Grande Games’ André Noller talks development, concepts and the unorthodox nature of Cherry.
The newest generation of gaming consoles has brought out of a few unique concepts. What’s interesting is that many of these new concepts aren’t necessarily pushing the envelope in terms of visuals but take advantage of the newer technologies like motion control. You wouldn’t think such mechanics have been significantly improved or actually applied to a “real” gaming experience but Grande Games’ Commander Cherry’s Puzzled Journey for the PS4, proves otherwise. It’s a game where you contort your body in different postures to make “platforms”, which can then be copy-pasted to open the way forward.
The game is currently in the prototype stage but speaking to Grande Games’ André Noller provided a ton of information on its current progress, developing on the PlayStation 4, how the gameplay works and other unique puzzles we can look forward to and much more.
Ravi Sinha: First of all, tell us a bit about yourself and the company’s humble beginnings.
André Noller: Grandé Games was founded on January 1st 2014. We are currently developing Commander Cherry’s Puzzled Journey for the PlayStation 4. We already have a definitive concept for our next title and will continue to work on innovative, fun and different motion / body control games in the future.
"Commander Cherry is a noble adventurer and space lord from a parallel universe where everyone ate his fruits and vegetables like they were told."
Ravi Sinha: Commander Cherry’s Puzzled Journey is by far one of the weirdest and most unorthodox games we’ve ever seen. What was the inspiration?
André Noller: Thank you very much, we really take that as a compliment 😉 In our very early development stage, we had different concepts that worked without the usage of a controller. We were not quite satisfied with the results and wanted to do something fresh, unique and different. So we had these platforms on the screen and one day it struck us “Dude, how cool would it be if we could control an avatar in the game to run and jump across these platforms”. And this is how the seed was planted in our heads.
Ravi Sinha: Given that we’ve only seen pre-production footage till now, what is the overall story behind the game? Who or what is Commander Cherry, who seems to have less than a human head?
André Noller: Commander Cherry is a noble adventurer and space lord from a parallel universe where everyone ate his fruits and vegetables like they were told. Due to his healthy nutrition, Commander Cherry is a very smart guy. He lately invented a platform building device, that allows him to place and materialize objects into an area. This is a great help for his adventure trips.
It saves him the struggle to climb up every hill since, I hope he won’t be mad at me for saying this, he’s gotten out of shape lately (too much delicious cherry pie). Thus, he is currently looking for an assistant with some insane skills, so that he can shape platforms suited for every dangerous situation Commander Cherry might find himself in.
Ravi Sinha: The PS4 isn’t the only console with a camera. In fact, wouldn’t it have made more sense to develop for the Xbox One as well, since it comes with Kinect, while the PS Camera must be purchased separately?
André Noller: I’ll do it like every good politician and first answer a question that was not asked 😉 We thankfully live in a world, where games are more accessible to all kinds of people, no matter what platform they own. So the first thing we as developers have in mind is the gamer and his experience with our games. So we enjoy experimenting and using motion control hardware and create new gaming experiences for players.
Sony gave us the chance to develop our game for their platform and we are happy to bring our game to the PlayStation 4 and it’s players. Working with Sony is great and they do what they can to support small developers.
It is no secret that motion / body controlled games had kind of a rough start last generation. So it is a big challenge for us to show players that they can enjoy unique and refreshing gameplay experiences with their motion control hardware, no matter what platform they own. The more players we can reach, the better for the reputation of motion / body controlled games.
"We've put a lot of thought into the design of our core gameplay mechanics, as well as how we can utilize them to create different kinds of challenges."
Ravi Sinha: The concepts presented thus far – players creating and copy pasting shapes of their poses to make platforms, and also fitting into outlines to create platforms at certain points – are intriguing. What other variations and twists on this formula will we see? Anything involving the PS4’s Touchpad in any way?
André Noller: In Commander Cherry’s Puzzled Journey, the players are creating every shape in real time, think of every platform you build as a materialized snapshot of your current body pose. We would love to integrate the Touchpad and more features of the DualShock 4 such as the lightbar or the accelerometer, but since we are only two developers with a nearly non existing budget (we have to work part time next month to cover our cost of living), we want to focus on our core features and make sure that they are used smartly and are well integrated into the game in a game design and technical perspective.
But rest assured, we have a lot of challenges in Commander Cherry’s Puzzled Journey, to max out our mechanics and provide a unique experience for our players 😉
Ravi Sinha: From what we’ve seen, the concepts look relatively easy to pick up. Is there any worry that it may stifle the difficulty? Also, how about those who can’t really bend their body into different shapes (or don’t want to)? Will there be a way for them to experience the game?
André Noller: The footage from the video shows a very early prototype. We wanted to show our bare core mechanics in motion.
We’ve put a lot of thought into the design of our core gameplay mechanics, as well as how we can utilize them to create different kinds of challenges. On the core side, we’ve now limited the place where you can activate the building mode as well as the amount of platforms you can build for each challenge. This way, you have to think where you place you platforms and how you have to shape your body in order to have a platform that is suited best for the problem at hand.
We’ve also implemented different kinds of life forms on the planet. One type will limit the area you can build by hurting Commander Cherry. So you may have to go down to your knees to have a very flat platform so that Commander Cherry can pass the life form without touching it. Another life form will slowly eat away your platforms so you have to built and run quickly etc. etc.
We can’t wait to share some new gameplay footage later this month, that will showcase everything mentioned above and even more 😉 So stay tuned!
Ravi Sinha: As of now, Commander Cherry’s Puzzled Journey is set to arrive on the PS4. What benefits have you derived from developing for the console?
André Noller: The biggest benefit was that we were allowed to use the controller and the camera simultaneously. Experimenting with this setup was the reason why we’ve come to the idea of crossing over motion and classical control schemes to create a hybrid motion / body control game in the first place.
"Commander Cherry's Puzzled Journey has a built in “on the fly co-op”. This means, that your friends can instantly jump in front of the camera and shape platforms together."
Ravi Sinha: What are your thoughts on the current resolution debate going on? Will Commander Cherry be set for 1080p/60 FPS when it arrives or is there more to the console’s power than just the resolution and frame rate?
André Noller: Indie games stand for creative gameplay and mixing up as well as exploring new game design concepts. So we have our stakes in our unique and refreshing motion / body control gameplay experience. Since we are a two man newcomer team, we neither have the human nor financial resources to max out the raw potential of the console in terms of graphics.
Ravi Sinha: Will Commander Cherry feature multiplayer or co-op of any kind? It could certainly make for much hilarity when two friends must somehow create different shapes together.
André Noller: Commander Cherry’s Puzzled Journey has a built in “on the fly co-op”. This means, that your friends can instantly jump in front of the camera and shape platforms together. So one player can sit down on the couch and control Commander Cherry and enjoy the hilarious view of your friends pulling of some insane custom moves 😉
Ravi Sinha: Tell us a bit about how you approached the level design of the game. Since it’s totally based on user interaction, what kind of challenges you came across to make sure that experience is fluid?
André Noller: This indeed was a tough design challenge. I still have a daily note popping up on my smartphone calender telling me “Commander Cherry is a motion control game, not a mere platformer”. It sounds ridiculous but it was very important. As a gamer, you’ve probably played so many platformers that you have the level design concepts more or less ready in your brain. Thus there is a risk that you design your levels like a classical platformer and forget about the motion control aspects of the level design.
The key to create a fluid experience was the limitation of the platforms in combination with the points from where you can activate the build mode. Thus, we have the means to design levels with a good balance between pure platforming and the platform building parts. And believe me, it is such a rewarding feeling to fluidly jump across your smartly built platfroms and progress through the level.
We’ve a timer running for each level so we can’t wait to sit in front of our own PlayStation 4 at home and watch some players streaming their speed runs via the PlayStation 4 broadcasting possibilities 😉
"When you put your hardware in the box you can't update it. So modern CPUs will become more powerful over time, as they've done every generation before."
Ravi Sinha: When is the game coming out? Do you guys have a release date set?
André Noller: We have no definitive release date yet. Depending on the release of the big AAA games in Q4 we will make our decision. The fact that we have to work part time to cover our cost of living during the production phase does not make things easier. But we’ll give everything we’ve got to release it this year.
Ravi Sinha: The game does not look to be taxing on the console’s architecture but from a creative side, how much freedom does the unified GDDR5 memory architecture gives to the developer?
André Noller: Let me say it like this: While our wild prototyping phase, we’ve never come to a point where we had to clean the code in order to keep our game running at a good performance. So we had the freedom to focus on implementing features from a game design and not a mere techical perspective.
Ravi Sinha: What are your thoughts on the PlayStation 4’s CPU? Do you think it will become obsolete in the next few years given that modern CPUs are much more powerful?
André Noller: This is a question that comes up every console generation. When you put your hardware in the box you can’t update it. So modern CPUs will become more powerful over time, as they’ve done every generation before. But when I look at late PS3 games like The Last of Us, I am not worried that we are not going to see some beautiful games on the PS4.
Though it’ll be interesting to see how Valves concept with their Steamboxes will work out in contrast.
Ravi Sinha: Bonus question: Talking from a tech perspective, which next gen console do you think will last the distance?
André Noller: The one with the best games in terms of quality and quantity (looking at the Wii U :P), because software sells hardware. If you’d go for the tech alone, you’d probably be a proud owner of a powerful gaming PC.