Friday, September 22, 2017

Interview with Ryan Juckett of Hypersect on INVERSUS Deluxe


There's no confusing INVERSUS with other games, it uses its minimalist color palette to convey very quick and intense strategy action. I got some time to talk to the game's lone developer, Ryan Juckett, about the game and its core concepts and features. Check it out!

My standard opener has gotten into its groove but I think it's a great place to start. You're on stage at a big event with other indie developers and you have just a few moments to try to convey to everyone there what it is about Inversus that makes it worth them checking out. Go!

RJ: INVERSUS is a fundamentally unique experience. You aren’t coming to the table because it’s the next best iteration of leveling up a character or swinging a sword. You are come to experience a set of systems at play that your mind has never had to process before – it is the first and only negative-space shooter that’s been made. There is a beauty in how such a simple set of rules unfold into uncountable layers of complex strategy.

I find it fascinating to see games like this one and others than have thoroughly embraced minimalism when the power consoles have is far beyond what would be necessary to run the engine. Pixel graphics and classic styles could be painted as movement toward smaller budgets but minimalism is an entirely different kind of decision. Is it related to being a lone developer, so there's less overhead, or was this a decision made in relation to the gameplay concept? I suppose which would you say drove the other, or was it all together in your head from the beginning?

RJ: There is a synergy on multiple fronts. There is likely some benefit to holding a scope achievable from one person, but that was not the impetus. The primary reason for minimalism is to create a direct expression of the gameplay. The board is dense with information that skilled players process all at once and the minimalism makes sure everything in sight is of importance. It is also critical to sell the negative-space combat in which both teams are viewing the same screen but with opposing views on what is an open path and what is a wall. And finally, INVERSUS is designed to age well. I want that Tetris effect where you can boot up INVERSUS in ten years and it will still look good.


Even in the brief time covered in the trailer there are some very diverse-looking maps shown to be played on. Do you find that peoples' tactics need to change significantly as they take on something a lot larger versus how they approach the smaller maps?

RJ: Every map has been designed to have its own strategies. Its own personality. To be memorable. It would be very easy to make thousands of maps with slight variations, but that creates a muddy landscape in which the value is lost. Switching to a new map should be exciting. It should open new possibilities. With the new Deluxe edition, there are a total of 39 competitive maps and 11 arcade maps, and each one is best played with specific tactics.

What would you say seems to be the key to strategies on a general level in the game or do you think player tactics are more dictated by their opponent's approach if you want to be effective?

RJ: Recognizing the importance of ammo management is the most critical lesson, but how you utilize that knowledge is up to you. Players can only have up to five bullets in the chamber. You need ammo to take out the enemy, but you also need it to create territory in which you can move. If I can navigate to you in a manner that gives me an ammo advantage you are in trouble because even though you can shoot back at me to block bullets, you can’t block all my bullets. Your ammo and the speed at which it reloads is tightly coupled with so many other systems that you are always being presented with complex tradeoffs and interesting choices.


Obviously there's a strong multi-player competitive element to the game, aside from playing the same maps against AI bots what is there for people who prefer a single-player experience and may be intrigued by the game's style? 

RJ: The competitive bots are a new feature in the Deluxe edition of the game, but you also have access to arcade mode. The arcade is played alone or cooperatively with a partner and pits you up against endless swarms of simpler enemies as you fight for survival and chase high scores on the leaderboards. It takes the territorial black/white strategy layer and slams it into a classic arcade game to create a terrific mix of chaotic action, close calls and tactical planning.

There have been cases where online play seen in the PC or other console versions hasn't made its way over to the Switch version. Is online play supported for Switch? 

RJ: The Nintendo Switch version of INVERSUS Deluxe is getting all the bells and whistles of online play. One versus one, two versus two, and cooperative arcade are all supported. If you create a private lobby, players on your friends list can join in. You can have one person at each house or mix it up with some houses having multiple local players together. Then there is the public matchmaking where you can either enter alone or as a pre-built team and get matched up with random players around the world. This might already sound like a lot, but it gets even better. When you are in a public lobby you can still play the whole game locally while it finds you an opponent. It will then pause your local game while you play an online match. Once the online match is over, it resumes your local game where you left off.


Looking over the scores for the game, as well as many accolades, it has been on a really strong run critically. Has that equated to feeling like you've had the success you were hoping for in terms of sales or has it been a well-regarded game that hasn't met its potential quite yet?

RJ: There are still so many new players to introduce to the game that I’m not sure where the ceiling of potential is. Every time I show it off at a convention there are new faces, friends and families that get their first introduction to INVERSUS. The response is always so positive and motivating that I’ve continued improving the game to help it’s reach grow and I’m thrilled to hear everyone’s response once it launches on Nintendo Switch.

So, this is a game that started conceptually around a game jam? Can you help bring folks up to speed on how those work and what you'd gone in with in mind to prepare?

RJ: A group of people – sometimes small and sometimes very large – all gather and split into a bunch of teams to make a bunch of small games. The games are built around a theme and within a short period of time that might be 24 hours or 1 week. These constraints breed creativity. In the case of INVERSUS, we were making 1v1 competitive games and I had mocked up a picture of the black and white grid in photoshop beforehand. My team actually ended up making something else during the jam, but I liked the idea enough that I prototyped it on my own later.

I think you may be the first Pacific Northwest indie developer I've interviewed, what would you say the independent game development scene is like in Seattle?

RJ: I think it’s one of the more active areas. Seattle is packed with game studios big and small. There are so many indie themed social events and meetups every month that I don’t have time to keep up with it all.


As a "lone wolf" developer what would you say is the greatest benefit to roughly doing it all yourself?

RJ: There is a clear vision and it’s very fast to pivot development to the most optimal path. I can also create in a manner that is tweaked for my talents, work ethic and schedule.

What would you say the biggest downside is?

RJ: Getting feedback is hard. There isn’t anyone to bounce ideas off. It’s also extra hard to make and test a networked four player game as one person.

Since you seem to have already released on most of the platforms, with the Switch now bringing up the rear, what are you planning to do next? Something in the same general vein or something radically different?

RJ: I always have lots of ideas, but I tend to take things one step at a time. Once the deluxe edition is out on all platforms and everyone is having a good time, I’ll put some more thought into it!

I want to thank Ryan for taking the time to share his thoughts and insights with me about the game and the development process. You won't have long to wait to check out INVERSUS Deluxe, it will debut on the Nintendo eShop next week!

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