One of the things that’s great about gaming is the fact that the games we play attach us to our various gaming devices whether they be to our favorite worn controller, Commodore 64, or console. Developers are no different than fans in this respect and plenty of talented people are still making games for systems long-abandoned by their parent companies. One such developer is Yuan-Hsi Chiang who recently decided to release a commercial game for the Dreamcast called Wind and Water: Puzzle Battles. I was enthralled with the opportunity to interview Yuan personally, as I’m a huge Dreamcast fan and puzzle game fanatic. Check below to hear about the new game and Yuan’s unique philosophy on the video game industry.
Vysethebold: Thank you for conducting this interview with me, Yuan. To start off, could explain your company, who you work with, and what kinds of games you produce?
Yuan-Hsi Chiang: No, thank you Vyse, Spencer, and Siliconera for this great opportunity! Yuan Works is a small company my brother (Yuan-Hao Chiang) and I founded to make “traditional” video games. We hold firmly that video games are a form of art, with incredible achievements to prove it every year. Yet unfortunately several skills almost exclusive to this media (like pixel art and chiptune music) are deteriorating greatly nowadays, especially in the west. We try to make personal, quality games while preserving traditional game crafting techniques.
The company is just the two of us! We knew we wanted to do this since long ago, so we both got skilled in different areas, and are self sufficient to produce our games. We are based in Costa Rica, a place not necessarily known for great video games, so it was hard to “get on the map” at first.
We simply make games we would like to play. If other people like them as well, even better! We like games with attention to detail, where everything is polished to give a nice experience. Well designed games, that look and sound beautiful, where you can unlock and find many extras; that give you a sentiment of fulfillment when you finish or just play them… To put it in a corny way, we like something that lets you know it was made with love and sacrifice, and that’s what we try to achieve.
Your latest game is Wind and Water: Puzzle Battles. I believe it's a new version of a game you created for the GP2X. What was it like to develop for a system with such a devoted yet small fan base?
First I’d like to say we are very fond of the GP2X scene and fans. They have been extremely supportive. Some of them were very thankful for our “PSP or DS quality game”; others even said they liked it more than big releases like Metroid Prime 3 or BioShock, which is very surprising! You can see some insane world records on our website already!
We had been working for some time on the mainstream industry, and sometimes it made us forget that we liked to make games. We took a step back, participated in a contest for the GP2X and after getting the third place, decided to make a very special game for the system. We knew the game wouldn’t be a million-seller on the GP2X, so I can honestly say this was a labor of love. However, we have no regrets, and seeing how happy it made the GP2X community, it was definitely worth it. We made our first die-hard fans!
For the upcoming version of Wind and Water: Puzzle Battles why did you choose to release the game on the Dreamcast?
Well, it’s a nice console with a dedicated fanbase. When I was younger, I would be extremely grateful when a Super Famicom (SNES) title arrived very late in its life, as it felt more like a tribute than a big commercial project. Many Dreamcast users around the world are really excited about this release! And the market, especially in Japan, is big enough to make it very profitable, which doesn’t hurt one bit!
On a more techie side, the DC is very robust, and supports true 240p RGB, which provides the definite 2D arcade experience. The controller suits the game perfectly, and there are practically no load times. There is also VGA and Arcade Stick support, so you can truly play this game any way you want on DC!
Lets get down to the actual game now. I've played previous versions of your game and I have to say that I'm impressed. I enjoyed the game a lot because it reminded me of Nintendo's Puzzle League but with a lot more style and some great original mechanics. What does your game offer that sets itself apart from other puzzle games?
[We like Panel de Pon (Puzzle League) a lot, too! Actually, it is a great compliment if you compare us to that game!]
We feel that because of the nature of Puzzle games, they are thought to be exclusively for casual players. Though some of them are fun, it just stays there, and doesn’t explore the concept further. So we made a deep game with an extensive story, extras, mini-games, making of… The Battle System is polished and balanced enough to let beginners and experts alike have fun with it, and it is simple to learn but takes time to master. All aforementioned features do make this game unique…
However, what I truly feel sets this game apart form the bunch, is the (very autobiographical) story where the player learns how this game was made, how it became a dream come true, and what traditional game art means. Many cutscenes and slides help tell the story along the way, and there are literally hundreds of extras to uncover. We hope that those who finish the game as Puzzle Masters will find it was worth it, as the best is saved for them.
I love the fact that your game has an adventure mode to accompany the gameplay. I personally play most of my games by myself and I'm always disappointed when single-player modes are afterthoughts in puzzle and fighting games. I was delighted that you included a Super Mario World-like overworld complete with hidden locations on the map. Could you please explain the story the player goes through in the single-player mode?
You play the role of Amy, a young girl who wants to make games one day. Along the way, she encounters us and finds out that this very game is actually half-baked and has to help finish it herself! With a (hopefully) humorous approach, we address real problems faced by ourselves: it is a parody and tribute to video game crafting; a window to the souls of those who make the games we play.
What actually happens at the end of the story is absolutely up to the player, and how much dedication they put will result in different rewards. Only Puzzle Masters will see the true conclusion to the story!
The Story Mode is also a fun way to learn the complex mechanics of the game, and by the time an average player finishes it, they become very good, which makes them want to play against someone else right away! Lastly the game was thought with superplays or speedruns also in mind, so there are many paths to finish the game, giving it more replay value to experts.
I think when you made this game you definitely had multi-player battles in mind. What do you have in store for the multi-player mode that will keep gamers coming back to Wind and Water?
We have seen that a lot of recent puzzle games don’t really have a deep competitive system, probably because really good players might not be the target audience. We sought to make a game where skill, speed, and strategy would dictate the winner, much like in a good fighting game. A game where luck doesn’t play a big part unless you’re a beginner, yet gives less experienced players a chance to have fun (and not be KO’d in 5 seconds).
For that, we have included different Skills, Stances, and Levels which dramatically alter the way the game is played, similar to the “Fighting Grooves” of Capcom vs SNK. If you like Combos, you have a style. If you like Chains, you have a style. Whether you’re an expert or a casual, a defensive player or a berserker, you’ll have plenty of choices to feel at home.
What features are specific to the new Dreamcast version of the game?
First of all, there’s a new character which is a tribute to the Dreamcast memory card! There are new songs, all in Red Book quality thanks to the medium. The gameplay is more precise and tight, and new features, such as the Danger Break system which gives you a “last retaliation chance”, rebalance the battles. There are many new graphics and reworked parts, such as one of the endings, which got a complete facelift. The game will also be fully dual language (Japanese and English) for user convenience. Both are quality translations, so none of that “all your base are belong to us” stuff. It will be the definite version of Wind and Water: Puzzle Battles to date.
Special care for the customer seems like a thing of the past these days. Consumers' requests are ignored many times by big companies. With your game, you give your customers the option of sending in a picture of themselves in order to be drawn in sprite form and placed into the game. I feel like I'm ordering something that was hand-made when I get these kinds of options. What made you want to give your customers something like this option?
Fortunately the GP2X and Dreamcast are not mainstream, and we can have the luxury of letting players be a part of their game if they like! This is something that to my knowledge no other company does/has done. People pay money for our game; the least we can do in return is to let them know it was made with them in mind. Also, we love the fact that sometimes when a person says something nice about our game, we have a face to relate to! After all, we don’t make games mainly to earn money, but to make people happy. That’s why they are hand-made.
I saw that the GP2X version of Wind and Water was an Independent Games Festival Finalist this year for sound design. How did you tailor the Dreamcast version to live up to this honor?
Back in the day, some of the game music we loved the most was chiptune music. As technology progressed, pre-recorded audio was possible, but few companies really got the most out of this feature. However, the music on Neo-Geo CD games had live orchestrations and instrumentation, and was mastered even better than many albums of the time where. It was like buying the remixed soundtrack of a game with the game as a bonus!
In this game there are many studio recorded songs with live instrumentation, trying to justify the use of Red Book. There are vocal songs, guitar solos… it varies greatly! Composition-wise I included many trademarks of our game music culture (such as extremely fast arpeggios), and there is even chip music! I think people who grew up with video games will be the ones who like the soundtrack the most!
During a Puzzle Battle, over 70 sound effects that I synthesized myself resound about, giving this game an immediately recognizable aural identity. The original GP2X sound effects were in mono, but for the DC version they were all reworked in full stereo!
Your sprites are so great to look at. Whenever I go to your website, I'm amazed by your artwork. I'll love to see them in all their glory when the game comes out. How did you get started making art for video games?
Thank you very much for your nice comments! I started fooling around with Paintbrush in late1996 when I was a kid. Back then, I loved how even limited systems like the monochrome GameBoy could have great pixel art, so I challenged myself to learn to work with size and color restrictions early on. My first works look incredibly dated now, but I still like them! Later, I got faster and my work was very marketable, but I decided I drew pixel art because I liked it, not to earn money. So I haven’t worked for other companies too much. Mostly it is for my own game projects or for the sake of art.
This is a very new form of illustration; it only has around 30 year
s, and it’s already fading away… I hope I won’t become an obsolete dinosaur a couple of years from now! But even if that happens, you will see sprite art by me! The game has A LOT of pixel art and galleries for fans to enjoy… my poor mouse has its paint peeled off from all the clicks!
You included several mini-games in previous versions of Wind and Water. Why did you decide to include action games hidden in a puzzle game? Are there any new ones for this version?
(Laughs) Well, why not include them? To break the monotony a little bit and since we had a lot of Yuan Works’ characters in the game, we included several mini-games! They also serve as “bonus” stages; little details here and there to make the game more fun!
I think I have spoiled too many DC features! I’ll leave it to the players to find out the rest!
When will the Dreamcast version of Wind and Water be released?
It is scheduled for summer 2008. It will most likely be released in late August/early September.
What do you have planned for your next video game project?
We have many projects that can be developed into full games. Speaking to my brother, our next game will most likely be in the action/exploration genre (like 2D Metroid). However, in the tradition we have to make everything ridiculously complicated and include features that nobody else has thought of (or wanted to include) before, it will have our distinct Yuan Works style. You already know how atypical our games are!
We think that with Wind and Water: Puzzle Battles, we have made our contribution to the puzzle game world, so we will do other genres.
I’d like to personally thank Spencer of Siliconera, and Vyse, who not only conducted the interview, but also supports our game and got a custom sprite of his own! To everybody out there who dreams of making video games one day: we were two kids who were born in the “wrong” country, and were never taken seriously… yet we got this far. If we could do it, anyone can! The only one who can stop you from realizing your dreams is yourself. Thank anyone who read this far, too!
You can order the Dreamcast version of Wind and Water Puzzle Battles along with your own custom sprite (for a limited time) at Yuan’s website: www.wind-water.net. And, as a bonus, I'll give you a look at the custom sprite Yuan made for me!
Images courtesy of Yuan Works.