The Kickstarter is over and the game is heading our way, which makes it the perfect time to learn more about Ninja Pizza Girl! Eggmond put together an interview with Disparity Games, which you can read in full below. You enjoy that as I get some rest. See you in a few, short hours!
I recently got the chance to interview the folks over at Disparity games about their upcoming Wii U eShop title “Ninja Pizza Girl”. If you haven’t heard of Disparity before, they are an Australian based indie developer with three core employees, Jason & Nicole Stark and their daughter Raven. That’s right, it’s a family run game development studio.
As for NPG, it is a sidescrolling action platformer that has a very Mirror’s Edge-esque vibe to it. However don’t let the slightly silly title fool you, the games theme focuses on some of the darker sides of being a teenager such as bullying and depression, in a way that isn’t just reflected in the story but the gameplay mechanics. Needless to say it is a very unique game.
1. Jason and Nicole, what was it like transitioning from the AAA games industry, to working with a smaller indie team with your own daughter?
It has certainly been an adjustment! There’s a lot of awesome things about working in a small team with your family but it does require a change of head space and it took us a while to get there. There’s nothing I enjoy more than sitting down to work on our game. Unfortunately we also have to do a lot of jobs that I don’t enjoy so much now, things that get taken care of for you when you work in a big studio. We also making more of an effort now to make sure that all of us get out and have a life separate to work and family.
2. Raven, you mention on the Kickstarter page that you dreamed of working the games industry, but did you ever imagine you would be working alongside your parents?
No, actually. I always knew I’d have my parents support in the games industry, but I could never predict them deciding to start our own indie games company. I didn’t actually have a whole lot of knowledge on indie games and what it was like to be an indie games company until I was a part of one. Life took such a bizarre turn when Krome (my parents old employer) shut down. It’s nothing I expected to happen in life, but ultimately I’m very happy with the outcome.
3. Either from experiences with Disparity games or past employers, have you found there to be any major pros or cons to being a game developer in Australia?
I love being part of the Australian games industry. Its sounds tacky, but it really is a big supportive family. There’s so much great talent here, making great games and I’m proud to be part of it. Making games on the Sunshine Coast is an awesome life and I’m glad we’re here, but being in such a remote location can be a big problem. Its important as an indie to go to conventions and networking events but that costs us a lot comparatively in both time and money. That said I think its important that games are made in a lot of diverse locations. If all the developers are clustered together in one spot you aren't’ going to get the same breadth of ideas.
4. Despite its light-hearted title ‘Ninja Pizza Girl’ (NPG) deals with some fairly serious and dark themes such as depression and bullying. Did you find that there were any specific challenges in addressing those issues appropriately without sacrificing the ‘fun’ elements of the game?
The usage of violence is something that we worry about it. We worry about portraying bullying responsibly and the representation of violence is a concern. What we’ve found works well is giving the player the tools to commit violence while demonstrating the futility of it.
During focus tests we’ve seen one girl stay next to a rival ninja and repetitively knock him over only to get frustrated when he kept getting back up again. While she’s doing this the clock is counting down and the pizza is getting cold. Eventually she learnt the best thing to do was to simply bypass the bad guys, expending as little effort on them as possible.
5. At what point did you decide to shift the theme to be darker and more serious? Was there anything in particular that instigated this change?
At the beginning we envisioned Ninja Pizza Girl as a cute funny platformer based on our eldest daughters experiences as a pizza delivery girl. She was learning kung fu at the time, and my husband jokingly called her our ninja pizza girl. As we started building the game, and thinking about the kind of enemies a teenage girl was likely to face, it slowly grew into a game about bullying because the scariest things our teenage daughters could imagine were other teenagers.
6. What have you found has been the general response by people when you explain what this game is actually about? And was it in line with how you expected them to respond?
We were quite nervous about putting Ninja Pizza Girl “out there”. We thought that we should be prepared for mean comments and general horribleness. What we weren’t prepared for was the love and support we received. So many people have written to us, to share their experiences with bullying and to thank us for starting a conversation about something that was so important to them.
7. Gameplay wise, what do you feel helps set NPG apart from other side scrolling platformers?
Ninja Pizza Girl is inviting and joyful. It’s easy to pick up and play and has a regular supply of “woohoo” moments.
The themes of bullying and self-esteem aren’t just window dressing, they’re tightly woven into the gameplay. There aren’t too many games where the most dangerous thing the player encounters is teenagers laughing at them.
8. If you had to highlight one feature of the game as being you’re favourite, what would it be?
Our favourite feature by far is our system for tracking Gemma’s emotional state and presenting it to the player. It does great job of making people feel what Gemma feels.
We’ve seen players get really angry and upset when Gemma gets bullied into giving up and we’ve seen people cheer when she gets back on her feet.
9. You recently successfully completed your Kickstarter campaign for the game. What made you choose the Kickstarter route? Did you have any concerns given some of the negative press Kickstarter has been getting recently?
We had lots of concerns! The Potato Salad Kickstarter launched just before we did, and the Yogcast game went south just after. It wasn’t a great time to be crowdfunding! But regardless of the bad stuff, Kickstarter has enabled a whole lot of interesting and diverse games to be made. They might not be making headlines, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, but there is some really cool stuff there. We worked really hard and took a lot of risks to secure funding for Ninja Pizza Girl, but without the Kickstarter it wasn’t going to be enough. Now we’ll be able to make the game as we imagined it. And we have our wonderful backers! They’re involvement has already made the game much better. We couldn’t be happier to have them on board.
10. What made you guys decide to put Ninja Pizza Girl on the Wii U? And can Wii U owners expect any Wii U specific features? (eg. Gamepad features or Miiverse)
We love the Wii U! We are so excited to be developing for it. When Jason found out that we were officially approved he ran around the house twice with his arms in the air. We’ve been playing Nintendo consoles since the original NES. To be releasing our own game on the Wii U is just unbelievable.
We haven’t planned any Wii U-specific features yet but if any fans have suggestions, we’re ready to listen.
11. Are you guy’s big Nintendo fans? Any favourite Nintendo titles or Nintendo titles you personally found inspirational in your work?
We’re a family that plays games together so of course we’re big Nintendo fans. We’ve spent hours playing Smash Bros and Mario Kart. For years Nintendo has been the only console making great local multiplayer games. We’ve been playing them since the Gamecube days and we don’t intend to stop now.
The joy that’s expressed in all the Mario games has been a huge inspiration to Ninja Pizza Girl. Jumping, running, changing direction all feel just so “right”. Even though our game is a lot grittier, we still hope to capture that same simple delight in game play.
12. You attended PAX Aus last year, are you looking to attend any more conventions coming up?
We’ll be at PAX Aus again this year. We’ll be at the Indie pavillion and can’t wait to show off Ninja Pizza Girl to all the great people at the con.
13. Any message you would like to pass on to Nintendo fans about NPG?
Just a big huge thanks! The support from Nintendo fans during our kickstarter was really uplifting, and we can’t wait to get you guys playing our game on your consoles.
14. Now that the Kickstarter is over, is there anyway readers interested in purchasing NPG in the future should be looking?
We have a slacker backer option for people who missed out on the kickstarter, you can find the link on the kickstarter page. Or you can wait until March and grab a copy straight from the eShop.
I would just like to thank Jason, Nicole & Raven for taking time out of their schedules to answer these questions!
For more information on Disparity Games or Ninja Pizza Girl check out their website here! or follow them on Twitter