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Mini Ninjas Interview with IO Interactive

by Nick DiMola - September 4, 2009, 7:03 am PDT

NWR had the opportunity to speak with developers IO Interactive, known for their Hitman series, about their upcoming Wii and DS title.

Mini Ninjas is an upcoming action brawler from Eidos that is being developed by IO Interactive. It's set to release on September 8 for Wii, DS, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. We had a chance to talk to developer Jeremy Petreman about both the Wii and DS versions, as well as the game's origins and the future of IO Interactive.

Nintendo World Report (NWR): Let's start things off with some general questions. What inspired you to create Mini Ninjas?

Jeremy Petreman (JP): I often get this question and it's one of the most difficult to answer. The beginning of a project is such a storm of ideas and talking and drawing that it's hard to find out where particular ideas come from. I can say that the visual style at least came from a series of paintings which our Art Director and Creative Director created, which we then worked very hard to translate from 2D into a 3D world. If you see some of the original concepts, I think it's easy to see how strong that connection ended up being.

NWR: IO Interactive has a pedigree of mature-rated titles. What prompted you to make a more family-friendly title?

JP: It's likely no more complicated than the fact that many of us have been working in this business for a lot of years, and have started having families. It's nice to be able to come home and show your kids what you've been making at work that day. We've also for a long time been interested in breaking into new genres and perhaps we all have an unhealthy obsession with ninjas. Many of us are Nintendo freaks also, which didn't hurt at all.

NWR: Can you tell us about the story and the characters found in the game?

JP: Yes, well it all starts when an Evil Samurai Warlord becomes obsessed with taking over the world (as Evil Warlords do...). His plan is to use an ancient magic called the Kuji to twist innocent forest animals into mindless samurai minions. I like to say that his plan was brilliant. Flawless! Well, except for one little detail...the world begins to mysteriously fall apart. Floods, tornadoes, earthquakes. That type of thing. The Ninjas, who swore an oath long ago to watch for such signs, are sent out by their master to discover the source of the unrest. Some of those ninjas go missing without a trace, and that's where you step in...

NWR: With so many ninja-themed games available, what makes Mini Ninjas special?

JP: We went to a huge amount of effort to create a compelling enchanting world which is true to the ninja myth and fantasy, complete with a backstory which goes back several centuries. When it came to the castles and architecture, props, weapons, costumes, even the outfits of the ridiculous little samurai, we went to great lengths to maintain a sense of authenticity to all through research and design. I suppose I hope above all that this attention to detail shows through in the game. It may seem like a silly little, colourful world, but to us it's filled with history and mythology.

NWR: What ideas were present during the early design stages but eliminated from the final game?

JP: Well, the Art Director for the project was determined from the beginning that at some point, the ninjas would ride a giant, white, flying dragon. I'm sad to say that this never made it into the game, though I wouldn't rule it out for the future. I'm not saying that there isn't a dragon somewhere in the game, but riding on it just didn't fit well with anything else in the game.

NWR: Which ninja is your favorite and why?

JP: I would say that Futo is somehow my favorite, though they each have details that I like about them. I've always been interested in characters (and people) who are underestimated because of the way they look. Futo is a bit of a sleeping giant. On the surface he appears lazy and slow, always lying stuffed, snoozing away under an apple tree, but when the real fight begins he shows how powerful he really is. I love that instant when the bad guys, who had so far been ignoring that slow big guy in the back, have that "OH NO!" moment, realizing their mistake.

NWR: Are there any concepts from your popular Hitman series that you have integrated into Mini Ninjas?

JP: Well we have had a lot of experience from Hitman in making very robust stealth systems. Mini Ninjas has a such a system, though obviously it is much more fun and forgiving. Sneaking up through tall grass around an enemy camp in the wilderness, or climbing through the shadows on castles rooftops was critical to the ninja fantasy, so that of course is there for the player to explore.

NWR: Moving on to some questions about the Wii game. Will it differ in any significant way from the PS3 and 360 versions of the game?

JP: The 360 and PS3 versions are very similar (and identical in story and level design) to the Wii, with the exception of some gameplay which was designed around the use of the Wii controllers. Our aim was to make all platforms be more or less the same experience, but of course the Wii had a lot of potential when it came to interacting with the game environment in a fun way. Aside from that, the background graphics were built for the different platforms in many cases using different techniques, but the overall game should feel the same for all players.

NWR: Does the game take use of either motion control or IR pointing?

JP: On the Wii, there are many ways in which the motion controls and IR are used. My philosophy for designing the controls was to never make use of the Wii's controllers just for the sake of the gimmick factor. That meant we avoided using them on actions that were too repetitive or controls that you had to use all the time. Some examples of ways that we did use them though, are shaking fruit out of trees, aiming a bow and arrow, casting spells, flipping your hat up onto your head, or special moves which break through enemy defenses.

NWR: After working with the Wii extensively for Mini Ninjas, would you be interested in creating another Wii title? If so, would you have interest in creating one that falls in line with some of your past work?

JP: I am quite sure that the team which worked on Mini Ninjas would be very interested in doing another Wii title. What that would be? I guess that still falls within the Top Secret category. It was very challenging, to be honest, because we very much pushed that machine to the bleeding edge of what it could render, but now that we've built up that knowledge it would be a shame to waste it.

NWR: How about the DS game? In what ways will it differ from the Wii title?

JP: The DS title was really a separate development in many ways. It was based overall on the design document of the 360 / Wii / PS3 / PC game, but with a lot of differences which were just more appropriate on that platform. The DS version, for example, has even more side quests, but probably the biggest difference was with the gameplay surrounding the "Plane of Spirits". The Plane of Spirits is a parallel dimension that Hiro enters while using certain Kuji magic spells, allowing him to possess animals, for example, to control for a limited time.

NWR: What was the biggest challenge you encountered when making the Mini Ninjas experience portable?

JP: I would say that adapting the running the parallel productions was very challenging in itself. Two different designs which shared many similarities but diverged on key gameplay elements was a tough job. Also the DS version of the game is just huge (in length) so that in itself was a challenge.

NWR: Are you making special use of the DS touch screen or microphone?

JP: As mentioned previously, the Plane of Spirits on the DS is represented by a 2D world that Hiro enters, and while in that world, he can solve puzzles to remove barriers that block his progress. This created a lot of fun opportunities to use the microphone to blow away evil spirits, for example, or stylus to cut and remove parts of the world that stand in his way.

Thanks to Jeremy Petreman and IO Interactive for the great interview!

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