(Read our in-depth review of Zeit²)
There is a remarkable story behind Zeit² and its developer Brightside Games. What started out as a student project at a German university has blossomed into a Ubisoft published XBox Live Arcade game. Development for Zeit² started as a simple prototype of a side-scrolling shoot-em up with an innovative time traveling mechanic, which allowed the player’s ship to go backward in time and essentially create a “ghost” ship for aid. Their professor emphasized an independent, innovative spirit to game design, and encouraged the students to enter their prototype into developer competitions. Eventually, the students were declared finalists amidst heavy competition in the 2008 Dream Build Play and Independent Games Festival competitions.
Zeit²’s success at these competitions made it a much sought-after title by major publishers. Soon, these university students garnered enough bravado to take their game to the next level, and become a full-time development company now called Brightside Games. In order to get their product going, they needed to build hype and anticipation, and acquire the funds necessary to start a business. They gained significant promotional clout from attending the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco, and business aid from Remote Controlled Productions. However, they still needed funds for starting their business, and their university helped them receive the necessary capital from the Exist Public Fund.
While Zeit² had the industry buzzing, Brightside Games still needed to pitch their idea to the major publishers; the developer spent a year improving on the prototype to provide a finished, cohesive product. The Indie Games Challenge in Las Vegas provided such a platform to them that they were able to showcase their game to the major publishers, and ultimately signed a deal with Ubisoft.
I reached out to Thomas Bedenk of Brightside Games, and asked him about what inspired Zeit² as well as what design concepts were implemented in the development.
What was your inspiration for choosing the shoot-em up genre paired with the time-reverse mechanic when you first started developing Zeit² as a student project? Did you develop this game with titles like R-Type, Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun in mind?
I always loved playing side scrolling shooters in the arcades and also on systems like the NES. Ikaruga was especially an inspiration for me because it added a new mechanic to the shoot ‘em up genre. What we wanted to do with Zeit² though, was to bring something unique into the mix which really extends on how you play a shoot ‘em up game. The time traveling mechanic does not make the game any more forgiving but it actually makes the game a lot more tactical.
What were some of the challenges you faced during the period of limbo for Zeit² before its publishing by Ubisoft?
We knew we wanted to bring this game to XBLA since we always thought it is the perfect match for the platform, especially because of the great leaderboard support. Before we got in contact with Ubisoft we had a long time of developing the game where we didn’t even know if we could ever publish it on Xbox since you need a publisher to bring a game to XBLA. During this year it was sometimes hard to keep everyone motivated and believe in our dream. For over a year we didn’t have any money to pay our salaries, and most of us were still studying on the side. We had such limited resources that we really had to focus on the core gameplay that we wanted to deliver. We are very happy now with the version that we released and especially with the depth that the game has if you look at it closely.
In a recent interview with IGN (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdtsGcDdX1I), you stated that your company operates in the “indie” spirit despite having a major publisher backing yourgame. Will you continue working as a small team, or is there a drive to grow as a company and develop larger scale games?
As Brightside Games we are definitely going to keep working in smaller teams and try to push innovative ideas even if that means that we can’t reach every gamer out there. If you are into that kind of game make sure to keep watching our blog for what’s coming next at blog.brightside-games.com . We are not into making games to become rich or compete with AAA titles, but to have people play our games and enjoy the new ideas we want to bring into the gaming experience.
The shoot-em up genre is notorious for being loved by hyper-competitive arcade players. Do you consider your game to be on the sort of level that can be appreciated by that crowd of gamers, or is your focus approachability
Our main approach with Zeit² was on the one hand to bring new players to the genre, and on the other hand cater to the core players. Approachability does not mean easy to play through. We added some unique features that needed explanation. That’s why you can’t skip the tutorial and why we made the first stage of arcade pretty basic. Zeit² is a very progressive game; the more you play it, the more challenging it gets and the more you realize how deep and connected the game mechanics are. We tried to have the difficulty go up with the skill advancement of the player.
What were some of the challenges you faced in terms of balancing the game? Did you have to increase the difficulty to account for the time-reverse mechanic?
Actually, we implemented the fast forward feature especially to appeal to the advanced players. If you want to have the real challenge, try to play the game in fast forward which gives you twice the speed and double the points. Also, the 70 challenges that we put into the game will give you some tough nuts to crack. Learning more and more of those techniques and getting better at certain levels and game modes is what makes the game a choice for all those hardcore gamers once they take the time to dive into Zeit².
The fast forward feature helped by making the player able to pace the game themselves. Everything in Zeit² is built around the time traveling feature, even the mechanic that makes enemies drain your energy when they pass you. For introducing those features, we start the game fairly slowly, while keeping the controls very straight forward. Since you don’t undo your previous playing by traveling back in time, but support yourself with additional fire power, it makes the game a lot more tactical. Of course this also made it possible for us to throw a lot more enemies at you in the later levels and have some crazy action going on. The real task at hand in balancing the game was to support those features with the enemy and level design. For the skilled players we added an advanced scoring system.
What sort of scoring system (chains, multipliers, etc.) did you implement in Zeit²? Does the time-reverse mechanic play any part in the scoring? Will there be global and/or friend-list leader boards?
The scoring system in Zeit² in fact is one of the most complex systems in the game and it is slightly different for most of the game modes. With making it that complex we added a depth into the game that gives you more and more to learn and improve at and have a very high variety of different scores possible even for the more simple levels. If you take a look at the leaderboards you will see that three players might have played survival for 5 minutes and still one has a lot more points than the others.
For arcade mode there are several ways to get score bonuses, in short:
- You increase your points multiplier for not letting enemies pass.
- “Perfect time travel” bonus (end the time travel at the same position you started it) doubles the points you achieved while travelling in time
- “Fast Forward” doubles your points
- A “shockwave” gives you more points the more enemies you destroy with it
- Collecting the yellow pick-ups gives you a certain amount of points
What other power-ups, if any, are available in the game besides reversing time?
In Zeit² you can pick up health, score points and time travel energy throughout the levels. Every time you defeat a mini boss it gives you a new weapon. This can be upgrading your main weapon, or giving you one of the powerful special weapons. The beam shot is a mighty blast that takes out everything in front of you. The chain shot consists of lightning bolts that jump from enemy to enemy. On top of that, most of your weapons can be combined with your time travel shadow. For example, if you shoot your beam shot at your time shadow, you split it up.
Are there any plans for a PS3 release?
There are no plans for a PS3 release at this time, but there is a Steam version for PC and also a free demo. If you are a pro player you might find the demo a little slow, but believe me it gets a lot more challenging and you can always use your fast forward to speed up the game.