Zeit² Developer Interview
Zeit² released as this week's Xbox Live Arcade game. It mixes side scrolling shoot'em up with time travel in some new and fun ways. To find out more about Zeit² and how it came to be we have Thomas Bedenk, Game Designer at Brightside Games.
Question: How did the idea for Zeit² come about?
In 2008 Zeit² started as a student project. Part of our team took a game programming class at the Technische Universität, Berlin, Germany. In order to sign up for the game programming class at our university, everyone was required to create a 3-day prototype of a game. That was when I created the very first version of Zeit². The idea was that the player has the power to rewind time and play the same part of the level again while his former actions are being re-played by a second instance of the ship. That way, while time traveling takes place, you can interact with a copy of yourself. It is actually hard to describe so you should try the demo to see how we made the time traveling work.
Question: Could you describe Zeit² for anyone who hasn’t seen it?
With the words of Destructoid's Jonathan Holmes: “The game looks a bit like Flow, plays like Gradius, and thinks like Braid.”
Zeit² is a side scrolling shmup where you are in control of time. It starts out easy with only 2 buttons you need to know for shooting and rewinding time. Performing a time travel does not undo things but gives you additional firepower by duplicating your ship. When you get better weapons and learn new moves it gets more complex. While the first levels have a lower count of enemies to make you get used to the time traveling, later on the screen is full of fast and tricky enemies. Moreover you can pace the game according to your own skill by using the fast forward feature.
Zeit² is a little different to what you know from shmups, but that is exactly what makes it so unique. After you get used to the innovative mechanics it is a blast to go thought the more challenging levels and it becomes second nature to use the rewind feature. So give the game some time and don’t jump to conclusions. And don’t miss in the trial that you can play 6 levels in Wave Mode after reaching the end of the Arcade Mode trial. Wave mode like all the extra modes is a unique experience and a lot faster paced than the first arcade levels.
Question: How large was the team that created Zeit² and how long did it take to develop?
The team size changed during different phases of development. We were between three and eight people working on the game itself. Of course in later stages of development, since it is a XBLA title that is being released worldwide, we had localization and quality assurance teams as well as many others involved in the process.
Question: How did you decide on the art style that was used for the game?
We went for a very abstracted, stylized and clean look for Zeit². We felt that it fits the theme and we wanted something more unique than your usual spaceship visuals. Also a big part in our decision was usability reasons, meaning how easy it is to play the game and keep track of everything. I believe that was also the case with Geometry Wars. With more than 50 enemies on one screen in later levels we wanted to make it as easy as possible to distinct between player, background, shots and enemies. It is very important to always see what your time travel shadow is doing. We use pure red when you are hit or you hit an enemy. When you go back in time and are not in control, everything is black and white. Enemies and enemy shots are always the same color while their shape and size varies. We made the decision to make the visuals as monochrome and stylized as possible. While some players might usually prefer more realistic graphics, for us the most important factor was how the game feels and plays. We think while being very simplistic Zeit² has a really polished and coherent style of its own.
Question: Looking back on Zeit² what are the things that you are most proud of?
Maybe you had the chance to watch our Dev Diary Video. We are basically a couple of guys who love to play video games and we grew up playing shoot ‘em ups like R-Type. Our dream was to get Zeit² onto XBLA since we considered it the perfect platform for our game. We also enjoyed very much to meet other indie developers when we were in the finals of three different indie competitions. We believed in our project even in the harder times and we are excited to see the game finally being released.
Above all what makes us proud is hearing from gamers that enjoy playing the game. The day of the release we had random players contact us right on our Xbox accounts just to tell us how much they like Zeit² (... and how they just beat our high scores haha).
Question: Was there anything you were hoping to get into Zeit² that did not make it?
There were a lot of additional ideas considered during development, but at some point we had to make the feature-set final. For example we discussed different concepts for multiplayer support or giving the players the option to make their own levels. With the resources we had we wanted to focus as much as possible on the core gameplay and how to optimize it and make it fun for beginners and pros at the same time. In the end we are very happy with what we have in the game now and we think the game has a lot to offer with its six different game modes and 70 unique challenges.
Question: Now that Zeit² has released are you planning another XBLA game?
Right now we are prototyping several new game ideas. Some of them would fit XBLA well and some others would fit better on different platforms. Most important for us is that gameplay ideas work best on the platform we want to release it on. We are very much looking forward to bringing more games to everyone, who likes innovative games and likes to support indie developers like us. You can find more information about our team and development on blog.brightside-games.com.
Question: How fun or challenging was it to implement the Achievements?
Implementing the Achievements was really a lot of fun. We had plenty of ideas, because we knew every little secret or trick that’s in the game. Nevertheless we wanted the 200 gamer points (XBLA version) to be achievable by most players. That is why we made these rather easy to get, while at the same time having some hardcore stuff to achieve within our own challenge system inside of Zeit². There is a crazy one that tells you to solve a complete level without shooting even one bullet. This is doable in one of the bonus levels after defeating the last arcade boss and selecting score attack mode. In that way we have difficult or hidden stuff to solve in Zeit² without preventing some casual gamers from ever gaining those gamer points. Even if you got all of the achievements and challenges in the game there are literally endless challenges to achieve. Our dynamic challenges make this possible. This system compares your score with your friends’ score and tells you to beat it to gain more challenge points.
Question: Can you give us some tips or hints for Zeit²?
We know that many people just want to play right away but the help screens and mode descriptions are kind of a tips & tricks section of its own. By reading some basic tips you should be able to improve your own scores quickly.
If the game doesn’t feel challenging enough in the first levels try to use Fast Forward. Believe me that there are levels in the game that even we can’t solve easily while fast forwarding. That’s one of the cool features of Zeit², you can pace the game at your own will. Furthermore Fast Forward doesn’t only give you more speed and action but also can improve your score. If you know how to perform a shockwave (hitting your time travel shadow 8 times) that will come in handy at surviving and getting a lot more points in some levels. It also makes you feel really powerful.
Also take a look at the challenge mode and the challenges implemented into the game. Many of those will not only give you tasks like having to solve a level without using time travel, but implicitly improve your skill as they ask you to do tricks that you might not be aware of at the beginning of the game. Zeit² is a very progressive game and you can discover a lot of tricks and new moves over time.
Moreover there is a statistics screen in the main menu? You can even look up your friends' stats and compare who has the highest accumulative total score or who shot the most enemies with a single chain shot. So just dig into the game and see what it has to offer. We hope you will enjoy the demo and see for yourself if you like Zeit².