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PSP Fanboy interview: Metanet and N+

Metanet's latest game, N+, recently took Xbox Live Arcade by storm. With a pending PSP and DS release, we chatted with the development team about what handheld players can expect from this challenging, community-driven platformer.

The original N was a surprising success. What do you think made it appeal to such a wide audience?
Mare & Raigan: It's very addictive, in part because it's not easy -- the more you play, the more you learn and the better you get, the more you want to keep playing. Hundreds of levels provides a lot of options for players, so that if they get stuck on a specific level they just play a different level rather than giving up. Online replays allow them to show off their talents to the world and be competitive. The simple presentation focuses the player's attention on the gameplay and puts the spotlight on the movement of the ninja. N references old school games like Lode Runner and Jumpman, titles that inspire nostalgia in the older gamers, and the injection of modern physics and collision plus the hilarious ragdoll deaths makes it appeal to younger gamers. N has something for everyone!

Gallery: N+

What inspired both of you to create such an extreme ninja platforming game? Would you compare it to other platformers on the market?
Mare & Raigan:
Playing a lot of freeware platformers made us realize that 2D run+jump games still had lots of potential, even if the industry was ignoring it. N/N+ is definitely a bit different than most platformers. It's more puzzle-y in that you can't just run and jump as you go, you need to plan routes to a certain extent, and try to find a path that works. Paradoxically it's also a bit more frantic, since death happens much more frequently than in most games. Basically, there was a game that we wanted to play (N) that didn't exist yet, and since the rest of the games industry wasn't going to make it, we knew it was time to take matters into our own hands :)

What kind of audience do you expect to find with the console and handheld versions of N+?
Mare & Raigan: Our main target demographic is ninja-haters and anti-ninja activists -- people who refuse to buy into the typical heroic image fabricated by the liberal left-wing media. They'll enjoy seeing ninjas repeatedly zapped, crushed, blown up, and otherwise put in their place. Take that, ninjas!

What changes had to be made in order to appeal to the handheld audience?
Mare & Raigan:
The handhelds are somewhat easier than the original, in terms of difficulty level and the overall learning curve. Controlling the ninja still feels very loose, but players will not need to make (for instance) half-pixel adjustments to their movement. The team went to great lengths to make this game more palatable to a wide audience. The levels still get incredibly hard at the end though! Even the most hardcore of N fans will be challenged.

Did you consider changing the visual style of the game, to make it seem more "modern"?
Mare & Raigan:
What could be more modern than minimalism?! If anything the graphics in N are postmodern; they were heavily influenced by Deridda's poststructuralist critique of gaming's bourgeois, elitist culture. We reject logocentrism and other forms of artificially imposed order! On the other hand, they could also be said to be post-postmodern, or even pseudo-modern, as they are firmly grounded in our belief that the individual's action is a necessary condition of the cultural product. Go PoPoMo! Woo! (In N+, you can find the original minimal graphics in Pure Mode, and have the opportunity to try the new graphics, with fancy pixel art and much more detail, in Plus Mode. Plus Mode graphics seem much less guided by the principles of PoPoMo, which handheld audiences should love.)

Are there any helpful hints you can give for future players, new to the game on PSP? (Please, we need to know. We suck at this game!)
Mare & Raigan:
The more you play, the better you'll get. Try to stay calm and take deep breaths, there is a definite zen state that needs to be achieved -- the more you stress about dying, the more likely you are to screw up. Just relax! Check out some highscore replays for inspiration, and confidence that the level *is* possible. Dying all the time is no big deal -- other games use death as a punishment, but in N+ it's more of a helpful suggestion that you might want to consider a different route. If you get stuck, just try a different episode and come back to it later. Above all, resist the urge to throw the PSP.

What do you hope to see from the level design community of N+?
Mare & Raigan:
In N, the community managed to find all sorts of weird bugs and glitches we didn't know about, and (ab)use them to make some pretty weird and interesting levels; we're hoping this happens with N+ as well. Definitely the best thing about the user-made maps is the creativity, we're hoping to see lots of new ideas or concepts for levels that we hadn't considered.

Does the advent of digital distribution make it easier for indie devs to make the jump to the console scene?
Mare & Raigan:
It does make it easier, but it's still a fairly huge, and costly, jump. We considered doing the work in-house, but were too excited about our next project (which you can read about on our blog), so we decided to outsource development of N+, and tried hard to team up with developers who had experience on the different consoles. There are definitely more doors open now than there were even 5 years ago, but developing for consoles is a lot more work than developing for PC, and has a higher cost than developing for PC (because of the necessity of dev kits, QA/testing, localization etc). It's 100% great to have the opportunity, though.

Has Sony contacted you about developing for the PLAYSTATION Network? Do you see N+ expanding to the PSN?
Mare & Raigan:
Yes, however due to an exclusivity clause in our XBLA contract, it may not be for a while...

Stay tuned for part two of our N+ interview tomorrow.

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