering” and shifting from black/white which allowed us to create some very twisted levels (*sadistic grin here* hahaha!)

 

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Shifting World sounds like the kind of game that would benefit from a level editor, just like Pushmo. Why didn’t you add a level editor to the game?

 

While a level editor would have been a great addition to Shifting World, we had to prioritize other aspects of the game during its development.

 

Another thing to take into account is that, unlike the previous versions of Shift, the levels in the game are quite big. While it was easy for players to create new levels quickly with the editor available in the flash versions of the game (and have fun making them), the scope of the levels in Shifting World and the small size of the screen went against it.

 

[When Shifting World was first announced a level editor was mentioned as a feature. However, the final game will not include a level editor.]

There aren’t too many Flash games that end up in retail. Alien Hominid and Elf Bowling come to mind, so congrats there! But, how are you going to convert the millions of Flash game plays into video game sales?

 

At the time we had a great feedback on our version of Shift for the PSP, Shift Extended and the sales were good for the target platform. So we hope to have the same response for Shifting World on 3DS. The iOS and Android version made also millions of downloads so I’m not too worried about that.

 

For both the PSP version and the 3DS version, we came up with a very “handled” experience that anybody can enjoy for 15-30 minutes while in the bus. It is a fundamental design aspect to make a game work for players. But you know, I’m sure we’ll always hear players saying that they liked the Flash version better.

 

With all of the challenges in the retail sector, why did you release Shifting World as a packaged product instead of a digital download?

 

After releasing our last Shift game on console as a downloadable title, we really wanted to take it to the next level: have it on the shelves as a boxed game. Fortunately, Aksys was there to make it possible and we did it. Today a product doesn’t have to exist only as a retail product, so we also have discussions about possible content for the eShop, but it’s nothing we can talk about now.

 

Do you think we’ll see future Shift series games on the 3DS?

 

Anything is possible; it depends on how well Shifting World does at retail (fingers crossed).


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