Interview: Nicklas “Nifflas” Nygren talks Knytt Underground on Wii U
We sat down with the enormously humble Nicklas “Nifflas” Nygren, taking the time to talk about Knytt Underground ahead of it releasing on the Nintendo eShop this week, Nintendo’s indie push, and developing for the Wii U.
Nintendo Insider: We should probably begin where it all started. How did you get into development?
Nicklas “Nifflas” Nygren: I guess it’s kind of tricky, because it was lots of stuff at the same time. I mean, I’ve always been playing games since I was young, imagining what they would be like if I ever got chance to make them. I got to play with the Klik & Play, as I got it as either my Christmas or birthday present from my parents, and I was trying to make these huge RPGs that I could never finish, incidentally.
I’ve just tried to program in Visual Basic and Cue Basic, making some silly text adventure games, and my stepfather helped me to create a labyrinth game in Dbase which wasn’t even a programming language, it was like a really old database tool. So, I don’t know, there’s no line I can define as to how I got started, really.
NI: I imagine it was something that began as a hobby, that’s now blossomed into a more clear profession for you?
NN: Yeah, definitely. I spent plenty of years just releasing [my games] for free. Most of the time I didn’t even intend to sell my games, and I never thought I could be some kind of professional. When I’m here, invited by Nintendo, it feels like I’m this impostor… “Wait, soon they’re going to figure out that I’m not actually a professional. I don’t know what I’m doing!” [laughs]
NI: So, Knytt Underground (I should probably check if I am pronouncing that correctly? [laughs]) previously came out on PlayStation 3 and PS Vita, and now it’s releasing on Wii U. What path has that decision taken, has it been Nintendo’s increased efforts to engage with indies that has seen the game hit the platform?
NN: It’s pronounced Ker-nytt. It’s a Swedish word, but I’m not very sensitive about the pronunciation. If I were, I would never have named it that! [laughs]
I guess the publisher has been the main contact with Nintendo, so I haven’t really dealt with them myself that much. Except I did meet them at the conference, and they were all super nice and super supportive. The little experience that I have had with Nintendo has been really, really positive, and what I have been told [by other indies] has been really positive too. They really seem to support indies, but I can’t speak that much from personal experiences yet. But I’m looking forward to working with them more, as they seem super nice.
NI: Knytt Underground is described as being a very “zen-like experience.” Could you explain that in any more detail?
NN: It’s a bit weird, because it’s a very fast and slow-paced game at the same time. So on one side you have the ball-switching and jumping that allows you to move in fast, flexible ways, but at the same time the game wants you to stop and enjoy the scenery. Maybe out of 20 rooms, just one is a challenge because most of the rooms are there to be interesting to explore and different to one another.
NI: Would you see this as the starting point to potentially bringing more of your games to Wii U?
NN: I’m already working on a new project for Wii U! It’s kind of a weird spaceship game that I’m developing with KnapKnok Games, who just released Spin the Bottle: Bumpie’s Party. So I’m really good friends with them, and we decided to team up to make this game.
The reason why it’s for Wii U, is that I think the small [Wii U GamePad] screen is a very interesting piece of hardware. It means both that you can have a real-time menu where you can navigate around and do complex things at the same time, whilst not cluttering the game on the television screen, and doesn’t interfere with the controls. On any other console you’d have a complex interface, using the thumbsticks to navigate both the game and menus.
With this game it really just doesn’t work on any other console, and it’s a great chance to see what we can do with the Wii U.
NI: Nintendo have differentiated themselves from the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 by introducing the Wii U GamePad. Do you feel that you have to be creative in putting that to use?
NN: It depends. Knytt Underground is a straight port from the previous game, so that’s going to have more of a classic thing where you can select your inventory on the Wii U GamePad’s screen. Some basic stuff like that.
As the game wasn’t designed around the hardware so it doesn’t really use it as much. I’m really interested in games that do, which is why the next game is completely designed around the hardware. I really think that indies are important for exploring the possibilities with this hardware.
Just to make an example on Xbox One, I guess, which is weird as Microsoft right now seem a bit indie hostile. Which is very bad as the triple-A companies, which have a lot of resources, I don’t think they like to do much with Kinect. The Kinect games that I’ve seen, which are the bigger productions, just use it to substitute button presses, which feels like a clumsy way to play the game – where you’d just wish to use regular controllers. Whereas I’ve seen indies pull of their crazy hacks on the Kinect, that’s not even with the dev kits. Some have hacked together drivers to get Kinect input on a computer, and they make these really amazing games.
I’ve seen this game where you mimic an animal, you shape your body in a certain way and Kinect would take a photograph of you. You then stack these shapes on top of a pile, and you compete with someone else. It’s completely analogue and everything has to do with the position of your body.
When Microsoft has done this console to really explore new possibilities, they’re not supporting the indies that would help them do that. I think that’s Nintendo’s strength, that they seem to be super supportive.
NI: Where do you draw most of your own inspiration from? Do you play games and see other developer’s ideas that you’d like to explore in a different way?
NN: It’s definitely that. My first game that I released, #ModArchive Story, which is this really obscure, difficult game about a bouncing ball, very similar to Knytt Underground although insanely hard and much smaller. With that game, what I really wanted to do was an isometric Marble Madness kind of game, although I had two problems: I didn’t do how to do isometric programming, and I didn’t know how to make a ball stick to the ground. So, I just made it bounce!
Then I made two other bouncing ball games, I think the third being Within A Deep Forest where you could transform the ball into different materials was something I very much wanted to do. I was inspired by this game called Ballanz, which I really like still as it’s super beautiful and more people should check it out.
With NightSky, at that point I had finally worked out physics. So I could make [the ball] move around in 2D terrain, but I couldn’t make it isometric. I had those kind of limitations, but something really beautiful and different came out of that.
NI: I was really keen to play NightSky, but I remember that it took another three months or so after the North American release before it hit the European Nintendo eShop.
NN: I have no idea how that stuff works. To me that seems a bit weird. It’s very weird dividing the world into countries, because it’s not how I think. Especially when I release something on Desktop across the world at the same time. Then, of course, luckily I had a producer Tyrone [Rodriguez] who helped me with NightSky, and I’m not too concerned with what happens behind the scenes. I just want to make the games, really. So I don’t know exactly why it released later in Europe.
NI: If I give you 30 seconds to sell Knytt Underground to all Wii U owners reading this, do you think you could do it?
NN: Yes! *enthusiastically*
NI: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Go!
NN: So, Knytt Underground is the best game in the world! [laughs] I mean, you can bounce around as a ball, how cool is that? It has this weird, quirky story about trying to figure out the meaning of life, and completely failing in the process. And on top of that, there are weird powers, lots of exploration, and a five-hour soundtrack. It’s huge!
NI: *bzzt* Great job, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us!