Woah Dave! is one hell of a name. Hailing from MiniVisions, the game is quick to earn your attention with its puzzling title. Naturally, the thing to do considering the circumstances is find out just what Woah Dave! is. From speaking with the game’s creator, Jason Cirillo, it sounds like your curiosity will pay off.
Cirillo runs MiniVisions, a branch of Choice Provisions (of Bit.Trip fame), that specializes in smaller scale affairs. But despite its size, Woah Dave! aims to be as addictive and enjoyable as the industry’s best.
The game, coming soon for the 3DS and Vita, charges players with racking up a high score in the most hostile environment possible. Controlling the titular Dave, players grab hold of the eggs that fall from the sky, and use them to clear the single screen arena. Their defeat yields coins, which are collected to increase your score (high scores of $1.50 take the place of those in the hundreds of millions, a preferable approach in my eyes). What initially seems simple quickly becomes chaos as the eggs that once served to aid you crack open to birth the enemies inside. The landscape is littered with foes, but if you’re quick enough the beasts before you may pave the way to fame and fortune.
I was lucky to have the chance to pick Jason Cirillo’s brain on the matter of Whoa Dave!. Enjoy!
I’d like to start off with the significance of a studio’s name, but in your case, maybe I can learn of two. What’s the origin and meaning of both Robotube and MiniVisions?
Jason Cirillo: Robotube was something I came up with in 1999 when times were quite different. There were few online games, there wasn’t even YouTube. I started this weird little website that had games on it I had developed, and wanted to come up with a strange, unique URL. The internet, being so different and still in its infancy, was this thing I saw as a new sort of smart television. So I called it Robotube. Like a robot television. MiniVisions is the new name, and is born from the “visions” part of Choice Provisions. Since our little division makes the smaller games that come from our quirkiest of ideas, the name MiniVisions seemed to fit.
At what point in your life did you decide that you wanted to be a game developer?
JC: I think when I was probably about 7 or 8 I really started going to arcades, and had just gotten a ColecoVision. I still have notebooks that have sketches of games that I thought up around that time, as well as drawings of games I saw in arcades to help me catalog the games I had seen. My grandparents got a Commodore 64 around then, too, and I learned BASIC and made some weird little games with that. I think I’ve probably wanted to make video games nearly most of my life. I’ve always just enjoyed making things.
How did Whoa Dave! come to be? Is it one of those old game ideas you had written about in one of your arcade notebooks?
JC: Actually, my son got a 3DS not long ago, and I downloaded a few old NES games on there to give him a little intro to the origins of Mario. He got really into the original Mario Bros., and we would play together. I realized the simple joys of these little single-screen platformers and wondered how I might design something a game like that, but make it super bonkers and crazy. I think I started working on Dave shortly after that.
Woah Dave! is reminiscent of Mario Bros., but I want to know what you feel makes it a wholly unique experience?
JC: It’s very reminiscent on the surface for sure, but in reality I think the game is more like Tetris at its heart. The game is about getting the objects you need and throwing them in the right place at the right time, essentially. You need to keep the board as clear as possible otherwise you lose control. People see the thing that looks like the POW block which is an obvious thumbs-up to Mario Bros., but really, I don’t think the game plays like Mario Bros. at all. It’s much faster, much harder, and your means by which to defeat enemies is uniquely different. Good players are surprised by the opportunities for strategy that lie beneath the surface.
Games like Shovel Knight have successful adapted retro gameplay with modern touches. Where does Woah Dave! fall in line? Is it intended to feel like an arcade game lost in time, or does it have a flair of modern design as well?
JC: Shovel Knight is an amazing piece of work, by the way. One of my current favorites. Woah Dave! is definitely inspired by old arcade games in that you’re drawn to play and play to get a better score. I played a lot of the old Namco arcade titles of the Pac-Man/Dig Dug/Galaga era and tried to kind of take some cues from those. I think it has quite a bit of modern design as well, however. Gamers have come to expect more of a challenge nowadays, and I think they want much faster game play. WD! delivers on that. The score is also handled in a more modern-friendly way. I ditched the ultra giant pinball-like scores of the old days in favor of small, easy-to-remember numbers that make competing more fun.
You’ve gone for simple and readable sprite work for Woah Dave!‘s visuals. Was this a gameplay decision (better silhouettes so as to not get lost in the mayhem), or is there another reason?
JC: It was largely a gameplay decision but it was also out of necessity. The game moves incredibly fast once it gets going, and I didn’t want things to get lost. But truth be told, I had a few months to build the game and it was essentially a one-man project. 3D or even just richer, 16-but style graphics were not going to be an option. I’m happy with it, though. It is definitely not meant to emulate the look and feel of any particular era or hardware. It’s just it’s own weird thing. It’s lovably crusty.
I’ve seen some different stage designs from various videos, and I was wondering if you could explain the game’s progression. Are there typical stages you progress through?
JC: The game really doesn’t have “levels” in the traditional sense. There is a seamless progression of difficulty that sneaks up on you. You might notice the background colors changing. The music also changes and progresses as you do well. These are just visual cues so that you feel like you’ve passed certain milestones. The platform configurations also change slightly as it gets harder, but that’s also a more organic progression, too. Certain enemies will cause the platforms to move, but you’re never pulled out of the game for a “OK, time to go to the next level, get ready!” sort of event.
With roots in the arcade, how does Woah Dave! keep itself fresh fresh for the player?
JC: Well, I think in a lot of ways…and this is maybe a bit bold…that Woah Dave! has the potential to stay fresh for players in the same way that Pac-Man or Donkey Kong stayed fresh over the years. It’s simple enough to stay familiar and challenging enough where every time you play, you’re on your toes, and you want to do better than the time before. It’s pure arcade. I don’t like making the game sound grander than it is, and it’s pretty simple in reality. But I will tell you that we’ve been playing the game in the office since February and the high-score competition is still going nuts.
The currency left behind by defeated enemies acts as the game’s score. Does it serve any other purpose, perhaps as currency for an in-game shop?
JC: Not at this time. It’s purely for score.
Can players expect a local and online leaderboard for the game? Choice Provisions’ previous work in Runner2 was superb in how it showed your top ranked friends, but also those closest to your current position.
JC: We will have online leaderboards for the Vita version, but not for the 3DS version. There will, however, be a handsome set of leaderboards and even achievements locally and on the bottom screen for the 3DS.
Will the 3DS version have any StreetPass functionality?
JC: Nope, ‘fraid not.
The two player local multiplayer looks great. Will the mode be making its way to 3DS and Vita? Recently, 1001 Spikes dropped multiplayer on these platforms, and I was curious if there’s data that implies the feature is underused on portables.
JC: Unfortunately, local multiplayer won’t make it to 3DS, Vita or iOS. Our research and even our own personal play habits have shown that it’s very underutilized, and what’s worse, implementing these features is a nightmare on these platforms in various ways. It would have changed the price point, and we didn’t want to make most people pay more for something that most likely wouldn’t use.
I appreciate that this is coming to handhelds, as Woah Dave!‘s gameplay seems like a perfect fit for quick sessions. Did the choice to support 3DS and Vita come naturally?
JC: At first, we were only going to support Steam and iOS, but due to the early reception of the game, we decided we should port to 3DS and Vita. That’s why the game has taken a bit longer to come out.
Choice Provisions’ work often features cameos from other studios. Any chance Commander Video or other industry favourites will find their way into Woah Dave! and other MiniVision projects? Will Dave be making any appearances soon?
JC: Can’t comment on this…but wouldn’t that be fun?
Your studio’s focus appears to be on smaller games. Why is that your preference? As well, if the idea bubbled up for a larger title, how would you proceed?
JC: MiniVisions is absolutely a smaller-games studio. That is our main focus. Choice Provisions proper is the bigger-games arm of the outfit. Choice Provisions wanted to put out games a little more often, and making smaller games certainly helps make that possible. And, really, smaller games are what I enjoy and what I know. If we do want to make a larger game, we’d probably staff up a bit and go for it.
You’ve said that developing for the mobile market (as in pre-iOS) was tough due to crafting your game for so many different devices. Woah Dave! is coming to a lot of platforms, so what made the process easier this time?
JC: I think this is a pretty different thing! Back in the early Robotube days, we literally had to make games that fit on a 128×128 screen that could barely run given the hardware specs…and then port it to literally hundreds of devices, most of which we didn’t even have access to. We also had a staff of two, and no relationship with mobile carriers which meant it was very, very hard to get your game on a marketplace. It’s absolutely nothing like it is now. We ported WD! to about 6 or 7 platforms that have no real hardware spec deviations (and we’re not worried about a game like this not being able to run on certain PCs) We also have all this hardware to test on. People that make mobile games nowadays are loving life. It was an absolute nightmare before iOS.
When I discovered your Bit Museum videos, I initially believed you and “that” Jason Cirillo were different. I had never seen a developer so open about the game’s he loves and his hobby. While I’m sure it’s tough balancing work and play, is there a chance we may see or hear from Bit Museum again?
JC: That’s funny. I’ve aged several years since that first run of shows and I had more hair then, so it’s like I am a different Jason Cirillo. Yes, I think we’re planning on more Bit Museum episodes for sure. The thing is, to do the show right, it takes not only a lot of time, but a considerable chunk of change, too. We have tossed the idea around of rebooting Bit Museum with a Kickstarter but we’re cautious. It would be great to do it again. I know I certainly have a bizarre pile of game relics I’d like to show off.
You’ve hinted that Woah Dave! may be coming out soon, any chance you can firm up when we can expect to see the game?
JC: Can’t say exactly, but it looks like before or after PAX. So September at the latest I’d say.
I’d like to thank Jason for taking the time to speak with me, and for the quickest turnaround fot answers I’ve ever received!